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Gnit: A Challenge to Live in the Now

Posted by on Monday, March 13, 2017 in 1010 blog posts, Blog posts.

VU_Theatre_GNITOn Friday, February 17th, Vanderbilt University Theatre performed a timely and perplexingly provocative production of Will Eno’s Gnit, in the intimacy of Neely Auditorium, allowing me to momentarily enter into the world of Peter Gnit. Adapted from Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, this play follows the painfully honest life of Peter Gnit, filled with moments of life’s best and worst. Through following Peter on his seemingly self-righteous journey to discover his “authentic self,” we are cautioned about the dangers of such a life-long quest and the common obsession with our own path towards self-discovery. VUT challenged me, millennials and college students alike, to learn from Peter’s downward spiral, questioning where our need for soul-searching has led us and with what lasting repercussions. As I left Neely Auditorium, I found my head muddled with questions such as, “Am I obsessed with finding my true self? Am I walking in circles looking for this elusive idea of “self,” missing out on the here and now?.” On that Friday evening, on this college campus where many of us are on a Gnit-like mission to find ourselves, VUT’s production provided a much needed jolt to refocus our energy on the world we are living in right now and with whom we share this life.

Millennials. A “class of self-centered, self-absorbed, selfie-snapping 20-somethings.” All we care about is us: what we want, what we need, and how we are going to get it. We aren’t money chasers, but rather desire finding value through what we do, as we are constantly “engaged in a search for meaning and authenticity.” We act as the ultimate force that reminds this world of “the eternal call for search,” continually inspiring introspectiveness in those around us. Furthermore, we “live” our lives in a reality coated by social media where we look to define and find ourselves through our tweets and facebook posts. As we long for likes, Peter Gnit echoes our sentiments, “Give me a smile world.”

Extreme, I know, but we can all admit, at least I can, that while this prescription may not be completely accurate, there are elements that resonate with us. We tend to be very focused on our personal goals, our personal plans, and ourpersonal existential dilemma” of the time. Albeit, it may not come from a selfish nature, we are at a point in our lives, both during college, which offers a promise of identity discovery, and post-college, the time for our “individualistic pursuit,” where we are very focused on the self. As such, one’s 20’s can be considered “the most individualistic time of life.” But as we are searching for our purpose in life and how we are going to change the world one day, which will of course be captured via Snapchat and Instagram, we must not fall into the same hole that Peter continued to dig deeper and deeper. Peter lost himself in a never ending cycle, eagerly walking round and round on the Scandinavian-esk circular and spinning stage, searching for the ideal “could be” while losing sight of the now and the presence of those around him, ultimately ending up with no true satisfaction.

In a fairytale-like, wondrous world, with whimsical music and starlike lighting, originally described by Ibsen, Peter made it very clear that a life focused on one’s own self-advancement often comes at the expense of those around us. When adapting the original play, Eno deliberately focused on the effects that one’s personal journey has on other people, notably the pain, suffering, and worry. From the opening scene, Peter left his sick mother to fend for herself as he explored his imagination’s curiosities. With his typical, selfish motives, Peter continued by stealing his ex-wife from her wedding ceremony only to leave the runaway bride groomless and princeless. While Peter offered some glimpse of hope through his relationship with Solvay,  in true Peter fashion, he left her for years on end to find himself, without concern for her wellbeing.  

Hopefully unlike our generation, Peter’s relationship-damaging actions were fueled by his self-righteous super-objective, well represented by the choice to cast Scottie Szewczyk as one of the only two actors who played just one role (the other being Annie Bradford who also was in a identity quandary), compared to Will Sox, for example, who wonderfully portrayed the Town, Hunter, Robber, and Beggar. By interacting with actors who lacked “individuality,” by nature of acting out various roles, Szewczyk claimed a sense of self-importance for Peter.

However, costume designer Alex Sargent Capps utilized beautifully wacky costumes to negate this idea that Peter was the one headed for his authentic self which would ultimately provide rewarding freedom. Peter, in his rather ordinary outfit, interacted with people draped in vibrant fuchsias, turquoises, magentas, and an abundance of lively colors. The joyful and liberated vibes that their hippie vests and bell bottoms emoted led me to question who was really living a true and authentic life. As Peter yearned for happiness, it appeared those whom he came in contact with already found their inner joy, right where they were. It would seem his negligence for people was not worth it. 

