Monday, 28 January 2013

Who needs a Narnia?

Who needs a Narnia, when we have this world?

Who needs a Neverland, when we have nature?

Who needs a shire of Tolkien when we have the ocean bed?

Who needs endless life, when the seasons go on year after year, never failing us?
                                     Who needs walking trees, when we have battling ocean waves?

Who needs a fallen star, when we have the universe to forever gaze?
Who needs a healing potion, when earth's soil cleanses us each morning?
Who needs a magical broom stick, when we have the magical birds who tell us many things if we will listen.

Who needs to escape this earth, when we have our seaside caves and our woodland groves and our hide-away river-bends? 

Who needs more than this beautiful earth?

It is more than enough for you and it is more than enough for me.

-Joanna Grace


Monday, 14 January 2013

7 Reasons Why Theatre Makes Our Lives Better

Howard Shalwitz

Howard Shalwitz
by Howard Shalwitz
As someone who came from a family of doctors, started out pre-med in college, detoured to philosophy, then teaching, and finally to theatre — not only did my career choices slide steadily downhill from my mother’s perspective, but I was left with a moral conundrum: does my chosen profession, theatre, make a valuable contribution to the world when compared with the other professions I left behind? I guess this conundrum has stuck with me, because as recently as this past winter I made a list of seven reasons why theatre matters and I’d like to share them with you briefly tonight.
First, theatre does no harm. Theatre is one of those human activities that doesn’t really hurt anyone or anything (except for its carbon footprint — but let’s ignore that for now). While we’re engaged in making or attending theatre, or any of the arts for that matter, we are not engaged in war, persecution, crime, wife-beating, drinking, pornography, or any of the social or personal vices we could be engaged in instead. For this reason alone, the more time and energy we as a society devote to theatre and the arts, the better off we will be.
Second, theatre is a sophisticated expression of a basic human need — one might call it an instinct — to mimic, to project stories onto ourselves and others, and to create meaning through narrative and metaphor. We see this instinct expressed in children when they act out real or imagined characters and events. We have evidence of theatre-like rituals in some of the oldest human societies, long before the foundations of Western theatre in Ancient Greece. So theatre matters, in essence, because we can’t help it. It’s part of what makes us human.
Third, theatre brings people together. For a performance to happen, anywhere from a hundred to a thousand or more people need to gather in one place for a couple of hours, and share together in witnessing and contemplating an event that may be beautiful, funny, moving, thought-provoking, or hopefully at least diverting. And in an age when most of our communication happens in front of a screen, I think that this gathering function of theatre is, in and of itself, something that matters.
Fourth, theatre models for us a kind of public discourse that lies at the heart of democratic life, and builds our skills for listening to different sides of a conversation or argument, and empathizing with the struggles of our fellow human beings whatever their views may be. When we watch a play, we learn what happens when conflicts don’t get resolved, and what happens when they do. We develop our faculty for imagining the outcomes of various choices we might make in our personal lives and our political lives. It’s not surprising that, in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid; in Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy. If our own representatives and senators in Washington went to the theatre more often, I suspect we’d all be better off.
Fifth, both the making of theatre and attending of theatre contribute to education and literacy. Watching the characters talk back and forth in the theatre is tricky; it requires sharp attention, quick mental shifts, and nimble language skills. It teaches us about human motivation and psychology. In historical plays we get lessons in leadership and government. In contemporary plays, we learn about people and cultures in different parts or our own country or in other countries. Studies have shown that students who participate in theatre do better in school. Making plays together also draws kids out of their shells and helps them learn to socialize in a productive and healthy way.
Sixth, theatre as an industry contributes to our economy and plays a special role in the revitalization of neglected neighborhoods. We’ve seen this quite clearly in our own city. You can look at the role that the Studio Theatre played along the 14th Street corridor, or Shakespeare Theatre along Seventh Street, or Woolly in both these neighborhoods, or Gala Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, the Atlas along H Street, or the new Arena Stage along the waterfront. As each of these theatres opened, new audiences started flooding in, new restaurants opened, jobs were created, the city improved the sidewalks, and neighborhoods that were once grim and forbidding became vibrant hubs of activity. And this pattern has been repeated in cities across the United States and around the world.
Finally, the seventh way that theatre matters — and this one applies to some kinds of theatre more than others — is that it influences the way we think and feel about our own lives and encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behavior. The most vivid example of this I’ve ever experienced was during a post-show discussion at Woolly Mammoth when a woman said that one of our plays made her and her husband decide that they had a serious problem in their marriage and needed to go for counseling; and she was pleased to report that they were still together and much happier as a result. Now, I’ll admit, I don’t hear things like this every day. But speaking more generally isn’t this one of the things we go to the theatre for, to measure our own lives against the lives we see depicted on the stage, to imagine what it would be like if we had those lives instead? And isn’t it a very short step from there to saying, gee, maybe there’s something I should change about my own life? And it may have nothing to do with the message that the playwright wanted to deliver! Maybe the play is about a fierce battle over a family dinner that breaks the family apart over irreconcilable political divisions — but maybe you watch the play and say, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to at least have a family dinner once in a while, and so you decide to plan one for next month.
So, those are my seven ways that theatre matters: it does no harm, expresses a basic human instinct, brings people together, models democratic discourse, contributes to education and literary, sparks economic revitalization, and influences how we think and feel about our own lives.
Howard Shalwitz is the Artistic Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Fluffy Chick

