Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Story's Still The Same

Tonight I am working at Petaluma's Aqus Cafe with an actor friend - Roger Marquis - on a set of readings from two different wars that have, to a certain extent bookended my life to this point. The show will be presented on Monday and Tuesday evening at the cafe and if you're in Petaluma this week, I hope you will drop in (Aqus Cafe - 7:30pm Monday and Tuesday admission FREE).

As a whole - along with my rather personal involvement with issues that surrounded the Central American wars of the Reagan years - this is a theme that has occupied my life from the time I was fourteen up to this moment as I type this on my computer. I even produced a song (now 25 years old) by Ken Medema that I will be playing as part of the show, and which could not be a better lead in to what we have conceived for this performance, The Story's Still The Same!

It would be nice (and rather a bit fanciful) if I could imagine that these wars really are bookends in my life and that we might be moving to some other place in world reality, but that seems unlikely. We seem, instead, to be moving to a time, similar to that which Orwell imagined, of endless war for the purpose of commerce and distraction.

In the shadow of Armistice Day and in the presence of a Petaluma Historical Museum exhibit that glorifies the VietNam War and refuses to give appropriate attention to the questionable (and immoral) circumstances that took us into, and kept us in, that war, while so many people (both U.S. and Vietnamese) died and suffered, I find this one of the most important things I have ever worked on.

Act One of "Winter Soldiers" is a dramatic reading of the direct testimony of veterans at the first Winter Soldier hearings in 1971, Act Two comes from the testimony of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, given as testimony at a second set of hearings in 2008. As I work with this material, dig through photos, videos, writings, and testimony, I find my emotions torn apart.

I have been actively working against war for 42 years!

One of the most important conversations I have ever had in my life occurred in Los Angeles about the time I produced the song I mentioned above. My friend (who will likely be reading this) made the suggestion that out of Justice, Truth and Beauty, he had been inundated with Justice and Truth and was ready for a little Beauty. The statement stopped me in my tracks, and I conitnue to reflect on it - regularly - today.

Has anything that I did, am doing, or will do made a damn bit of difference in all of this? I don't think so.

The wars still go on... the excuses still fly... the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about continues to make bank on the spoils of war.

The Story's Still The Same... but I keep wondering if there is some way to change it.

Is it possible to BE THE CHANGE that Gandhi referred to?

My life has been turned upside down once more by the process of working on this show. Even in this embryonic form that we will present in Petaluma on the next two nights, the testimonies, the questions, and the declarations of courage and hope have given me a determination to seek and hope for justice, truth and beauty once again.

Semper Fi is what the Marines say... These principles, hopes, dreams and desires for Justice, Truth, and Beauty are the things to which I can similarly dedicate MY life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Howling At The Moon

In the production notes at the beginning of the play True West, playwright Sam Shepard discusses the expected sound design for Coyote howling that he writes into the play.

"The Coyote of Southern California has a distinct yapping, dog like bark, similar to a Hyena. This yapping grows more intense and maniacal as the pack grows in numbers, which is usually the case when they lure pets from suburban yards... In any case, these Coyotes never make the long mournful, solitary howl of the Hollywood stereotype."

I'm not sure why this particular bit of information grabbed me yesterday afternoon. Like when you think about buying a red car and then all of a sudden you start seeing all kinds of red cars, it was one of those synchronistic moments when after focusing on something (in this case the return to my old play with Coyote images) you suddenly start discovering a multitude of references to the particular target of interest. Like most of these situations, there is a fairly obvious underlying reason here. I have always seen a connection between Sam and Coyotes, and I have always seen Sam as an icon/role model/silent mentor for my own writing. It wasn't terribly unusual to go from launching a new mental game with coyotes to a quote from Sam staring me in the face just a few minutes later.

What IS interesting - at least to me - is the underlying message in the biological lesson about coyotes. They are generally seen as solitary animals, but as I understand it, more often than not, they are pack animals who generally live and hunt together, though generally in smaller numbers than wolf packs.

Lately I've been struggling a lot with what I want to do and where I want to go next. The last year has been filled with more changes than usual for me (and that's saying something) and one of those changes has been the opportunity to spend a lot of time in theater productions of various types. I also spend a lot of my time either writing or editing (video and audio mostly) alone, in my little monk's cell of an apartment. There is something to be said for both forms of work and it seems like I am in need of large amounts of alone time while also being a desperately gregarious individual. There is absolutely no question in my mind that I do my best work (most interesting, most creative, most satisfying and most productive) in collaboration and I am really desirous of developing new (and old) connections and partnerships.

The point I think I'm getting at (there really IS a point that I'm getting at) is that even when we think we are alone, or solitary, or flying solo, or way deep down in the loneliness of our personal cave... pretty much every one of us needs the company of others. We need people to give us new ideas, or to provide support in the midst of a lonely struggle, or to react and respond to the things we think and feel. Even the most solitary artist, at some point, needs an audience... at least, and friends are pretty nice too.

Like Robert DeNiro says to Jonathan Price in Brazil... "We're all in it together kid."

P.S. For more info on the Coyote sculpture above check it out at Jim Callahan's Website