Archive for the ‘ theater ’ Category

Living for More Than Profit

On Facebook today, the Shakespeare Tavern drew my attention to a recent article by Susan Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theater. ¬†(And there you have some of the most important hyperlinks you’ll ever need, all in one sentence ūüôā

In her article, Booth articulates that funding for the arts has largely failed since we’ve moved to a consumer-centered capitalist bottom-line ideology because the arts are not about profit of a material kind but about profit of an essential, unquantifiable¬†human kind.

The supply-and-demand question isn’t really about a supply of cultural organizations and a demand for the arts.

And as long as we keep arts-funding relegated to that small definition, we will always have cries for financial help and imperiled institutions.

But were we to acknowledge that our shared need for introspection and empathy flows through every facet of our daily lives and is therefore essential for us to support, then perhaps we’d stop talking about arts funding and start talking about humanity funding.

I think that Booth has not only diagnosed the cyclical nature of the annual funds and desperate direct mailings that theater-lovers receive on an ever increasing basis, but she has also discovered how America has impoverished itself.  Defining our lives by the cruel rigor of supply-demand excises us from the source of life.  

My seventh grade science book defined life as the ability to:

  • grow
  • respond to surroundings
  • reproduce
  • extract energy from the sun (or food)

In my marketplace mire, I often see death:

  • one routine that never changes or offers incentive for improvement
  • inability to react to people, events–internal or external–in deference to the “professional” determination to ignore everything that doesn’t contribute to scanning at a register, checking out online, or sealing the deal
  • strict limitations on how much or how little of another individual’s ideas, personality, etc. I can incorporate into something new that combines with my ideas, personality, etc.
  • discouragement to engage with spirituality, Nature, feasting, partying, dancing, laughing, music, or other food for body, mind, soul, and spirit

So I take up Booth’s challenge and snowball it into my own:¬†I WILL LIVE! ¬†Not only will I make it through the day, but I will decay a little less. ¬†A plant or animal expends all¬†its energy on those four characteristics of life; I will quit hoarding the precious little I have in the hope that it will suddenly expand into a never-ending, self-sustaining supply for which there will be eternal demand, but I will give my time and energy to growth, reaction, reproduction, and sustenance. ¬†Like Booth explained, communities that are culturally impacted by the arts are compassionate and vital (alive). ¬†Maybe America would have more personal improvements, more interconnectivity, more happy babies and creative masterpieces, more girth‚Äď‚Äďall because of a little more of a fiscally silly thing: funding humanity.

Life should be a crazy ride that you just hold on and enjoy.

Life should be a crazy ride that you just hold on and enjoy.

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Much Ado About Everything

An Open Letter to the Shakespeare Tavern Cast and Crew of Much Ado About Nothing

I wish I were a count in Florence, perhaps a Medici (although their life style may have been a bit too full of espionage and intrigue for the likes of me). ¬†If I were a count—or countess, I suppose—I could lavish funds and favors and general wealthiness on the artists of my choosing, that they may practice their art in prosperity and prestige.

However, in the absence of any ducal status and all that that entails, I am left with mere words of praise.  May they bring prosperity and prestige in their train somehow.

open handTo Benedict (Andrew Houchins): You actually made me like this character! ¬†Before your performance, I didn’t really ever believe in Benedict’s transformation. ¬†There was always a hint of irony in the players, a refusal to give themselves wholly over to the fact that Benedict embraced love—which refusal betrayed their belief that love weakens a hero’s temperament or dilutes his better qualities. ¬† It’s as if the many actors that have played Benedict were so excited about the role, that they built up an aura of coolness about him that was impenetrable—as if to say, “I am playing a man in love, but only because he’s the hero, and that’s me.” ¬†But¬†you¬†understood Benedict and introduced him to me in his true self: a strong man who is all the stronger for laying down his arms when he discovered a force greater than perpetual self-defense. ¬†Benedict only gains heroism as the play progresses because he tethers his strength those who are weak and layers nobility upon his skills by employing them in the service of others. ¬†And you accomplished this trajectory with verisimilitude by allowing Benedict to be a bit ridiculous when he plays the part of a serious soldier and entirely serious when he invests in the role of a lover, which people untouched by love view as ridiculous. ¬†The awkwardly funny laugh, the sputtering tantrums, the quiet tension when Beatrice shared the stage—it all added up to a fascinating new vision of manliness. ¬†Shakespeare’s portrayal of masculinity drifted too near the tyrant in¬†Taming of the Shrew¬†and too near the effeminate in¬†Twelfth Night;¬†but you’ve finally proven that he worked out the simultaneous giddiness and grandeur of humanity in Benedict. ¬†I thank you.