Peter failed to live in the world around him, as we often do. Whether our separation from the now is rooted in our search for meaning and authenticity in the future, like Peter, or the pervasive presence of social media, a turn of the 21st century, Peter shows us how this can lead not only to our own self-destruction, but also damage relationship with those that love us. Hopefully this production of Gnit mobilizes the audience to move from our self-centered nature we are too often stuck in, into a new form of introspection, asking questions like, Will I be there for a friend in need when I have a midterm at 8AM? Did I forget to call my mom for her birthday because I failed a lousy chemistry exam? Peter’s downfall encourages us not only to appreciate those around us, but also the precious moments of life, something Peter was unable to do. Rather than attempting to capture these moments through the lense of an iPhone 7, Gnit offers the alternative of actually experiencing and appreciating the cotton-candy sunset or rumbling laughs from your spring break trip. This play reveals the importance of taking a moment to look around, to take a deep breath, to slow down, to make meaningful relationships, to enjoy living in the now.






10 Comments on “Gnit: A Challenge to Live in the Now”

As I too sat in Neely Auditorium on February 17th, I experienced the same dread of another young adult falling victim to self-absorption and also what felt like every “grown-up” yelling at me. Every adult in Generation X desires to label me and my generation as the most selfish to have ever existed. Frankly, I am sick of it.

I understand Gnit’s cautionary tale and its merits. In fact, our generation has led to the creation of an entirely new stage of life termed “emerging adulthood,” or what is referred to in the play as “The Middle,” where millennials fail to hit basic milestones and explore their identity. Yes, the number of millennials living at home is now more than ever. However, is it possible that those in Generation X and Baby Boomers just made growing up too difficult?

Peter Gnit is forced to grow up from an early age, with his mother placing extreme pressures to care for her and their home. Children nowadays are ushered into AP classes and extracurriculars to place on the Common Application. You are told who you are through a sheet of paper and asked to curate your interests so that you seem to have a coherent life “theme.” Summer internships take over Summer Break, and before you know it, you’ve grown up. You have also failed to discover who you truly are after being denied the time to do so. You instead accept the prepackaged identity delivered to you by your college counselor. I know this is not the childhood my parents had.

This very easily could be an example of the whining that most millennials are accused of daily. However, Gnit does not mean to judge Peter harshly; it is the audience that does just that. Of course, the right thing for him to do would have been to care for his ill mother, but he did return to console her in her final breaths. Socrates would have argued in favor of his decisions, as he once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Did he waste his life away searching for his “authentic self”? Who are we to say? Instead, perhaps, the search was worth the loss he beared.

Catherine Kvam on March 14th, 2017 at 11:44 am

Just as Arianna left VUT’s production of Gnit pondering about ideas of her true self, I left the play in the same state of mind. In fact, Arianna and I had extremely similar reactions and thoughts about Gnit. Initially, I could not relate to Peter Gnit because of his inability to make commitments and his neglect of loved ones, which portrayed him in a negative light. Unlike Peter, I have no problem making commitments, sticking with commitments, and caring for my loved ones. However, by the end of the play, I found myself, as a college student, relating to certain aspects of Peter. College is supposed to be a time for “individualistic pursuit” and search for purpose in life. As I near the end of my sophomore year at Vanderbilt, I have been thinking a lot about internships, future careers, and what I want to do with my life. However, as demonstrated through Peter’s quest for self-actualization, it is easy to get selfishly caught up in this process. Arianna states, “Peter lost himself in a never ending cycle,” which is an idea that resonates with me because sometimes I feel as if I am never going to find my purpose in life. But, as I have learned, almost every student at Vanderbilt goes through the same struggle of searching for purpose and finding their passion. It is important for me, along with other Vanderbilt students, to not get selfishly caught up in this “never ending cycle.” We should learn to embrace the moment, relax, and the meaning of our lives will eventually become clear.

Jacqueline Strelitz on March 15th, 2017 at 10:23 pm

Unfortunately, Peter Gnit embodies many ideals of the average person. Peter’s motives are not entirely selfish in my opinion because one naturally acts in their own self interests in order to better themselves as a person or materialistically. I find that, yes, although Peter is a selfish character, because more often than not he puts his own self-interest before others, one could argue that his selfness is justified through human nature. We as humans instinctively are always in pursuit of more for our own personal benefit and that is just how we were created. Conversely, although this argument is plausible I do believe and am conflicted that humans are obligated to help one another because in today’s society we function as a commonwealth, not as individuals. The play Gnit, performed in Neely auditorium offers the audience a question that should be considered: does living past the ‘now’ and concerning ourselves with the future ultimately make us selfish by nature?”. I would answer yes, because looking for self-betterment in the future is ultimately selfish. This is true because attempting to better your own future puts oneself over the needs of others and distracts us from doing the little things for others (such as his mother). Essentially, as stated by Arianna in her lead essay, we should be “taking a moment to look around, to take a deep breath, to slow down, to make meaningful relationships, to enjoy living in the now”. I find myself in the same “never ending cycle” often times much like Peter. Often times I do what is best for me, ignoring the needs of others, much like Peter did with his Mother. Ironically, Peter and I not only share the same name, but many of the traits that lead us to pursue our own interest, neglecting the bigger issues of life such as a mother that suffers from a severe illness.

