A letter to John, the man who disappeared for good
John is not your real name. We are using this name because you really exist. Or did, in any case. We don’t know you personally; we were told your story by a friend of ours.
You were thirty-four years old and had been in a relationship with Lizzy for nine years. You had just been given a promotion at your office and that’s how you ended up with a Volvo 717, the hatchback model ideal for families, despite you and Lizzy not having any children. Not yet. The two of you had bought a house just two months earlier. A house with off-road parking, in a good area, close to work.
One morning the alarm went off. You were there, in bed, next to Lizzy. She got up first, had a shower, dressed, put on some mascara, ate a cracker with a slab of old cheese, brushed her teeth and kissed your cheek. Then she left the room, opened the front door, and went outside. She didn’t know that this would be the last time she would ever see you.
You got up out of bed a little while after. But instead of going to work, you took the train to Marseille. There, you joined the Foreign Legion. You gave up your passport, you gave up your identity. You disappeared.
John is a hero! Someone who dares to follow his true desires, not afraid to drastically change course.
Unlike most of us, who live our lives with a deadly boring predictability.
Or is he a coward who gave up everything he was responsible for?
Escapism is so tempting – take the case of Ian Usher, who put his entire life up for sale on eBay after his wife had left him, and he spent two years doing all the things he’d ever wanted to do. Immediately after this drastic action, fan clubs to Ian sprang up all over the world. Hollywood studios wanted to take his story and turn it into a movie. From all sides, Ian’s story became a heroic epic.
But is Ian a hero? Surely, someone who puts even his friends up on eBay must be the biggest egoist imaginable? Isn’t Ian Usher’s story romanticized?
True stories of running away from life are often romanticised in current media and then reflected in art and performance.
As theatre makers we love the possibility to go beyond the point of romanticizing, and to get to know the real story behind it. The story of John, together with scores of similar stories, is reflected and used as the inspiration for our theatre production, Bye bye world.
John does not know this, of course. He does not know that hundreds of people all over the world (The Netherlands, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Scotland) have seen a story that he inspired.
Our show is actually about giving up and running away, but theatre is the ultimate art form to allow us to escape from who we are, if just for a little while.
However this relationship of hiding and becoming “other” between life and theatre is more than just a simple reflection; theatre makers have the opportunity to become someone else every time they write, every time they rehearse and especially, every time the step on stage and take on a role.
Vanishing became our story. We were learning to understand the people who disappeared, learning to love them and at the same time, learning to hate them. We were becoming our fictional runaways.
The transformative power of theatre, for both the actor and the audience is more than just frivolous escapism. Actors are in a privileged position as they can enter the life of a character as a blank canvas, audiences on the other hand can experience an empathy with a different life developing before their very eyes.
By reconstructing their stories just prior to our character’s disappearance, we gained clarity and insight into what drove them to vanish. And thus, romanticizing such disappearing numbers gives way to the true stories behind them.
But the romance of disappearing will never vanish altogether. Of course, as theatre practitioners, we romanticize that as well. Because why on earth would we write a letter to a man who disappeared for good?
Dear John. We don’t know if you are still in the Foreign Legion, of whether you left for different shores. Frankly, we don’t even know whether you’re still alive.
But if you are, and you should happen to read this: you are more than welcome to see how your disappearance became the inspiration to our theatre show. We hope to welcome you to Bye Bye World, at the Underbelly in Edinburgh, daily at 11.35AM. There’s a ticket in your name waiting for you.
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