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On Loss: An Artistic Statement

September 23, 2015

 

            Much of my creative work begins, quite simply, with loss.  A character or community loses something or someone (or even self) and struggles, throughout their journey, to find what they have loved and lost.

            Loss takes on many forms in my plays.  It could be a physical absence – someone dies, or a plane disappears off the face of the planet.  But losses can also manifest emotionally and spiritually, taking forms of one person’s battle with depression or a once-powerful god that shrinks with illness.  These losses often render us lonely, silent sufferers stuck in the background while the remaining world moves on.  And how do we move on from this grand Silence?  Some refuse the call and remain until they are swallowed up and seen as nothing.  But I personally believe we are given worth as sentient beings.  As far as we know, we are the only life forms that can seriously effect change and persevere in a universe where we, communally, are truly alone.  The giving up doesn’t interest me; the moving on, does.

            As a playwright, I refuse to shy away from transcendental journeys that defy our real planes of existence.  We naturally seek solutions to our loss in video games, magical rituals, and distant mythologies not as a means of escape, but a means to seek self, to discover what is on the other side waiting for us that aims to be better than what we are presently.  Perhaps characters find exactly what they are searching for and happiness congratulates them in the end.  But other times, what is loved and lost can only be loved and never return.  In the presence of absence, characters must find other ways of moving on – to accept themselves despite their loss or discover new communities to share in the loss and live on.

            I say this as a first-generation American, born of immigrant Brazilian parents, but with a last name entrenched in essential Portuguese.  Throughout my childhood, the word saudade was a ghostly presence in conversation.  The sentiment defies definition, but it roughly translates to loving the lost that can never return.  Popularized as a Portuguese torch song called fado, it was originally a Brazilian concept, felt and performed by immigrants and slaves longing for their homes across the Atlantic, but never returning.  So they sang, calling across the ocean, hoping their lovers would hear them, but only hearing that Silence.  But in that Silence, they attracted community who shared in their wistfulness, their sexual cravings, their musical musings for what life could be. 

            It was carried with my parents as they immigrated to the United States, rarely seeing their families.  It was carried in my voice, as I loved my friends and family, but could never return to their normal.  And it carries on in my work, imagining disasters ranging from the international to the intimate.  It carries on in the characters who fear being alone, who desperately desire to belong to a normal, but are too estranged to step out of their sheds.  But my art is always in pursuit of the moving on – it has to, because saudade is not a passive acceptance, but a performance.  These characters may have lost their loved ones, the things they love about themselves, but they cannot sit in their shadows.  They embark into the unknown – to the bottom of the sea, to karaoke bars, to video games, to paintings, to other worlds outside themselves – and they search for what they’ve lost.  And throughout their journeys, they dive further from their comfortable outskirts, sometimes with comedic outcomes, sometimes with hearts and spirits broken.  But what they find at the end of the road is greater than with what they had to begin. 

            They accept themselves.  They accept others.  They’ve loved and lost, but they live again.  And altogether, they move on from this Silence.

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Ryan Oliveira

Ideas.  I'm full of them.

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