Are we the result of our actions, or is the true sense of our own selves merely a result of others’ memories of us? And if there is no one to remember us, then what are we?

The following was a letter we received from a longtime collaborator and artist whom we hold very dear, the extremely talented actor/director/teacher Jane Walsh. She sent us this after our last reading of the 2016-17 season, Incognito. As part of our mission, A Public Fit has a talkback after every performance or reading that we do; it’s called The Buzzz. This is exactly the type of discussion we hope to promote. Thank you, Jane, for your wonderful note, and for your endlessly valuable participation in Las Vegas theater.

 

Letter posted with permission.

The parentheticals are my own, for clarity. -DK

Dear Ann Marie and Joe,

Congrats on another strong staged reading! It was a fascinating piece and I can see why you and Joe selected the work. I very much enjoyed watching your actors perform and tell their story. It was especially delicious to see Shawn’s (actor Shawn Martin) work. I just didn’t realize the depth of his skills and talent and I’ve now got a hunger to see him sink his teeth into another one of your productions. Marcus (Actor Marcus Weiss) is wonderful as well and it was lovely to get the chance to speak with Pietra (actor Pietra Sardelli), what a lovely spirit.

I posed my question to the cast because of my own unexpected discoveries when working on Gabrielle (during APF’s highly acclaimed production of When the Rain Stops Falling) and was eager to hear their responses, if I caught the cast off guard or was too intrusive my apologies.

I’ve been thinking hard about this work since last night. On the drive home, I recalled a tender conversation I had with my Aunt Mag a few years ago. She’s 91 now but I suspect her response would still be the same.

I asked her, “What is the toughest part of living into your late 80’s?”

I naively thought that she would bemoan her decreasing mobility, diminishing appetite or the typical aches and pains. Not so.

She said, “No one remembers me. Everyone who knew me is gone.”

She wasn’t referring to loneliness; everyone adores and can’t get enough of her- family, neighbors, her church. She went on to share that no one remembers her as a daughter,

no one remembers her as a high school girl,

no one remembers her wedding, or what she was like as a young bride or young mom,

and now, very few remember her in her middle years.

And because no one is alive who remembers her, it’s corroded her sense of self. She said, and I paraphrase, “When no one is alive to remember who you were, it’s hard to remember who you really are.” It was one of the most heartbreaking moments I have ever witnessed.

Your memories and people who hold you in their memories secure the foundation of who you are. I think that’s why Henry gets so upset when he can’t see his wife. I think that’s why Evelyn needs to have Einstein’s brain to prove who she really is. I think that’s why Tom desperately needs to discover the answer to Einstein’s brilliance, because in doing so he will have affirmed his identity and his purpose as a pathologist. He bets his identity and career on this belief.

I keep thinking about the title, Incognito. To keep your true identity a secret. And yet all the characters were trying to define their identity through recall, work and others. And the writer is very focused on the anatomy and understanding of the brain…. So is he suggesting our true selves are a secret because we DON’T fully understand the brain? Or that the brain will always hold secrets from the self? Or we’ll never get a true understanding of ourselves because we’re covered in so many memories and those around us perceive through a narrow lens?

Or that we’re constantly hiding ourselves from others to avoid the unknown?

I’ll be thinking on this for a while.

Thanks again for a lovely evening.

much love,
jcw

 

Are we the sum of our actions, or are we the product of our own perception? Or, perhaps more poignantly, is our “self” merely the sum of others’ recollections of us? Hard to say. But maybe this is why theater is so important, so enduring. It asks these questions in ways that no other medium can. -DK

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