Why We Map
Our good friend wikipedia tells us that a map “is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes.”
Funny how this also sounds like a definition of theatre.
Maybe it is not surprising that the Beertown conspirators have developed (to varying degrees) what I’d call a “healthy obsession” with mapping. In early October, on the second day of the group’s assembly, Mitch and Colin began drawing a map of the United States—free hand and from memory. This was the first time maps appeared on the Beertown scene. That weekend, my mother told me about an exhibit by the Hand Drawn Map Association (http://www.handmaps.org/), and of course – they have a website. I spent hours looking through the website and sending various friends and associates links through email and Facebook to maps from the website. (“No wait - look at this one!”) Only a few days later, Wyckham bought Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas by Dennis Wood (http://www.sigliopress.com/books/atlas.htm), which many of us knew about from our long-time NPR friend This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/110/mapping). And then the Beertown conspirators began mapping and mapping and mapping.
Mapping has taken a variety of forms now: in grappling with source material, we drew maps of the different narrative threads of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated (see photos above); in exploring shared personal “landmarks,” we strung overlapping maps of twine that crisscrossed the rehearsal room. There is a book of maps being circulated throughout the group in which we map our physical positions in rehearsal, evolution of ideas, or events in our daily lives. The so-called obsession seems to link with the big idea we’ve begun wrestling as of late: where is the overlap between personal myth and myth of place? Maps naturally fit into the answer because they are a human tool and start with a delineation of space. And they are symbols that result in story. Even if a narrative is not intended by a map or its maker, a narrative is created in the end by the map’s user. (A basic example: consider the story a world map tells about power.)
Maps are symbols that humans embrace and adopt into actuality – the real thing. So as we move forward in building a larger story of place (“Beertown: the town that’s barely there”) we map layers of abstraction on our geographic and generative reality.