Critical/Personal Essay | Theater Arts | Race
Megan Sandberg-Zakian is a freelance theater director with a passion for the development of diverse new American plays & playwrights. She is a co-founder of Maia Directors, a consulting group for artists and organizations engaging with stories from the Middle East and beyond, a graduate of Brown University, and holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. Megan lives in Jamaica Plain, MA, with her wife Candice.
Is it possible — is it even ethical? — to make hopeful art in an unjust and chaotic world? In the tradition of artist-essayists such as James Baldwin, Anne Lamott, and Adrienne Rich, Megan Sandberg-Zakian looks to her own socially-engaged theater-making practice alongside a diverse array of cultural influences (from slave narratives to popular musicals, Batman to “This American Life”), considering how we might reconcile our desire for hope and possibility, connection and transformation, with the necessity of navigating darkness, despair, hate and violence. The artistic coming-of-age journey of a contemporary theater artist in ten essays, There Must Be Happy Endings: On a Theater of Optimism & Honesty is a smart, engaging and gently humorous contribution to the discussion of how we face art-making – and living – with hope and optimism, and an elegant, accessible, and satisfying companion to practical work in the world.
In There Must be Happy Endings, Megan Sandberg-Zakian crafts a poignant, intimate, stunningly honest memoir of her practice as a theatre-maker. Her evocative, clarifying writing weaves a tapestry that reveals how a thoughtful, socially committed life arrives at thoughtful, socially committed art. Sandberg-Zakian treats theatre as an agnostic faith, a ritual in which to demonstrate the potential of the possible and the “as if,” rather than just the “as is.” Directing is often private; Megan bursts it open with revelation. Her book offers both method and memoir, raveling and unraveling Megan’s astute analysis of productions she’s seen, books she’s read, things she’s thought and felt. From August Wilson to Brecht, Sondheim to superheroes, Megan’s book excavates what it means to construct happy endings in theatre that become honest, generative beginnings in life. – Jill Dolan, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre, Princeton University
There Must Be Happy Endings is a personal odyssey through the American theater landscape. Megan Sandberg-Zakian eloquently and generously shares her experiences, her insights and associations, weaving together perspectives on artistic process with performance theory, history with aesthetics, philosophical and ethical conundrums with lived experience. She merges her own memories with the philosophical and ethical perceptions that she has developed, including meditations on race and ethnicity, family history, ethical enigmas and feminist readings. – Anne Bogart
This jewel of a book offers a brilliant and insightful exploration of our tendencies toward happy endings. It dares us to contextualize our perspectives to include the nuances of race, gender, and cultural history without fixation or limitation. It opens us to a quality of tenderness that only the intimate embrace of complexity makes possible. A rare voice of embodied multiplicity, Megan Sandberg-Zakian transfigures happy endings to honest endings, even beginnings, that bring us into contact with the creative chaos of “live” life. – Ruth King, author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism From The Inside Out
A deep and thrilling meditation on theater and the subtext of the roles we play both on and off stage. Sandberg-Zakian’s thinking is uncompromisingly idealistic. I recommend this book to anyone who is writing, directing, acting or just plain living in our “chaotic and unjust world.” – Eric Bogosian
In There Must Be Happy Endings, Megan Sandberg-Zakian offers her readers a gift: a gorgeously written, poetic, evocative account of what theatre is, what theatre has been, and what theatre might be. Weaving together childhood memories, play analyses, theatre criticism, and accounts of directorial practices, Sandberg-Zakian voices an artist and a human who is deeply compassionate, deeply political, and unwavering in her belief that theatre matters. She makes us feel like we’re in the room with her and her various interlocutors—playwrights, actors, designers, directors, and critics—and over a glass of wine or cup of coffee or bowl of ice cream, she allows us to think with her, muse with her, feel with her, imagine with her. Each essay in the book is a gem, its writing polished and its emotion raw; as a whole, they capture the nuances of a theatre artist’s life, her creative processes, her influences, inspirations, worries, frustrations, and most of all, joys. – Stacy Wolf, author of Beyond Broadway: The Pleasure and Promise of Musical Theatre Across America
As I read There Must Be Happy Endings, I am grateful for the voice of Megan Sandberg-Zakian. Megan’s multidimensional voice is colored by her brave witnessing, her unsentimental soul-searching, and her practice of calling beyond the limits of caging philosophies and practices. She offers readers granular evidence of how, with honesty, presence, and persistence, we can harness the power of live art to change our habits of seeing, making, and being with one another for the better.” – Daniel Alexander Jones