to weepTo Beatrice (Erin Considine):¬†Finally a heroine who’s real! ¬†Beatrice has long been savored as a remarkable female role, but, just as in the case of Benedict, the actresses too often delight in the quick wit and forget to wound that goads her into such obstinate deflection of affection. ¬†Your choice to let her weep—sincerely and utterly—gave such depth to her soul. ¬†And when you had finished tongue-lashing Benedict, you retreated to the side of the stage with an expression of pain and confusion. ¬†That is exactly what many women feel when they shore themselves up with wit; they fear anything less sharp would make them too vulnerable and anything more sincere would make them sentimental or negligible. ¬†But all the while, they wish they could meet their companions on the security footing of mutual help and admiration. ¬†Beatrice’s character reminds me much of the modern push-and-pull of expressing femininity—many times we wish to be a ‘man’ and regret that we must die grieving as a ‘woman.’ ¬†Or, in being a ‘man’ of action and arms, we sever the tight human bond that makes grieving worth the price. ¬†Watching your Beatrice interact with Benedict brought sharp clarity to the layers of one of Shakespeare’s most mature–and therefore interesting and inspiring–women. ¬†I thank you.

swordTo Don Pedro (Matt Nitchie):¬†I confess I’ve always dislike Don Pedro—until now. ¬†He seemed too cocky, too proud, too meddling, and too rash. ¬†I’ve always read his proposal to Beatrice as self-congratulatory, the kind of offer that someone makes simply because they can, because no one expects their success, and because they are secretly self-assured they will win. ¬†But last night you made me believe Don Pedro for the first time! ¬†To see him as a sincere and noble person whose honor runs hot and whose purposes are as sure as they are swift—what a treat! ¬†It lends an entirely new depth to the ensemble surrounding Beatrice and Benedict, and I was truly sad when Beatrice rejected him. ¬†But, at the same time, she was right: he is too costly for everyday wear. ¬†It’s almost as if Shakespeare could have written Don Pedro as the hero but decided that audiences would think him too good to be true. ¬†Well, I think he is truly that good. ¬†I thank you.

While I could go on at length all the way down the cast list, for the sake of my readers, I’ll confine my remarks to a few closing comments. ¬†I’m not enough of an uber-geek to trace with scintillating brillance all of Shakespeare’s progressions throughout the course of his canon. ¬†But! I must say that¬†Much Ado About Nothing¬†really packs a wallop. ¬†Shakespeare uses a lot of finesse in this play to develop the themes that he draws with broader strokes, almost caricature, in his earlier works. ¬†Here he seems to boil down love and marriage to a desire for both mutual respect that appreciates the fire in each man’s soul and mutual generosity that appreciates the dust, the clay of each man’s nature. ¬†We want our strengths admired and called upon, our weaknesses realized and covered o’er. ¬†We long for truth and honor and sincerity in all people, most especially our comrades at arms, the ones who help us fight the elements to make a livable world (whatever vision that may be)—we long for this tried-and-true purity of speech and action so much so, that we will kill a sweet lady in the blind hope that a man’s yes is yes and his no is no. ¬†And in the end, maybe it’s the ones we take for fools that help us realize that all we want is for someone to know that we are an ass! ¬†And for all our glory, we are frail. ¬†The Mediterranean sense of inviolable chastity and unmitigated honor is so high an ideal that it forgets we are but men. ¬†And¬†Much Ado About Nothing¬†outlines the voids that plague us: our hunger for affection, our starvation for loyalty, and our deep sense that we have been wronged and must never be so again. ¬†That’s what makes the solace of Beatrice and Benedict’s love such a comfort, such a welcome relief, such an outstanding hope. ¬†Yes, it’s too good to be true. ¬†But for those three hours on the stage, it is true.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare Tavern

