Perhaps none of this is my fault. Maybe the fault lies with the Big Bad that is technology. Living as we do in an age of endless “content,” where the goal of entertainment companies is to keep us logged on for as long as humanly possible, my capacity for memory must be warped. I like to imagine my mind as a cathedral, a place vast, austere, and uncluttered. But maybe it’s just the opposite. Maybe my mind is filled with so much junk—talk-show interviews, clickbaits, gay porn gifs—that I cannot make out one item from another anymore. It is not a lack of memory but a glut of it that short-circuits my capacity for meaningful remembrance.
This is absolutely an issue, but it seems too simple to call it the full issue. Because theatre demands a greater amount of time and attention, because it is time-bound and material, and it seems only natural it would hold more mnemonic weight than a rerun of Queer as Folk I had playing in the background (please forgive me). Theatre is more event than text, and I find I remember events more easily. Theatre is a phenomenologically distinct experience from film or television.
Blandly, I remind myself that all things end, a staggeringly unoriginal notion. Yet this bare fact that things end, people die, all will be forgotten is so unfathomable, I keep turning it over and over in my mind in the hope it will render itself explicable. It never does. All things end. How stupid.
Maybe theatre is a reckoning with that which is unfathomable. The unfathomable is hard to hold on to in our minds.
As a queer Jew, I want to demand my right to a legacy. As a white man, I question why I feel I’m owed one.
I considered weaving into this essay a sort of self-destruction, a disintegration. Maybe I should just embrace the forgetting in form. I think of Caryl Churchill’s play Blue Kettle, where one of the characters’ speech is infected, reduced to a sputtering mess as they can only repeat “b b b b k k k k” by the end of the play.
Some people have told me that when they saw Blue Kettle at BAM in the nineties, it was one of their most memorable nights in the theatre. They still remember it twenty years later.
At least I know no one will remember anything of me.
At least I know that. At least I know that I’ll never be recognized as anything
because I’ll never make anything for anyone to see.
So that I’m not.
I don’t know.
Polluting the future.
-Jackie Sibblies Drury, Really
Drury’s play Really is a deep interrogation into the nature of genius: how our culture defines it and who gets to possess it (namely, white men). Whenever I reach this final speech by the character of Girlfriend (the only person of color in the play), I find myself deliciously unmoored. Is Drury condemning Girlfriend’s exclusion from artistic legacy? Or is she condemning our infatuation with legacy in the first place? Is the problem that legacy has been historically the domain of white men, or is legacy itself a fundamentally white male conceit that we should all work to escape from? Is Girlfriend trapped or freed by this revelation? There’s probably no clean demarcation between these ideas. They’re probably all too intimately bound up.
Sometimes, cynically, I wonder if legacy is just another commodity. As a queer Jew, I want to demand my right to a legacy. As a white man, I question why I feel I’m owed one. I’m not vain enough to think my art constitutes a legacy, but nor am I mature enough to be unseduced by such a potential.