Are You Done Hungering?
Kafka’s: A Hunger Artist is, at its core, a show about a man whose only job–his life’s work–is to starve. However, I couldn’t help but see this starving man as a metaphor for so much more. It is simple and yet so profound.
As an artist myself, I’ve been thinking for a long time about the questions this show presented: Are we willing to suffer for our art? Does suffering for our art ever stop being worth it? Does such an extreme dedication to one’s art ever become unhealthy? When does suffering for our art become an art form in and of itself?
Jonathan Levin started the show by reading the terms and conditions of his contract with the United Solo Theatre Festival aloud to the audience. I didn’t write down all the facts and figures, but I was not at all surprised to find out that Sinking Ship Productions had to pay a flat rate for their show to be included in the festival. They would get a percentage of box office sales but even if they had a sold out house, that percentage wouldn’t even bring them close to breaking even. There were fees if they ran over their allotted time and even a fee if they decided to cancel the show.
Now, I am in no way criticizing the United Solo Festival. I actually think the United Solo Festival gives a unique opportunity to artists from all around the world to present their art through many different mediums. However, this is the all-too-familiar life of an artist. We are so hungry for our work to be seen, for our shot to share our art with the world, that we end up giving up everything we have for it. I’ve seen friends go into debt in order to produce a show. I’ve taken multiple acting jobs that don’t pay anything simply because I’m excited by a story that is longing to be told.
Art requires everything that we have in us as artists. In order to create something that is truly meaningful, we must work tirelessly. We must carve out space within ourselves to give our work room to grow. We must sit in a cage on display as a public spectacle for forty days without food (metaphorically speaking).
When artists speak with one another, there is a common understanding of the toll your work can take on you. We love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with our lives, but creating is also extremely hard work. Yet we live for that work. People who aren’t artists don’t always understand that. As the Hunger Artist says in the show, “no one understood how easy it was to hunger.”
It was abundantly clear that everyone who worked on this show was fully hungry. The show was incredibly innovative in its use of costuming, props, puppetry, and audience participation. Every aspect of the show asked, ‘how can we turn our hunger into a joyous shared experience?,’ and the production team definitely succeeded in doing so.
Although I’ve been speaking a lot about the “artist experience,” this show’s themes are incredibly universal. Aren’t we all starving a little? We’re all starving for love, for more meaningful work, or to connect with our fellow man. Especially after the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election I see people starving for change and for equality. I’ve certainly been starving for understanding and for clarity.
Kafka’s: A Hunger Artist is a playful, yet heartbreaking reminder that we can never really be done hungering. We live to hunger. If we aren’t starving for more, striving for greatness, then we aren’t truly living at all.