The Shrew Stops the Sun

Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow and dart not scornful glances from those eyes to wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.  It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads, confounds thy fame as thirlwinds shake fair buds, and in no sense is meet or amiable.  A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereeft of beauty, and while it is so , none so dry or thirsty will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign—one that care for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body to painful labor both by sea and land, to watch the night in storms, the day in cold, whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe; and craves no other tribute at thy hands but love, fair looks, and true obedience: too little payment for so great a debt. ¬†Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband, and when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, and not obedient to his honest will, what is she but a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord? I¬†am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace, or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, unapt to toil and trouble in the world, but that our soft conditions and our hearts should well agree with our external parts?  Come, come, you froward and unable worms, my mind hath been as big as one of yours, my heart as great, my reason haply more, to bandy word for word and frown for frown.  But now I see our lances are but straws, our strngth as weak, our weakness past compare, that seeming to be most which we indeed least are.

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot, and place your hands below your husband’s foot, in token of which duty, if he please, my hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Watching The Taming of the Shrew this past weekend at the Shakespeare Tavern reminded me how much there is in a word! ¬†The text of Kate’s final speech does seem at once glorious and distasteful to the modern female mind. ¬†But watching it on stage, with the gesture at the speech’s close, it transcends the battle of the sexes and ends for a moment in the kind of sweet reconciliation all humanity craves with itself.

As Kate places her hand palm-down on the stage, gazes up with confidence into her husband’s eye: he melts. ¬†Falling on his knees beside her, he gently, swiftly lifts the hand and kisses it. ¬†With a wink of sarcasm in his eye, he cries: “Why, there’s a wench!” Then, in utmost solemnity, as if like Davy Jones his heart was beating free of its cage and bare to the knife’s edge, he asks: “Come on, and kiss me, Kate.”

And that’s the power of a woman. ¬†That is the bond of love at the heart of our human longings. ¬†To be the weaker in body, and yet the stronger in sway; to be vulnerable and find that vulnerability met with an even greater bending, yielding, rolling over and over as if waves too strong to stand against are reverberating unceasingly from out our simple hearts.

C.S. Lewis has spoken of the “eroticism of obedience.” ¬†I think he hit the mark—the kind of laying down of oneself in awe of something greater. ¬†The beauty of loving is the undulating rhythm of mutual adoration—Kate lays down her hand, Petruchio lifts it; Petruchio lays down his heart, Kate meets its elevated wish. ¬†One of Lewis’ characters described his thought of possessing beauty and fire in ¬†marrying his wife as ridiculous: ridiculous as trying to “buy a sunset by purchasing the field from which you saw it.” ¬†No human can ever be tamed just as the sun can never be purchased for the price of a field. ¬†And yet, the voluntary submission of a living soul to another living soul is powerful enough to stop the sun in the sky.

Swallow_the_Sun_by_synax444

courtesy synax444

Immersive Media

I used to think—and I still do—that reading is the most immersive media. ¬†In silence, you can transport yourself to entirely Other worlds by yielding up your ghost to the guidance of another Voice.

What absolutely floored me today, however, was my discovery of a new immersive media that almost trumps the implosive power of silent reading: 3D binaural stories.  A [brilliant] friend of mine, Celu Ramasamy, has created a group that is pioneering new storytelling media, and Mind Theater is arresting.  It is reminiscent of radio theater because you listen, but it is spelling binding because it is like 3D film.  Plug in your headphones, run the calibrator, and close your eyes.  The sounds are real.

You can't give in just a little...

You can't give in just a little...

I felt the space around me and caught myself looking over my shoulder just to be sure I wasn’t on the train to India with the Son going home to his Father’s village. ¬†Rain outside their house is near and far simultaneously. ¬†The house is close and hot because the air echos on the bare walls and sits backs down beside me after the last reverberation. ¬†When the Son fills a glass of water for the Father, I know the tap was exactly three feet behind me to the left; he carried it past me to his Father, on my right.

As absorbing and relaxing as this 30-minute aural experience ultimately proved, I was undone by listening to parts of it with my eyes open. ¬†Like the unnerving scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca when Maxim de Winter recounts a conversation with his deceased wife to an empty room and the camera follows her movements although she isn’t there, so also, I could see the Indian Father and Son walk across my bedroom with their glass of water and dinner in hand. ¬†The front porch where they ate supplanted my computer desk before me, and, while my parakeets flew overhead, delighting in a sojourn about my bedroom, the rain poured out of the Indian sky, drenching my tiny Georgian existence.

