Convergences and Meaning

There is always a war somewhere. There are always places in the world where people are being oppressed, innocent individuals are being killed or, worse, broken to kill others, places where children and families are starving because of forces beyond their control.

It is easy to block that out. I do not have the easiest life, but even when we were traveling broke and living in our car, I never feared I would starve. How could I? Every town from Atlantic to Pacific has a grocery story, likely two or three, a bundle of fast food places, a few mini-marts. Even if we had to steal or dumpster dive in desperation (which, in fact, we never did have to do) there was always plenty of food surrounding us, engulfing us.

I started reading -via audio book -The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins last week while I was painting a set. I kept listening while I started working on the design for Henry V. The story ended and my mind kept racing, replaying what had happened in the fictional world, asking questions that had no answers, looking at it from all sides. Some books are just books: You read them and they entertain you as long as the pages last but when the last page is turned and the volume is tossed aside, the story fades. Hunger Games was not just a book. It was a whole world, a cautionary tale, a prophetic glimpse, a commentary. I let my mind chatter to itself and ignored it demanding that I rush on to the next story for about 4 hours.

The movie adaptation of the book isn’t up on Netflix anymore. They took it down when they put up Catching Fire. It seemed interesting to me, the idea of turning this book which so focuses on the visual entertainment quality of the Games, how all the oppressed citizens are forced to watch the game, turning that into a movie. It seemed like a grotesque idea. A farce of a farce.

My belovedest had really wanted me to watch the first movie, long ago, but I put it off and put it off until the sequel replaced it, which my belovedest staunchly refused to watch without my having seen the Hunger Games. A few hours after I finished the book, he was showing me some character on a video game and I was distracted by the chattering in my mind, the questions, the slight feeling of discontent that I could not put my finger on.

“Let’s watch Catching Fire.” He said. So we did.

Within the first hour or so of the movie, I had pinpointed my discontent. I realized it when the people in the square of District 11 started screaming. I had heard people screaming like that, worse than that earlier this week. Men and women and children screaming at a barb wire fence when the border guards in Hungary pushed back the migrants fleeing from war and famine with pepper spray and high power water hoses.

I have never lived with war. Never sent a brother to the battlefield. Never been shot at. I have never defended another where I might have been killed or even arrested. Somehow, that makes me feel even smaller and more impotent in the face of the war and the hunger that I know exist in the world. What could I possibly do that would help them? Send paintings to make the refuge centers more…human? Can I send them part of my corn harvest? Who could I trust to really help them if I gave money? Safe over here in my comfortable world, what can I do?

Richard V is a war story. There is the British Court and the French Court and a tavern in the first act and then there is a scene where a village burns down. What my director described in his pre-design notes as “literally hell.” And then we are on the battle field. We decided in the first production meeting that the bulk of the set would be scaffold and so I have spent the last few days with a 1/2" = 1'-0" scale stick, a heap of balsa wood, and some white glue creating the first model to show the director and stage manager and technical director at our meeting tomorrow. There is a lot of time waiting for the glue to dry so that I can move onto the next step, a lot of time to think.

A friend of mine put up a production in Thailand last year about a Nazi Concentration Camp. That in itself is rather a brave thing, but to get all the work and notes on the set and the lights done, he had to sneak through the barricade after curfew. He seemed honestly surprised when the show opened and had it’s run without being shut down and without anyone involved being arrested.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how I am going to make the set “hell.” How we are going to create the illusion of the town burning down. A court is time consuming and expensive to create, but easy after all: Make it look rich, grand, and imposing. Red and black for the British, blue fleur de lis for the French. A tavern is just tables and chairs. And once the grandeur is gone, the rough and jagged scaffold breaking up the background reads as battle field to my brain. But how do you take the horror of watching your house, your neighbors houses, your community, your home burn to rubble and put it on a stage?

I have 75 words in the program that are my own — my bio. My director had never asked me to change them, no matter what strange shit I have discussed in them. I have talked about myself like I am supposed to a few times, but I hate them. I hate writing them and I hate seeing them in there: Little blurbs of shameless self promotion. I have talked about magic and theatre and art and dreams.

This year, I want to talk about the “hell” that will only be onstage for a few moments. Shakespeare wrote this play hundreds of years ago about a war that had happened hundreds of years before he was born, but war is war to those who are crushed between powers, for those whose homes become the battle field. I want to find out who can turn money into food and shelter for those screaming people at the other end of my radio and tell that to the people who will read my bio.

I am not famous. My voice is not very loud. I stay in the shadows and I live in a safe sort of world and I create art. My art is the loudest voice I have and I chose to use it to speak about the world that is, so that we will not ignore, and the world that I dream, so that we can make it real.