I've been thinking a lot about language lately. Or more specifically communication. The two are related but certainly not the same and I find myself navigating the negative space in between the two on a daily basis. I read this play about a year ago and knew right away that Gadfly had to do it, but damned if I could tell you why. After rereading the play multiple times it became clearer and clearer that that was the point.
While I've never had the experience of being a lesbian, being pregnant, or having to make a difficult choice regarding said hypothetical pregnancy, Brodie's struggle to describe thoughts and feelings with words that simply do not exist in the English language resonated with me. As a person who identifies as part of the queer community, where we are constantly silenced, and part the theatre community, where everyone has an opinion, I wanted to play with the idea that all too often we find ourselves at the crossroad of too many or not enough words.
Every theatre artist is taught to seek out the subtext in a play. Every person who has lived in a closet understands to look for the coding in art. As a queer theatre artist most of my life is spent in those in between places. In the things left unsaid. The things said just to fill the silence. And the things we try to say but don't know how. I often wonder how much easier life would be if we just used the actual words.
Instead we take words away from those who would use them, we shorten words into meaninglessness, we smash them together, tear them apart, and alter their definitions until we can no longer remember how that word first entered our language. We encounter thousands of words each and every day and very seldom take the time really digest what they say. How many of us have counted down the seconds until we can skip an ad on a youtube video? Or deleted an email from one of those well meaning non-profits whose petition we signed at Pride? And how many arguments have been started over a careless Tweet, awkward autocorrect, or mistranslation in a holy text? Words are all around us though their meaning isn't necessarily. When words lose their meaning people stop using them. When people stop using words they become silent, in the case of queer people, or in the case of the ever discerning theatre community, they become a very vocal group with very little to say.
Brodie's journey from seeing herself as a linguistic expert, and then realizing she has only a passing experience with communication is one I think we can all identify with, because at one point we've all thought we had all the answers, only to find out how wrong we were.
These things have made the play a whole lot of fun to work with, but the play has posed in interesting challenge, both for myself and for the actors. Not only have we had to figure out what was meant by the "actual words," but had to create a working, fictional language as well as turning one actor into an ape and another into an entire crowd. Hopefully, by the time March rolls around our words and meaning will meld into a seamless theatrical experience that will leave you speechless.