Elia Kazan: Giving and Sharing, Part Three

Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan

Giving and Sharing

From Conversations, 1993/1994


Tennessee asked you to learn from me and from others if he ever mattered. This is a question we all ask of ourselves: of our work, of our souls, of our roles as father, husband, son, friend. The answer, I believe, will always be withheld from us, or we will fail to trust any answer given to us.

We have to trust that we have done well. I am not particularly good at trust, just as Tennessee claimed he was a failure at faith.

We are told to live an examined life, and I think this is good advice. We should perpetually ask ourselves questions and perpetually demand more of ourselves. I think we are hard on ourselves on all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and the hard questions are rarely asked.

The hardest thing to realize is that desire is insufficient. Tennessee told you that, I know, and he was wise to do so. Desire is intoxicating, and it can mask itself as aptitude or passion, but it is simply desire. It is a dream state from which it is difficult to escape. It is necessary to begin in this dream state, but there is a graduation that must take place--to a place of demonstration, of affirmation. You must--we all must--come to see if we belong in the dream we have crafted and coddled from a young age.

None of us, no matter how successful, become the thing we dreamed: There are sacrifices, adjustments, acceptance. We work as well as we can with what we have, but any worth, anything of value, comes from stretching ourselves beyond the mere competency that is expected of us. The dreaming that takes place once we have proven our place in the firmament, so to speak, is entirely different than that of the young artist: We dream when we are working to be fully aware, fully supportive, brave, bold. Always give more to your peers than you think you should. There is never enough for you to give--love, support, kindness, encouragement, criticism, an incentive to be as bold as possible. Try to be honest, as well, but tread lightly.

We have to also know when to leave, when to stop. We have the hearts and souls we deserve, the ones we have nurtured and fed. We have the lives we deserve due to our manner of living. We have the government and the arts we deserve because of our investment--our commitment--to both.  We cannot sit back and ask the arts--particularly the theatre, which begs us to join in the experience--to be something we are not. We have grown lazy and incurious and jaded, I feel. We don't ask the hard questions of ourselves or others; we don't seek to change anything other than our mental health and our waistlines and our checkbooks. We cannot then complain that the theatre is wan: It is merely reflecting its audience.

What do you want me to tell you? Go all out. Give it your all. Demand the most of yourself and give the most of yourself. People with similar desires will find you and work with you with the same goals and intentions. You may create something worthwhile. You'll fail more often than you succeed. You'll try again. You'll build a life. You'll build the life you deserve. 

The hard thing to know is that if it isn't possible to build anything of value, it is better to leave, to find a new dream, to build a different life of value, than to hopelessly try to resuscitate a corpse. You honor and promise to remember something that is dead, but you don't ask it to dance, or to talk to you, or to help you understand things.

Give everything to the life you wish to have. Don't give up easily, but understand that it may be necessary, even noble, to do so.

We have within us--all of us--the capacity to create for everyone precisely what we all need and deserve. 

In that I have faith.


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