Art’s permission to stare

wallace shawn 2

Wallace Shawn

“I have an enormous appetite to see life as I know it presented in front of my eyes.

That seems strange—after all, why don’t I just walk out into the street? But the thing is that you can’t really look at things out in the street, much less in your own apartment or in your friends’ apartments. You can look in the theater in a completely different way from the way you can look in life. You’re allowed to really look at a play—even stare.

In life, you are a character in the scene. When you’re a character in the scene, you can’t really look at the scene. If someone’s talking to you, you must respond appropriately. You can’t just stare at the person. You can’t look at life with the degree of attention and focus that you can employ when you look at a play, because you have to participate. And the people you’re staring at would find it rude. But if you’re sitting in an audience watching a scene, you can focus your entire being on looking at that scene. It’s a very special privilege.

In . . .  Les Éphémères, they had a scene where a fisherman and his wife and some other people have taken their children on an outing, and they come home, and they put the kids to bed. The kids are already asleep—they’re very young children—and they carry them in asleep, and they put them to bed. It takes probably fifteen minutes, or at least ten. No talking. Now, I have very little interest in family life, in children, et cetera. If you said, We’re now going to do a ten-minute scene about putting children to bed, I would be bored before you even finished the sentence. But it was so true and so real and so interesting. It was beautiful, and I was moved by it.”

–Wallace Shawn, The Paris Review

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