Playwright Will Eno on Wakey, Wakey

By Joy Meads

There is a strange alchemy in Will Eno’s plays that draws us away from the anxious, racing world outside and into a quiet communion with one another and those solid, undeniable realities that connect us. Almost imperceptibly, he makes us more conscious of the world and more connected to those around us. Eno’s play The Realistic Joneses was performed at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater in 2016, and now his work is back at the Geary with Wakey, Wakey. We are grateful we have the opportunity to share this play with you. 

Wakey, Wakey playwright Will Eno. Photo courtesy Will Eno. 

What is it about the Geary that makes it the right home for this piece? 
The play, I hope, makes spaces for us to have a human connection, to come together as a group of humans and sit with one another in the experience of larger, maybe scary or sad things. I love the potential ramifications of an audience using that entire space. I love the frank connection that Guy has with the audience, and the idea of actor Tony Hale reaching out to the audience, gently but lovingly encouraging the biggest things to happen, or a lot of small things. The juxtaposition of the human and truthful and grounded with the good old architecture of the Geary is kind of epic, like how looking up at the night sky, at the universe, you might feel something very real in your chest. 

Why do we tell stories to one another? What’s that impulse and why does it matter? 
That’s one of the great mysteries of theater—why we gather together to tell stories. They find people’s heart rates synchronize as they watch theater—various physiological things line up. If we all just got together and sat, does that happen? It might just be a function of being together. 

It’s funny—this simpler a question, the harder it is to answer. “Safety” just popped into my head. And that makes me think of danger. To safely participate in some danger together with others seems evolutionarily beneficial. And also in a fun, Halloween-y way, it’s pleasurable to be at risk, either through identifying with the character and the story you’re seeing, or by having some particular drama that you’re in the middle of rise up in you while you’re watching. 

The cast and creative team of A.C.T's 2016 production of The Realistic Joneses. Photo by Shannon Stockwell.

The way that you place the profound and the ordinary beside one another seems appropriate for a generation surrounded by the internet. The web is not only where we can find everything at once, but it’s also where our performance of our different selves—artist, partner, parent—can become restricted.
It seems good and vital that we should alter our performance (and also natural). I guess it’s all our hope doing theater that we might provide a situation where it’s difficult for a person to maintain their performance of themselves and where they are forced to examine it. Perhaps they come out thinking, “Maybe I could perform myself a little more compassionately.”

It strikes me that the Geary is the opposite of the internet. It is gently continuous, semi-guided and semi-not. You’re not by yourself in your bedroom. There’s a human to your right and a human to your left. The cues are more alive and changing. And so being in a theater feels (this may sound grandiose) like being out in the jungle in the dark. You listen for meaningful sounds, snapped twigs.

So the experience is rooted in that time in the Geary with hundreds of others?
Time needs love. Time is very different if you have love. In many ways it’s meaningless without it. I think you have to love yourself a bit to engage positively with time. You could spend a lot of time thinking, “Oh man, I flubbed it.” Add a million of those together and that’s a flubbed life. Take time, a little dash of love, and the world is looking just fine.

This interview is excerpted from the Wakey, Wakey issue of Words on Plays. Want to read more? Order your copy here. Wakey, Wakey is onstage at the Geary starting January 23. Click here for tickets!

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