In 3rd grade Ms. Muschelewicz had a rule: No What-If Questions.
Now, as a Teaching Artist, I can see how a 3rd grade teacher might be bombarded with questions including “what-ifs”: “What if I get lost at the zoo?” “What if I bring home a peacock on the bus?” “What if the bus gets a flat tire and we have to pull over and I miss my piano lesson after school?”
Lots of “what ifs” out there in 3rd grade — none of which get addressed by Ms.Muschelewicz. But there are a lot of “What-Ifs” out there in theatre (much less all other forms of art. Check out this “what if“). In fact, I would guess that 99% of theatre that is educating, inspiring, entertaining, and challenging is created by individuals that love to ask, “What if….” Ensemble groups constantly ask this question. I was fortunate enough to watch the SITI Company work through Chuck Mee’s “Under Construction.” While I felt myself screaming (inside my head) “SPIKE THAT, JUST SPIKE IT, THAT WAS GREAT” they were actively working from the ultimate “What If” perspective. “What if I don’t put the bucket in the same place tonight?” Conversely, the actor, who may be missing said bucket, has to trust his fellow actor and avoid asking himself, “What if the bucket isn’t there tonight?”
Conceptually, we start by asking “what if…” don’t we? In character development, in story development, in directing conceptualization, in improvisation. I like asking, “what if” because usually it is a question that stretches us. We can make rules for this new world that has been suddenly stretched open before us. A good “what if” makes me laugh with the thought of possibilities.
“What if” is the imagination at work.
But ask a good “How do…” question, and the satisfaction of “what if”, is bound to follow. “How do we make a forrest out of 400 square feet of linoleum?” “How do we make someone fly past the windows?” “How do we tell the story of Romeo & Juliet & Dracula?”
I crave these two questions, especially nipping at one another’s heels. I love the collaboration that goes into the creation. I hope we ask more questions together.