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

success

Lizzie’s Back

The team behind the raucous rock retelling of Lizzie Borden released their concept album this month. Few things will prepare you for October thrills and chills as well as this CD.

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Based on the most notorious “unsolved” murder case of the 1800s, this Cheslik-DeMeyer, Hewitt and Maner tuner is currently getting a treatment in Houston’s TUTS Underground season.

The album’s powerhouse voices and catchy belt-along-numbers are made only more delightful by some thoughtful sound editing that infuses tense moments with an extra dose of terror. A terrific adrenaline-infused ride from start to finish.

For a taste of the show for those not familiar, check out the clip below:

 

Reasons why this montage from last year’s Cleveland production might rock your world a little:

Lizzie ________ Borden. Who knew that the real life Borden had such intense daddy-issues?

Look at what they’re wearing. Uptight Victorian dresses devolve into Versace-inspired rock wear. Leather, lace and tulle give this 19th century retelling a vicious bite.

Look ma! No Men. They effectively tell the entire story employing only female characters – Lizzie Borden, her sister Emma, the housemaid and the girl-next-door/maybe-secret-lover.

You will never think of hairspray cans in the same way again. Brilliant take on Borden burning up an old dress, one of the pieces of potential evidence.

Four ladies fierce screlting their faces off. Enough said.

Happy Birthday Kafka

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While some posit that you could never be truly happy about anything, we know you’ve got a bit of an optimist hiding deep down inside.

Just look! You once said:

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

and:

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

and of course:

“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.

Those that have dubbed you the eternal pessimist have refused to acknowledge this believer within you. Like so many others, what little was published during your lifetime garnered little public attention. Now people throw around the word Kafkaesque to sound cultured and in-the-know.

If you had known what would follow, would you still have left most of your full-length novels unfinished? Would you still have  burned 90 percent of your work?

Time’s funny that way. Happy birthday Kafka. We’re celebrating you now.

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Égalité. Finally.

marriage“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
- Obama

A beautiful day for California and the United States. Proud to see that love and respect continues to win out over hatred.

Genderbending Like Nobody’s Business

Was lucky enough to catch one of my favorites, Alan Cumming, in his tour de force performance as every single character in Macbeth.

Set in an insane asylum, we find our haggard, somewhat lucid hero being led into his new cell by two doctors and kicking off the 90 min monologue with “When shall we three meet again?”

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Out of all the characters he embodies, Cumming’s Lady M is absolutely revelatory. Seductive, manipulative, controlled and vicious, he brings new life to Macbeth’s power-hungry wife.

Thankfully, NYT documented a glimpse of this performance in the video below:

Starting the Experience at the Door: Theatrical Hors D’oeuvres

You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening –  best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.

The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths. IMAG1951

Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.

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Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.

You Have to Move On/ Il Faut Avancer

sundayparkparis

Theatre du Chatelet, renowned Paris institution headed by Jean-Luc Choplin, recently presented Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s award-winning and heartbreaking SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Lucky for those of us that weren’t able to hop on a plane to Paris during its run, the production was filmed and broadcast by Mezzo TV. And now, this new version is available to download for free, albeit for a very limited time.

The original Broadway production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, directed by James Lapine, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, was similarly filmed and quickly became a staple in the collector’s canon. For those of you who haven’t seen any of the original cast, or for those that could always use a refresher, enjoy the two duetting on “Move On.”


In this number, Dot appears to her great grandson (that of her lover George Seurat), also named George, who is struggling with his art

Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be-
Look at all the things you’ve done for me

Some Years Ago — Never Mind How Long Precisely, Tilda Swinton Read a Tome

moby

How many of us can say that they’ve actually got around to reading Melville’s novel, easily considered a treasure of world literature?

Peninsula Arts with Plymouth University have made the daunting task a little easier with their 21st century-friendly project, the Big Read. Readers such as Tilda Swinton and Stephen Fry embellish a chapter of Moby Dick each with their voice and skill. The project also curated 136 artists to create an accompanying illustration for each of the chapters of the book.

