On Tension

I’ve started working on a collaborative, non-traditional theatre piece. It’s “non-traditional” because only two-thirds of it will be narrative drama. The rest will be narrative poetry, (fun) scientific discourses, and living newspaper.

On my morning walk, though, I reminded myself that tension is as important to non-narrative as it is to narrative kinds of writing. You could say tension is a fundamental characteristic of existence.

In Buddhism, The Three Marks of Existence are dukkha, anicca, and anatta. Suffering. Impermanence. No-Self. “Suffering” is sometimes rendered from Pali as “dissatisfactoriness.” But another way of rendering it?


The everlasting tension between what is and what one needs and wants, experienced by all living beings.

In the new play I’m collaborating on, Just Add Water, the high-level tension is about the current imperiled ecologies of the Great Salt Lake: the lake is dying, and many of us don’t want it to.

The stakes are high. A dead lake will mean toxic dust storms; collapsing insect and bird populations; the end of the brine shrimp industry in Utah; less rainfall for the Wasatch Front, etc.

So, even with half the piece being non-narrative, there will still be (a sort of narrative) tension. Implicit in each of the non-narrative pieces, which will be peppered throughout the play, there’s the story of, “The lake is dying. I don’t want it to die. How can we save it together?”

Photo by Aditya Wardhana onĀ  Unsplash.