By Grechen Wingerter, President of the Board of Trustees
“Time passes. Make sense who may. I switch off.” The middle sentence of this quote from Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett’s short play What Where, is one of my favorite lines of dialogue. In that one line, the second to last of the play, the playwright is telling us that even he isn’t really sure what the play is all about. That maybe he isn’t really sure what life is all about.
This kind of existential crisis was fairly typical of most Absurdist theatre. A movement that developed shortly after World War II and lasted until well into the 1960s, Absurdism and Absurdist playwrights were writing about and commenting on a world in chaos as Europe struggled to recover from the devastating effects of the war. People were trying to make sense of the war, were questioning humanity as a whole, and were questioning the reason for their own existence. And as theatre often mirrors real life, Absurdism was born, and its playwrights, like Samuel Beckett, reflected the madness and confusion they saw in the world by writing quirky plays that maddened and confused — and amused audiences — sometimes. Most audiences, however, left the theatre with more questions than when they first entered.
Absurdism is one of my favorite genres of theatre. And Samuel Beckett is one of my favorite Absurdist playwrights. I typically enjoy plays that challenge the status quo, that ask hard questions, that reveal the struggles we face as a society, as individuals. As a theatre professor, I share these quirky plays like What Where with my students as they learn about playwriting and various genres of theatre. Most of them hate it. They are confused, can’t figure out what it is about, and generally just don’t “get it”. I tell them it’s okay to not get it, to be confused, that even I, who was once in a production of What Where in college, have no idea what the play is really about. This admission makes them laugh, but doesn’t ease their confusion. And so I point them to that second to last line of the play — “Make sense who may” and I tell them, all we can do is try to make sense of the chaos of the world as best as we are able with the information we have in front of us.
Absurdism popped into my head as I sat down to write this blog this month. In many ways, the past few months have felt a bit like living in an Absurdist play. Confusion, chaos, quirkiness, and a great deal of struggling to make sense of the world around us. Many of us are ready for this “play” to be over. We have more questions now than we did back in March. We feel stuck. I will admit that I, too, am struggling with all those things as well. And despite my love for Absurdist theatre, I am ready for this play to be over. To move forward. To be unstuck.
I am motivated to become unstuck after an extremely encouraging and invigorating Westside Board of Trustees retreat last weekend. Despite some technological issues with seven people in one room — properly socially distanced — and four others at their homes — on a day-long Zoom meeting, I came away from that meeting excited and optimistic about Westside and its future. There are some challenges we face, and some potential changes to adapt to, but I am hopeful that we will meet them head on in true Westside fashion — with understanding, compassion, and heart. For this is a congregation with all of those qualities — and many more. Those qualities are only some of the reasons I was drawn to Westside — and chose to stay.
We will meet the challenges we face and adapt to the changes that come with understanding, compassion, and heart. And I am fully confident we will come to the end of this Absurdist play — maybe still with lots of questions — but also, with answers as to the direction we want to go. We will get unstuck.
I have rambled here a bit longer than I intended, and so… “Time passes. Make sense who may. I switch off.”
Peace, love, and Absurdism,
WUUC Board of Trustees President