Peter Briggs on March 19th, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Arianna’s connection of the play to the Millenial “me generation” and Catherine’s exasperation about being called selfish resonated with me. I think Gnit is an interesting examination (and extreme caricature) of selfishness and the quest for one’s “true self.” It brings Kierkegaardian existential dread onto the stage, manifested in the mind of a boy who does not know his purpose on earth, even as it is constantly right in front of his face (caring for his mother, being a good partner to Solvey, etc.). I think as 20-somethings we are in a large transition in life, and being forced out of the house and to college causes us to examine ourselves and look truly inward for the first time. Additionally, I echo Catherine’s statement that I am tired of being called an awful generation that is too self-absorbed. Looking through history of the past few generations, it can be seen that this happens with EVERY generation. Older generations always just seem to feel entitled to complain about the younger generation–the generation that THEY RAISED to be the way they are. I think Peter was misguided and blind to the consequences of his actions, but I also believe that his quest for the true self was noble and might be the only constant search in our lives, as our purpose and true meaning is subjective and ever-changing. VUT’s Gnit brought me my own mini existential crisis but also taught me to look around and see that I’m simply meant to be where I am, because nothing else makes more sense.

Stephen Robinson on March 21st, 2017 at 3:48 pm

After experiencing VUT’s production of Gnit, I think it is almost instinct to judge Peter Gnit’s actions throughout the play and claim that what he did was wrong. However, I agree with Catherine in that we, as the audience, don’t necessarily have the right to judge his “mistakes” so harshly. In fact, we have no reason to think that his search to find his true self was not what he needed/wanted to do with his life. Furthermore, although he abandoned and neglected his loved ones in the process, for him it might have been worth it. There are moments in life where one needs to forget the world around them and figure out who they are/who they want to be. For most people, this moment in their lives happens during their college years because college is a place for people to search for their purpose in life and it’s an opportunity to learn about who they really are. However, just like Peter Gnit, I think that some people can get lost in their search for their true self and forget that they can’t do that forever. The play Gnit was clearly an exaggeration of one’s existentialist quest, but it was necessary to be shown here at Vanderbilt during a time where most students are currently trying to find out who they want to be. It was an important reminder to college students saying that a journey to find one’s truest self may be important and worth it, but not to let it overcome the entirety of your life because if you do so, you might lose the loved ones and opportunities that are right in front of your eyes.

Claire Egerter on March 21st, 2017 at 7:24 pm

The theme of commitment that Jacqueline mentioned in the play Gnit also resonated with me. While I also do not have trouble making commitments, I sometimes find myself questioning whether I made the correct decisions. As Peter gets carried away over his future, it can be just as easy to get caught up on the opposite side of the spectrum: the past. The play reminded me of the moment when I first committed to Vanderbilt; I kept asking myself “Did I make the right decision? What if I had chosen to stay closer to home?” Nonetheless, I soon realized that I would have had reservations had I chosen a different school. As Ariana fittingly says, we should “live in the now.” Rather than worry about making commitments as Peter does in the play or question those we have already made, we should make a choice, keeping in mind how it affects those around us, because, even if the results of it turn out different than expected, we always have the opportunity to change afterwards (though it may not seem like it) and to learn and grow from those experiences.

Thus, while Peter in Gnit aggravated me at moments by his lack of consideration for others, I still felt empathy for him because I could understand his fear of commitment. Similar to Stephen, I felt that Peter was “noble” in attempting to search for his identity, but his method of how to do so was flawed. As humans, however, we have the capacity for “metacognition,” or thinking about thinking. To prevent getting lost in the vicious cycle of an incorrect thought process as Peter did on a spinning stage, we need to take a step back and reflect on our manner of thinking sometimes in order to try to refine the way we perceive and approach life.

Meera Shanbhag on March 21st, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Jacqueline mentioned that at first she didn’t feel related to Peter Gnit at all, but ended up relating to certain aspects of him. Just like Jacqueline, I felt both distant and empathy with Peter as the show proceeded. Certainly, Peter’s impulsive and selfish characteristics can make audiences feel hard to connect with. But, as both Arianna and Jacqueline mentioned, it is also true that we are all “certain degrees” like Peter Gnit, trying to find out our purpose of life but often ends up with unsatisfying results. Especially in today’s technological world, we are easily affected by other people’s lives and how other people view us on social media. As a result, it is easier for us to lose our own purposes and feel dissatisfied. I think VUT’s production of Gnit really focused on relating Peter’s discovery of his “true self” with a modern-day context. It raised the question “whether we are searching for our true selves or nobody” and left us to answer that question. To me, I don’t feel that the show is criticizing Peter for what he has done. But the fact that he loses all the people who loved him and ends up being lonely and unsatisfied is a warning to us: we should appreciate things around us and moments that we live in throughout our journey of discovering ourselves more.

