Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mouthing Off

Is the Voice in My Mouth Bothering You?

Today’s accidental blog (your Miss O’ had really meant to take the weekend off and accomplish physical tasks, and then all this stuff started coming up and all these articles and videos and TED talks and Facebook posts, and all of Miss O’s spidey senses got engaged and goddammit if the only thing for it wasn't to sling some verbal webs! And she’s off!) is about the power of one. Rather than set up a thesis, let me jump to the story that was my brainchild’s catalyst:

Actress the theater director Christy McIntosh, a gorgeous human with whom Miss O’ has had the pleasure of sharing a stage, shared this theater story on Facebook. I asked Christy if I might use her post in full as part of today's blog, and she was delighted (and we hope she continues to feel that way once it's published). Here it is.

I had the great misfortune of sitting next to two clueless tourists at tonight's performance of “The Nance”, Nathan Lane's new Broadway play about a gay man in a burlesque show in 1937 when homosexuality was illegal. I knew I was in trouble when, during the first scene, they kept whispering back and forth, "I think he's gay. I think that guy is too." I say "whisper" generously. It was like a comedically exaggerated stage aside. In the second scene, the beautiful young man Nathan Lane is courting gets out of the bath tub and shows his completely naked body. They "whisper," "Oh, I like this play" and giggle. A few minutes later, the beautiful man kisses Nathan Lane. "Oh, I don't like this play." No giggling anymore. They literally said that. The woman then sighed loudly and said, "Oh Jesus Christ" anytime there was too "real" a moment or gay a scene. Then she graduated to snapping her program in frustration. I leaned over to Eli and said, "I'm going to cut a bitch." He said, "After the show, honey." During one riotously funny moment, I guffawed loudly and she looked at me and giggled. I said to her, "Wow, even YOU liked that line!" She looked confused. After the show, I asked her, "If you hated the show so much, why didn't you just leave?" She said, "I tried" and stormed away.

Dear homophobes,

Next time you go to TKTS, find out about the play you're going to see. Chances are, most options will be too gay for you. Might I suggest "The Perfect Crime”? And stay the fuck away from Broadway.

In her comments, Christy added this P.S.

My favorite part happened after the culprits left. The whole row of gays in front of us turned around and we all had a gab session about how badly we all wanted to cut her. And yet- none of us said anything during the show out of respect for the actors. But it's the gay men who behave disgustingly according to this dolt.

Christy’s Friend Tom commented: There is waaaay too much of this in NY theaters. Literally talking out loud about the play going on 20 ft in front of them. Well done for saying something. Hey boonie-dwellers - if you can't cope with plays that might challenge you a little bit, then go see Spider-Man. That's why it's there. New decree: From this day forth, any of us who witness this kind of bullshit during a play/movie/whatever have a social responsibility to swiftly tell the guilty parties to shut the fuck up. We'll call it Christy's Law.

Oh, Christy and Tom, Mama hears you. Miss O’ has a story, too, this one about the asshole family sitting behind her during the delightful musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, who as tourists were doubtless lured by Broadway’s newest low-brow bait, the Concession Stand, and said folks chatted as they opened wrappers and passed a drink, conversing in regular voices as if they were in their own living room watching a video. No amount of turning around to glare at them, no gesture of “Shhh” would shush them. They’d paid good money, one could imagine them thinking, and they would have their own experience. Oh, And fuck you. Because Miss O’ and all the rest of the audience got in for free? And the actors are holograms? Fuck YOU.

It's not new behavior, but it's no less baffling and maddening for that. During the last few years of a 15-year teaching career that began in 1987, I noticed that in the paper programs handed out at the band, orchestra, and choir concerts, the Music Department used the back to write a list of etiquette rules for concert attendance. The poor kids couldn't hear themselves perform. It was around that same time that I had a superb actor, Irwin Appel, visit my classroom for two days to teach my English and drama students about acting Shakespeare. He began by performing a monologue—Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and when he concluded, and in each of my five classes of diverse kids, he would smile and begin pointing as he spoke (with humor and kindness, but directly), “You got into your backpack just as I entered. You took out gum. You whispered to that guy, and he whispered back. You cleared your throat,” etc. He paused, surveying the room. “This is LIVE, folks. It’s live. I’m a living person, performing in a live space.” (You are not in your living room. This is not a video.) And my kids were genuinely astonished to be called out, amazed they’d been seen, even as Irwin was in the act of playing a character, and brilliantly, too. 

When did we think we wouldn't be noticed? With the advent of cell phones, too many ring tones began going off right and left and balcony throughout live performances, driving actors to distraction, and in NYC it's now a $50 fine. During one performance at, I think, The Studio Theater in D.C., an audience member in the front row took the call, and began talking in full voice. The actors stopped, and looked at her. The woman said firmly, “I have to take this, it’s business.” When an usher led her out to wild applause, the woman protested, genuinely stunned that she’d been ejected. The actors backed up to the beginning of the scene, and started again.

