Theater is about building up and tearing down. It is the most ephemeral of art forms, not just because it only exists live and in the moment, but because it must be literally destroyed after every production. I have spent weeks upon weeks of 18 plus hour days building a set, only to have to tear it into nothingness when a production is over.
I hate the destruction. I hate creating something that’s beautiful, that’s mine (or more correctly ours, as theater is also about that collaboration), and then having to demolish it at the end. I know it will happen, from the time I begin creation. But when that moment of destruction comes, it hurts.
How much more would that destruction hurt if it were the home I built, that I had lived in for 40 years? Or my family had lived in for 200 years? Or 2000?
The West Bank settlers are people who, for the most part, are living out their utopian philosophies. They arrived believing that they are fulfilling a mission both political and religious, that they are bringing the Messiah and redemption by their very presence.
Some, probably most, still have that utopian hope. But regardless of what might have brought them to the West Bank initially, houses that have been built cannot easily be destroyed. It has happened—even recently, during the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. But it wasn’t easy then, and should the West Bank settlements be abandoned, it will almost certainly be harder.
It seems fitting that one of the sticking points in the struggle for peace is about a much more ancient land dispute. For if the Messiah is to come, it is believed, a new Temple will have to built, and it will be built on the Temple Mount. Right now, another building stands there: the Dome of the Rock, built originally in the 7th Century on the advice of a former rabbi who had converted to Islam. This too was both a political and religious act, and the relationship to the ancient Temple was no coincidence.
But whatever the circumstances under which the mosque was built, it is now a fact. It is an incredible building, representing the work and beliefs of people going back nearly 1,400 years. It is another utopia, one in which only those of the Muslim faith are allowed.
The Messiah waits for the rebuilding of the Temple because the wound from that destruction from 2000 years ago still hasn’t completely healed. Here in New York, we are only 10 years away from the destruction of the Twin Towers. That was enough to start a war or two, for us.
When this show is over, some pieces of it will disappear into storage. And some will be destroyed forever. It is expected. My own utopian vision allows for it; I believe in the power of theater, and I know that part of that power lies in its ephemeral nature.
But if I believed that the destruction of my set would also mean the destruction of my utopia, the destruction of my ability to work in the theater, I don’t think I could bring myself to allow it. No matter what the general good. No matter how strong the arguments for it. I would not allow it.
Even if someone else’s utopia was destroyed instead.