As the tired, bowed head of Picasso's Guitarist indicates, creating Art is not for the weak of heart or mind. He plays bent in a rapture of dedication to his instrument, and the sound evoked is beautiful and it costs him and it keeps him. Picasso's blue guitarist seems in an eternal and dedicated service to making of art, music and expression. It seems a timeless expression of the artists journey and lifetime demands and it's joys and rewards. And so, Happy New Year! Yes, a rough and ragged year was 2016. Full of the unexpected demands of citizenship. 2016 was often terrifying, winding down many surprising destinations that bring to mind Alice's rabbit hole or Orpheus' descent into the underworld in order to bring back Eurydice. Or, for us, perhaps, to restore some semblance of American political hope rescued and placed back into the world of the living.
Since the Presidential election in November, I have seen dear friends, artists, teachers; people in all walks, finding solace in their creative work as our country struggles for a new and unified voice. I believe the search for the undiscovered voices within ourselves is the key, and I see it each day, working with the vital and important Prison Performing Arts here in St. Louis, or singing in the heralded and internationally known choir at Union Avenue Church, or writing these musings or poetry, or reading the plays and poems of friends and colleagues, and hearing about the artistic triumphs and struggles of colleagues and collaborators.
These artistic journeys tell those that pay attention, that the never-ending potential within the most rigorous artistic processes may reveal all the secrets for peace. For the best of the new is created by the process of the deepest dedication, passion and love. When something is created together - a play, a symphony, an opera or a ballet, we prove that together we are stronger and only with discipline and personal cost we may create beauty and truth - in concert with each other - and all working toward a common goal.
The most extraordinary performance art is created by Ensemble. This deepest human communication is what models the human potential that can save us if only we listen, within and without, to ourselves and each other and to the demands of real creative enterprise - and apply that same love and passion to the world communities in which our lives must live, work, play and survive. Perhaps we might consider our country our greatest cooperative work of art, and together form a unified and supportive regenerative force to develop and create the most profound national beauty and truth we are capable of - with regard to each other and all those in the world who will experience our greatest work of unified purpose.
Freedom to act, freedom to believe
In the last play written by inmates in Pacific, Missouri, an the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC,) I served as dramaturg and editor with colleague Jerry McAdams. Together we ordered the written selections of 16 inmates which included poetry, short stories, and profound and personal commentaries incarceration, redemption, forgiveness of self and others, hope, dreams and promises - all with two underlying themes - that freedom is first generated within one's soul and only then can be applied in the world without, and with no intended harm to the world. And that responsibility for oneself begins with forgiveness and culminates through the freedom of deeply felt expression. This is at the core of my artistic work with inmate artists.
As any artist learns, we are responsible for showing up. We are responsible for being our best selves and presenting that in good faith first, to the creative process and simultaneously to each other. That our work as artists is a reflection of our best efforts as human animals, coexisting with each other to discover something new, and in uncharted territory. That we create together from our most treasured and nurtured abilities, and that we must allow others to create along with us and to share the Earth's stage.
As Shakespeare so wisely and delightfully observed, all the world's a stage but with that knowledge comes a responsibility: if one is to be creative in any fundamental and ongoing way it will cost us the time, dedication and courtesy it takes to experiment in that vulnerable terrain of the uncharted where we may become lost, where we will most definitely become completely exhausted and often discouraged; and then, demanding the courage of a skilled and instinctive warrior, as we risk challenging all that has gone before within ourselves and within the creative expanse of our art. These promises can only make our creative enterprises, relationships to self and others more open to the relish and surprise of discovery, and thus, reflect and find new resonance to our better existence.
And finally, we must remember that we are obligated we leave the Theatre in which we work in better condition than when we found it. As a director I state this obligation before the strike of any show I direct. I say that if "All the World's a Stage" then we must leave it a better, cleaner, more prepared space for the next production and ensemble of artists that enter this playground. For where we perform our lives - our human stage within the World's Theatre- is our profound responsibility - as a performer, as an artist and as a human being. If we wish to return again and again, we need to replenish the power of the stages environment and potential - it's ability to support the next creative process, so we may continue to be seen and heard: to transform our character and intentions, to house our invention, to light our performance, and, to allow our audience a place to hear, see and experience their deepest emotions and undiscovered intellect - that is: to participate with the creation of art. Indeed, the true efforts and results of a life well-lived.
Summarizing and bringing an end to the play: Dreams Deferred, at MECC, I was inspired to place a piece I had developed for a previous production, Bridges, based on an interview with an inmate, placing his feelings to an appropriate metaphor - a bridge; and then a final poem - a chorus-like epilogue - to summarize and compel the understanding and support of the audience: that the freedom to be truly free lies first within, and only then is claimed without. When we know that when we are aligned with our best self we can then choose to assume full responsibility for the ultimate work of art we have a chance to give the world - ourselves.
Bridges and Dreams
WALT: Bridges. The dictionary says a bridge is a structure built to span obstacles. To provide passage. I was thinking about my family and bridges – that every relationship is like a bridge.
EDDIE: We think and dream a lot about the bridges we once built between us and our families. I know I have burnt my family bridges. Not just a little but all the way down. It hurts to think what I’ve done to those I cared for and love.
TD: I’m in the re-construction phase. But I’m not in charge. That’s up to those I’ve hurt, those I’ve wronged and stolen from. So I have to be patient. Do I want to be? No! I mean, I know I’ve changed. I have. I am better now than I was. Why can’t my family and friends see that? Can I blame them? Not really.
DOUG: We all built the bridges together but it only took one person to burn them down. We both want to rebuild, but I lost my license to build and now I have to wait. They have heard me say I’ve changed, but they want to see the changes.
PETE: So I work, I stay honest, I tell the truth, I don’t steal. I am standing on the other side with a sign that says, “UNDER CONSTRUCTION”. Now I have to do my part. I am earning a new way across.
GENO: It is hard to be patient. I can see lanes – four lanes: Trust. Faith. Commitment. And Honesty. One lane might take longer to rebuild than others. It is real hard. Yeah. It is stressful. But, I’m willing to go through it because my family and friends are on the other side.
JAMEEL: I can’t change the past. I can’t hope the old bridge just appears. And maybe the new bridge will have a different speed limit or a lane I can’t ever go on. But I know, whatever the outcome, it will be done because of me. I just have to wait for when the time comes – and together, when we are ready – I will proceed – better than before.
GEORGE: One of my dreams came true when my brother came to visit me…