“What deal-breakers are hiding in plain sight?”
I met my partner (and How Love Lasts co-founder), Daniel, two years ago. Almost as soon as I became confident that this was the person with whom I wanted to build a life, I started to look for red flags. I couldn’t find anything that spelled certain doom for our relationship, but still I thought, “Does everyone go through this process?” Daniel had doubts about ‘forever.’ People change. Things happen. He didn’t feel it was honest to promise to stay with someone for the rest of your life.
We wanted answers. We decided to collect as many true love stories as possible, and then share them in the documentary-theatre tradition of The Laramie Project, using Tectonic Theater Project’s theatrical, poetic, non-verbal ’Moment’ creation process for guidance.
Daniel and I left our jobs — his a nine-to-five Technology Consultant, mine as Artistic Director of The City Shakespeare Company — and hit the road. We drove for 30 days: from LA to Florida to Maine and back again, interviewing 52 couples along the way. We met all kinds of couples: black, white, religious, atheist, old, young, gay, straight, with children, and without. These couples had been through doubt, illness, poverty, infidelity, and death, and had come through stronger for the challenges.
You know the kind of happy couple that seems to radiate comfort, energy, and strength all at once? Well, we spent between two and six hours a day with that kind of couple. And we spent between four and 18 hours a day in the car together sharing our experiences, growing to become more like that kind of couple. We discovered that lifelong love is indeed a thing, that it can be actively pursued through the simultaneous pursuit of self-actualization, that pursuing it carries with it challenges and rewards we can only begin to imagine at this stage in our lives. We came home not just armed with knowledge, but completely transformed by the experience.
If we can distill even 10% of our experience for people, they’ll be transformed, too,” Daniel said as we drove our final day from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Fitting then that’s what theatre has the potential to give us: an experience.
Daniel and I transcribed and wrote articles about 26 of the couples and published them on howlovelasts.com. We examined common themes, struggles, and essences connecting the stories. We selected five couples whose stories we felt best exemplified the range and diversity of couples we interviewed. From there, using only the real words spoken by the couples, I layered and sequenced our five featured couples’ stories into a kind of patchwork quilt of anecdotes, or ‘text Moments’ for our rehearsal script.
In rehearsals, I guided our talented, thoughtful, dedicated cast of six actors to discover what they already intuitively knew about this material, and these characters. In order to create a theatrical event that truly provides an experience, we needed to get out of our heads and into our bodies, to use all of the elements at our disposal to discover the inherent poetic theatricality in these couples’ stories.
I would ask them to take two minutes to create a brief performance piece, called a ‘non-verbal Moment,’ about a theme in the play, and give them a non-verbal theatrical element to focus on, such as costume, light, or sound. From there, I’d suggest adjustments in order to heighten the tension or theatricality of the Moment. Then I’d ask them to layer in text from the script. These Moments organically became the building blocks for staging our scenes.
What has resulted is a performance that feels like a walk through memories — climbing into the hearts and minds of our interviewees and experiencing their lives through their eyes.
Daniel and I continue to be transformed by this project, as do our cast and crew. For example, I no longer believe in red flags and deal-breakers. Daniel now believes that forever is a choice. One actor said she approached a conflict with her partner differently that she would have before working on How Love Lasts. I look forward to the transformations and discoveries that take place in the theatre tonight when we are joined by our final collaborators: you, the audience.
Brooke is a founding author of How Love Lasts.
Originally published in @This Stage Magazine in October, 2015.