Put As Much As You Can Into Your Heads – Nobody Can Take That Away From You

“Every day in life is beautiful. Every day. It’s beautiful.”

Alice Herz-Sommer’s stellar heath at the age of 109 is not the only thing that makes her special. She is the oldest living pianist and Holocaust survivor, and arguably one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet. This touching preview for the upcoming documentary following her life,  “The Lady In Number 6,” shows how music not only saved her life in the camp, but also continues to carry her through each day after the ordeal.

The camp in which she was placed is a terrifying example of the ultimate living-theatre experiment. In 1944, the German leaders created a propaganda film and presented Theresienstadt as a model Jewish settlement to the visiting Red Cross; it was all an elaborate hoax.

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The Germans “beautified” the ghetto, planting gardens and painting houses. Individuals received roles to play and the Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the “mayor” of the “town.”  In the Nazi propaganda film, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.

And yet still, shining examples like Alice appear, wielding hope as an impenetrable shield:

“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times — including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”

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Celebrating Our Human Freedoms

Dr. Viktor E. Frankl was psychiatrist and a concentration camp prisoner during WWII. His work, Man’s Search for Meaning, has invigorated and inspired with its tips for spiritual survival in the some of the darkest hours. His book is a testament to the power of the human spirit, with moments that capture something innate in our shared resilience:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Other wise passages include:

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reasons to be happy

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Ol’ Bag o’ Bones

Happy Halloween!

In honor of today’s terrorfest, it’s time to delve into the archives for some unsettling photos from decades now past.

Enjoy (or reel in horror at) these shots from  Narre Tod, Mein Spielgesell (Fool Death, My Playmate), a series of portraits of a love affair between a female model and a skeleton. The set is by eccentric photographer Franz Fiedler, 1921.

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The look of love.

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Want It More Than You Fear It

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Because there will always be one to fifty excuses to find.

Because your mind will rummage around and dig these up, presenting them to you with urgency.

Because you may forget, if only for a moment, that this new pile of worries are a gift from an anxious visitor who didn’t know exactly what to get you – so opted for this, and hoped you’d enjoy something to think about versus nothing.

Because you never liked stagnation anyway.

Because there will be days when your fear will masquerade as sensibility, never removing the mask to reveal its tiny, unsubstantial frame.

Because the voice of your deepest desires speaks in dulcet tones, quiet murmurs that could be drowned out by the cries of a doubtful side of you.

Because you will remember that acknowledging this concern always silences it, like a mother finally attending to a child.

Because you deserve to come alive, to set yourself ablaze with wonder, and never stop seeking.

Because there’s solid ground on the other side, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way.

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Can’t Drive Using Just the Rear View Mirror

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A memory,
That hazardous bridge between you and the present -
The all sweeping, all-knowing now.

You remember
A quiet mind, absent of chatter,
And run towards the past to find it.

You forgot
how stillness found you in the first place:
waiting right in the place you were meant to be.

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Post-Apocalyptic Pop Culture: What The Simpsons Looks Like Decades Into the Future

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Dr. Strangelove. Atlas Shrugged. The War of the Worlds. 28 Days Later. The post-apocalyptic narrative is not one that’s new to us. In fact, we seem to be fascinated with the “what if”s that humanity might face when forced to start over from scratch.

In Anne Washburn’s new piece Mr. Burns, the playwright takes a lens to what life might look like weeks after a pandemic wipes out most of human civilization…and how the remaining folks choose to remember The Simpsons. The play opens with a group trying to recall exactly what happened on the episode “Cape Feare.” What starts out as a way of passing the time, the shellshocked survivors attempt to make sense of their new fate using the show as a means of connect with a pop-culture world now lost to them.

The play revisits the group seven years later to find that their connection and conversations have evolved into a theatre-troupe-retelling of said Simpsons episode, complete with attempts at commercial breaks. With no electricity and no recent entertainment product in the wake of the disaster, they are forced to recreate their own. Actors buy lines from passersby – attempting to reconstruct a pop culture phenomenon from the fading chambers of strangers’ memories.

