White Snake Director's Note
(Originally published December 9, 2016)
“I’ll never be the artist I was as a child.” – Willa Cather
When I was a kid, I loved playing Lord of the Rings on the bridge behind my elementary school, Harry Potter on the baseball diamond, and of course the infamous game of “House,” in my backyard.
I think how scarring it must have been for my friend to play “House” with me. He was always the husband, and I was always the wife. We never questioned these roles, we just inhabited them. Then one day, things got strangely intimate (or as intimate as seven-year-olds can get, I suppose) and he immediately broke character and asked: “But aren’t we boys, Greg?”
“Well oh yeah, but we’re just playing.” I said, surprised.
This idea of “play,” is the very concept we used to create the world of The White Snake. Caught somewhere between Ancient Hangzhou and 2016 Ann Arbor, The White Snake is a story born from hybridity. I think a lot about the little white snake and the big wide world she is so desperate to see. “Seeing is believing,” she says to her companion, Greenie -- whom immediately rebukes: “You have it wrong. Believing is seeing.”
In a way, my story - and the stories of millions of people - are deeply resonant with the white snake’s. We are, by our nature, desperate to be understood, longing for requited love, unsatiated by this need to be seen as who we truly are. By the end of this process, I am thinking about the millions of LGBT Americans who victoriously celebrated their bravery of coming out - and the bravery of those who had to stay hidden to survive.
But justice teaches us that to remain hidden is to do something wrong. Just like a snake, years of resentment and filth will build up over our bodies that demands to be shed. Like the white snake, I too demanded to be seen for who I really am, and like many other people - gay, straight, person of color, woman, man, nonconforming, I am afraid that if I am seen as I truly am, I will be alone. Mary Zimmerman once said that theatre was a tool to combat loneliness, and I think I finally understand what she meant. We play in the theatre - we make believe, we imagine, we discover. Yet it is through those magical moments of disbelief that we actually find truth. To tell the truth is to be received, and as you will quickly see for the white snake, that is terrifying quest. But it is so important.
I thought all my life I would be all alone. It wasn’t until I kissed a boy for the first time that I realized I could experience love. It wasn’t until I found the theatre where I discovered I could be myself. The White Snake is a celebration of my greatest loves - play, theatre, magic, myth, and the truth. At the end of the day, to tell the truth is the bravest act one can do. To ask to be received by the world in all your glory - flaws and all, that is more courageous than anything I can think of. If I could have told my seven year old self that, perhaps I would have spared many years of doubt.
“Don’t be afraid.” I would say to him. “It is impossible to die alone.”
Greg Strasser, Director