This morning, my social media was buzzing with posts from friends at Pigeon Creek Shakespeare reporting their nominations for the Wilde Awards (Michigan’s professional theater awards, run by Encore Michigan). Kate Bode was nominated for “Best Performance–Bard” for her performance as Margaret in Henry VI (a role she continued in Richard III), Scott Lange for Richard III, and Katherine Mayberry for Cleopatra. Scott also got a nomination for Best Music Director for Henry VI–a massive undertaking, he composed a ton of music for this conflation, and all of it is gorgeous. We used one of these songs as the opener for Richard. Richard III–which all three of them were in–received a nomination for “Best of the Bard.”
I had a lot of Feelings about this as the coffee slowly defogged my brain, and I couldn’t quite name them. I was excited, certainly, and happy that these friends were getting the recognition that they deserve. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of art as a competition. There’s no zero-sum-game that is healthy for anybody in the theater. Although I do a lot of work with KCACTF, I’m constantly shifting people’s focus away from the competitive bits and toward the other opportunities for learning and connection. But I can’t deny that it feels nice to have someone notice and say, “This was really great. Gold star for you!”
And then I went to church, and the theme today was “Pride and Humility.” Ironic, right? The prayer of confession felt like it was speaking right to me.
Holy God, we confess that we are a people who want to be noticed by others.
We want our accomplishments, our contributions, our gifts, our achievements to be seen, acknowledged, and celebrated. We forget in this longing for recognition that it’s not what we do, or the impressions we make, that’s noticed or that matter.
But instead, it’s who we are to you, your children, your beloved, your created.
Forgive us, gentle God, when we lose sight of you from whom our value comes. Draw us closer to you, whisper in our ears, remind us of how you see us.
Sometimes, I feel like God is a little too on-the-nose.
That prayer helped me sort through my thoughts a bit. When I heard this news, I was extremely happy, but I think only because it was another chance to think about two shows I loved, shows I wake up in the middle of the night and replay in my head just for the joy of them. What an extraordinary thing, to have done two shows that were different, but also fully realized, with basically the same people, within a space of eight months or so. How lucky am I?
This prayer reminded me of what went right with Richard. After some complicated life events over the past few years, I feel more like I understand how God sees me, what my true value is in this world. That let me show up in a different way than I have before. On Antony and Cleopatra, I was braver in the work than I had been before. On Richard, I was braver still–and far more vulnerable. What I saw from the actors, what I think audiences were responding to, was the way that many of them found space to be vulnerable, and brave. When artists show up with their truest selves–when they are deeply in touch with how God sees them (whether or not any of them would use that language–I think most of the actors I work with would not, and I hope they don’t mind that I do)–they can do their best work.
As a director, one of my favorite things is to hear from audience members who were moved by my work–because that’s why we do it. This is one of the reasons I obsessed over the audience responses to Richard. When audiences feel connected to my work, they’re connected to me. It means I am heard and seen; is there any experience humans desire more deeply? These nominations–on some level, it’s another audience member saying, “I felt connected to this work.” And that is a good feeling.
I’m not proud, exactly, of Richard III, or of whatever hand I had in the excellent performances of Antony and Cleopatra. I’m grateful, and happy.
I don’t love either of these shows more because they got some nominations. If we don’t win those awards, I won’t be disappointed, and I certainly won’t doubt whether the shows were as strong as I think they are. I don’t have room for outside voices to shift how I feel about them. It’s nice to have others see and name that something special happened on those productions, but it doesn’t change the work or who we are.