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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Prillaman

Get Out There and Look Directly at the Sun

(With proper optical protection! Only with proper optical protection!)

The smallest I’ve ever felt in my life was in Utah.

A desert road. It is probably Utah. It is vast and intimidating.
I am a fleck of yellow paint in a Bob Ross.

I was on a tour with the National Theatre for Children. My partner and I were set to drive from Denver to Butte, Montana over the course of two days. We weren’t even supposed to be IN Utah. But Wyoming doesn’t have a lot of roads. And when a snowstorm comes, sometimes Wyoming has to close their only highway, which means that Wyoming is closed, which means you have to drive back to Denver and head west, which means driving over the Rocky Mountains (adding in an unscheduled stop in the middle in a random ski town with hotels way out of your allotted budget due to aforementioned snowstorm) and then into Utah. All this before eventually heading north up through Idaho and finally into Montana.

But peddling along I-70, crossing that Coloradan and Utahn (Utaihn? Utahian? Uta Hagen?) border is nothing but grandeur. You drive up a gradient and the rocky hills on both sides give way to vast, open desert with towering, rust plateaus dotted about. It was absolutely dwarfing, and something unlike I’ve ever experienced.

The eclipse we had this past April 8th evoked a similar feeling.

Y’all, it felt I was in Elden Ring or Star Wars. And apparently we just had some Northern Lights, too? I ask because Alli and I didn't catch them. Light pollution is real.

What Does the Sun (or Utah) Have to Do with Theatre?

MY POINT BEING, for those of us who are playwrights (or any practitioners of theatre), it’s such a simple notion that it’s easy to forget in the midst of constant submissions and contract negotiation, betwixt the endless slog of hunting for opportunities and artistic statement crafting. Seeing something in person hits different.

With the caveat that my phone camera is shit, I submit this picture of the eclipse as Exhibit A.

Photo of the eclipse. The moon is covering the sun

See how meh this is? It just looks like the moon. (Although, I guess it is, technically...)

Some, or many, pictures out there do better justice (the stock image above, for instance). However, no matter how good the picture is, it never measures up to being physically there and seeing the subject in front of you. Live. is also live. To be in an audience and see a performer's craft or designer's art in the flesh? To hear the hum of a charged silence? To feel the spit of a dramatic outburst land on your face? It's an unmatched feeling, and save for the last one, it's galvanizing. In the words of Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” except U in this case is theatre, or the moon, or yes, Utah.

The plot thickens. Is this actually a diatribe for audiences to put their phones down at plays or movies or concerts and actually experience the thing they paid to see? No. But it’s not not that.

This is mainly a reminder to us playwrights (including myself) to fucking go outside every once in a while. Especially if burnt out on writing. The sun loves us. Get that Vitamin D. And we can’t get Vitamin D from our phone or social media.

the sun burns. It is hot.
Burnout? More like burnIN...G?

Where IS the D?

I use social media a lot. As an introvert with anxiety whose batteries deplete from social situations, it does help me feel and stay connected with folks (when not actively making the anxiety worse -- the price we pay, I suppose).

That said, I do detest it. If not for the playwriting connections and networking (and above all, friendships) I’ve made on social media, I would quit entirely. I despise the way it inherently promotes comparison and discourages sharing personal difficulties, the way it’s warped the customs with which we speak to each other (people will say shit to folks they would NEVER say to their faces), the ads. THE ADS! Part of it all means well, but it’s so abusable and predatory in our society of late-stage capitalism.

I spent Eclipse Day with family and friends, and it was refreshing. Because I think the same concept of “live” doesn't apply to just theatre. It's also the case with life. Internet conversations can be great. I’ve had many. But like pictures, they don’t measure up to the same feeling as face-to-face conversation. That’s one reason why the pandemic fucked us up so much. Online was all we had in lockdown. We’re still recovering from it and re-learning how to interact with one another.

Eclipse Day reinforced my faith in experiencing live, real-time connection with other people. When you break it down, humans (like social media? maybe?) generally mean well. There are many exceptions to this: Hitler, Trump, way too many Republicans. But as a species, we are born with an innate understanding of kindness and empathy. What gets in the way and distorts that is money, and the systemic injustices created by our capitalist society (sure, my inner hippie is coming out here, but I’m not wrong). The other thing that gets in the way? The phones, maaaaan.

Just as seeing theatre inherently reminds us of our own humanity, so does talking and interacting with another person or persons. Whether we're aiming for it or not.

So when the moon does something crazy like block the sun...

the moon is farting or blasting off like a rocket
Or...fart? I'm...I'm not sure what's happening here.

...or we see a piece of theatre that cuts almost too existentially deep, we have friends (or at the least, fellow humans) to lean on in lieu of freaking out so hard we freeze. Whatever is going on, be it cosmic misfortune or the Lord’s judgment, we’re in this together. So be kind, go outside, and do all you can to not perpetuate cycles of violence.

Unless you're punching Nazis in the face.








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