Of all the strange silences that have filled New York City during the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps none is as creepy as the particular silence in Midtown, where theaters have been sitting dark and empty since the spring, with only the odd, usually mask-free tourist drifting through to take photos.
Now, as the industry struggles to reach the public in digital forums, a new magazine shows another path forward for theatrical storytellers: Almanac, a publication from Playwrights Horizons featuring work from playwrights and other theater artists.
This week, Almanac published a preview of its first issue, which comes out in January 2021: three short plays by Mia Chung, Jean Ann Douglass, and James Ijames, in addition to an essay by Artistic Director Adam Greenfield. (Douglass’ play, which uses the interactive storytelling tool Twine, is particularly great.) If you, like me, have fully entered the “resignation and despair” state of pandemic feelings, I especially recommend Greenfield’s essay, which is a candid, funny, optimistic-but-not-unrealistic look at theater’s current state of affairs. It’s exactly what I needed to read today:
“The writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.” (This is Donald Barthelme, thinking beautifully.) “Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.
To make honest work, you have to go backwards, again and again, and try to do it for the first time, every time. You have to cultivate the state of not-knowing, make friends with it, and learn how to use it. And while I definitely didn’t need the scale of devastation, outrage and anxiety that this year has brought in order to get me there, I accept its invitation to reconsider all that I thought I knew.
While we’re all awaiting the day that we can return to in-person, live theater, this is one way to keep going, and a great one at that.