Monthly Archives: March 2013

“I Can Tell That We Are Going To Be Friends,” Maggie Smith

What’s your favorite TV show? Mad Men or Millionaire Matchmaker? GIRLS or Bad Girls Club? Downton Abbey or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

I find the teenage mothers on Teen Mom to be immature, UNrealistic (ironic, huh?) and incredibly annoying. However, I can easily escape into the aristocratic world of Downton Abbey, imagining being BFFs with the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I can’t even laugh at Honey Boo Boo because I find it so ridiculous. On the other hand, I identify with a lot of the struggles that Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa deal with on a weekly basis in the HBO hit GIRLS.

Why is that? Why can’t I watch TV just for entertainment purposes? Why can’t I just turn on the boob tube and zone out? I think it’s because I want to watch things that I can imagine — but don’t exist for me. My utopia. Utopia is a place with perfect qualities — that doesn’t exist.

Dystopia is an undesirable or frightening society. Nothing describes this idea to me more than living in a house with seven strangers — and having our lives taped. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to the Jersey Shore or compete on The Bachelor.

I love Mad Men because of the formal dress, the formal language, and the simpler times. You don’t see men walking around dressed head to toe like Don Draper and Roger Sterling. Women may stress about clothes — but aren’t expected to wear a dress/skirt every day and heels. I wish we did.

In my mind, Downton Abbey would be an amazing place to live. Someone else to help make my hair look perfect every day? Okay. Walking around on those gorgeous grounds with that perfect Labrador Retriever? Count me in. Calling lunch luncheon and having tea every day? Swoon.

Each of our ideas of utopias are relative. What works for me, doesn’t work for someone else. What is euphoric and relatable and realistic to me isn’t necessarily the same for you.

In American Utopias, Mike Daisey explores the ideas of three different utopias: Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street. Chances are the people who enjoy a character breakfast at Disney World don’t like sitting in a cuddle dome at Burning Man. Likewise, those of us who love The West Wing don’t enjoy Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.

– Robbie Champion, Claque member

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All Together Now: two hundred years of American public assembly

excerpted from the AMERICAN UTOPIAS playbill

Even before the Declaration of Independence, a public demonstration in Boston Harbor proved the political impact that could be unleashed by Americans taking nonviolent action together. In what became known as the Boston Tea Party of 1773, residents of the Colony of Massachusetts dumped a British shipment of tea into the harbor to protest the British Parliament’s Tea Act, which they believed amounted to taxation without representation. Parliament’s response was to end Massachusetts’ self-government and shut down Boston’s commerce; this helped inspire the First Continental Congress and, as tension between the colonies and the British Empire escalated, the start of the American Revolution in 1775. Since American independence was established, American law has shaped – and been shaped by – the power of public assembly.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the most common public protests in the US were strikes and labor demonstrations. Despite eruptions of violence, the efforts of nineteenth-century labor demonstrations culminated in the establishment of the Department of Labor and Commerce, and a Secretary of Labor in the President’s Cabinet, in 1903.

The beginning of the twentieth century also saw public assembly put to use by the women’s suffrage movement. Several organizations such as the Women’s Political Union imported the tactics of parades, street speakers, and pickets from the English women’s suffrage movement. It was not until after several large, some violent, protests did President Wilson declare his support for women’s suffrage, and the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920.

The mid-twentieth century ushered in the Civil Rights Movement, which further demonstrated the power of peaceful protest to change American life and law. The efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. and his colleagues to advocate for integration and racial equality paved the way for so many civil rights advances that his method of nonviolent protest inspired countless other movements around the world.

The power of public assembly and the delicate dance between demonstrators and the laws that regulate demonstrations continues into the twenty-first century. Legal battles recently flared again after the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in 2011, and quickly inspired parallel Occupy movements across the country.

For the full story, read the note in the American Utopias playbill.

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In Search of Cultural Balance

I’ve never been particularly attached to the clothes I wear.  I have always happily worn different outfits to fit the social situation required — unlike others, what I wear does not define me or so I thought…

I wore a hijab for the first time as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a country three times the size of New Mexico in western Africa. It’s a sunny, hot, and dusty place that is almost entirely covered in sand.  Almost all of the women in the town where I lived wore clothing that covered their entire body – only exposing their face, feet, and hands.  Wearing a hijab is as much for practical reasons as it is for religious and cultural reasons; it offers protection from the sun and sand.  In order to be respectful and culturally appropriate, I wore an ankle-length skirt, a short-sleeved blouse, and a headscarf, which left only my face exposed – shining white out of the center of a colorful frame. I embraced this outfit, even in the heat, because it was exciting and new and I could feel that I was more accepted in my community as a result of my efforts.

