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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What Is Essential Is Invisible To The Eye

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly” – Saint Exupéry

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Deconstructing opera’s mega-material roots is a challenge.
Sharing an opera live with a group of roving wireless-headphone-wearing audience members? Sounds near impossible.
And yet, The Industry ambitiously tackled all this and more through its Invisible Cities project in LA’s Union Station.

Composer and librettist Christopher Cerrone’s adapted a 1972 novel of the same name by Italo Calvino. The story depicts a host of fantastical cities the explorer Marco Polo narrates to Kublai Khan – unreal cities of desire, of memory, of the imagination.

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You check in and trade your license for a pair of headphones before following a drove of listeners into a large room where an orchestra sits, no singers in sight. The overture sounds forth and even before the final notes of this first movement end, individuals exit through the large glass doors to search for the rest of the opera. There’s no traditional stage here. The train station itself houses the characters, and like a living giant that seems to expand and contract as singers reveal themselves from the shadows.

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A man hunched over in a wheelchair, dressed like many of the homeless souls that take shelter in the station, begins to sing. And you realize that the performers are not so much hidden at all. Instead, you did not know what you should have been seeking.

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  A lofty soprano tone sounds from another room. Many turn to rush to find the source of the music and discover a janitor – with a voice of gold.

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You traverse cities of the living, cities of the dead.

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You follow in Polo’s footsteps and happen upon a dance core (seven dancers from LA Dance Project) as they guide and affront the viewer through a collection of miniature vignettes.

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You wander into a hallway – the station’s old ticket lobby – and see no action, just a mist of light fog…

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…Only seconds later to be bombarded by a procession of singers and dancers as the opera’s final scenes culminate around you.

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You notice how each person in the room is now a character in the piece as well. An old man in his own wheelchair is not altogether different from the singer at the start.

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The piece challenges the viewer to realize that the eye creates what it wishes to see. At every new port – there is a promise of hope, discovery, release. But we bring ourselves with us wherever we go, thus in order to find new things, we must truly see with new eyes.

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Stewart

Remember you choose which direction to walk each day. Pick a path of which you can be proud.

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“It is what you do from now on that will either move our civilization forward a few tiny steps, or else… begin to march us steadily backward.”

-Patrick Stewart

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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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Bite-sized Wisdom: Apollinaire

Maybe it’s a little easier than we think…From one of France’s foremost poets and playwrights:

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“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Guillaume Apollinaire

Image Source, Kids chasing Father Christmas in London, 1926

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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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Good Things Develop in Time

Good Things Develop in Time

No Theatre No Problem

No Theatre No Problem

There's a Fine Line Between Existing and Living

There’s a Fine Line Between Existing and Living

Leave a Message and Receive a “Call” Back Unlike Any Other

What happens when the world opens up to one musician, one voicemail at a time?

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One Hello World tackles the universal desire for human connectedness – a mysterious pianist from Wichita sets strangers’ voicemails to music. Inspired by film scores and a deep curiosity about the our interconnectedness, his project explores the thoughts of others with honesty and creativity, bringing light to our universal condition.

Snippets from a few popular messages include:

I’m not afraid to grow up. I guess I’m just afraid that I’ll forget what it’s like to be a kid.”

“I think that loneliness is a term that’s misconceived by everybody. There’s two different things: there’s being alone and there’s being lonely. I’ve learned loneliness is only something you invite when you’re by yourself. And I can be by myself and be completely happy.”

I know that someday you will be happy, and even if it’s not with me. But there’s a little piece of me that hopes that you’ll be happy with me, old.”

“I realize now that I at least deserved to be loved as much as I loved. To be treated with respect and thoughtfulness. I will know you will do those things. You will piece my heart back together and show me what real love is supposed to be like. And everyday you will astound me with how wonderful life can be with the right person by my side. For now, I’m waiting patiently. I love you.

“You’re the first girl in a while to actually affect me. Make me care about somebody other than myself… maybe a warning for everyone else is, the worst thing you can do is fall in love with your best friend.”

Each message unique and yet part of a larger tapestry of what we care about, what hurts us, what inspires us, and what draws us together.

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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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Bite-sized Wisdom: Oates

Here’s to a beautiful weekend ahead. May the universe surprise you in wonderful ways.

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“Nothing is accidental in the universe – this is one of my Laws of Physics – except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.”

- Joyce Carol Oates 

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Easiest Way To Fail Is To Never Try

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Time to allow yourself to have it all.

“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”

More of this illustrated story available via Brain Pickings

Bite-sized Wisdom: Holmes

This playwright/composer/singer-songwriter speaks on life’s daily adventures. Hope you have a few this weekend!

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“For me, the most memorable adventures are still the perils that we face daily in life and love, from the mundane to the meaningful. Where the comedy is often at our own expense, but where the drama, even if painful, reminds us that we are living and feeling here in the real time, with the ever-recurring possibility that this latest chapter will end with new understanding, hope and perhaps even happiness.”

- Rupert Holmes

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