Kids, in the fall of 2010, I discovered the National Theatre.
I was in London for the weekend with a group of friends1, and they wanted to spend twenty pounds to ride the London Eye. Being fond of neither Ferris wheels nor traditional ideas of fun, I declined the invitation to join them. Instead, I used my twenty pounds to buy the last ticket – literally the last ticket2 – to the National’s sold-out production of Hamlet.
To this day, it is the best twenty pounds I have ever spent.
Hamlet at the National was the most moving and beautiful theatrical experience I have ever had. I am confident that I could live a thousand years and still feel a thrill each time I think about it. This production will forever remain the pinnacle of theatre in my mind, the gold standard to which every subsequent show is held. It was also the beginning of my long time love affair with Hamlet3.
That was the first time I fell in love with the National Theatre, and their courage to articulate beautiful and difficult truths of existence.
Very recently, I learned that the National is not only a champion for artists, but also for audiences. They have arranged for their productions to be filmed, then shown at select movie theatres across the world. And I understand that theatre is incredibly difficult to capture on film, but I am of the mind that there is no reason that it cannot still be moving and worth admiration. It is like looking at a print of a famous painting. Though it did not personally receive a touch of the master, it is no less a thing of beauty. And if it makes it possible for art to be more widely enjoyed by the world, then why not?
Tonight, I saw the National Theatre Live taping of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Johnny Lee Miller and the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch. The production ran last fall, and is now being rebroadcast by popular demand.
I saw the film at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, which, it should be noted, is a beautiful venue with a ridiculous amount of old school charm. Tickets were $20, only slightly less than they were to see the actual production at the National.
But I can only think of a few times that I have spent a better $20.
With each dollar we spend, we are casting a vote for the sort of world we want to live in. We are telling the world, this is what I support. Make more of this.
And tonight, I’d like to tell the world to make more men like Danny Boyle, who are fearless dreamers that laugh in the face of convention. Who make fire from air, who move mountains, who have songbirds inside their chests that burst forth in violent fits of beauty that we call art.
World, make more writers like Mary Shelly, who broke free of society’s shackles and wrote a book that changed the world, that inspired artists across a century – a creation myth where God and man bleed seamlessly into each other.
Make more men like Johnny Lee Miller, who is not afraid of ugliness. Who is not afraid of being thought a fool, so long as his foolishness can stop another’s folly.
And dear sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln, make more men like Benedict Cumberbatch, with cheekbones that could cut glass and the piercing blue eyes of a Siberian husky and that luscious curly hair that I just want to run my fingers through.
But I want more of him for an entirely different reason4.
I would like to spend my money in a way that tells the world that I want art. Art that fills its viewers with the evangelical zeal to move differently in the world. Art that inspires you.
And after watching Frankenstein, the only thing I want to do is make more art.
Much like Victor Frankenstein, I want to be a creator. I ache to be God to a small world of my own design. But rather than give my creatures life to feed my own intellect, I want to use them to breathe life into others. I want to make my own monsters, to teach them to be wild and lovely, and how to be iridescent in the dark world, and leave a chain of people glowing behind them, ignited by their touch.
But the world in which we live is closing itself to the arts. The crowd at the theatre tonight was certainly smaller than it was when The Avengers opened earlier this year, and the viewership of this show is assuredly minuscule compared to Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Toddlers and Tiaras. More people will hear “Call Me Maybe” this summer than will hear a pitch-perfect recitation of Paradise Lost by Mr. Cumberbatch.
To quote Andrea Gibson, a poet you’ve probably never heard which is why she’s a perfect example of everything I’ve just said, “Why is art the first class to be dropped by any public school?/Why are music rooms empty in junior highs from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee?/How can you burn CD after CD after CD while filling your tank with an infinite amount of gas?/As though the war is worth funding but music isn’t?” Our culture has become a prison that we can unmake by supporting the things that build us up rather than destroy us. Things that inspire us. Things that move us to move others.
And so, as someone who both yearns to create and hopes to someday live in a world that will facilitate that creation, I hope that you will join me in casting your vote for the passionate and the bold. Please, support the arts. It doesn’t have to be Frankenstein at the National5. It doesn’t have to be theatre. It doesn’t even have to be $20 worth of support.
But cast your vote in any way you know how, and let the world know that art is important to you.
- Though it was a friendship based solely upon shared nationality.
- The cashier told me so. The rest of the line promptly mutinied against me.
- It remains my longest relationship to date.
- I see that man and the only thing I think is, “Must. Mate. Immediately.”
- In fact, I would probably definitely not recommend this production for everyone. Particularly not my mother.