No better way to revisit a classic than by bringing it to the arts-hungry culture in such a digestible format.

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Should you need me these next few days, I’ll be diving into these deeper waters.

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READ this line, read THIS line, read this LINE

A young Ian McKellen works through a line from Merchant of Venice in the RSC’s Playing Shakespeare from a few decades past.

The director seen here, John Barton, was asked to write a book about his robust knowledge of the Bard but promptly refused, stating that it was impossible to talk about Shakespeare without having living, breathing actors available to demonstrate the subtleties and poetry of the text. The result is a party full of some the acting greats taking apart classic texts piece by piece and uncovering centuries worth of subtext in the process.

That Old Black Magic Has Me In Its Spell

Lookbook: The Crucible, Arthur Miller

Great words conjure up great images. And The Crucible is nothing if not a master class in playwriting. Miller’s text ignites with its mix of magic, hysteria, and faith.

candles“There is prodigious fear in seeking loose spirits”

cantsleep“I cannot sleep for dreaming; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you comin’ through the door.”

breathe a word“Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.”

fireflies“A child’s spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back.”

hysteria“it’s the proper morning to fly into Hell.”

possession“Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.”

names“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Who Knew Seneca Was So Zen?

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“I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself—as if nothing is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap—in fact, almost without any value. People are delighted to accept pensions and gratuities, for which they hire out their labor or their support or their services. But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But if death threatens these same people, you will see them praying to their doctors; if they are in fear of capital punishment, you will see them prepared to spend their all to stay alive. So inconsistent are they in their feelings. But if each of us could have the tally of his future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them! And yet it is easy to organize an amount, however small, which is assured; we have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.

No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.

Can anything be more idiotic than certain people who boast of their foresight? They keep themselves officiously preoccupied in order to improve their lives; they spend their lives in organizing their lives. They direct their purposes with an eye to a distant future. But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately. Listen to the cry of our greatest poet, who as though inspired with divine utterance sings salutary verses: “Life’s finest day for wretched mortals here/Is always first to flee.” “Why do you linger?” he means. “Why are you idle? If you don’t grasp it first, it flees.” And even if you do grasp it, it will still flee. So you must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.”

Known for being a titular Roman figure around 55AD, these thoughts come from his essay “On the Shortness of Life.” Ready, set, grasp the present – for all it’s worth.

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World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Belarus

Theater was made to push the boundaries, but what happens when your country wants to maintain those artificial limits? One theatre group in Belarus has made a commitment from allowing their home to silence their (powerful) voices.

Belarus Free Theatre is an underground theatre group that operates primarily in secret, holding unofficial rehearsals and free performances in small private apartments, cafes, or wooded areas. Seen as theatrical vigilantes at constant risk of persecution, they constantly change their venues and have no specific theatrical home. Members of the theatre have been attacked by the police and held for their participation in the Belarus Free Theatre activities. The stage director and other associates were fired from their jobs at state-run theatres for their involvement in the movement.

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Being Harold Pinter at the mid-April 2007 conference Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter, in England

The group was established in March 2005 by human rights activist, playwright and journalist, Nikolai Khalezin, and Natalia Koliada, a theatre producer and Khalezin’s wife. The group’s mission was to resist the overwhelming pressure and censorship of Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenka.

As the only modern theatre force in the country, the government is challenged by Belarus Free Theatre’s commitment to performing uncensored works. All other theatre is state-run, allowing the country to dictate the programming, resulting in a stale version of theatre which cannot appropriately discuss all aspects of contemporary life. The guerilla theatre group pushes for its creative freedom daily, risking their own security for the promise of truth in art.

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Belarus Free Theatre in the short play by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, one of the 12 featured in ‘Eurepica. Challenge.’

