If you’re here, you know me as the author of books for young readers. You may not know that I’m also an actress. In 2015, some twenty years after I took my final bow in college, I stuck my toe in the waters of community theatre, and over the past four years, I’ve been privileged to perform in several productions. I am currently appearing in a mainstage show at Bucknell University, where I work. Normally, these shows are cast exclusively with students, but because of the nature of this play and the creative choices of the director, several faculty members are in the cast alongside the students. This means I have enjoyed over the past few months the extraordinary experience of working with highly talented people in a highly intensive environment, all of us dedicated to the magical task of making art.
I make art when I write, and I recognize and enjoy other forms of art, but I’ve generally thought of music, dance, theater, writing, painting as largely separate fields. Of course they come together in myriad ways, and this is always exciting, but I imagined the creative process for each art form to be unique. As a writer, I’ve looked to other writers for world-building and character exercises and for the more abstract, difficult-to-define processes of cultivating stories. However, the experience of working on this play has awakened a new understanding of creativity.
Through a variety of exercises, we’ve looked for our characters and the atmosphere of the play in our bodies and voices and hearts, as well as in the space where we perform. Early on in doing this work, an exercise that began with writing (my comfort zone) and moved on to walking in unusual ways (NOT my comfort zone) led me to discover something essential about my character. What was most striking about this discovery is that I recognized the sliding-into-place of pieces of identity. I recognized this feeling from when my understanding of a character I’m writing suddenly deepens. Sometimes this deepening is the direct result of my searching for answers to questions I’ve posed, but sometimes it happens unexpectedly when I’m not looking for it. It’s a very distinctive emotional-intellectual click, the sound of creativity happening.
The click that happened for me most recently wasn’t about a particular character or story. It was about how the creativity of play – whether on the stage or on the page, or, I imagine, on a canvas or a keyboard – is one type of creativity. It’s about using all of yourself, not just the parts you already know and trust. It’s about inviting ideas in and letting them lodge in unexpected places. It’s about the physical, emotional, and poetic gestures where imagination and intellect meet and together make art.
Through the alchemy of writing and acting, I’ve learned that creativity is a vast and powerful force that gives life to all art. Like air, it is everywhere, sustaining everything. We breathe it in and fill ourselves with it, and then we transform it and send it out into the world.