Commencement Address to the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University’s class of 2016 by Eve Ensler

Commencement Address to the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University’s Class of 2016 by Eve Ensler

We are at the precipice of a new order. This way will die, and a new way will be born. This way cannot sustain itself or life on earth. Theater is a method for birthing the way that is not of dominance but of connection. You are the future that will birth that way. You have to be the greatest artists of all time. You have to be that brave. You have to be willing to lose everything.

You have to be willing to open your hearts and bodies so that whatever forces need to come through you to bring their messages, their experiences, their energy can come through you. You have to be stronger than all those who have come before you. Less privileged. Less worried about status, fame, and money. That time is over, if we are to survive. Your work is to blow our minds open, to rip our hearts into caring, to dance us back into our bodies. For a long time I felt bad about your generation, what we had left you with, this world, this earth we have poisoned, these seas and skies, these debts, this mad inequality of wealth, this hatred and war.

Now I realize you must be the special ones; the ones who are capable of finding the vision, the force, to awaken us. You will be the ones to dance us back from the edge or to teach us how to fall. You will be risk takers, the likes whom we have never known and you will tell the stories we have never heard, because we were afraid to hear them. And you will tell them in a way that opens portals to the possibility of how we will live in the new way. This challenge will make your lives rich and intense and scary and alive. You will be occupied from morning til night with the dilemma of revolution, of changing an entire paradigm that has rested on exclusion, unkindness, profit, destruction, and cruelty. And your time will be the time of renaissance where a new era of art is born. Art that is so powerful we cant even imagine yet what it is capable of doing, There is no time now for anything less than what is real. There is no time to be afraid or coy. If you have made a determination to be an artist you must give everything, you must give up your bodies to the altar of transformation, you must write words that shock, educate and awaken. You must make your bodies strong through exercise. You must prepare your minds by refusing to be seduced by the offerings of fame and money. You must invigorate your spirits by rituals and practices that keep you aligned with your great purpose. You are the ones ringing the bell, sounding the warning. But you are also the ones who will give birth to the new way.

You could see all of this as a burden. You could see all of this as too much. But that would indicate you are accountants, not artists. It is not that artists are not terrified. Of course we are terrified. Terror is an essential ingredient in everything we make. It is not that we ever feel we have tapped in far enough, or even edged up close to where we know we could go. We are constant failures but that is another ingredient in what we make. We are endlessly humbled, endlessly reaching and unable to arrive. Endlessly full of the grief of not finding the words or the movement or the emotion or to deliver what needs to be said. This is what is means to be an artist. To be forever reaching and falling and failing. But you will have to reach further than any of us have reached before. And in that sense you will need each other. You will have to break and end the insidious competition that comes with the paradigm of domination. You will get to understand that each artist brings a necessary piece to unfolding the new way, each artist is critical in writing into the mystery, of acting into the heart of the future. Each artist, if they are worth their salt, has laid bare the same heart and each artists’ vulnerability is what they have to share. So it follows that each artist needs the nest and trust and love of his sister and fellow artists.

I have never been good at sugar coating it. Humans have pushed us to the brink of non-existence. That’s not a conjecture. It’s a fact. But miracles happen. Swift unaccountable change occurs. Sudden inexplicable shifts in consciousness and action are wildly possible. We are still making or unmaking this world.

That’s why you are here on this earth right now. That is the reason. Question everything. Probe deeper. Leave no lie unconfronted. Tell every truth you feel you cannot tell. Push every boundary. Disrupt everything expected. Demand inclusion of every story that needs to be told to enlighten our way. And stop worrying about what people think or what they will say or write or review. The gatekeepers will probably not like you. You are not here to be liked. You are here to evoke passion, to provoke memory, you are here to free your audiences into the depth and the truth and the freedom of themselves. You are here to take us now where we have never been before and it will be messy and dangerous and imperfect and wild. You are here to find and write and act and encourage and model and reveal the new way and that will require that you open your hearts further and tap into the aching river of endless love that was damned up by systems of oppression. Your words and actions must blow up the damns, tear down the walls, and let the new rivers flow.