Without an enemy, how do you define yourself?
It is a curious feature of the human animal that we find our understanding of self more easily by pointing a finger and saying, I am against what you are - rather than, I can see the common ground between us. I imagine it goes back to some evolutionary survival trait, which over time became sociological as culture replaced instinct. After all, it was probably a more immediate priority in the wild to quickly recognize the threat of a rival tribe who might harm you than the arrival of a friendly ally. Fear too, is a survival instinct.
And perhaps that survival instinct isn't all bad in a modern context, either...the introduction of a new threat to the humanity of a given society can be a sort of catalyst, a spark that unifies long-disparate interest groups into a true opposition movement - even while the very same instinct is exploited to stir up xenophobia by the institutions they seek to tear down.
In the end, complexity is fatiguing - and a hard ground on which to build common cause. Identifying a dangerous Other that embodies our fears about the stability of our way life...that's much easier. It's a simple message that makes us feel part of a community with a value that is worth protecting.
But what do you do when that simplicity fades with experience and examination? What do you do when you realize someone has been exploiting that instinct and the identity you thought was your own was the role someone wanted you to play for their own benefit?
When the illusions are gone and the storm passes, and all that's left is you...who will you be?
Because our leaders have a way of complicating these questions even further. The literary archetype of the king, in particular, often represents the best or the worst qualities of the societies they rule. And sometimes, when you pull the curtain aside you find that the actual human behind the archetype is a bit of both.
So if that's the case, where does that leave us? As a director, I've spent the vast majority of my career identifying ideological opposites and then living in the space between them - and I have no intention of ever changing that, because human behavior is never black and white. Good artists look for good questions, not easy answers.
A year ago, I had a clear vision of the ideas I wanted to chase down in working on The Scullery Maid. That hasn't changed, nor have the importance of those ideas and the complex humanity they explore. When you find yourself living in extreme times, however, you think a lot about how the work you're doing is relevant. What can others take from it that will help them understand a bit more about themselves and the world they live in?
So, I've been thinking more and more about the old proverb which says you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. And also, its inverse: that you can tell a lot about someone by the enemies they make. Maybe then what our enemies say about us is determined by first recognizing why we need them in the first place...and knowing that, who do we choose? Do we side with the authority that tells us we need an enemy to destroy so we can feel safe again?
Or do we have the courage to decide that voice itself has been the enemy all along?