That’s when I discovered what makes¬†any media, any experience immersive: exclusion. ¬†Reading takes you places because you close off your other senses, save only your racing eyes. ¬†The new 3D stories take you places because you close off your other senses, save only your ears. ¬†Dessert is the best part of the day when all you do is taste it. ¬†And the touch of a lover is never sweeter than when you completely surrender the other four defenses. ¬†Wholeheartedness is addictive.

Our increasingly stimulating media environment is said to “drown” us, and, yes, your lungs will fail if you open your eyes, your ears, and your mouth, sucking in the ocean with every pore. ¬†But, if you close your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and repeatedly reach out to touch, you will find you can swim. ¬†It is glorious to be absorbed.

Going After the Players

Yesterday a friend sent me an intriguing article about Yale University’s disciplinary action against a fraternity promulgating a “hostile sexual environment on campus” for women. ¬†I won’t bother summarizing it for you, since a quick scan of the actual article will probably prove more useful. ¬†But what I emailed to my friend in my thank-you response was:

It really encourages me that the symbol of white male status in America (Yale) has taken such a clear and extreme stand against their entitlement mentality (“No means yes”) on behalf of women. This kind of cultural shift is paramount to addressing the root of exploitation.

In that moment, I was so proud of Yale. ¬†I was proud of it for making a big deal out of something that most people might consider innocuous—chanting at a fraternity meeting. ¬†I was proud of it for erring on the side of the severe instead of the side of the lenient when dealing with an issue of sexual threat. ¬†I was proud of it for publishing its disciplinary action—that I found out about it from the NYTimes!

With{out} Make-up

With{out} Make-up

As a woman, I have noticed in my own life that I permit (without reason) certain jokes and advances of sexual hostility in men. ¬†Why should I laugh when a man I hardly know jokes about sitting me on his lap because there are no more seats available in the room? ¬†Why should I accept the tight squeeze in greeting from men that haven’t earned the right (interpersonally) to put their arm around my waist instead of extending a handshake? ¬†Why should I smile along with the group’s plans to get a free drink if I wink at the bartender? ¬†Each one of these scenarios rests on the fact that I as a woman am expected to say “yes” when I want to say “no.” ¬†That I as a woman should be comfortable with being a physical object instead of a moving force. ¬†That I as a woman must learn how to do these things to “make my way in the world.” ¬†And not only I as a woman—-men are also expected to play this game of objectification.

Women are “born knowing” how to play the game, and as such any “skill” they accrue is uncredited. ¬†But the excerpt below is from a blog article on being a better bartender, and it showcases the expected behavior of objectification especially well because it is an action guide from one man to another man (or woman).

Some people think that there is only a certain type of person that has the confidence to talk to the opposite sex, and to talk to them in ‚Äúthat special way‚ÄĚ. This isn‚Äôt necessarily true when it comes to the drinkslingers of the world ‚Äď we all have to be at least a little outgoing or we wouldn‚Äôt have got the job in the first place!I love to make a girl feel special when she‚Äôs at the bar, because hey ‚Äď she might give you her number. A good way to get into the habit is to have an ‚Äúalter ego‚ÄĚ, someone that is‚Äôt accountable for their actions by the light of day. You see this all the time when girls do the Hooters for Shooters, to give you an idea of what I‚Äôm talking about. So there‚Äôs Me when I‚Äôm doing the laundry, walking around the city, and writing for your entertainment, and then there‚Äôs Bartender Me, when I‚Äôm the cheeky sonovabitch that isn‚Äôt afraid to ask for a kiss as payment for that round of shots! A bartender is able to get away with a little more than a ‚Äúnormal‚ÄĚ guy at the bar; you shouldn‚Äôt be afraid to take this opportunity to flex your flirting muscles!¬†Practice¬†your wink, look into your customer‚Äôs eyes (no matter which gender, it implies trust and confidence) ‚Äď provided it isn‚Äôt sleazy, it can speak volumes. [italics mine]

With{out} Glamour

With{out} Glamour

I added the italics because I want you to see the schism that is forced into society, down to the deepest level of an individual psyche. ¬†The schism is between behaving as a person (agent of action) and an object (to be used by another person). ¬†Of course, there are levels of gratification, use and abuse that move back and forth. ¬†The bartender gets better tips when he performs the part of a sexy Romeo; and the customer gets the pleasure of using said sexy Romeo in their own private narrative of conquest. ¬†But beyond the momentary utility of being an object, the act of objectifying either another person (“No means yes”) or yourself (“No means yes”) ultimately divides us from our Selves (agency) and confuses our sense of personal integrity (wholeness).

