Charles Lewis III, getting a head start on the recap.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
– JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
It’s safe to say that death is not everyone’s favorite subject. It’s one thing to think of endings – fads end, stories end, meals end – but quite another to actually put it in terms of death. Death means that you end. All of your opinions fads, stories, and meals will merely vanish as your consciousness slips away into a void of permanent darkness.
Okay… now that I’ve started off on such a cheery note, I should probably tell you that I don’t intend for this to be a downer; if you want that, there’s no shortage of it in the news (particularly as it relates to recent deaths). In fact, I should say that I get it and I empathize: the sudden appearance of death (at least if it’s not your own) can be a rude awakening from the complacency of life. It’s the one thing in life about which we aren’t entirely certain; or maybe we are certain and just like the fairy tale as a way of thinking that it could only get better from here. These questions wake me up at night, too.
It’s only natural that these questions would come up in the midst of a theatre festival based on a mythology with no shortage of prominent figures who tried to cheat death. The twist is that they often found that eternal could be much worse than life ending (eternal life without eternal youth; permanently pushing a boulder up a hill; etc.). Is the end of life really more terrifying than the idea of an unchanged life that never ends?
During the opening speeches for this year’s festival, founder Stuart Bousel has frequently mentioned something that a few of us have known for some time: that the SF Olympians Festival is a 12-year experiment, making this (its sixth year) the halfway point. Last night’s shark-themed “Waterlogue” was from the point of view of someone who realizes that they’re dying. It was a funny piece, but a sobering reminder that this festival we all love will one day end, as all things do.
The thing to remember is that art doesn’t die. Artists die, artwork can be destroyed, but the affect that a work of art can have is something that can’t be measured so tangibly. What’s more, advances in technology have made it easier to both preserve art for future generations and restore works thought lost forever. For the Olympians Fest, many of the readings are recorded and photographed (I’ve often done the latter from an awkward front row seat), letting the playwrights, actors, and even those who weren’t there experience the readings as often as they’d like.
But let’s not forget the point of the festival itself. As Stuart has frequently stated: the festival is meant to be part of the development process of the, not the end. All playwrights retain full ownership of their scripts and are allowed to alter and submit them as they see fit. Productions such as Juno en Victoria, Pleiades, You’re Going to Bleed, and the upcoming The Horse’s Ass and Friends! all started as Olympians readings with their writers in the audience nervously listening to the reactions of the audience around them. From there, each writer decided “I would love to see this on its feet” and put the gears in motion to make it happen. The festival is part of the trip, it’s not the destination.
I wrote earlier this year how I wasn’t all that fond of my Year 3 script about Atlas – Do a Good Turn Daily – until the years-later feedback of others made me reconsider it. I haven’t heard a lot of feedback about this year’s Poseidon script, The Adventures of Neptune: In Color!, but the audience reaction was pretty good from where I sat. Sure, as writer/director I can nitpick 1,001 things I’d change, but that script is something I’m proud of. So proud, in fact, that I’ve resolved to expand it from a one-act to a full-length. I can’t say for certain what future these scripts will have, but it’s been a trip to bring them this far. They didn’t die at the festival.
Since this is officially the festival’s mid-life, perhaps a contemplation of the end is appropriate. Not in the morbid “Oh God, I’m gonna die, but I never went to Bora Bora!” way, but in the author-of-a-great-series-starts-pondering-the-perfect-resolutions-for-his/her-characters-so-the-story-can-end-correctly-and-not-go-on-indefinitely way. You see it coming and you prepare for the single best send-off ever. Death will certainly play an important role in next year’s festival, “Harvest of Mysteries”. In addition to plays about such Greek myth staples as Hades and Tartarus, Year 7 will also shake things up by including figures from Egyptian mythology – and those mofos were all about death!
This is probably the end of the “Of Olympic Proportions” feature on this site. It’s possible that it could pop up again and you can bet that ‘Pub writers will continue to talk about the Olympians Fest, but as I said in my first entry: I saw this as a one-year sporadically-scheduled look at one of the most popular theatre festivals on the West Coast. Having been with it since the beginning, it was my pleasure to give people a resource into what goes into said festival, from the moment a writer is accepted to the post-show drinks. Hopefully, most of the questions people have had can now be answered by clicking the “SF Olympians”, “San Francisco Olympians Festival”, and “Of Olympic Proportions” tags below.
And hey, don’t forget that this is not the end! Not for the festival (which still has six exciting years ahead of it), not for my participation in it (I’ll be writing the script for the Opening Night party), or even for this year’s festival. It continues tonight, tomorrow night, and concludes on Saturday. So come on down and raise a glass to the Wine Dark Sea, and enjoy every sip as if it were your last!
Charles Lewis III finds it hilarious that he started this feature thinking he’d never be part of the festival again. As usual, tix and info can be found as www.SFOlympians.com.