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Making Friends with Uncertainty

Scenario #1:

A blank stage. The lights have not gone down yet. The audience waits for the show to begin.

Scenario #2:

Midshow an actor’s sleeve captures a vase. It falls to the stage and shatters. The show must go on.

Scenario #3

Turning on the television to hear your hundredth report on climate change. You worry about what you can do.

The three scenarios listed above provide different grounds to examine what emerges in moments of uncertainty. In this essay, I will argue how in moments, such as beginnings, moments of failure, and how we respond to the global climate crisis, our human reaction, driven by our instinctual fight or flight response, demands our body find ground or stability amidst this uncertainty. How might we unbind this response and instead work with what Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, calls ‘potentiality’(1)? How might we make friends with uncertainty as a way to create and rehearse for the future?

I will explore this notion of potentiality by examining the theatrical experience. I will use the scenarios listed above, and, using the work of Daniel Sack and Jose Estaban Muñoz as my primary sources, examine what uncertainty does to us when creating and presenting theatrical work. I will also reference other theorists and writers such as Erwin Schrödinger, Peggy Phelan, Audre Lorde and Hannah Arendt to find interdisciplinary understandings of uncertainty and potentiality in the state of emergence.

Prior to writing these first two pages I sat in front of a blank page and asked myself: How do I face the uncertainty of a blank page when I am unsure of what will arise from my writing? This is a process, which ultimately, you will experience as the final paper that you are currently reading. My thoughts are not linear, but language and writing, demand linearity. I have chosen to reveal a bit of my process and have kept all my edits intact in an accompanying appendix. My hope is that this will reveal, more evidently, my emergent thought process. Peggy Phelan, American feminist scholar and co-founder of Performance Studies International, writes: “In writing the unmarked I mark it, inevitably. In seeing it I am marked by it. But because what I do not see and do not write is so much more vast than what I do it is impossible to ‘ruin’ the unmarked.” In submitting the accompanying draft version of this essay, I hope to demonstrate the emergent process that unfolded from the blank page to this final document you are currently reading.


I sit in a theatre awaiting a performance to begin. I am unsure of what I will experience. Before the house lights go dim, before the entrance of light, sound, props or of humans on stage, there we sit as an audience, fully open to what will emerge. This moment is crucial in understanding what I am attempting to investigate. In this ‘waiting’ state, I, the audience, begin to generate possibilities, through my imagination, of what I will see. But until I see them, I will not have had that experience. This is somewhat of a Schrodinger's cat phenomenon (2). I can anticipate, in my mind, what will occur. As the show opens, it emerges and continues to emerge in front of me. In real time, present with the other audience members and the actors and theatrical elements involved in the unfolding of this story, my emotions and thoughts emerge. However, in the beginning, before it all starts, the possibilities are endless. As Professor of Literature, Edward Said writes: beginnings are “histographical demarcations applied retrospectively to mark the initiation of a chain of actions…They are transitive since they are “for” something in the same way that a means is devoted toward, and consummated by, an end.” We refer to what we have seen in the show only after we have seen it. Until then, we imagine possibilities and stay present to what is immediately emerging.

Kevin McCarty, The Chameleon Club