The Fear Project

March 15, 2009

Well, it has been much too long since I’ve updated, and it’s about time that I fill you guys in on the project I’ve been mentioning slyly for some time now.

So by way of introduction, it’s a play.  And, I’m writing it.  And it’s about fears, and nightmares, and phobias.  And other such things.  It’s a documentary theatre piece, which basically just means it’s like a documentary film, but live onstage.  So unlike a documentary film, where you are bound by the exact words and face of the interviewee, in documentary theatre you must perform those interviews, and in performing them you must ask, “Who is this person?  How do they talk?  What does their story mean to them?” It becomes less a factual exploration of what they said, and more a deep exploration of who they are.  It is about the people, their stories and their souls, and not just about the facts of their interview.

Anyway, I’m doing one of those, and it’s about Fear.  Specifically, this play explores three main questions: 1) Why are we afraid of what we’re afraid of, 2) Why does fear have such power in our lives, and 3) What do we do about it?

1) Something that I’ve encountered over an over again in my reading and my interviews is that for the most part, people don’t really know why they’re afraid.  This is especially true in the case of nightmares and phobias, but it applies more broadly as well.  Someone wakes up screaming from a nightmare about being stabbed with pins, and they can’t explain where that came from.  Another is plagued for years by a debilitating fear of birds, so bad that she can barely even go outside, and she doesn’t really know why.  And even our more logical fears, like fear of terrorism, aren’t really connected to our likelihood of actually being harmed by a terrorist attack. (I’ve heard it said that you’re more likely to be killed by a tidal wave than by a terrorist.)

2) Fear is one the biggest motivations behind everything that happens in the world today, on a personal, societal, and global level, good and bad.  We quit smoking because we’re afraid of cancer; we tolerate the Patriot Act because we’re afraid of terrorists; we eat organic because we’re afraid of pesticides.  Why does fear have such power?

3) So what does all this mean to us?  What do we do about fear in our lives?  Is it necessary a bad thing? (I mean, quitting smoking is definitely a good development.) I want more than anything to make a play that is useful.  I want people coming away with a wider perspective on fear, a better understanding of how it affects the people around them, and a better capacity to deal with it in their own lives.

We’re all so scared right now.  Worried about the economy, frightened by terrorists, paranoid about immigrants, distrustful of our politicians.  I want to make a play that provides understanding, but more than that, relief.  I want us to be able to laugh at our fears, grin in understanding and indentification.  We’re all afraid of something.  And that should bring us together, not tear us apart.

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