It’s December 2016 and I’m fairly certain that my brain is more cluttered than it’s ever been before. There’s the shock and dismay and anger about the current state of the world, and the fear and apprehension about whatever awaits us in 2017. There’s the lack of concrete answers for those feelings. There are my own artistic ambitions combined with my desire to figure out how to actively contribute to healing the hurt. There’s the gladness and gratitude for the adventures in 2016, the time spent strengthening old friendships, and the new friends made along the way.
My brain is full of static. My imagine and my spirit also feel cluttered.
At the same time, I keep thinking about some of the art I’ve experienced this year.
In no particular order, here are some of the things I came across in 2016 that broke through the clutter and set up camp in my consciousness. These are things I can’t stop thinking about.
The extreme joy and extreme pain in Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, not to mention the ensemble performances and Savion Glover’s choreography for that train travel sequence; Ivo van Hove’s cracking open of The Crucible which allowed me to experience the desperation in that play in a whole new way; David Hyde Pierce’s stirring performance in Adam Bock’s A Life, reminding me why he’s one of my most favorite performers of all time and why Adam Bock is one of my most favorite playwrights–I must also acknowledge Anne Kauffman’s exquisite direction and that amazing set. Everything about the writing and the production of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Harvest left me wide-eyed and openhearted–the compassion for a community of our society that I never understand was a gift, as were those performances. The Wilma Theater’s production of Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling was like a rich, amazing dinner–so much to chew on and so satisfying, so deep, so thorough, so good. Similarly, Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War was an extraordinarily epic undertaking which deepened my understanding of all five of those plays–a reminder that some stories are just too big to be contained. Simon Stone’s production of Lora’s Yerma at the Old Vic was my favorite direction for the stage this year. Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead is a play that amazes, terrifies, and awakens me, and the Lileana Blain Cruz’s production reminded me that plays can do so much more than only tell a good story. Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl on the West End reminded me after a year spent working on plays exclusively that there’s nothing better than a glorious musical. Bartlett Sher’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, with the incomparable Danny Burstein and Judy Kuhn (two more favorite actors) was, for me, a perfect blend of theatrical daring and good old fashioned craft; I must also acknowledge the pit orchestra, the scenic design, and the choreography which also contributed to a thrilling experience. Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin at the Met was sublime in every way.
I will never forget Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which I think about daily and which inspires me to be a better creative human more than any theatrical experience I’ve ever had before.
Finally, everything about The Band’s Visit moved my heart and also made me want to make better theatre. It was my favorite theatrical experience of 2016.
Two specific live performances: seeing Regina Spektor live at Town Hall was a longtime dream come true; she is the songwriter I steal from more than anyone else. And, the chorus of Met’s production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell gave me an introduction to that score that I’ll be savoring for a long time.
Hanya Yanigihara’s A Little Life has stayed with me in ways few novels have; I talk about it with anyone I meet who has read it and I want to reread it soon. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a novel every single person should read. I also deeply loved Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. My favorite thing I read all year, though, is easily George Elliot’s Middlemarch, which is just glorious in every way. I’m glad I finally read it and I can’t wait to reread it again and again.
The entirety of the Mona Hatoum exhibit at the Tate Modern, as well as Jane Alexander’s African Adventure also at the Tate. Goya’s The Dog at the Prado haunts me. And then nothing compares to finally seeing pieces you’ve studied from afar up close and in person: The Garden of Earthly Delights and Guernica were indescribably extraordinary.
My favorite moment of 2016 was reading The Brothers Karamazov on the Mirador de San Nicolás in Granada, listening to the live music and the live people while we waited to watch the sunset over the Alhambra. The sunset did not disappoint.