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By JESSICA RYAN
Why? But why? But why?
You’ve experienced it, yeah? The two-year old that asks you a question. And then asks why. And asks why again. And again. No matter how far down the rabbit hole you answer, they’re greedy little explanation vampires, never interested in anything but why, and they won’t take any of your garbage attempts to put them off as an answer.
It also bears a suspiciously striking resemblance to my college acting teacher. Amiright BFA friends?
I remember being up in front of the class while he did the same thing. “Why did you do that thing in the exercise?” he asks. I answer: “Because x.” “But why?” he says. “Yeah, but why? Why?” I keep answering and he keeps walking me backward until I’m out of all possible whys, I stop myself from shouting: “No more wire hangers!” and just say: “BECAUSE MY PARENTS ARE DEAD,” to get him off my back.
And then adult me starts thinking about how many times I’ve been asked about my why recently. It has me wondering: why are we humans all Van Helsings in pursuit of the elusive why that goes bump in the night?
(I’m the queen of suspect metaphors, I’m not even apologizing for it anymore. I’m re-reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula right now, so it’s just what you’re stuck with.)
I’ve cycled through a number of different plausible answers. It could be aspirational. If we know someone else’s why, and they’ve been successful, it inspires us to dream that we’ll arrive in the same place. Or maybe it’s a survey of options as we all sort through the abundance of choices and paths we can follow in our lives.
“If I had to come up with an answer, I think it must be because something is deeply revealed when you name a why. Something honest.”
Those certainly make sense in the frame of why podcasts and articles and speeches focus on our why so often. But none of these potential answers explain why Count Two-Year-Old and my acting teacher were so relentless in getting me to a why that satisfied them. Wanting to know why strikes me as a profound, human inquiry until it’s not anymore and we’re all just praying at the altar of Simon Sinek (joke, I actually love what he has to say on this topic).
If I had to come up with an answer, I think it must be because something is deeply revealed when you name a why. Something honest.
“I think a why is big and deep and wide. A well-lit path that bends and curves with the landscape while still guiding you to a destination on the horizon that isn’t fully in focus.”
Like a little kids’ laugh. An acting performance on fire. An intimate conversation. Or an article where you figure something out along with the reader.
I think a why is big and deep and wide. A well-lit path that bends and curves with the landscape while still guiding you to a destination on the horizon that isn’t fully in focus (that’s not *quite* stolen from Dracula).
So, what’s my why?
“It’s why I’m working 15-hour days in a freaking pandemic, building a business that will fundamentally change the theater industry.”
I’ve always wanted to be an engine of creativity. And that’s because I fundamentally believe that stories change minds. Stories change hearts. Stories change culture. Stories drive social change. Telling stories is so vital in making the world a better place. That’s what drives me to be a writer, actor, director and producer: to go and speak about it, host podcasts, build bridges between artists and entrepreneurs. No one can stop me when I can do it all.
It’s why I’m working 15-hour days in a freaking pandemic, building a business that will fundamentally change the theater industry, and make it more valuable. Because I just happen to believe we are the best storytellers in the world. And that matters.
That business is Broadway Unlocked, described by New York actor and producer Sarah Ellis as “a marriage between digital technology and live theater.” She adds: “And the Virtual Venue is their successful star child, a curated live event space that simulates the theater-going experience we’ve been craving for the past half a year, from the comfort and safety of our homes.
“From heading to the virtual bar, a sort of chat roulette where you are destined to make a new connection, to shakin’ your booty on the virtual dance floor, to chatting with friends at your VIP table pre-show, Broadway Unlocked has created a space that is reinventing the way we gather together to celebrate in a virtual world, reminiscent of the times of old.”
So, I ask myself again: “Self, what’s my why?”
My answer: I want to leave the world a better place than when I showed up. And I believe that stories are the way I’m supposed to do that.
And since you don’t have the benefit of swelling strings to underscore that last bit, please check out my favorite filmmaker’s podcast, Created By, to hear more about how I got from berated college acting student to non-stop creative engine. And check out our Instagram to find out what we’re up to over at Broadway Unlocked, if you please.
Tiny Annoyingly Wise Human: But why?
Me: Because you’ll like the content.
Me: Because it’s funny and moving and inspiring and ridiculous.
Me: Because we made it that way.
TAWH: But why?
Me: (Charlie Brown style) ARGHHHH!
TAWH: [Jubuliant giggles]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Ryan has been innovating theater-based live digital content for almost a decade. Her studio, Broadway Unlocked, includes a portfolio of podcasts, digital series, and live events including. In addition, the tentpole The #Giveback Concert and its proprietary format has raised over $1.5 million for causes. Next up: she’s joined forces with tech and media start-up veteran Joe White to launch another digital media and technology company focused on building tools that allow people to tell stories, create content, and design experiences that bridge the gap between live performance and digital engagement. @jessicaryannyla