From a theatrical perspective, I also feel it is interesting that many cast members took multiple roles in this play. The arrangement that one cast member plays multiple roles connects Peter’s journey and shows the consistency of his characteristics. For example, Katherine Ko played Woman in Green, Anitra and Sick Woman. These characters all have some kind of love affairs with Peter and help to present how Peter fails to make commitments.

Peichen Lu on March 22nd, 2017 at 12:21 am

I left Vanderbilt University Theatre’s production of Gnit by Will Eno feeling similar to Arianna Francis, Catherine Kvam, and Jacqueline Strelitz. I found myself questioning my mission of self-discovery as well as the missions of other millennials, and evaluating whether or not they are self-absorbed. I agree that millennials, like Peter Gnit (played by Scottie Szewczyk), have a reputation for being self-absorbed and inauthentic and without passions or a purspose in life. For example, Peter, played by a millennial actor, pranced around dressed in plaid on a search for his true self, but in reality, he picked any old woman, place, or job and once he was finished with it, he tossed it to the side in pursuit of his next goal, without caring about what he tossed aside, like Solvay (played by Annie Bradford) who was left alone in her rocking chair waiting hopelessly for him to come home. However, I disagree that we millennials are like Peter with no purpose and selfish pursuits. We are practically forced to pick a college, pick a major, and pick a career path from a young age. We are also expected to be passionate about community service, engaged in the political climate, involved on campus, leaders, and cultured. Despite the pressures from society and institutions, I find millennials to be extremely caring and unselfish individuals. Perhaps this is because unlike Peter, millennials are held to a higher standard and are judged more harshly if they do not engage in selfless acts of kindness. For example, when my brother was diagnosed with cancer this year, millennials tied to my family were reaching out left and right and offering their time and gifts. Additionally, I know countless millennials who choose to spend their school breaks in third world countries making a difference instead of taking vacations. What’s more, a single post about someone in need on Facebook will get millions of shares and donations from millennials, the generation that is most connected to social media. In fact, the digital age has made it even easier and more common for millennials to engage in unselfish endeavors. Millennials are demanded by the world to be authentic people, and this makes for an extremely driven and unselfish group of individuals. I do not think that we are missing out on the present, I just think that our present is very different from that of past generations. Also, millennials today are growing up in a world where if one person does something to offend or upset another person or group of people, their actions are publicly shamed and highlighted in the media. Therefore, a selfish millennial that goes around hurting others because of their selfishness, like Peter during the countless scenes where he left his sick mother (played by Katie Gillett) to fend for herself with nothing but a couple of knick knacks, would simply not last in today’s world. In sum, Peter Gnit portrays the stereotypical millennial, however, in reality, there is much more to the group of millennials than meets the eye.

Delilah Bennett on March 22nd, 2017 at 9:41 am

Arianna hits the nail on the head when understanding Peter Gnit’s identity quest as being obsessive and overly self-centered. Although an average Vanderbilt student may not directly relate to the actions of Peter Gnit, such as abandoning his dying mother to soul search, the underlining tones of Peter’s character appears common to our society. Amidst Peter’s sporadic and lively demeanor, a young man is portrayed who believes his self-worth and identity is more important than anything else. Even though our beliefs may not be to the same intensity, the point is overtly made clear through this exaggeration about self-gratification and the cycle it produces. Posting pictures on Instagram to receive likes, hook-up cultures, materialistic obsessions, are just a few examples that show the similarity of our society on college campuses and Peter’s world. The issue being brought up is that these outlets only provide momentary satisfaction, and the quest for more self-indulgence is continued. As Arianna explains, “Gnit mobilizes the audience to move from our self-centered nature we are too often stuck in, into a new form of introspection” as the play offers a mirror to our own lives and motives.

Reagan Bustamante on March 22nd, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Arianna mentions the self-centerdness of Peter Gnit which is very apparent throughout the production. I agree that our generation is portrayed in this way as well with social media broadcasting our generations self-discovery. Peter Gnit was self absorbed in his own success coming like a storm into everyone’s lives but also is a empathetic character losing his mother and not having a relationship with his father. I agree as well that Gnit shows the importance of cherishing relationships with all the people we encounter rather than self-promoting because in the end, the people around us are those who can help us succeed but if everyone is solely focused on their own then as a society people are less effective.

Donovan Sheffield on April 26th, 2017 at 5:45 pm

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