Bite-sized Wisdom: Corneille

Never hurts to get into this habit, especially when all people usually need is a little kindness:

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“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.”

– Pierre Corneille

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Wilder

Bite-sized Wisdom: Wilder

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. 


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Bite-sized Wisdom: Norman

Because the whisperings of one heart can speak the truth for many:

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“The theater is a communal event, like church. The playwright constructs a mass to be performed for a lot of people. She writes a prayer, which is really just the longings of one heart.”

― Marsha Norman

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Christie

Welcome to Friday! Crime writing gave this lady a glimpse into the darker parts of human life but she still offers a sense of grace:

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“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

-Agatha Christie

 

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Ionesco

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Theatre of the Absurd: Holiday Edition

Act I: Arrive at family’s house and proceed in joyous greetings of family and friends.

Act II: Bide time with niceties and stories around the table until an appropriate drinking hour approaches and proceed to kill off 12 bottles of wine. Between six people. Over the course of 4 hours.

Act III: Miraculously awake early (and without headache) and wander downstairs to watch giant balloons float across the TV screen while preparing for Turkey feast.

Act IV: After said feast, brother presents a new near-finished musical. Commence read-thru of a story complete with lightening-pace humor, 10 part harmony, and pokemonsters.

Act V: Family and friends again gather around the table, in that satisfyingly circular way that is everpresent in this life – repetition through tradition, tradition as a means of recapturing a memory, a feeling – a means to a hopefully familiar end.

Hope your weekend was long, luxurious and memorable. You’ll notice this “play” lacks a central conflict. Because these past few days of holiday were absolutely divine.

How A Rhinoceros Might Be a Reminder to Start Living

Les morts sont plus nombreux que les vivants. Leur nombre augmente.
Les vivants sont rares

“There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.”

-IONESCO, Rhinoceros

It was a weekend chock full of theatre. From a brilliant musical parody of Silence of the Lambs (that anyone in L.A. should run out to see if they’re able) to an ambitious but somewhat underwhelming production of Rhinoceros,  it was quite a spread.

While this Ionesco absurdist turn is classically difficult to dramatize, the meat of the play is one of my favorites to unravel. It explores the negative consequences of groupthink and implications of a society ruled by fear, but marries these ideas with the impossible, the zany, and yes, the absurd.

The central character Bérenger, a mild-mannered self-deprecating everyman, struggles as he watches all the people in his small town turn into Rhinos. (Yes, really.) Upon his writing, the rhinos were meant to signal the communist and fascist movements that exploded in the years before World War II. But today the play reads as a clever exploration of a number of other movements including the far-right Tea Party, Scientology, and other niche groups.  The addicting domino-effect of adopting the traits and mindsets of those around you to fit in or to escape judgement serves as a stark reminder to maintain one’s personal truths. Even when the tide has swept away those around you, hold tight. One person can be enough stand against the masses.

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A Whole Slew of Angels in America

“In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”
― Tony Kushner

Angels, angels everywhere. Ever since Kushner’s acclaimed play burst onto the scene in 1993, it’s taken the theatre world by storm – a tempest kicked up by the wings of hundreds of different iterations of the angel figure. Take a stroll down memory lane and see how a number of different productions imagined this pivotal role:


1993, Original Broadway production

1997, Theater Dortmund

2001, Guilford College

2003, HBO series

2004, American Conservatory Theatre

2010, Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf’s commemoration of Amsterdam’s DeLaMar Theatre’s opening

2010, Signature Theatre

Which version is the most effective? It’s remarkable that despite their physical/design differences, these angels are all relatively close in terms of presentation.

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Voltaire

Welcome to the end of the week! This revolutionary writer gives us his take on how we can create “the best of all possible worlds.”

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

– Voltaire


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Love Lessons from Stoppard

From “The Invention of Love,” a play in which Stoppard focuses on Latin-scholar Housman’s life and his relationships with his peers and professors (including Pater, Wilde, and Ruskin).

He postulates on the catalysts for this crazy little thing we call love:

“They loved, and quarreled, and made up, and loved, and fought, and were true to each other and untrue. She made him the happiest man in the whole world and the most wretched, and after a few years she died, and then, when he was thirty, he died, too. But by that time Catullus had invented the love poem.”

A great deal of the play concerns itself with the importance of education – even outside of the typical confines of the university. This passage is easily one of my favorites:

“The Renaissance teaches us that the book of knowledge is not to be learned by rote but is to be written anew in the ecstasy of living each moment for the moment’s sake. Success in life is to maintain this ecstasy, to burn always with this hard gem-like flame. Failure is to form habits. To burn with a gem-like flame is to capture the awareness of each moment; and for that moment only. To form habits is to be absent from those moments. How may we always be present for them?—to garner not the fruits of experience but experience itself?”

This play was another one of my gifts from the holiday season. While not as famous as some of his other works (Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), I’ve found it to be immersive and quite moving. If you’re in the mood for an intellectual and imaginative journey with Mr. Stoppard, this one is a good bet.