I don’t want to split myself into parts. ¬†I didn’t audition for the role that our culture has cast for me. ¬†So, in short: thank you, Yale. ¬†And thank you to all the other men and women in America who let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no.

The Movement of Music

Watching the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables the musical on Blu-ray with my best friend from high school suddenly reminded how deeply I am moved by music. ¬†Even in all our joking—watching the cat chase his tail in front of the TV, critiquing the costuming, taking a break to grab a packet of Gushers—we were drawn to tears in minutes by certain songs.

the Valjeans sing "Bring Him Home" as a quartet

the Valjeans sing "Bring Him Home" as a quartet

In computer class in 9th grade, I typed out the lyrics to every song in Phantom of the Opera, over and over and over.  Was I sad and lonely?  Maybe a little, haha.  But I think the repetition speaks more to the calming power of music: even if you can only play it in your head.

My friend commented tonight that one of the most powerful songs was the one most peaceful. ¬†Not “Do Your Hear the People Sing” but rather Valjean’s passing, those fleeting moments that he approaches death. ¬†The notes hung in the air, not evaporating but transcending the atmosphere and pulling us up with it into somewhere more substantial than this realm.

Salieri kisses the face of Music in adoration

Salieri kisses the face of Music in adoration

I watched Amadeus today, too. ¬†That classic 1984 outrageously erroneous but oh-so-captivating biopic on Mozart. ¬†Salieri’s commentary reminded me of how deeply the soul values music—so much so, that in this man’s story, the love of music grew so large and angry a need in his spirit that he wielded it as an accusation against God Himself. ¬†That’s how passionate the human heart is about melodies, about sounds, about the vibrations of the earth that resonate with our bodies.

Perhaps it is because for a fleeting moment, when the sound pulses through our flesh and reverberates through our soul into the deep recesses of our spirit, we are one person again.   One whole.  Most completely our Selves.

Huzzah for Shakespeare!

the audience for Edward III, the final play

the audience for Edward III, the final play

I got to be there! (See the upper right corner, balcony)

The Atlanta Shakespeare Company of the New American Shakespeare Tavern performed all 39 plays authored by William Shakespeare. Bravo!!

There is something special about the iconic status of William Shakespeare. Each time I see a play—even the lesser know, lesser praised—I am astonished at Shakespeare’s straightforward perusal of the human heart. It doesn’t surprise me that he ranks up near the Bible as far as most read, most translated, most published book in history.

Edward III is certainly not the most scintillating Shakespearean history, but it relentless drove home the age-old turmoil of duty to society and commitment to moral (even Divine) code. Who has precedence: the king who rules by divine right or the husband who pledges his troth? In a compelling (albeit didactic) series of scenes between the King, the Countess, and her father, we see all angles of this dilemma as they debate the Countess’ acquiescence to be the King’s mistress. (Pardon my unwieldy sentence.)

This theme reemerges in no less than five succeeding scenes throughout the play. Definitely heavy-handed, definitely well-perceived. These conflicts have a way of manifesting in countless areas of life’s routine. The struggle of human-constructed mores to cope with the vicissitudes of human relations never diminishes. No matter how many laws we right to correct each wrong, no matter how many initiatives we launch to inspire the masses, and no matter how many philosophical arguments are levied against ignorance, the problem of managing man’s soul remains.

To whom are we called to be whole-heartedly loyal? To whom do we finally answer? If to ourselves, we are hopelessly poor judges. If to Another, Who is He? How do we know Him?

I am proud of the work the ASC does: bringing the articulation of the human heart to the stage. Keeping the original text, performed by people you know, before a wide audience allows that audience to engage with the material, unburdened by another’s interpretation. The guidance of the director and the execution of the company becomes a playful yet meaningful conversation about life in which the audience still has a voice. Thank you, ASC, for valuing the work of art between author, text, and reader.

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