Art as Therapy
“Has doing the show been good for you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like has it been therapeutic?”
This was a question posed to me by a reporter on Friday. I was in Iowa City rehearsing Stages with Adam Knight.
It’s a common question. I get asked it all the time. But for some reason, on this Friday in Iowa, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it.
It had been a long day. There was an early morning flight, hip pain that made me want to rip my leg off and throw it out of the plane, medicine that was making me high. This was also my second interview in a row, so I had been telling the story of 2017 for almost two straight hours and I couldn’t tell if I needed a coffee or a nap.
“…has it been therapeutic?” I repeated the question to buy myself more time.
The answer they want to hear is yes. And it has been. On the whole I’d say I’ve been handling my diagnosis pretty well, and this play has been a big part of it.
But there is a small part of my brain that thinks the play is trying to kill me. Every time I do it I seem to get a recurrence or my breathing conks out. I thought this Iowa run was going to be smooth sailing and now my hip is hurting. But saying a play is trying to kill you doesn’t make good copy.
Not that I actually think it’s trying to kill me…
But is there something about telling this story, reliving it over and over again, that causes my cells to be like, “Oh yeah- that was super fun- we should mutate again!?”
I met this woman in Montana last summer. My buddy Dylan introduced me to her. She asked what I was doing out west and I told her I was performing and giving a writing workshop at a nearby cancer retreat. She confided that she was a cancer survivor, too. “But I never say the word,” she said. “It never crosses my lips unless I’m at the doctor, and even then as little as humanly possible.”
Her answer filled me with shame. Here she was a 30 year survivor who never says the word, and me, in my egotistical brilliance, have decided to not only say the word, but write an hour and fifteen minute show about! it No wonder it keeps coming back. It keeps coming back because I never let it leave.
“Yes, the show has been very therapeutic,” I said to the reporter.
The answer was true. I need to perform. It’s not optional for my happiness. With all the million different ways my career could have bounced, the Plinko ball happened to fall in the Autobiographical Solo Theatre slot. It would have been a dereliction of my duty to not write a play about this. Theatre is a vocation more than it is a job, and for some reason this is what the universe needed me to do.
The reporter turned to Adam. “What about for you?”
“What do you mean,” Adam replied.
“Well your close friend gets this diagnosis. That’s got to be hard on you. Has working on the play helped you to processes this experience.”
“It has been helpful,” he said as he wiped his glasses. “There have been many nights when I would lie in bed, unable to sleep, thinking about what was happening to David. Working on the play gave me something to focus on. Which felt better than helplessly worrying about my friend.”
I nodded my head. It was heartening to hear that this show was therapeutic for other people. That I’m not creating this art in a vacuum. And maybe that’s why the Plinko ball of my career fell into the slot that it did. So I could offer up the experiences of my life in order for people to find community.
That would be worth it. Even if it it was trying to kill me.