Hey there, hi there, ho there friends! I am currently down in Illinois visiting the family and eating waaaaay too much ham. (I do come from the "pork capital of the Midwest", you know.) Since I have to get back in a car for a long eight-hour drive back to the Twin Cities soon, I will have to be brief today.
Unfortunately, I have to be brief here on the last chance we will get to talk to each other before 2016 slips past us into the veil of history. Last year at this time you got a review of 2015, but I get the feeling from the interwebs that many of you out there are not so chipper about the year that we are about to leave behind.
Hopefully, you have yanked yourself away from the internet for at least a little while this holiday season. A general sense of dread and despair has settled over humanity's technological sandbox, with people claiming left and right that 2016 has been the worst year ever. It's probably a good idea for everyone to unplug from this meme for a little while. I'm definitely not saying that 2016 has been all sunshine and roses and kittens and unicorns and ice cream (and, by now, you long-time readers know that I am the last person you should go to for boundless, whimsical optimism) but there have been many, many objectively worse years for humanity.
I know, I know. You want to have a moment to revel in how shitty you feel after this election and yet another celebrity death, and here I go reminding you of the black death, the holocaust, and that year that a super volcano explosion nearly wiped out all of humanity. I just think it's important to keep a sense of perspective.
After looking back at all of this year's installments of News and Notes, I will say, though, that this has been a big year for loss and change for the Twin Cities theater community. It hasn't ended yet. Just recently, Scott Mayer announced that he would be stepping down from the Ivey Awards, and my friends over at Savage Umbrella announced that they will be closing down the company's Space in St. Paul.
It's easy to bundle up all the bad stuff that happens in one year in your mind and let that define a year for you. News and Notes for 2016 brought you tales of absolutely awful behavior behind the scenes at theaters, examinations of how the theater world is turing its collective nose up at its own audience in a time when audience numbers are shrinking, and dark hints well before the sad triumph of Trump that we're starting to just not trust democracy anymore.
But, before you disappear down a well of unending sadness, please try to do the opposite as well: bundle up all the good stuff that happened in the year and look at that, too. Savor the best-of-the-year theater lists that publications are putting out (even if your name and your show are not included there), because, as the Star Tribune has pointed out, this was actually a year of really good and really diverse shows. Looking at these lists from Graydon Royce and Rohan Preston, it seems like the Twin Cities theater community is stepping up to do the challenge of 2016 and seeking to flourish in adversity.
Actually, looking back at this year's News and Notes entries, I'm seeing a lot more optimism, hope and chances for sunshine and kittens than I would have anticipated had I just sat around munching on the received wisdom that this was just a crappy year (as I established above, I wasn't going to eat any of that; I was eating ham). This year, I actually wrote an article called "You're doing it right"; it wasn't sarcastic, and I stand by it. We all had a good time at the Fringe Festival this year. I even found it in my heart to hate the Tony Awards a little less.
See, folks? Just because you're not on top at the moment doesn't mean you're at the bottom. Yet, despite all this goodness, we will forever be saddled with this narrative of evil and badness for 2016. Why? As I pointed out way back in April:
"Americans are deeply optimistic people. I know that statement feels funny in your mouth during this current election cycle, but it's true. Americans have this innate sense that everything should be improving all the time. We're so hungry for change that when presented with anything that is a great leap toward a goal, our reaction is not to praise how far it's taken us, but to chastise it for not yet getting 100% of the way there. Our extreme optimism breeds a dislike for baby steps and compromise, because we just know it could be even better."
This wasn't a year in which we blasted off for the moon. It was a year in which we were flying blind on a rocket cycle. But we didn't crash. Not yet. There's still time to do everything. You've just got to want to do it.
So let's come back in 2017 and actually do it.