This Plan is an exploration of the concept of empathy as a practical theory of acting, influenced by the works of David Foster Wallace. It includes a paper that explores Wallace’s theory of radical empathy, and how that relates to theatrical endeavor, in an observation of two works of Wallaceonean fiction: Infinite Jest, and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It then puts that theory into practice, a piece of theater titled “Vox Pop” that was created through empathetic practice, based on interviews taken during a tour around the United States. The Plan also includes an oral history about a gay bar of local legend, a theatrical piece based on that oral history, and an independent project documenting bathroom graffiti and exploring ideas of forgiveness.
Elizabeth stands comfortably, rocking a little bit, and considering her words carefully. She has a quick smile, and a very casual, almost hippie-esque presence. She makes direct eye contact.
I’m grateful for my body. I know that sounds… cliche, or something, but I’m serious, I’m really grateful for it. It just keeps on going. I think a lot of people don’t take the time to be happy with what they’ve got, right, they’ve got this machine that’s working for them. But no, we spend too much time just thinking about life and death and the way that the world spins to focus on how lucky we are to have this body, which, let’s be honest, is the only thing that’s even a little bit… I don’t know, tangible, I guess? Like… you know, no matter what happens, you need to sweat and breathe and eat and cry until you don’t any more.
Empathy has been mistranslated. Or, perhaps, it has become a mistranslation, subject to the natural muddying and evolution that all words go through over time. It is a fairly young word, coined in 1909 from the German word Einfülung , meaning “in-feeling,” or “to feel with.” What “ einfülung” has that “ empathy” has lost in translation is what makes the concept meaningful: the idea of reaching, searching for the experience of another human soul. The idea of empathy without straining or searching rings hollow, at best naive and at worst empty.
My mom always encouraged me and my siblings to do things that would make the world a better place. When I realized that more than anything, I wanted to be an actor, I felt that I wasn’t being true to the values I was raised with. I equated the pursuit of theater with a sort of solipsism. Then, when I heard David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech, in which he posits that the way to be a good person is to be empathetic, and imagine people complexly, I realized that being an actor was one of the least solipsistic things I could do—or at least, I hoped so. That started the journey to Plan.
Doing a theater Plan at Marlboro is unlike doing a theater project anywhere else, because I got to hand pick the people I thought would be good collaborators. Because we’re such a close knit community, everyone understands how important it is to get a Plan show right, and everyone was really willing to work with me and make my experience incredible. It helped be define my goals for the type of artistic community that I want to work, in the future. Right now, I’m working as an actor on the audition scene, and my experience on Plan (and at Marlboro as a whole) has not only helped me to become a more skilled and versatile performer, but also made me a better person.