Updated: Oct 18, 2021
I was asked by J. Rodreguez who lives in Hamburg, whom I've never met but who shares a mutual friend in NYC, if I wanted to be apart of a performance her theater group was putting together for Juneteenth. I immediately said yes, the words 'theater group' going up like a flare in a dark night. She said, “I need a poem or short monologue. The theme is Juneteenth so everything counts.” At first, I thought I knew what she meant by this. But as I did a preliminary search of my brain for material on anything that might be applicable I realized that I had no idea how to contribute. The poetry that I love by black poets are written in their voices, and I'm not the right casting, the same way I can never perform in an August Willson play, the same way it was so incredibly bizarre to rehearse scenes, myself as Beneatha Younger, from A Raison in the Sun at Cornish College in Seattle (circa 2007) with an all-white cast (what the actual fuck?). Nor can I perform the white characters in plays or poems or dialogues that might share context with Juneteenth because they are either white-savior-y or they are abusive or they are ignorant, and that's just not good stand-alone material. I don't want to be the white voice in a time when it's the black voices that need to be heard. Is there another active way that I can contribute as an artist?
This morning I was thinking about trans-generational trauma and drama therapy and revisited my final paper on it (written within a Jewish and female context) from when I was at Goddard College. I wish I still had those books to flip through now. No one emerges out the other side of violence intact, though the aggressor's wounds may be less evident than the victims. Being Jewish in Germany, I feel I have a singular vantage point. The repercussions of the trauma on the perpetrator are evident. The Germans at least, admit and face the deeds of their grandparents, they are so many steps ahead of the US in that sense. But there are other questions of course: what does living with the burden of perpetual repenting mean for those who did not commit crimes but who live with the results of those crimes nonetheless? What are the next steps towards healing and making amends with one's own dead relatives as well as the victims? The streets here are dotted with clusters of little mettle plates planted before doorways stating the names, dates, and which death camp the Jewish family who lived there was sent to. Repenting and remembering are necessary but are certainly not the end. Shouldn't there be something to do with celebrating all of life that comes next?
It's funny how after that BA in drama therapy at the age of 25, I was determined not to become a drama therapist, and I didn't really. However, teaching acting/facilitating an acting class now, the only way I know how, is not really possible to do without, “rehearsing the transformation of the soul” (Robert Lang). It's not possible to do without rehearsing a more present, sensitive, inquisitive, connected, emotionally available/intelligent existence. I see the holes in the telling of the story and that is how I approach it. Along with the beautiful humanity of the actor, the story reveals the fractures, the unknowns and the shadows, compensations, insecurities, the shoved-under-the-rug issues of the artist. Reveals what is lost in translation between imagination (the subconscious) and expression. And ultimately I want to help the actor give the piece a concrete communicative form. Because then, not only does it finally count as Art, but it does not stay precious, it does not remain clung-to, it moves, it joins, it is truly received, it is truly witnessed, it takes on meaning that is more than the sum of its parts. I believe in art, and in acting especially, as a vehicle for self, and ultimately, community, healing and growth.