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Nathan Thomas


“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

— Ecclesiastes


We generally like to believe that there’s an order to the universe.  We like the scientists who tell us about those parts of reality where cause and effect behave like good children and act according to the rules.  The Laws of Motion and the Laws of Thermodynamics provide comfort.  The universe isn’t chaotic after all.  Rather, the universe is an orderly and organized arrangement — obliging in its clockwork, northern European neatness. 


As part of this neat universe, the human mind should obey equally clean and clear laws (one supposes).  Is that our experience?  What is the role of randomness and chaos in the universe?  In ourselves?  In pop culture, the villain tends to either represent extreme order on a fascistic level (the Borg, Darth Vader, Daleks, Dr. Doom, the Red Skull, etc) or extreme chaos – destroying civilization as we know it.


Chaos and order have been running through my mind lately.  I recently figured out that it’s been twenty years since a) I got my last degree, and b) started writing on the internet.


In those long ago days that don’t seem that long ago, I was a graduate student in Lansing, MI.  And in the early days of the interwebs, folks chatted on something called the Usenet.  There was a group called  It was a revelation.


There was a never-ending discussion about who was better – Sondheim or Webber.  There were already trolls.  It wasn’t long before there started to be the ads for porn and quack medicines.  The rec. groups were monitored somewhat – so there was less of the ads, and they were quashed fairly quickly.


Acting teacher and coach Jeremy Whelan found his way onto  Why couldn’t there be a chat group just about acting – so asked Jeremy and others.  And got split up into sub-groups. And now they’re barely used.  The Usenet isn’t useful anymore.


Those interminable conversations provided opportunities for contacts that would not otherwise have been made.  People connected, came together, lost contact.


I came across an archive of some of those writings in long ago days.  I remember the guy who wrote and wrote and wrote about theatre.  Sometimes that guy can be infuriating.  Sometimes that guy can be a little sweet.  (More often, infuriating.)


A lot has happened in the intervening years. A fair amount of unplanned and unpredictable chaos.  I’ve had a number of different jobs to keep food on the table.  I moved around.  A lot. There was a whole year when I had a running disagreement with a state about whether or not I owed them taxes from back in the day when I was a touring actor on the road.  I lived in the frozen North and in the Deep South. I suffered clinical depression.  I had a big office with a secretary to answer the phone, and I’ve been so poor that I barely had money to eat.  I met a good woman who thought I might be worth the investment.  And I’m a father. 


The guy from twenty years ago had no way of knowing what was going to happen.   And had he known the whole story, he might have gone bughouse crazy.


But the thing I recognized most about him was something that I still have, and I hope I never lose.  That guy I saw in the wayback machine could be a grump and a doofus at times.  But he was searching for the human mission of theatre.


Regardless of genre or style or time period or playwright or actors or characters or anything else – the theatre game is about one thing.  The beautiful chaos of the human experience.  Treplev would be much happier if he loved Masha.  But he didn’t.  He loved Nina.  If Felix wanted to, he could be a much easier house-guest for Oscar.  But he isn’t.  They’re fictional characters.  And they do chaotic, silly, brave and stupid things. 


Plays pretend to exist in an Aristotelean universe of the possible to the probable to the necessary with plots of cause and effect. But that’s not what they’re about. And that’s not what we’re about.


We’re about the improbable chaos of human relationships.  Slightly mad. Wholly recognizable.  Chaos is our business.  And we come together in a place and say, “I recognize that.  I’m not alone.  Other folks can feel this too – have felt this too – the same as me.” Sometimes that realization is hilarious, and sometimes it breaks our hearts.


And any day we forget that or don’t aim for that in the work we do, we’re falling down on the job.


Well, probably another twenty years to lose the pompous bit . . . .

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Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor,
Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer,
and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, and is a member of the
theatre faculty at Alvernia College.
He also writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles,
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©2015 Nathan Thomas
©2015 Publication Scene4 Magazine




October 2015

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