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The Alternative Voices: Peace Theatres in Union Square and Big
by Melinda Given Guttmann
Union Square, New York's street theatre of alternative voices, continues somberly protesting the idea of responding to terrorist violence with a violent response or "new war." Last night, Friday, September 28, the Living Theatre Collective performed their response to the terrorism with a work entitled "A Day in Life of New York." Dressed in black for mourning and red for blood, at least three generations of Living Theatre Performers gathered a crowd of hundreds to participate with them in re-viewing the trauma of before and after the catastrophe.
The piece embraces the audience with images for contemplation, not with the militant calls for revolution for which they became internationally famous during the Vietnam War, performing "Paradise New." In this piece, using their highly refined abstract sounds and movements, the troupe affectionately parodied smug, self-absorbed New Yorkers, jogging, going to work, going to yoga class, becoming increasingly frantic, in their workaholic and fitness madness--then--sudden silence. The participants look up to see the dissolution of the most beautiful and important work of art of the Twentieth Century: the New York Skyline. They reenact our psychic numbing! They speak of a new truth!
Then, the actors nimbly portray how quickly we create the Image of the Enemy, shouting US and Them; shouting all the negative ethnic epithets against Jews, Blacks, Arabs, sexist anger, religious righteousness. The actors lead the audience to conclude that We are Them: That US violence was mirrored by Terrorist violence; that paradoxically, in the Buddhist sense, We are Them; We are all interconnected and One. For the members of the Living Theatre, our country is the whole world.
In a beautiful gesture at the end of the half-hour performance, filled with drum and flute music, the performers give candles to audience members, asking them if to make a wish. They end the piece by holding hands with the audience, chanting "OM," which rose and fell like waves in an alternately stormy and calm ocean around the circle. They will be performing Saturday Night at 6:30 and Sunday in Prospect Park at Noon.
I wept. And walking through the misty rain, I came across a few Tibetan Buddhists, setting up their butter candles for a ceremony for peace. I asked a monk in a maroon robe for the name of his teacher; the Dali Lama, he replied. The candles kept going out--"this reminds us of the impermanence of all things in the world," he said. People gathered and chanting began, and incense filled the air with perfume not the winds of death. I sat down and meditated with them.
Members of a peace activist group held vigil, bearing black flags with blue letters spelling out Justice, or bore signs as a score of foreign visitors and amateur documentary film makers recorded the images. The alternative voices to retaliation have not yet been heard on major media. They bore signs bearing slogans like "brains not brawn."
I flew into La Guardia from Hawaii on September 10th, where I had attended what now seems like a naive Street Theatre and was honored to attend the annual Hula festival on the Big Island. I received Sacred Hula lessons and chanting from Miss Hawaii 1993, whose talent in the Pageant had been her great-souled Hawaiian mythological chants. Hawaiians know what it means to be silenced in the core of their being. Historically an oral culture, they were given a written language after the arrival of Captain Cook. Only 7% of pure Hawaiians remain after the racism, colonialism, and foreign diseases which amounted to the genocide of a culture. I met a pure Hawaiian woman in her sixties, more beautiful than the imagination, and she wept that she had been forbidden to speak her own language, only English, and that her grandchildren are learning Hawaiian in a revival. The beautiful hand and foot movements I was taught, and the words for my initiation chant, were reworked in my mind in the shock and trauma of the next morning. "Land--Aine; Precious land--Hiwahiwa--this beautiful island"--all became Manhattan Island, as I watched the gratte-ciels dissolve like a grade-b science fiction movie; or the smashing of the Moses' sacred stone tablets.
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