April 4, 2011 – San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle 2010 Awards Gene Price Award Acceptance Speech – by Mike Ward
Thank you, Critics Circle, for this recognition. I knew Gene Price and how dedicated he was to the arts in our region. I’m very grateful for this honor and proud to be a member of this amazing community of artists.
As a child, storytelling was a passageway out of a lonely, lost existence, a path I followed where a love of language and ideas grew. Writing and reading offered me hope, connection, creative stimulation. About 20-ish years ago, a playwright and theatre critic in this room recognized something within me and encouraged me to explore the world of storytelling via theatre.
All of us in this room are part of a clan of messengers compelled to touch something within the soul of our fellow travelers on this planet. We bring the words and ideas of our beliefs to life. Through our imagination and creative spirit, we transform those who take this journey with us. Hopefully we transform ourselves as well. Every time I enter a rehearsal room for the beginning of table work, my body fairly well vibrates as I contemplate the process ahead. Process. Always process. Process makes me
A thorough, daring excavation of the text… turning it over, under, finding connections, rhythms, desires. Uncovering what each character needs, what risks the story requires. Observing these exquisite creatures we call actors as their hungry minds gnaw on the scraps from that excavation while they fully navigate their truth as characters, the transformative truth of the play and their truth as creative entities. The designers illuminate clues and keys, more of the story’s mysteries are unlocked and we burrow deeper and build higher. The sound of epiphanies crackling in the room is gratifying.Even the questions or admissions of being lost can be engaging, as we redouble our efforts, explore other choices, and raise stakes and understanding in the process.
There are so many people here tonight with whom I’ve had the great joy of immersing in process. We come together to a table, we throw down the gauntlet and the script, we put forth our ideas. We mix our metaphors, creating a language personal to the moment and to the play. Mesmerizing, engaging, addictive. We know that if all of us are mindful of the process, what will come out is something beyond our expectations. And the process is dictated from the main road map, the script.
We are bound together by the writer’s work, and together we must be mindful of the process that will illuminate the power of that story, the tale we are charged with telling.There are many hidden truths waiting to be discovered within the text at hand – truths that nourish and add to the play because they are part of the play. My greatest successes were with projects where the writing compelled me to connect-the-dots, even those I couldn’t initially see; where I found myself occasionally saying “I don’t know, but give me a little time and I’ll find out,” and often answers came from within the room because all of us were galvanized by the story we were charged with telling. The final result of this process brought us to an astounding, vibrant, dynamic conclusion.
Not all stories have happy endings, but hopefully there is meaning and purpose that will bear some light along with the weight. My story is coming to an end. On December 20, 2010, I was given a 9-11 month prognosis. My liver cancer began creating its own narrative, straying from the intended story. I’ve battled one form of cancer or another since 1996, and lived for nearly 6 years with a cancer that takes most people in 12 to 18 months.
I’m not choosing dying as my path, I choose to live until I’m no longer alive. Semantics? You betcha.
Words are everything to a storyteller. How we frame our story won’t alter the outcome, but it will transform our outlook. I’m living until I’m no longer living tells a much different tale than I’m dying. Hopefully a more interesting tale at that.
Look at your art and your fellow artists with the thought in mind that you are creating something beyond the everyday. Something that requires the vision of the heart, not the eyes, to bring to life. Open your heart and see the future of the art of storytelling.
Thank you to the Critics Circle for all you do to recognize our work, and thank you for honoring my place in this community.