Note, a moment of strong language about a minute in, but after that it’s fine.
I like TED talks. I really, really like TED talks. I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw one. A couple years ago maybe. One of the first I remember was my sister showing me Joachim de Posada’s six minute TED about children, marshmallows, and delayed gratification. But I vividly remember thinking how GREAT a concept it is: People given a chance to share ideas they think are worth sharing. The costs for actual events seem to be absurd, I doubt I’ll find a chance to attend an event any time soon. But the ideas. The messages. You never realize how quickly ten, twenty minutes will pass by.
A couple days ago I saw one of the most recent speakers: Pixar’s Andrew Stanton. I thought he was brilliant. I love Pixar. I would count Wall-E and Up among my favorite films across any genre, no question. Stanton took the opportunity to talk about storytelling, about not only what elements you need for a great story, but how you need to deliver it to your audience.
I live in theatre. My goal in life is to tell stories. Three semesters and counting of theatrical design have taught me basically every choice made needs an answer to the same question: Why? Why? Why did you choose to move Twelfth Night into a Victorian steampunk setting, Why did you set Antigone in Nazi-occupied France? Why is the Wingfield’s wallpaper blue and not orange? Why? Why brings me to the two most important things I pulled out of Mr. Stanton’s nineteen minutes.
He started with “Make me care”
The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment, which is “Make me care” — please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care.
There is no point in telling a story about people we don’t care about. Nobody is going to cry for Ophelia, for Lennie Small, for Madama Butterfly if they do nothing to make us care. That’s a burden the falls to everybody involved: The playwright, the designer, the director, the actor… Emotional attachment notwithstanding, nobody wants a boring show. Nobody wants to watch a play or a film for two hours with nothing to hold his or her interest. A good production, a good film will grip the audience for the entire duration. They aren’t examining the set, distracted by the lights hanging visible, or trying to squint at their program to figure out what they recognize that one guy from (it was probably Law and Order). A great program leaves them speechless. A great program leaves them sitting in silence trying to wrap their head around what just happened before them. Which leads me to Stanton’s other point.
I walked out of [Bambi] wide-eyed with wonder. And that’s what I think the magic ingredient is, the secret sauce, is can you invoke wonder. Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent. It can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling — to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder… Do unto others what’s been done to you. The best stories infuse wonder.
Can you invoke wonder? I want to ask myself that question when it comes to every production, every project I put myself into.
Can you invoke wonder?