Imagination: The Key to Understanding
The Playwrights Group of Baltimore used formulaic models as a starting point from which they expanded upon an idea incorporating their own experiences, judgments, and perspectives. Using the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe as framework, the writers of these short plays incorporated their own modern perspectives and went about describing them in a different, but beautiful way. Although the essence of Poe’s original short stories did not lessen, the parodies and new interpretations of his stories provided the audience with the ability to look at certain concepts through a more modern lens. Since we live in a world full of varied opinions and ideas, these play writers are challenging us to overcome this idea that there is only one correct way of going about life and interpreting something. This idea of branching from the original, prescribed way of going about something is also reflected in Langston Hughes poems “Formula” and “Old Walt” through their emphasis of how all things are in flux and how there is no definitive conclusion to arrive at.
Walking into the reading room, I expected to see decorated sets, elaborate props, and characters in costume. Instead, there were a total of six actors in everyday clothes, sitting in chairs with nothing but a paper stand in front of them. For each of the seven plays, a narrator described the setting, time, and characters at the beginning and voiced each characters movement throughout the script. By giving the audience nothing but words to go off of, we were forced into using our imagination and creatively developing pictures in our minds through our own perspectives. While watching these plays, if you based your opinion of the play off of what you saw instead of what you heard, felt, and thought about, the play would hold little meaning. This is reflective of the importance of using our imagination in society today and looking for the meaning beyond what we see. In Langston Hughes’ poem “Formula,” he believes that poetry should possess “Soaring thoughts/ And birds with wings” (3-4). Similar to poetry, imagination gives us the freedom and the ability to explore different thoughts by spreading our “wings” and broadening our view. Since each person in the audience envisioned the scene differently through their own perspective, there was no established “formula” of how the play should be effective. Hughes also says “That roses/ In manure grow” meaning that from the basic comes the beautiful (7-8). Essentially, it is not always what we are given, but what we make out of what is given to us. The actors and play writers provided us with a base off of which they allowed us to form our own view of the play. Ironically, this is similar to how they developed the play themselves – by using their own perspectives of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. This cycle of applying our ideas to something already established and accepted by society allows us to learn by developing new understandings and meanings that can hold personal, individual truths in our own lives.
This idea of making something out of what is given to us is also reflected in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Shelley emphasizes the idea that, through Victor’s perspective, once something is defined in a certain way, there is no other way of viewing it. This is seen as a result of his mother’s death since she has “departed forever” and will “never more be heard” (24). His sister Elizabeth, on the other hand, “looked steadily on life, and assumed its duties with courage and zeal” after their mother’s death, therefore, revealing her ability to look beyond and overcome what has already been established (24). Since Victor is unable to put himself in a similar position to develop and view alternative perspectives, he closes himself up to the new things he can learn by choosing to not explore his freedoms. In comparison to Langston Hughes “Formula” which mocks the idea that there is one concrete way of going about something, Victor’s inability to view experiences from other perspectives locks him in his state of isolation and seclusion which he continues to face as the novel progresses. On the other hand, however, Victor is able to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world to deepest mysteries of creation” (28). Although he is able to explore the aspects of science, he has trouble exploring the emotional aspect within himself which causes problems with his character.
The play writers’ ability to make a parody from Poe’s plays in also reflective of how modern society is changing. Hughes’ mocking tone of “formulaic poetry” and the play writers’ use of parodies reveal how, in society, humor can influence the reader or the audience to view a message being portrayed in a different way. Humor is a factor that elicits emotion and allows the audience to form a perspective. In Hughes’ poem “Formula,” he uses mocking humor as a way to stress the actual importance that the issue of insincere poetry has presented. In the plays, humor was used as a way to engage and form relationships with the audience in order for them to develop emotions and have a greater connection to the meaning of the play. At the end of the performance, one of the play writers said that the best feedback they receive from their plays is based off of where they heard laughter from the audience. Humor not only portrays a certain message, but it also allows the play writer to see where the audience is connecting with the actors and the meaning of the play. Since humor is an aspect generally shared among all people, it unifies the poet with the reader or the performers with the audience allowing there to be a deeper connection between the two.
These newly developed perspectives from members of the Baltimore community show how, right outside Loyola, people are taking something that has already been determined as great and are encouraging students to look at it in a different light. This type of new thinking may inspire students to see how their perspectives of the modern world connect to what is considered acceptable by society. It may also motivate the students to challenge these concrete ideas with those of our new and changing society. When the play writers were questioned about where their inspirations came from, they said their surroundings. Ironically, although they are influencing our ways of thinking, we are the ones who influenced their thinking in the first place. This circular motion of flowing ideas is comparable to how Walt in Langston Hughes’ “Old Walt” is “Finding less than sought/ Seeking more than found” (3-4). This relationship between what is being sought and found throughout the entire poem reveals that one continually influences the other. Essentially, they are always going back and forward and therefore are not stable, but are in flux. This idea that there is no defined end or conclusion encourages students with many opportunities ahead of them to not be fearful of incorporating personal and modern perspectives into what may already be defined and established by society.
Since this event was a free event open to the public, all were welcome and a variety of people showed up. Ranging from children to students to adults to the elderly, all took interest in seeing the performance. This reveals that they are showing everyone, regardless of age, that commonly accepted ideas can be challenged by applying one’s own perspectives. The Playwrights Group of Baltimore, Langston Hughes, and Mary Shelley all believe that our imaginations are impressionable and that there is importance and meaning to us thinking differently instead of basing our ideas off of previously established perspectives of others. Without these new thinkers that are willing to challenge what is considered “normal,” the world would not be the continually changing place that it is today.