About four months into my two year stint as a volunteer, I realized that I was feeling rather strange and couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was troubling me. I thought about my daily interactions, the very friendly exchanges I had with Mauritanians. Then it hit me—I didn’t have any real friends.  As an extrovert, I had never struggled to make friends. As I thought more about why, I realized that I had lost my sense of self, my past, my individuality.

In my efforts to be culturally appropriate – wearing a hijab and politely interacting with people – I had suppressed my own extroverted, American self. I realized it’s hard, and almost impossible, to make connections with people when you aren’t revealing your true personality, expressing your opinions and being you. It was in that moment, that I rediscovered Alison within Mauritania. I opened myself up to women in the community, communicating my opinions, interacting with them from this new perspective, all the while still wearing a hijab and my conservative clothing, and almost immediately, I had friends.  Not surface friendships, but real friends.

In The Convert, we watch as two cultures, two religious perspectives compete for the souls of the characters.  To me, Jekesai’s struggle is very real — even though my own personal struggle had much less at stake. Discovering who you are within a different cultural framework and trying to reconcile your own culture and the new culture is a challenge faced by all Peace Corps volunteers.

As a recruiter for Peace Corps, I try to set realistic expectations for potential volunteers, telling my personal story, and encouraging them to watch movies and plays that depict what it takes to live in a culture that is not your own. The Convert gives Americans a glimpse of what it might be like to find cultural balance while they are serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

If you would like more information about how you can serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, please visit the Peace Corps website at www.peacecorps.gov and contact Alison McReynolds at amcreynolds@peacecorps.gov.

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Woolly through an Intern’s Eyes

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been around for about 30 years now, all under the guidance of beloved artistic director Howard Shalwitz.  His leadership has distinguished the theater as one of the longest lasting contemporary American theaters dedicated to producing some seriously provocative work.  As such, it was my immense pleasure to accept a seven-week internship here at the theater working in the Connectivity Department.  Woolly’s reputation is known far and wide, even reaching to the corners of Vermont, where I have spent the last year and a half in my cozy little liberal arts college.

My experience with Africa has been limited to a bleary-eyed 8am class about its democratization record (spoiler: not stellar).  Imagine my surprise and ultimately, my excitement, when I realized that my internship would essentially revolve around The Convert, a unique play simply by virtue of the fact that it is an African play written by an African woman about African people.  Wait, it gets better – not just a play about African people, but about an African woman. 

Through my work in the Connectivity Department here at Woolly, I have plunged into a deep, refreshing pool of diverse theatre.  The unfortunate reality of being a drama student (and this is anywhere) is that what is often filtered down are the classics—all important, yet all very white.   The unfortunate reality is that not very many stories on the stage have been told about black women – or African women for that matter.  Besides For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf, and a few notable others, I’m not sure I can think of many famous shows telling the stories of black women.  And when you broaden the racial scope, you find yourself with even less choices—Hispanic women (West Side Story doesn’t count)?  Asian women?  Arab women?

That’s why I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at a theater that has the means and the resources to commit to new shows written by women and men who are striving to diversify contemporary theater.  It makes my job at Woolly even more daunting – while the playwrights are aiming to diversify the plays available, my department is essentially aiming to diversify the audience to match the play.

I hope I’ve done the task justice.

-Tenara Calem, Connectivity Intern

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Pictorial Rhodesia

In her devastatingly beautiful The Convert, playwright Danai Gurira delves into a very particular place and time and set of characters to begin grappling with being a 21st Century Christian, woman, and Zimbabwean. “Who we are today,” Danai explains, “is how we are affected by what happened back then.” In the play, she transports us to Southern Africa in 1895, to the part of the continent then known as Rhodesia, today called Zimbabwe. As the production dramaturg, one of my roles in the rehearsal process was to help the director, actors, designers, and production team access the particulars of this world, especially since a reasonable amount of verisimilitude was of interest to us. With the support of my colleague Carrie Hughes at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, I pulled together some amazing photographs of the people, landscape, and infrastructure from the period and covered part of Woolly’s rehearsal hall with them to immerse everyone in the world of the play. Below is a small sampling of some of these photographs, which trace the British colonization of the region and the Shona and Ndebele people.

-John M. Baker, Woolly Mammoth Literary Manager

1 Ndebele Village 1890s

Ndebele Village 1890’s

2 Shona Village 1890s

Shona Village 1890’s

3 Girls in Zimbabwe

Girls in Zimbabwe

4 Women in Matebeleland

Women in Matebeleland

5 Girls in Zimbabwe

Girls in Zimbabwe

6 Colonists

Colonists

7 Colonists

Colonists

8 Ndebele chiefs

Ndebele chiefs

9 Lobengula's war doctor

Lobengula’s war doctor

10 Miners

Miners

11 Prisoners

Prisoners

12 Chisawasha Mission 1891

Chisawasha Mission 1891

13 Infrastructure

Infrastructure

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