zeitgeist: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
As most of you readers well know, I love me some historical theatre. Something about the medium allows you to explore the essence of the time without even noticing that you’re learning something new. But how does a playwright or composer take us back to that period without having the material feel antiquated? For Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this meant reinvisioning that 7th president’s life as that of an emo rock concert. And in another new project from that same composer, Paris Commune, it means infusing 200 year old music with a healthy dose of novelty.
The Paris Commune is revered as the first socialist revolution in Europe. Citizens rallied together, overthrew the government and had control for just over 70 days. This theatre piece delves into this explosive intersection between unrest and artistic expression by centering on the giant concert that the people threw when they took over the TuileriesPalace.
The piece is extraordinary political. Although it focuses’ on an undeniably French event, its tremors of activism resonate with the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and grassroots movements that we have seen pop up and define the atmosphere of the past year.
Composer Michael Friedman also brought a new edge to this centuries-old story by using the period music as his base material and translating and adapting the lyrics to “make songs that were dangerous in 1871 still feel dangerous today.”
As for whether or not the piece is activist theatre, Friedman charges that it is most likely a mirror rather than a call to arms. At its heart, the show offers the questions of : “At what point do you realize that you have to do something? At what point do you have to seize control of your own life?” – questions that are important, universal and clues to why the theatre is still kicking.
When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.