In January of 2005, we at Whistler started rehearsals for The Possibilities – our first production as a company. We had no money and knew almost no one in Boston. And we were choosing to launch our company with the kind of production that we intended to continue with – challenging, unsettling, hard. Looking back, it seems like the hardest way we could have possibly started.
But all three of the founding members had trained at Middlebury College, where the theatre faculty exhort the students to be constantly pushing themselves to better and better work. Throughout my time at college it was reinforced for me that if the work I wanted wasn’t being done, I would just have to get out there and do it myself. And so, when Ben, Amanda and I looked around and realized that the work we wanted to be doing wasn’t happening in our community, we decided to get out there and do it ourselves.
The name that we chose – Whistler in the Dark – was a challenge to us, and a reminder of where that impulse to create came from. The phrase is taken from the second prologue to Howard Barker’s The Bite of the Night:
Should we not
I know it’s impossible but you still try
Not reach down beyond the known for once
I’ll take you
I’ll hold your throat
And vomit I will tolerate
Over my shirt
Over my wrists
I’ll be your guide
And whistler in the dark
Cougher over filthy words
And all known sentiments recycled for this house
None of it
I honour you too much
To paste you with what you already know
Honoring the audience. Rejecting the easy and straightforward for the challenging (and ultimately rewarding). Reaching beyond the known and discovering a new way of communicating with our audience. These were the ideals that we held high five years ago – and as I look at our body of work, I am so proud to see reflections of these in each and every piece we do.
But what pleases me most of all is seeing how our mission statement has evolved over the years to a celebration of the real and dangerous intimacy of theatre while examining fundamental questions about our own humanity. Some of the plays we’ve produced – A Hard Heart, The Bacchae, Vampire, All This Flying… – have tackled explicitly political aspects of those questions, but even the deceptively simple plays – the gentle worlds of Mary’s Wedding and In On It – play with perception and connections in new and exciting ways. And through all of them I see echoed the truth of the old feminist mantra: “the personal is political”. The politics of two men working through their relationship, the conflict between patriotism, duty and human love…and now the danger of connection in a world where a catastrophe has leveled class distinctions and left its members to write their own rules anew.
We started rehearsals for One Flea Spare this week. I’ve been wanting to tackle this play since I first read it in college, and more immediately when I met Jen O’Connor and Lorna Nogueira five years ago at auditions for The Possibilities and realized (a) that here were two women I wanted to work with forever and (b) that I had found my Morse and Darcy. Working with Curt Klump last year on The Bacchae showed that we had a Bunce. And so we’re diving in.
It feels good. Challenging, unsettling, poetic, sexy, vibrant, rough. And intimate. I’m so excited to spend the next five weeks working on Naomi Wallace’s gorgeous play. And I’m even more excited to share it with our audience.