So why has this sort of rudeness become a new norm? Because I don’t think it’s only about a loud person at a theater performance, which is in itself be-yond. What I mean is this: Why can a tiny, tiny minority of people with money, or people who love guns, or people who fear science, DICTATE PUBLIC POLICY to an ENTIRE NATION? Because I have fucking had it with the ONE VOICE coalition. So WHY?

Easy answer: $$$$$ in the machines

Truer answer: Apathetic, distracted, self-involved citizens

I read that 65% of our nation’s citizens are online. Okay, Internet Citizens: When is the last time you read about public policy in depth? When is the last time you checked the voting record of your state  and congressional representatives? and wrote to praise or complain? When is the last time you signed a petition to your senators? When is the last time you wrote a letter to President Obama? (Miss O’ is, no doubt, on an FBI watch list by now.) When have you joined a march? Sent money for a major election? Let’s go smaller: When is the last time you attended a PTA meeting? a school board meeting? When is the last time you had a hard conversation about local, state, or national politics of any kind to the point of discomfort and rage? Miss O’ invites you to take stock. Are you as involved as you really could be? (When a fellow parent said to my brother (also a husband and father), “I don’t have time for all this voting stuff,” my brother replied, “That’s okay, buddy. I got your rights.”)

Benjamin Franklin sacrificed his entire (and potentially very comfy) old age to form a new Democratic Republic. What have you been up to? (Nearly all my “Pro-Life” friends on FB have been busy sharing “Pro-Gun” posters with compare and contrast “statistics” on them, while making fun of the folks like me who support the Newtown parents whose children were killed in a mass shooting. They are very noisy about it, these "life-loving" assholes. They all identify as “Christian.” Whom Would Jesus Shoot? Discuss.)

Use Your Inside Voice

I’ll take my voice down a tone. Let’s go to work: When I think about how much work it is to make one good lesson for an English class (several hours of reading, planning, typing, photocopying, checking out books, preparing a PowerPoint, creating transitions to the next lessons), or to create a terrific theater experience with my drama club of yore (weeks of reading scripts to choose the right one for the group; hours booking the rehearsal spaces, making audition materials, holding auditions, casting, designing sets and costumes; ten weeks of rehearsals and building; Saturdays spent at fleas markets; program creation, publicity, technical rehearsals; make-up application (foundation! all that Knox gelatin! nose shadows!); cue-calling in performance; talking to all the parents; set strike and theater clean-up), or to, say, create a new government in 1776 (read your history, for the love of god)—and how very quickly ONE PERSON’S ACTION can utterly destroy, or threaten to destroy, all that work: one kid refusing to shut up in class; one audience member refusing to shut up during a performance; one member of the Continental Congress refusing to vote on independence—I have to step back and stand in frank AWE of the power of one person’s voice.

One voice has tremendous power, but how do we choose to use that voice? That is the point.

Every time there is a mass shooting in the United States, I read recently, and with each higher death toll, gun sales reach new all-time highs. On the whole, the gun manufacturers of this country are overjoyed by these killings, and the killings of the children at Newtown most of all: record profits! It’s been a heady time. These manufacturers funnel huge money to an organization called the NRA, whose spokesman, Wayne “Certifiable” LaPierre, has called for a gun in the hand of every teacher, and more than that, in the hand of every man, woman, and child, in America.

So take a moment to think about my long, hard lesson plan up there, and about the one student who would not shut the fuck up long enough for me to enact it for the benefit of my class of 30 students. Now think of me WITH A GUN. Exactly how long do you honestly think any teacher in that situation would last in a classroom before she USED IT?

One voice should not have that much power. One person’s voice is so small, so...well, nothing. Right? "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Right?

Just like when your boyfriend says, “God, you’re not going to eat another piece of cake, are you?” Or your mom says, “Honey, you look like a tramp in that skirt.” Or your best friend says, “You know, maybe red isn’t your best color. Try black, and people won’t notice, you know, your hips so much.” And inside the heart of any woman who hears even one of these remarks from even one of these people, something happens that will scar for life, almost, because what occurs is, as Stephen Sondheim wrote, “a little death.” Every day, a little death: from one voice. Negative voices win. The negative always wins. Just ask Lucifer.

But. But. But. For anything positive to occur on this Earth, all it takes is one voice, too: YOUR SINGLE GODDAMNED VOICE.

Where is YOUR VOICE? How are you using YOUR ONE VOICE?

What, if anything—and there must be SOMETHING—what fucking MEANS something to YOU? What drives you, energizes you, blows your fucking head off of your goddamned shoulders and into another galaxy?

