Wednesday, June 27, 2007

8 Random Things

Dan Trujillo, unable to specify eight people to tag with this meme, said anyone who hasn't done it ought to. Since I'd been tagged with a similar meme with only five random facts, I will do this one as penance for being such a laggard. Thanks for the oblique tag, Dan.

Bloggers must post these rules and provide eight random facts about themselves. In the post, the tagged blogger tags eight other bloggers.

1. I spent several years working as a solderer in an air rifle factory. Very hot, and lots of chemicals in the air.

2. I carried a briefcase in junior high school. When a cool kid stuck his face in mine and demanded to now why I was carrying a briefcase, I looked puzzled and replied, "Why aren't you?" He went away very confused.

3. I attended a technical college for computer programming for a semester as an excuse to stay in my hometown while my mother was dying from cancer -- she would never have let me if she thought I was getting behind in my education because of her.

4. I have been married twice: once to an actress, one to a non-actress. The non has been better.

5. I wrapped my first car around a telephone pole trying to get home to get a post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich on a 30-minute break from work. Don't ask me why I didn't bring the sandwich with me to work.

6. I filed my own divorce papers with the help of a book -- the judge said he was impressed.

7. I thought it was hilarious when my father put our stereo speakers in the front window pointing out and played at full volume his latest album: "Big Sounds of the Dragstrip."

8. I started my own summer theatre when I was a junior in high school, got the high school to let us use the theatre (complete with air conditioning), and the Parks and Recreation Department to pay our expenses. We did a new play called "Snapshots," as well as "All My Sons," "Career," and "The Country Girl" during the first three seasons.

I tag...um...the same people Dan tagged...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Theatre Knows Me

One of the things I am hoping to do more of on this blog is provide links to articles I find that are inspiring. If I have time, I will try to summarize them a bit -- and will do the same with books or academic journal articles that people outside of academe might not encounter, but that might be of interest to them. One rich source of articles is the Community Arts Network, an on-line resource which is devoted "promoting information exchange, research and critical dialogue within the field of community-based art." Today, I read a wonderful article by Toronto-based storyteller and arts funder Dan Yashinsky, who provides a delightful and heartening "Funder's Tale." In it, explores the different ways that artists relate to their community, and affect it. While the whole article is definitely worth a read, and I recommend it highly even if you aren't interested in community-based arts, one section really spoke to me.

It’s not that this is a novel artistic approach in human history. Artists have often, and in many cultures, expressed their creativity at a community level. South African theater artist John Kani (who also served as chair of their National Arts Council), described in a Globe and Mail interview the place of artists in African village culture:

Africa is different. There is no Broadway, and the community is what is important. When you become an artist, you become an artist in that village รข€” a storyteller, a dancer, an entertainer, a percussionist. You’re doing it for the village. The fact that it may be seen by people coming from the neighboring village is just another embellishment.

However, in our society, which has seen such rapid and drastic erosions of community life, this is a relatively recent discipline. I’m often reminded of a story I heard from my friend Ron Evans, a Metis oral historian, about the time an anthropologist came to an African village. They had just acquired their first television set and, for several weeks, they spent most of their time watching it. They neglected the old man by the fire, the griot who knew all of the tribe’s history and mythology. But, after awhile, people drifted back to the fire, and eventually there was no one left by the television. The anthropologist, curious, asked one of the villagers, “Don’t you think the TV knows more stories than your old storyteller?” “Oh, yes,” came the reply. “The TV knows more stories, but the storyteller knows me.” Perhaps this need for immediate, intimate, neighbor-to-neighbor, homegrown culture is what gives force to the contemporary community arts movement.


And maybe that simple sentence -- "The TV knows more stories, but the storyteller knows me" -- is the starting point for a way of defining theatre's raison d'etre, for separating it in the public's mind from the mass media, for identifying what makes theatre unique and therefore valuable. Don't get me wrong -- I think mass media is delightful and often powerful, and I am not a theatre snob. But when I go to the movies or turn on the TV, I know that the storyteller doesn't know me, and hasn't created that story with me in mind, and will tell that story the same way no matter who is in the audience -- and that makes a difference. Later this week, I am planning to go see storyteller David Novak do Gilgamesh at the North Carolina Stage Company, and even though he will be telling a story that is many millenia old, I know he lives in Asheville, and has created this performance for us; he will perform the same basic story each night, but he will adjust it slightly according to who is there and how they respond. And that makes me excited to see his work.