Scene Notes: "What Is Permission, And Who Do We Need It From?"
By Herb Donaldson, Artistic Director
Since returning to Wakulla in 2010, something has been silently bothering me that I couldn’t put my finger on -- like a mosquito buzzing around your head that you can hear, but can’t see.
And this ‘unease' recently illuminated itself to me, in two random moments, just as we were beginning deep discussion about the year ahead, and the role we want this theater to have in the community.
The coincidences were fortuitous.
In the first instance, a question was posed about what we are communicating, and how we are doing it: “Is it about business, or about the soulful health of this community?”
I wondered, first, why it can’t be both.
As a business, of course, if there are no lights there is no show. And for years I have been expressing and exploring our role as a “church of culture” -- not here to merely entertain, but to stir the pot of thinking, understanding, and compassion about others.
Buzz...buzz...That unease started to sting again.
But what if people don’t want to talk about such things?
There are predominant beliefs in our little county -- as in all communities -- in matters of faith, and politics, and society. Woe, perhaps, unto them who challenge the prevailing norms.
The second moment presented itself at the door of a local convenience store. As my friend and I were leaving, I stepped ahead of him and held the door. But he froze, befuddled.
He then reached for the door handle, to hold it for me, with a gesture. But something in me refused.
We went back and forth a few times. “No, you first, please.” “No, please, I insist.”
It was such an odd experience that we eventually cracked up laughing at the same time. And, noticing others were beginning to watch, we silently agreed to exit side by side.
But something chilly ran through me: Why were we, as older men, not allowed the freedom to become silly seven-year-olds in the purest of moments, even when it made no sense to others?
Now, my friend "ain't from 'round here.” He is a white male from the north east. And though I'd lived in the north for well over 15 years, I'm a southerner at heart.
Later, while discussing it with him, I realized that, while comical, something in this moment was loaded with history and assumption. Was he assuming, now being in the South, that I only hold the door for white people and not people of color? Was I assuming, having lived in the North, that he saw all forms of courtesy as suspect and not to be trusted?
For two people in a truly kind friendship, we seemed to constantly be asking each other for permission to be kind.
But why? Buzz....buzz...
Both of these moments led me down a path to the season ahead, and a topic that we as a community could surely benefit from exploring together.
“What is permission, and who do we need it from?”
And why? Who is it that we ask for permission to dance at a party, or to dress the way we want? When are permissions good, and when are they at the expense of others? What are the differences between permission and approval?
In talking with others, I discovered that my sense of unease was common. And I realized that in some subconscious way over the past years, I was asking for permission to create community dialogues that some might prefer left quiet.
Somewhere along the line, I felt that my driving and pure motivations had reverted to autopilot.
I was in that sterile, safe place where I would not risk upsetting that one, rare person who might take umbrage (or more) at the sight of a white man holding the door for me -- a black man.
And I was giving permission for that one rare person to have an outsize influence over what discussions we choose to have as a theater and community.
Permission, I believe, can and should be given and shared by us all.
And for the upcoming 2019-20 Season – the lineup of which will be unveiled at our Studio 54 Disco Ball on July 27 -- we are endeavoring as a troupe and a community to explore the idea of permission, in its many permutations. The plays we have selected, how we communicate, and even down to the artwork on the cover of this newsletter have all evolved and will continue to evolve with that topic in mind.
And we are now asking you, the community, for permission to do so. Your support (or lack of it) will tell us your answer.
So! Let's all, with the others’ permission, walk into a world of laughter and fellowship, and even a night of childlike dancing and revelry, because life is too short to be concerned with which one of us is holding the door.