Here’s a list of the plays I’ve written over the past ten years: 43 Plays for 43 Presidents (creator, co-writer), A 60-Minute History of Humankind, Daredevils! (co-writer), A History of Human Stupidity, Self-Doubt: The Musical, and 33.
As you can see from the list, half of them are overtly historical. The only play with nothing historical in it is 33, which is technically a rework of Self-Doubt: The Musical, and that had Sigmund Freud and Jesus in it.
So. Why history?
We use our collective history to understand our world. We process what we know about the world in order to comprehend who we are, now.
While our interpretation of all information is subjective, history, in my subjective opinion, gives us the most objective source material. Nothing helps me better understand who we are, than studying where we’ve been. (And no, history is not a blueprint to our future.)
And if there’s one thing history helps me appreciate more than anything, it’s exploring what keeps us from fulfilling our true potential. Even science fails to help me understand the self-made barriers that exist between who we are and who we could be.
Forgive this, my only-ever sports analogy, but the history that unfolds around us is very much like a baseball game. The major players drive events—the pitcher, mostly. The pitcher’s emotional state, his ability to remain calm and actualize the potential we all know he possesses, is the single most important factor in the success or failure of a game.
As he falters, the crowd loses its bearings and wildly doubts over what’s coming next. We argue frantically over whether to pull him from the game or keep him in, but it’s not until the game is over that we can process what was going on, where things went wrong, when he should have left the game…
And that brings me to the questions, “Why presidents?” and “Why now?” Will history help us understand whom to vote for?
Not exactly. And knowing baseball history won’t help you manage your bullpen, either.
But history does teach us that there is an enormous gulf between what we’re all fussing about now and what history will say about this moment and this President ten years from now.
The present is a little like a fever dream.
Studying the past won’t necessarily help you to pick Democrat or Republican, but it will help you appreciate how we got where we are, why we try so hard to see through the haze and make a decision, why the dream of “a more perfect union” is worth the impossibility of the grand, muddled guess we suffer as a people every four years.
This much is clear in any election: Our country fulfills its potential when we show up. Everything that leads up to the election is cheap, forgettable entertainment compared to the history we make when we pull the proverbial lever. And taking the long view inoculates you against the dispiriting political noise that keeps you on your couch on that first Tuesday in November.
It reminds us to fulfill the potential everyone knows we possess.