Thoughts and Musings...
Two images dominate the kaleidoscope of impressions that haunt and delight me as I recall my most recent trip to Africa and Europe. The first is an infinitely long line of huge trucks waiting to cross the Zambezi River. The second is a picnic table heaped with food on a bucolic, perpetually sunlit evening in Denmark.
The truckers could no longer safely travel through Zimbabwe, so there they sat. With only one ferry capable of carrying them, one by one, the wait time to cross the river was between two and three weeks. The truckers lived and slept in their trucks. They cooked on small fires at the side of the road. And in the hot African sun, they waited.
The picnic table belonged to a friend of a friend. The scene was like something out of a Bergman film — beautiful children frolicking on an impossibly green lawn, a table heaped with Danish sausage, French cheese, Indian samoosas with Thai hot sauce, herring in infinite variety, tomatoes from Chile, fruit from California, wine from New Zealand, lots of beer and of course the ubiquitous large bottles of Coke for the kids.
What do these images have to do with each other, or perhaps more importantly, what do they have to do with Cal Rep making theatre at the Armory? We face another challenging year as we continue our struggle to return home to the Edison. Our country faces the consequences of a pivotal election, economic uncertainty, climate instability and the daily barrage of terrifying images out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the significance of my African and Danish memories reveals that these perspectives are myopic. While we blithely toss about clichés like "No man is an island" and announce that Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village" has now become our reality, we must do more to combat xenophobia and isolationism. Just as the horror in Zimbabwe has caused this inconceivable traffic chaos in Botswana and Zambia, so too does everything we do have global consequences. A meal, like the one I enjoyed in Denmark, in which food from all over the world was heaped upon a table without reflection, would have been inconceivable a mere generation ago. This global synthesis is our unquestioned reality. And I have not even mentioned the obvious interconnections of social networking on the web: Facebook and YouTube, blogging, instant messaging, blackberry addiction and the gratification and control of a TiVo-dominated culture.
What does it all mean when making theatre in Long Beach? Perhaps my continued harping on global responsibly and interconnection may appear a trifle self-indulgent from the cozy perspective of our rich creative life as teachers, students and artists in sybaritic California. Why should we care?
As our knowledge of the world expands so it seems our awareness contracts. The attention span of the Millennial generation is so attenuated that all political policy or philosophic insight has to be reduced to the easily digested sound bite. As a society we tend to avoid the complex and convoluted. We want all content to be fast, fun and facile. We have become so addicted to our virtual reality that real life has become incidental.
But theatre as a form does not readily relinquish its heft. It is, of necessity, a communal experience that demands of its audience time and commitment. If successful, the theatre engages and provokes. It compels us to explore our connections and untangle all the implied ramifications of the theme and plot of a piece. It emphasizes the commonality of experience and the universality of human response. It is alive and real and immediate and dangerous. If effective, it demands that we pay attention to the here and now.
This season we have been very aware of our responsibility to our art, to our community, to our world and to ourselves. The plays we have chosen compel us to look back and imagine forward. From the epic cyclic agony of Kentucky history, through the riotous co-mingling of Shakespeare with Elton John, to the visceral and very personal engagement of artists and soldiers, we have tried to capture the infinite variety and veracity of our contemporary world. We trust that you, our audiences, will leave our theatre enriched. We want you to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to find comfort, to be nurtured and disturbed. In short we trust that sharing the Cal Rep experience will awaken your conscience, expand your horizons, heighten your perceptions and inspire you to celebrate with us all that it means to be human.