In my work on siti.org there are many things that I do which are simple tiny little technical things. A few of these tiny technical things come with huge spiritual significance. I did one of those things today. I changed the status of the Steel Hammer page from being “in process” to being a “show”. This is because the show will officially open tonight. It is a moment of exhilarating pride for all of us in the company, as well as a milestone for those who have been working on it directly. Particularly the actors.
As exciting and auspicious as this is, there is also something disingenuous about it that is highlighted for me by this status change of a web page. The “process” that brings a play into the world, does not stop when a play opens. Anybody who works on plays knows this. A play continues to change even after it has been “locked” into a form and presented to the world as “open.” For some plays this transformation is subtle even to the point of being imperceptible. For some plays it is obvious and perhaps even integral to the play itself.
We do not yet know how Steel Hammer will evolve as it moves through time. But in this particular case we do know that the current iteration of the show does not involve the musicians of the Bang On A Can All Stars and that the plan is that they will be incorporated into it at some point in the future. This will certainly change things.
It would be so easy for me to keep Steel Hammer listed on the website as “in process.” This would feel true. We’re going to keep working it. It’s going to grow and change. We could document that and I think it would be interesting. But then again we could say the same thing about A Rite or any other so-called “finished” show in our repertoire.
Whenever people say to me that they have seen one of our shows, I always ask where and when they saw it, because each time we do a performance, it’s a slightly (sometimes substantively) different show.
This phenomenon is not limited to the theatre. I have come across a strong parallel in the development of computer software. It is the nature of software to never really be finished. This is why we all deal with updates and version numbers when we deal with software. A friend of mine explained to me once that the shipping date of any software product is a compromise between the sales department who wants to start selling the product as soon as possible, and the engineers who want to keep tweaking and adding features. In talking about this conundrum, Steve Jobs famously said “Real artists ship.” In other words, a “real” artist knows how to reach a point where you put what you’re making out into the world. You don’t just keep noodleing in a room by yourself.
As is often the case with theater, we knew even before we began rehearsals on Steel Hammer that it would open tonight. A tremendous amount of work and planning and sleepless nights and tired days went into getting it to the form that will be presented this evening. Nevertheless there is still something arbitrary about it. Although I am not in Steel Hammer nor in Louisville, I can imagine those mixed feelings in my colleagues hearts and bodies. The eagerness to have it open, to share it with an audience, mixed with the apprehension of “it’s not done yet…”
Today Steel Hammer ships. Today we mark the moment when it enters the world as a work of art. It is not the end of it being “in process”. It is not the end of working on it. It is not the end of anything. It is in fact the beginning of a lot of things.
These thoughts crossed my mind as I changed the status of the webpage.