On 22 August 2007, during the Free Theatre’s première of Edward Bond’s theatrical piece Eleven Vests, Belarusian special forces stormed a performance in a private apartment in Minsk, and arrested actors, directors, and audience members. The founder, Khalezin, has now unfortunately become accustomed to these surprises, stating that the police would regularly burst into performances with machine guns in order to demonstrate power. At this point he does not fear for himself, but does notice that it is taking its toll on those who have never been arrested before. He’s afraid that these brave audience members won’t come back. Regardless of the pressure, the show resumed the next day in one of the private houses outside of Minsk. Police took video of the event from the forest.

The next few years were moderately less tumultuous but on December 19, 2010, fifty thousand citizens took to the streets to protest what they believed to be the rigged election of Alexander Lukashenko. More than a thousand of those were beaten and arrested, including Artistic Director Natalia Koliada, along with other artistic figures.  At the Belarus Embassy in London, Ian McKellen and a number of leaders from the artistic community protested the arrests, bringing international attention to the issue. Natalia Koliada was released, while Nikolai Khalezin went into hiding, where he remains.

The turmoil  has been worth it for those in the ensemble, almost all of whom have served time behind bars. Notable playwrights (Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Václav Havel, and Arthur Kopit) have supported the Free Theatre, with Pinter himself  so impressed by their biographical work [Being Harold Pinter] that he gave the troupe rights to perform any of his plays for free. 


Image Sources: 1, 2

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Sri Lanka

The theatre scene in Sri Lanka has been long in the making. As a country with roots in Theravada Buddhism, many believed that it was vital to tend toward solitary contemplation versus congregational practices or participation in community life. Thus, theatre arts were hard to come by until the 1950s when a serious scene began to develop. Local theatre has since become a melange of early folk ritual, dance drama, and Western theatre, creating a medium unlike any other.

The most recent hit out of the country is a new musical by Jehan Aloysius entitled ‘Rag’ which grapples with the divisive practice of ragging – a ritual seen by some as an equalizing activity, and by others as worse than bullying and hazing. Ragging is typically enforced by senior students on younger ones and includes forced consumption of alcohol, insects, and/or chemicals, physical exertion to the point of organ failure, and an assortment of humiliating activities meant to break the newcomers upon their arrival.

The show’s creator, director, composer and lead actor, Aloysius, has been developing the show for more than ten years, sparked by his own experiences with ragging at university. When Aloysius first received his university acceptance letter he was filled with dread and hid it from his mother. Four months later she found it, and off to school he went.

During his eventual ragging, he was spared some of the worst practices but he says that his classmates underwent processes worse than what he could have imagined. Some of these events have made their way into the show. While the show circles instances of rape, discrimination, shame and suicide, the writer’s efforts to reveal the darker side of university life ultimately provide for a cathartic experience.

Aloysius sought out a cast who had experienced ragging first-hand and after auditioning 250 people, he assembled his lead cast of 12. The story follows the creator’s character, Joseph, who starts a non-violent anti-ragging movement which runs into opposing forces who say it must be violently resisted. The result is an empowering musical that’s breaking boundaries abroad.

The show’s standing ovations and rapturous praise stand testament to the idea that creative expression continues to be one of the best mediums for processing struggle.
If something goes wrong, make art.

Before Photoshop, Folks Were Playing With Photos All the Same

‘Two-Headed Man’ (1855) by unidentified American artist

‘A Powerful Collision’, (1910s), Unknown Artist, German School

‘Man Juggling His Own Head’ (ca. 1880) by unidentified French artist

‘Room With Eye’ (1930) by Maurice Tabard (1897–1984)

‘The Vision (Orpheus Scene)’ (1907), F. Holland Day (American, Norwood, Massachusetts 1864–1933)

‘Dream No. 1- ‘Electrical Appliances for the Home” (1948) by Grete Stern (1904-1999)

‘Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders’ (ca. 1930) by unidentified American artist

Images from  Metropolitan Museum of Art