The Ghostlight Project at the Goodman

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As Goodman Theatre unveiled its new marquee on On January 19, the Goodman joined theaters across the country to participate in The Ghostlight Project. Artists gathered to pledge to protect the values of equality, inclusion, justice—and empathy for everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity or sexual orientation. As part of The Ghostlight Project and lighting ceremony, members of the Goodman community—artists, staff and participants from many offstage programs—offered words of guidance and wisdom from inspiring playwrights whose works have brought light to the stage.

[Editor’s Note: Some of these pieces were edited for length from the original source material.]

August Wilson
from his dedication speech for the opening of the new Goodman Theatre (2000)

      “We have all shared a common history as Americans. We can all trace our ancestry back to a ship’s log or an airline manifest. We are heirs to a great faith, a great belief in one’s ability to render out of his experience the truth of a high and indelible purpose emblazoned with the high ideals of human conduct. We are part of a long line of people who embraced that faith and set out through an unknown landscape complete with a false trail, forked roads, a landscape of impossible cartography. . . going as a Langston Hughes wrote, ‘Sometime in the dark where there ain’t no light.’ We are part of a long line of people who wrestled the meaning of the word American from sometimes stubborn and unyielding realities and learn to wear it and embrace it with love worthy of its complexities.

      To stand and sit here now is to occupy the ground that they have pioneered. Heroes and scoundrels alike. Out of the rubble of our deeds and misdeeds, out of our historical circumstance we have arrived at this place in our history a people of our own making, our own heroics and our own failures.”

Lorraine Hansberry
from A Raisin in the Sun, Asagai says to Beneatha

      “It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd that those who see the changes—who dream, who will not give up—are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the ‘realists!'”

from To Be Young, Gifted and Black

      “Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually—without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle or even my comforts? This is what I puzzle about.”

Lillian Hellman
from The Little Foxes, a speech by Alexandra

      “All in one day: Addie said there were people who ate the earth and other people who stood around and watched them do it. And just now Uncle Ben said the same thing. Really, he said the same thing. Well, tell him for me, Mama, I’m not going to stand around and watch you do it. Tell him I’ll be fighting as hard as he’ll be fighting some place where people don’t just stand around and watch.”

Audre Lorde
Submitted by Artistic Associate Regina Taylor

      “I write for those … who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”

Jennifer Lash
Submitted by Artistic Associate Dael Orlandersmith

      “Artists, like the saints, are the receivers. They’re job is to be open, skinlessly alert so they can question and FIND.”

Artistic Associate José Rivera
from an interview in American Theatre magazine

      “We write plays in order to organize despair and chaos. To live vicariously. To play God. To project an idealized version of the world. To destroy things we hate in the world and in ourselves. To remember and to forget. To lie to ourselves. To play. To dance with language. To beautify the landscape. To fight loneliness. To inspire others. To imitate our heroes. To bring back the past and raise the dead. To achieve transcendence over ourselves. To fight the powers that be. To sound alarms. To provoke conversation.”

Tony Kushner
An excerpt from an essay

      “It’s never the case that a work of art is directly responsible for changing the world. Only activism, direct political action, does that. But art can help change people, who then decide to change their own lives, change their neighborhood, their community, their society, the world.

      Art suggests. When people are ready to receive such suggestion, it can and does translate into action, but the readiness is all.”

Lynn Nottage
From her message for World Theatre Day in 2010

      “It’s been said that ‘the role of an artist is to keep their eyes open, when everyone else’s are shut.’

      As artists and global citizens, the world continues to demand our attention, and as such we must be intrepid explorers, daring to venture into uncomfortable zones to unearth difficult truths. We must be unafraid to look honestly at the human condition and try to come to terms with its contradictions and flaws. That means approaching our work not as journalists, but as fabulators, storytellers, breaking rules to help reimagine the world. We must be truthful, while spinning yarns. It is the paradox of our creative process that gives us access to places we dare not go in our everyday lives. It emboldens us to ask difficult questions about war, race, religion, poverty, love and hatred.

      I challenge all of us to sustain the complexity of our world; to invite a multitude of diverse voices onto the stage. We must open the doors and windows of our theatres to let the world in. It is our responsibility; it is our burden and our gift.”

Quiara Hudes
Responding to the question “What Can Theater Do?”

      “Fellow artists, let’s reject the rhetoric and infrastructure of “consumer content.” Let’s renounce the toxic suck of the five-minute news cycle. Ours must be a practice of panoramic time. For, we are a past we did not choose but inherited, and we architect the future with each new page we write.

      Let us nourish each other.”

Suzan-Lori Parks
Commencement address to Mount Holyoke (2001)

      “Difficulty creates the opportunity for self-reflection and compassion. . . BE BOLD. ENVISION YRSELF LIVING A LIFE THAT YOU LOVE. Believe, even if you can only muster yr faith for just this moment, believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.”

Sarah Ruhl
From her acceptance speech for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust Distinguished Playwright of the Year Award (2016)

      “’Why do we write now?’ We write for the same reason we always write, but with new urgency. We write to extend the light of our minds into dark hollows. We write to create and model empathy in a ragged land. We write because our minds can always be free in the face of tyranny. We write to make our minds known to other, different minds. We write to produce knowledge in the face of ignorance. We write because we must.

      ‘What do we do?’ We sing full throatedly, and we support the free speech of our friends. We reject the art of cruelty.

      ‘What do we do?’ We find each other. Don’t sit in your own room. Find the common room, which is called grace, which is called a theater. This room is also our country, and we all belong here. To be in a room where poetry matters, to be in a room where not everything can be monetized, to be in a room where culture and valor might have something to do with one another…Dig in your heels and stay.”

And again from August Wilson
From his dedication of the Goodman Theatre building (2000)

      “This building is a challenge and an invitation to theater artists across America…

      We who work in the American theater are heirs to a spiritual wealth that has taught us that theater is architecture of the human spirit that ennobles and empowers if it is honest and full of grace, and that its eloquence can only be fashioned out of uncompromising truth.

      Theater empowers and provokes a sense of self that speeds our development and progress in all areas of American life. It has proven itself to be a powerful force in our understanding of the nature of human conduct, its noble actions and profound failures. It has guided us to a better place and points us always to an inspiring future.”