Sure, I have questions about our sometimes stultifying fear of spontaneous responses in live circumstances, the sometimes strangling restrictions of the concert hall and theater, the inhibiting parts of being in a space with loads of other people and having to, you know, behave ourselves. That said, as adult citizens, we have to know when to use our voices for the RIGHT REASONS—speaking up for injustice, or laughing at the genuinely funny, rather than talking out inappropriately just because we are thoughtless assholes.

My Theme Song: A Moment for Stream of Consciousness

My two great drivers: education and theater—how they inform each other, talk to each other—I keep thinking how my transcendent experiences have always involved storytelling—the NPR story I heard about a recent find of dinosaur bones, being reminded that dinosaurs have been extinct for around 65 million years, and for one second, the tiniest, I felt the distance of that, and I reeled, I wanted to dance; or when my 7th grade language arts/social studies teacher, Miss Covington, asked us, “What is beyond the universe?” and we said, “Nothing,” and she said, “Well, nothing is something,” and my head exploded. Thrilling. Or reading Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” one summer in preparing my first Humanities class, and being blown away by its conclusion, which only means something because you’ve read the whole thing, so read it; or the moment when I read Stephen Hawking’s explanation of the Theory of Relativity and I GOT IT, and then, as quickly as revelation came, it vanished. I need stories, I need history, science, language, music, art—I need possibility and kindness and love. And now, yes, bourbon. We tell ourselves, each other, the story of the human condition. If we are sentient and sane, we want to improve the human condition, peacefully, joyfully. I mean, we want to set an example for the children. Right?

"One child is holding something that's been banned in America to protect them.
Guess which one."
Because “Little Red-Riding Hood” is so fucking scary. As my Grandma Kirlin would say, "And Jesus wept."

Today on Facebook, MORE Ignorance in Abundance!

FB FRIEND’S POST: The summer droughts were not caused by global warming, after all scientists say. [link to Yahoo article] See? The jury is out!
MISS O', in comment:   The earth is still losing summer Arctic sea ice at record levels (the ice that used to help deflect light and heat away from the Northern Hemisphere in summer); Australia has had all-time highs during its summer, forcing meteorologists to add a new color (purple) the map temperature ranges; the CO2 levels in the atmosphere stand at 390 parts per million when a clement Earth can only sustain life over time comfortably at 350 parts per million. The earth is still heating up, the Northern Hemisphere worst of all, and we need to end the use of fossil fuels if we are to do our part to reverse course. We just do.

FB FRIEND’S SISTER, in comment: And they say scientist are smart compared to those of us who believe in creation?

Query: Um, so if scientists would seem to support your politics on the environment, the science is okay? And because just one catastrophe cannot be linked to global warming, there is no global warming? (I can’t even address his sister’s comment. It just hurts too much.)

Goddamned IDIOTS. I wouldn't care except they fucking VOTE. (Somewhere I hear the poet Byron speaking through one of his narrators, remarking on the engraved words below my dusty, trunkless legs of sand a few years hence: “My name is Miss O’! Look upon my judgments, o, ye Mighty, and despair!” It’s why I drink.)

The Past as Prologue

Fairy tales. Rudeness. Apathy. Arrogance. Distraction. So many ills. I run up and down the stories of my life in my mind: I’m looking for the inspiration to do a thing that will matter. Something of use. Expressive. Outer directed. Performed in front of a rude, ignorant, live audience. Even my horoscope from Freewill Astrology agrees I have to get back to the garden of my inspiration.

And so it was that last week, while riding the subway to yet another day of work, I decided to start my own theater company. Now the last thing New York City needs is another theater company, but all of them are, essentially, closed doors, and I’m getting not in them. It’s tentatively titled, this company of mine, SOTS: Sick of This Shit, dedicated to Demolition of the Stupid. I’m meeting with my friends Ryan, Greg, and David on Tuesday evening to see what future there might be for such a company. I’ll let you know: As David remarked, "Well, you will never run out of material."

I say all this—write plays, share progressive items on Facebook, write this goddamned blog, and milk the shit out of it—knowing full well that what theater director Joseph Chaikin (1935-2003, of The Open Theater) said of his own explorations in the arts, is the true thing. He said in effect, “Change will not happen en masse, but one by one by one by one.”

One voice: Use your one voice to effect positive, good things.

Use your one voice.

One voice.

And, over time, it will become OUR VOICE. And I hope it's on pitch.

I leave you today with links to experiences and talks that show you just how powerful and expressive and vital one single voice can be on issues of real importance. If you want to have real impact, to make these kinds of changes happen, first you have to listen. Then you have to learn. Then you have to talk about it. Use your voice.

1. A TED Talk by Lawrence Lessig on Citizenry and how to reclaim it:

2. I fucking love science on Facebook: “Like” her page, change your newsfeed, change your life.

3. Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller in rare footage, posted today on Facebook by a professor of mine. And it is what you see in this film that gives me hope for all of humanity, for all of Earth.

Much love as always, even to the idiots,

Miss O’

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