What Oscar Wilde taught me.
I started this directing challenge UNPREPARED. I will admit that right away. I knew so little about Oscar Wilde and had only a surface appreciation for his play-writing. The (ONLY) benefit of this starting place was that I was allowed to grow and learn as the cast did. Asking more questions and having less pre-determined answers gave the life of the show a chance to have a life, which I believe ties in very well with the mandate of A Bunch of Actors.
My research began, (shamefully I admit) at the same time as rehearsals started; beginning with a biography of Oscar Wilde's life. I will say that the book was a bit too liberal in its assumptions on what could be questionable details of Wilde's time, but it nonetheless informed me of his world and mostly of his mother's enormous influence on his life and social beginnings.
Wilde started for me as an short and witty phrase - fittingly as what he was most famous for writing. Ask any slightly well-read person about his life and you receive a short concision about his sexuality, his fall from grace and how he wrote some witty theater. I myself have been guilty of spouting off this reduced version. NO MORE!
I will try to express some of my gratitude for the artist he was in this piece.
Wilde strove, for a large part of his life to create his life as a piece of art for pleasure and for beauty. In a strange and cyclically beautiful irony, he did just that, to the point where the painting he painted started to paint himself. This heart wrenching reality is never more evident than in his 80 page letter to his ex-lover (and a key player to his incarceration) that he wrote in prison. Never, I will add, having the possibility to proof-read or edit before going to the next page of allowed paper (nicely done!)
As I read this letter, entitled De Profundis, it felt as if it was read just to me. I felt I was a private witness in his cell to this heart wrenching explanation of everything in his life that had happened to put him where he was to stay. Through his time in prison, he was legally separated from his children, suffered through the death of his beloved mother without contact, and yet still he learned a humility and compassion for his oppressors startlingly kind for one so debased and at a loss of stature.
I'm sounding sappy because I AM and I have come to appreciate this man WAY beyond what I expected. I urge everyone and anyone who can, to look past the epigrams, the heavy green cloak and the debonair image to realize that Oscar Wilde was a profoundly human, loving, generous and oh so very real man.
What a gift to leave the world! A life that 100 years later can still make someone wholly different feel like lessons are whispering through centuries: spoken through art, and wit and immeasurable grace in the face of terrible loss. What a fucking amazing man.
And truth be told we don't know anything really for certain. Letters and writing are as close as we can come to fact, but we should never presume to understand how his mind truly created the magic it did.
So Mr. Wilde? Not too shabby sir, not too shabby. Thanks for being so kind and smart.