"Fluffy Chicks were created to roam free, 
not to be cooped up in a concrete jungle of smoke and cars" 

-Robin Burgess

Upon Hills Never-Ending

I sit down with heavy knees, knocking against each other.
The hard wood of the pew prohibits my spine to curve.
I swallow and hang my head.
There is a faint touch on my hand,
I look up to see Elinor's sweet, full cheeks lift kindly,
Her lips part slightly as she pats my arm.

The vicar's mouth begins to move up and down,
I watch him, at first observing his cassock,
Wondering how long it had taken for these people to grow accustomed to his dress.
My eyes grow weary, and they blur him into a grey figure far away in front of the altar.

I have entered the fathoming state of consciousness that I know so well.
I do it when I am beyond this life.
When I am bored.
When I am tired.
When my body gives up.

There is a softening of the light,
There is a faint voice rising above me,
A voice that doesn't speak, but does something far more wonderful,
It sings.

My eyes are wide, I look around,
There she is, a small girl stood amid a collection of robed people.
All their mouths are open now,
They share one song, one voice, one body.

Across the little girl's face are the colours of the rainbow.
The colours move onto the boy beside her,
And then I suddenly feel a warming sensation upon my own face,
And realise the colours have found their way to me.

I look towards the stained glass window and there I see my childhood days,
There I ran upon hills never-ending,
There I whistled beside the limpid stream,
There I laughed in the sunshine with my rod slung over my shoulder,
My feet then knew no stillness, knew no trouble, knew no harder ground,
Than the padded moss of the trees.

Elinor's hand leaves mine, she is standing.
I look up at her uncertain,
She utters a soft prayer and then sits down.
I look back at the window, the sun was just leaving.
But I wasn't sad, I had changed in those quick seconds.

The church wasn't cold any more,
My feet weren't numb.
There was a flushed warmth rising from the quick pound of my heart.

The vicar seemed different,
I am sure he was washed in light,
Elinor turned to me,
Her eyes, like his, were radiant as well,
Just like the suns of my childhood.
Just like the singing of the choir,

I nodded, slowly acknowledging my senses,
Yes, I feel something deeper,
Something that is far above the pressed flat soil of this earth,
Something that sings higher than where the wind and the rain fall from,
Something that lifts my weary feet from the stones and lets me rest on the breezes.

It gives me hope, though I don't understand it in any way at all,
It tells me to hope for the life I once was a part of,
In the sweet and light days of my youth.
Where the sun hiding on rainy days was just as beautiful as summer's bold smiles.

I may return, perhaps once more,
Just to see and feel and hope,
just once more.

-Joanna Grace

(With thanks to Ramon telling me his friend's story that was the inspiration to this poem)


Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Deserter to the Hauler

Someone is going away, aren't they?
She asked with heavy eyes.
I took hold her of fidgeting hands and sat down with her on the bottom step.
Yes. Someone is leaving.
Why must she?
I looked down at our hands resting limply on my knee and sighed.
Everything has to change. Even you, even I.
She turned towards the wall and folded her arms across her chest, and under her breath I heard her whisper,
I hate those words...
Suddenly there were footsteps and excited giggling. 
Two people entered the kitchen, clutching  one another.
There was the Deserter, her arms entwined lightly around the Hauler's neck.
They walked to the door.
We could see the edges of them.
Suddenly she got up beside me and shouted, her pink tongue pushing against her bottom teeth.
I hate you both!
Then she ran out of the kitchen and sobbed violently. 
I stood.
But the Deserter hadn't even noticed. All she could see was the Hauler.
I knew that she had already gone. 
The Deserter wouldn't return to us.
Even as the Deserter closed the door and let the Hauler go home, she had gone with him.
Even though she now stood in the kitchen near me, she was with him, gone.
I watched her nibbling at the cake, a flat humming escaping her mouth in puffed breaths.
Then she turned and jumped back at the sight of me.
I didn't see you there! 
I tilted my head and smiled sadly.
She chuckled and walked out.
No, I wasn't even here. 
And small rounded tears fell from my cheeks.
It was too late.
The Deserter had already Deserted.

-Joanna Grace

Saturday, 5 January 2013

God's Religion

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" 

- James 1:27