Art as a process: Walburn reflects on time writing “We Rise”
By Todd Walburn
The creative process can, at times, feel as much about chance as it is about craft. As artists, we can stare at blank pages or blank canvases (with talent and decades of experience behind us) and still have no idea where to make the first mark. Other times the ideas flow so freely that it seems we can’t keep up, an unexpected spark lighting the imagination like a match to gasoline, burning through the walls of self-doubt and excuse effortlessly. The trouble is, we can’t always predict when that inspiration will take hold of us or how well-prepared we will be when it does.
So it was for me when the story for my first play, “We Rise” presented itself to me a year ago. I was not prepared to feel the kind of pull to a subject that I felt with this story, nor did I have the time or the resources to follow it through, or so I thought. There is a point in your career as an artist where you begin to realize that all of the experience, all of the success and failure and wasted canvas, clay and paper becomes the foundation upon which you create something really worthwhile (for yourself at first, then hopefully for others). You also find that, despite the restraints you imagined for yourself, everything that came before that moment was preparation for what lies ahead.
I was drawn to the story of AIDS activism because of my history growing up in the midst of the AIDS crisis as well as an interest in the seemingly opposite subjects of mortality and hope. I was compelled to tell a story of people who I found fearless and smart, innovative and strong. It becomes difficult to make excuses why you can’t tell a story you feel is important to share with others when throughout your research you are uncovering stories of unimaginable bravery and strength. So I found the time and I found the resources. Much of the play was written on my iPhone when I had spare moments before I fell asleep at night or waiting for laundry to dry. I took incredibly efficient trips to New York City, funded by friends and family on Kickstarter, to interview and research my subjects. I immersed myself in my subject day and night, all the while trying to keep a business and a personal life operating as normal. It wasn’t easy but, it turned out, it was possible.
We can’t predict when inspiration will happen for us. Maybe it happens once in your life, maybe it happens over and over again. What is important to remember is that all of the work that we do as artists prepares us for those moments of inspiration. The crumpled pages, discarded canvases, abandoned creations of all sorts, are our foundation, the basis upon which we create what we create when opportunity and inspiration present themselves to us. We work through it all because we know there is purpose to it. The magic of art comes from recognizing the dance between what we know, what we feel and what we have the desire to express to others. It’s as much about listening as it is about creating and when it’s right, you know it and there is nothing that can keep you from it.
“We Rise” is now showing at the Kathleen Howland Theatre of Second April Galerie through October 24, 2015.