As we rummaged and sorted through 94 years of my grandmother’s life I found some treasures. Many of them books. Avid readers, my grandparents had shelf after shelf of old tomes, leather bound classics, and many titles first published in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
One of the treasures I found was a publication of Three Plays by Thorton Wilder: Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Matchmaker. I started to read Our Town on the boat out to Vancouver Island. I’m very interested in Wilder’s approach to the theatre. He was a three time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Here are some fantastic quotes from his preface to the book:
“The response we make when we ‘believe’ a work of the imagination is that of saying: ‘This is the way things are. I have always know it without being fully aware that I knew it. Now in the presence of this play or novel or poem (or picture or piece of music) I know that I know it.’ It is this form of knowledge which Plato called ‘recollection.’ We have all murdered, in thought; and been murdered. We have all seen the ridiculous in estimable persons and in ourselves. We have all known terror as well as enchantment. Imaginative literature has nothing to say to those who do not recognize — who cannot be reminded — of such conditions. Of all the arts the theatre is best endowed to awaken this recollection within us — to believe is to say ‘yes.'”
“[Theatre] has one foot planted firmly in the particular, since each actor before us (even when he wears a mask!) is indubitably a living, breathing ‘one’; yet it tends and strains to exhibit a general truth since its relation to a specific ‘realistic’ truth is confused and undermined by the fact that it is an accumulation of untruths, pretenses and fiction…. It is through the theatre’s power to raise the exhibited individual action into the realm of idea and type and universal that it is able to evoke our belief.”
“When you emphasize place in theatre, you drag down and limit and harness time to it. You thrust the action back into past time, whereas it is precisely the glory of the stage that it is always ‘now’ there…. No great age in the theatre ever attempted to capture the audiences’ belief through this kind of specification and localization. I became dissatisfied with the theatre because I was unable to lend credence to such childish attempts to be ‘real.’ “
“I should be very happy if, in the future, some author should feel similarly indebted to me [as Wilder was to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake with his play The Skin of Our Teeth]. Literature has always more resembled a torch race than a furious dispute among heirs.”
“The theatre has lagged behind he other arts in finding the ‘new ways’ to express how men and women think and feel in our time. I am not one of the new dramatists we are looking for. I wish I were. I hope I have played a part in preparing the way for them. I am not an innovator but a rediscoverer of forgotten goods and I hope a remover of obtrusive bric-a-brac. And as I view the work of my contemporaries I seem to feel that I am exceptional in one thing — I give (don’t I?) the impression of having enormously enjoyed it.”