The Inaudible Man

Grace here. This movie poster terrifies me:

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

And I’m not alone. It’s one of the most effective movie tag lines ever used, because it taps into a very basic human fear: not being heard.

Who hasn’t had the nightmare of screaming without any sound coming out? Who hasn’t felt invisible at some point in their life? We’ve been grappling with the fear of being unheard since we first found comfort in God: The ultimate all-seeing, all-comprehending, all-forgiving audience.

Deb Margolin kicked off the Theater J season by saying, “I have always felt that the kindest… most committed and generous thing we do for each other, is the bearing of witness” On Monday night, at a reading of his new performance piece Lucky Penny, David Deblinger (who is closing our season with the fabulous History of Invulnerability) noted  “The act of listening is generous.” Plus, I’ve heard enough bad-date stories to know that the easiest way to infuriate someone is refusing to let them get a word in edgewise.

But it goes even deeper than that.

There’s a man experiencing homelessness who has taken to asking for change on the streets. As you can imagine, he encounters a pretty vast array of responses. But the one that cuts deepest is total lack of acknowledgment: no money, no words, no eye contact. “That’s what scares me,” he says, “I would rather people cuss at me, would rather they spit in my face; because then at least I would know that they see me. Enough people don’t look at you, you start to get scared that maybe you don’t exist.”

Before this year, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the population of people experiencing homelessness. I had a very fixed idea in my head of what a ‘homeless person’ was like. However, when I started volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen, that idea shattered like cheap glass. The guests that I have met are brilliant, accomplished people, wonderful people.  They are professors and Fulbright scholars; artists and musicians; government employees and immigrants.

They are also people who share my passion for theater. So Theater J started inviting Miriam’s Kitchen guests to see the productions in the 2011-2012 season. As another facet of the partnership, Miriam’s graciously invited Theater J artists to come hang out in their Studio Series. So fantastic performers like Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, David Emerson Toney, Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman and more have spent afternoons trading stories with the Miriam’s guests.

I’ve traded a few stories too. For the past four Monday mornings, the guests and staff of Miriam’s has welcomed me in with warmth, enthusiasm, and coffee. We’ve sat at the round table, and shared stories of triumph and loss; of youthful indiscretions and of future aspirations.  Some of the guests allowed me to transcribe their stories.

So on Tuesday night, the guests of Miriam’s came once again to Theater J, this time to see a play that they had written. Some of the actors who have gone to Miriam’s over the 2011-2012 season came together to perform a reading called “Stories from the Kitchen: Monologues Written by the Guests of Miriam’s Kitchen.”

It was a very simple reading. Bare stage. No costumes. Just people telling stories. People listening to each other, and bearing witness. But it reminded me why I love theatre.

I think there’s a shortage of listeners in the world. We’re lucky at Theater J, because we’ve got audiences who listen with their whole hearts. But they’re probably in the minority, because if everyone had a listener like that at home, you probably wouldn’t find so many people desperate to tell their stories online, right?

The instant you sign on, you’re barraged with people bursting to tell their stories: Tweeting, blogging, publishing their diary to Kindle and getting way too personal on Facebook.

Even with this post, I’m joining the chatter, flinging my own two-cent tale into the pile of stories that nobody asked for. So I’ll stop in just a moment, but before I do, I’ve got to ask a favor of you, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, (possibly nonexistent) reader. It’s an eccentric favor that most people probably won’t do, but it’s worth a shot.

Would you please find someone who is usually invisible to you, and ask them to tell you their story?  I’ll do the same, and you and I can sit (in our respective locations) and listen as the invisible becomes immediate.

I promise you, it’s the best ticket in the town.

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