A Posthumous Letter to Sarah Kane

Dear Sarah,

I’ve been meaning to write you for some time now, as you’ve been on my thoughts quite a bit lately. Pretty much every day, actually. You’ll forgive me if that sounds a bit creepy, please allow me to explain.

I write a blog, you see. A theatre blog to be precise, and I’m proud to say that lately it’s been doing pretty well readership-wise, and you have had some influence in that. I want to give credit where it is due, and I don’t make any money from it directly – I write it in the hopes that my readers will talk a little more about theatre, thus elevating it somewhat in the larger public conciousness, so that more people will consider the theatre as an entertainment option and then eventually some of those people will come out and see one of my plays and then I will get some money from it. Oh, sorry, I’m a playwright too, you see, like you – well, that is to say, not a playwright of your calibre or notoriety, not yet anyway, but I do hold some such aspirations. Anyway, I digress. Habitually. Back to giving credit where it is due, and my thoughts and your presence among them.

Because of the aforementioned blog I am confronted with your name daily, and repeatedly. You see, I wrote a little post about you some time ago, and out of the 138 posts that I have written to date, that Sarah Kane post has been responsible for the vast majority of new traffic that Google and other such engines of its type have shepherded my way. To be exact, that article – the one about you – has been viewed from a key word search for “Sarah Kane” 816 times. It is my top post. It seems that there are an awful lot of people out there looking for answers about you, so much so that I’m beginning to suspect that you may qualify for official cult status. There’s been 6 SK hits to my site today alone, and it’s early. I wonder how many hits your Wikipedia page gets a day? A lot I’ll bet.

So what the heck is it that makes you so enigmatic? Is it your small yet enduring body of work, your suicide, or the articles of your body of work that ended up proving to be such a clear window into the psyche of a suicide? Should I be worried that so many people are looking for answers from you? Or relieved?

This past Tuesday was a National holiday in Canada (it was our birthday), and a lot of us here in Vancouver had taken advantage of the occasion to spend a four-day weekend away. So returning to the city on Tuesday afternoon my family and I found ourselves in the middle of a sea of cars coming back from Whistler or the Island, all of us heading towards one of the two bridges that grant access back into downtown. The day was a scorcher and traffic was slow. Slower than I’d ever seen it, actually. Dead slow. When we hadn’t moved a foot in twenty minutes we tuned into the local AM news station in the hopes of hearing some indication as to the cause of the gridlock. It seems that there was a “distraught women” clinging to the edge of the Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge and the police had closed it down – both ways – forcing all traffic to the Lion’s Gate Bridge while they attempted to talk her down. They attempted this for five and a half hours, and eventually convinced her to take another shot at her life, it seems. What is normally a twenty-minute car-ride turned into a four hour slog for us, and we missed the movie that we had planned to see that night. Intermittently on that slow crawl home we would hear a frustrated motorist yell “just jump, already!” or “step on her fingers!”. I didn’t yell anything, even though I shared a certain amount of their frustration, I just kept thinking of you and the woman on the bridge and felt sad and a little scared for her and read a magazine.

I wish that woman had read 4.48 Psychosis. It might not have kept her off that bridge that day, but maybe she would have felt a little less alone. I wish those impatient motorists had seen the production of 4.48 that I’d seen last year. I know their long drive would have been different. And I wish that you could have felt the impact that your work has had, and continues to have, while you were still alive.

Anyway, thanks for the blog hits.

Sincerely yours,

Simon.

The Death of Sarah Kane 4:00

Sarah Kane is my Kurt Cobain

Up until last week I hated Sarah Kane. Thought she was anathema to the theatre and pretty much civilization in general. Well, as it turns out, I’m an idiot. An idiot who just learned a great big lesson in judging a book by a single chapter, and had his already firm belief in the power of live performance fortified. It’s been a good week.

I first came into contact with SK a few years ago while making my way through a compilation of established plays just for fun, as I am wont to do. I was having a good old time until I ran headfirst into Blasted, which was lurking somewhere in the middle of the volume. I innocently dove in and read on with growing revulsion. This play seemed to me not so much written as excreted, and caustically placed there alongside works of obvious distinction, no less. I felt as if I’d been ambushed, tricked into reading a nonsensical vomiting of someone’s problems onto paper. Surely no one had actually produced this…this…thing, had they? Fascinated by my strong reaction, I did a little research. Sarah Kane: b. 1971 Essex, d. 1999 by hanging herself in a bathroom at London’s King’s College Hospital. Leading member of the childishly monikered In-Yer-Face theatre movement in London that “shocked” the theatre out of its boring political rut. Evangelical upbringing. Lifetime depressive. Well, there you go, that explains it. I tossed Sarah Kane out of my life, which had no room for problem theatre, nor for filth for filth’s sake.

Fate disapproved, however, and brought Sarah back into my life. Over at the LSP, all the members of the ensemble are encouraged to bring in plays for group readings and production consideration at any time, and a couple of months ago one of the guys did just that with a work he’d become fascinated with. Ech. Blasted. Seriously? Fine. I suffered in silence through the read and most of the post-read discussion until, inevitably, came the dreaded “you’re uncharacteristically quiet Si-guy, what’s your take?”. My take? Vile, pornographically violent, heavy-handed, pointless, production heavy, heartless, simplistic garbage from an angry person with a selfish agenda. Thanks for bringing it in, though. Bah. Humbug. Moving on.

Stars aligned. Planes shifted. Portals opened, whatever. I was to review a play called 4.48 Psychosis, by Sarah Kane. Oh, yippee. The night arrived, along with pouring rain, a pounding headache, and the expected comps not waiting at the door. $40 lighter and 4 pounds wetter, I sit to await curtain, head in hand.

I walked from that theatre transformed. And saddened, and wiser than when I went in. Sarah’s final work is an anguished howl of pain and suffering that is utterly beautiful in the revealing of its author’s torment. The grace and ferocity of the writing is exquisite. A tortured poet who could not bear the life she had been given, she invited us into it with this piece of writing, gives us a private tour of the horrors of it, and then, with nothing left to write about, ended it. The juxtaposition of such a selfless act with such a selfish one is a jarring meditation on art that I haven’t yet begun to deal with, mostly because it scares the shit out of me. But I feel that I know a couple things now that I didn’t before: I’ve spent time in the mind of a clinically depressed suicidal and have an better insight and understanding of it (I move through the east side differently now because of it); I’ve seen the power of art forged from the truest, most private parts of the artist; and I know that one play is never a true barometer of the skill of a playwright. Won’t make that mistake again.

And I know that artists who speak their truth and write from their souls can live forever, no matter how short their time here.

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