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Alternative Voices; New Consciousness (Part 2)
The Arts after 9/11
by Melinda Given Guttmann
NEW YORK, November 20 -- I call this the Heisenberg War: uncertain; indeterminate! And the Artists for the most part have remained silent; college campuses remain apathetic, the rhetoric of the experts on the mass media is more sensitive but still suffering from the hubris of rejoicing in the bombing; while Talaban corpses are danced upon; or young recruits are stoned to death! Bless Laura Bush for her radio speech on the agony and oppression of the Talaban women and children, stating concretely that besides being murdered for leaving home; even in the domestic prisons joy was killed: the children were beaten for flying kites; and the women for laughter. Some women have taken off their veils, but how long will this last? And doesn't the First Lady want to perpetuate the ground war by claiming that we are freeing Islamic women? But the illusion of freedom and the illusion of winning is only that: we all remain in a state of not-knowing! At a Bob Dylan November 19 at Madison Square Garden, which was packed with short-haired, middle-aged suburbanites, Dylan said nothing about 9/11, playing a majority of new upbeat songs in great voice; but with no depth of irony or passion or pain even with his famous protest songs "Blowing in the Wind" and "Everybody's Got to Get Stoned!"
"Mother Courage and Her Children," presented in Washington Square Park by Exile International Theater Company. Karla Nielson (kneeling), Alexia Kahanovitz (lying). Photo by Jonathan Slaff
Union Square was cleared of street theatre. The venue was moved to Washington Square Park. The Park, filled with gorgeous trees with coloring autumn leaves, calm and serene, devoid of 9/11 shrines and the homeless, gave forth a production of Brecht's Mother Courage November 2 and 3. The audience of about forty was quiet; there was no electricity among the players and the parkgoers as there had been at Union Square and the choice of the play seemed remarkably dated, although the director and the actors were talented. Brecht's alienation technique proved to be the opposite of what was needed.
The Zen-like precision of language and shocking the habitual thought patterns of the bourgeoisie was missing from past productions. Perhaps the godless Marxist message of the greed, cruelty, poverty and corruption of Capitalism falls short of the longing for spiritual inspiration which our confused, numbed, apocalyptic consciousnesses need now! The translation was filled with sloppy slang and the poor theatre setting was not startling or dramatic. The figure of Mother Courage herself continues to be alluring. She became a legend for taking her cart of war goods through enemy lines, not, as she reports, because of her bravery, but for money-- her bread was rotting! Although Mother Courage is an antiwar play, its cynicism belittles us as it does her, unless this is another Blood for Oil war! She haggles as her children are slaughtered. While Mother Courage is playing the stockmarket of commercial advantage, her children are sacrificed to the war. She is the author of her own destruction! The religious conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics does not parallel the conflict of cultural mind-sets between the Christian West and the crazed, brainwashed terrorists who do not represent Islam. Mother Courage dragged her wagon over half of Europe learning nothing. We are not prepared to believe in this malignent universe, of the inhumanity of a song from Brecht's "A Man's a Man," for example: "I don't know, you don't know what is this thing called 'rice', God only knows what 'rice' is; I only know it's price. I don't know, you don't know, what is this thing called 'man,' God only knows what a man is, I only know his price."
In the last two months I found three paths to know and release my pain from the old guard of the avant garde theatre: Gabrielle Roth and Meredith Monk, and the Sheikiah of the Sufi mystical community of Islam, who stated that she believed that Sufi was Islam, and to breath love into our hearts every moment. We live now with a global consciousness that we are all interconnected; and must transmit this compassion to everyone; and find political and diplomatic methods which are unprecedented to end the violence which can as we know can only lead to violence.
Merdith Monk and Bonnie Marranca organzied a brilliant panel November 11 in a soho gallery on Art as a Spiritual Activity. Everyone spoke directly to their changes in consciousness since 9/11. Monk, raised Jewish, is now a Tibetan Bhuddist, and believes that the need for art is more powerful than ever. She has created a piece with Ann Hamilton called "Mercy"; through music and image it reflects on compassion and redemption. She believes that these bold and peaceful ideas can make us all feel human again.
Gabrielle Roth's whose five rhythms are called Sweat Your Prayers; or a Path to Ecstasy, held an event called Mysterium in the Chapel of Saint John the Divine. One hundred of us danced for three days; a moving, shamanic meditation on our true selves. Roth said that if we follow Socrates, to "Know thyself," we will find our pure, empty selves, devoid of false selves, and find our way through pain and the mind-forged manacles of culture, to our self-less loving awareness of the authentic nature of being. I arrived there cramped with depression and pain, and left radiant and light, desiring to spread this lovingkindness everywhere.
Peace is possible. At the Annual Dinner of the Leo Baeck Institute, the most important German-Jewish intellectual archive, on November 13, the President of Germany and Carol Kahn Strauss, the executive director of the archive celebrated with around 100 American German Jews and Germans the opening of the Leo Baeck Archive in Berlin on September 6. At each table were Germans and German Jews, some of whom had survived the Holocaust. If these German Jews could forgive, and give the new generations a chance to co-exist with love and respect, anything is possible.
Bless my editor/webmaster, Jonathan Slaff, who has always allowed me the freedom to write about what is important to me. Bless all of you who read theatre-wire. May art and the imagination guide us home to our birthright of peace and liberation from both inner and outer terror. [MMG]
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