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In the final act, 77 years into the future – with the original generation of those that remember the show now gone – the play has transformed into an epic Greek-tragedy style opera, revering the Simpsons family as they try to escape an evil Mr. Burns and his nuclear powers. 

The play’s postulation on what would happen to our culture if forced to move from a strictly electronic and digital one back to one of oral history is an absolutely fascinating one. After all, how many phone numbers do we have committed to memory? Why memorize the names and dates of important cultural moments when they are just a simple Google or Wikipedia search away? Mr. Burns asks us to consider our role in a technological world and how that affects our process storymaking.

Makes you wonder when a Dadaist deconstruction of Toddlers and Tiaras will hit the stage. But until then, Playwrights Horizons has a show to pique the interest of anyone the least bit concerned about the human condition.

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Brecht on Anxiety and Lighting a Bomb in the Theatre

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In John Willett’s compendium of some of Brecht’s most important critical writings, the editor helps to outline the theatremaker’s development of his style. Each letter and article allows for a further glimpse into Brecht’s take on Epic Theatre, acting, and the alienation effect for which his works are so renowned.

On anxiety, Brecht aptly points out:

“In his obscure anxiety not to let the audience get away the actor is immediately so steamed up that he makes it seem the most natural thing in the world to insult one’s father. At the same time it can be seen that acting takes a tremendous lot out of him. And a man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.” – From Berliner Börsen-Courier, 1926

Around the same time this article was written, Brecht was insisting on a new type of audience engagement in the form of what he called “ ’smokers’ theatre.” The audience would puff on cigars and look on as if taking in a boxing match, therefore developing a more detached and critical outlook than was possible in the ordinary German theatre. Smoking was verboten in theatres at the time.

He posits:

“That in a Shakespearean production one man in the stalls with a cigar could bring about the downfall of Western art. He might as well light a bomb as light his cigar. I would be delighted to see our public allowed to smoke during performances. And I’d be delighted mainly for the actor’s sake. In my view it is quite impossible for the actor to play unnatural cramped and old-theatre to a man smoking in the stalls.” 

Forever pushing the boundaries of what theatre was “allowed to be” at the time, Brecht paved the way for many in the modern day interactive and absurdist theatre realms. Brecht on Theatre is a delight – like sitting down for a rare and illuminating coffee-date with Brecht himself.

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How to Make Every Day Feel Like Saturday Morning

When faced with a question on balancing commercial pressures and creativity integrity, consider that a meditative mind might be the ticket:

“I came from painting. And a painter has none of those worries. A painter paints a painting. No one comes in and says, “You’ve got to change that blue.” It’s a joke to think that a film is going to mean anything if somebody else fiddles with it. If they give you the right to make the film, they owe you the right to make it the way you think it should be — the filmmaker. The filmmaker decides on every single element, every single word, every single sound, every single thing going down that highway through time. Otherwise, it won’t hold together. When there’s even a little hint of pressure coming from someplace else — like deadlines or going overbudget… — this affects the film. And you just want support, support, support… in a perfect world… so that you can really get the thing to be correct.

Now, this doesn’t happen these days — so, “support, support, support” — when you do dive within and experience this pure self — atma — pure consciousness — it’s the home of all the laws of nature. You get more in tune with those and … nature starts supporting you. So you have that feeling, even if they’re breathing down your neck, and there’s pressure here and pressure here, it doesn’t matter — inside … I say, “Every day is like a Saturday morning” — you got a great feeling, and it grows and grows and grows.”

- David Lynch

Everyday

Allow yourself permission to not concern yourself with what others think. Get busy being that version of yourself you want to be.

Bite-sized Wisdom: Keller

Doubt sneaking in? Remember that you have a powerful tool at hand that is ready to go into action for you at any time. Words from this wise and empowering woman:

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Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.

- Helen Keller


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Bite-sized Wisdom: Seneca

Do you go to a theatrical experience for the length of the piece or the quality? A simple question that may sneak up and inform the way you live:

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“As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.”

- Seneca

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