Posted in The BeZine, The BeZine Table of Contents, theatre/spoken word

The BeZine, August 2017, Vol. 3, Issue 11, Theatre

August 15, 2017

In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Seamus Haney comments that “as a work of art it lives in its own continuous present.” For me, theatre (whether in its broadest or narrowest sense) is very much the same. Theatre always encourages us to be in that continuous present. As an over-arching art form it can integrate every other form of human (and even animal) expression. It usually rewards our engagement and disdains our detachment. Even when a show runs for a thousand performances, it can never be quite as canned, as mass produced as many of our other entertainments. Human variability is on display every night.

More broadly, theatre tends to mean any place in which we think there is a scripted or specialized drama occurring. In that sense it often indicates that we’re seeing a performance driven by an agenda and perhaps designed to deceive. We criticize this as hypocrisy. In ancient Greece, a hypocrite was merely an actor, i.e. one who had made a judgment or assessment of a script when preparing to perform that script for others. At that time, it was also thought unworthy for actors to become politicians since actors were skilled at impersonation. We could not know their true selves.

In the context of our art, we would probably judge this as unfair. We’ve all had the experience of “donning the mask” or crafting a persona as a way of freeing ourselves. In expressing the lie, we hope to tell the truth.

I’m delighted to be Guest Editor this month. It coincides with a production that I’m currently in. This is an experimental production staged as immersive experience. We’re telling the story of a family in crisis (the passing of parents, dealing with aging and the end of life, and the break-up of relationships). We tell this story in a residence where small audience groups (a dozen to two dozen at a time) sit in the “living rooms” of the characters. This intimacy connects us with our audience. They do not participate in the sense of interacting with the actors. But, they are side-by-side with us as we make the journey, watching us, crying with us, laughing with us and even eating with us. Detachment is not an option. We join together in the continuous present.

This month’s pieces remind  us of these connections and touch on so many of the stages on which we act.

Priscilla Galasso speaks of her experience with theatre and its broad impact in her life. “Playing the muck of human behavior” as she says.

Charles W. Martin’s poetry talks passionately of life’s stage, reminding us that, yes, detachment is not an option.

Corina Ravenscraft gets to the root of why we should all spend time in “the seeing place.” It’s a broadside worth taking around when it comes time to fund arts in schools and communities.

Michael Watson recounts an early experience where his personal humiliation also reflected larger and deeper ones around him. He shows us how Playback Theatre is another powerful way to connect.

John Anstie recounts the life of his mother. In reading her story, I think on the many roles we are often forced to play and how we adopt certain personas to help us survive.

I feel that basic joy of theatre in Renee Espriu’s contribution. “The hills are alive…” means a little more to me now than it did before.

Jamie Dedes points us to theatrical entertainment with its golden moments and the theatre of life with it’s chaos and absurdity. [And, seriously, check out Fanny Brice’s physical comedy.]

John Sullivan’s four poems this month are, for me, intriguing and searching meditations on the self. They speak to who we are, the personas we have, the masks we wear, the music we sing. And, he’s allowed us to publish an excerpt from his new play, Hey Fritz, Looks Like You Lost It All Again in the Ghosting.

Naomi Baltuck’s discussion of Come From Away focuses right in on an essential aspect of our experiences both in life and in theatre. Specifically, I’m thinking about what it means to literally commune with strangers, whether it’s the characters in Come From Away or the audience who watches it.

Karen Fayeth shows how, no matter what size or shape the spectacle, there is something profound in the simplest of relationships. Say, between a boy and his horse. Because, whether we’re seeing animals at play or a play about animals we are moved.

In bringing together both her visual art and her poetry, Sonja Benskin Mesher has each explain the other. And, yet, each also enlarges the other and perhaps we see our own actions a little differently, too.

Of course, plays and poetics go hand-in-hand. Michael Dickel thoughtfully discusses how one arises from the other and the personal origins of both.

Paul Brookes’ poems read as very modern, but also touching on things quite old, such as shared rituals and the hypocrisy of actors (in the classical sense).

And, finally, there’s a last word from Denise Fletcher. I hope we’ve achieved a kind of success along the lines of what she describes.

Thank you to all who contributed this month and for letting me join the show. I’m having a wonderful time! I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here. And, to the last one who leaves the theatre, please turn on the ghost light.

Richard Lingua
Guest Editor


How to read this issue of THE BEZINE:

  • Click HERE to read the entire magazine by scrolling, or
  • You can read each piece individually by clicking the links below.
  • To learn more about our guests contributors, please link HERE.
  • To learn more about our core team members, please link HERE.

Photograph: Gargoyles as theatrical masks above a water basin. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. The piece can be found at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori, first floor, hall of the Horti of Mæcenas. From the Baths of Decius on the Aventine Hill, Rome.


Priscilla Galasso

Charles W. Martin

Corina Ravenscraft

Michael Watson

John Anstie

Renee Espriu

Jamie Dedes

John Sullivan

Naomi Baltuck

Karen Fayeth

Sonja Benskin Mesher

Michael Dickel

Paul Brookes

Denise Fletcher

Except where otherwise noted,
ALL works in The BeZine ©2017 by the author / creator


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Posted in General Interest, John Anstie, Mortality, Music, Poems/Poetry, Poets/Writers, Story Telling, Photo Story, theatre/spoken word, Video

Are There Any Other Civilisations … Out There?


I have held a universal and, it seems probably a pantheistic view of our life on earth for many years now. It is this: that there are probably other intelligent civilisations out there in the cosmos, but, in spite of our continued quest to find some and because of the humungous scale and mind boggling span of time that is represented in the life of the universe, we will never discover one. We may not even exist simultaneously. I would add a small warning to those, who like my mother-in-law, God rest her soul, are mind-bogglephobics, or who simply cannot cope with the scale of it all, that this may be a challenging concept to grasp. Nonetheless, it does require a calculator with a large scale, should you wish to do some proportions!

The following is a track from his album, “Letters from a Flying Machine” by a very fine musician, singer and songwriter from the USA, Peter Mulvey, whom we saw and met on the weekend at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival.  Having listened closely to the words of his songs and one or two of his ‘between song’ talks, I asked him in our brief chat, did he by any chance write poetry? He replied that he didn’t; he preferred to leave that to the poets, but that a few of his friends were poets and that he read a great deal of poetry … to exemplify this, the inside cover of the album we bought from him, “Silver Ladder” reveals a brief quote from the 17th Century poet, Mizuta Masahide: “Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon”.

… anyway, back to the theme of this post.

The only thing I can do is ask you to listen to this story that Peter Mulvey tells of a conversation that he had, over some beer, with “Vlad the Astrophysicist“:

Sums it up very neatly for me.

You might also want to listen to some of this fellow’s music; there is poetry in a lot of it.

 © 2014 John Anstie


JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer and poet, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. John has been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).



51w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_John has also been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

Posted in Essay, Michael Watson, theatre/spoken word

Beyond Godot

Winter TreeI first encountered Kandinski’s Concerning The Spiritual In Art while in college. While I did not necessarily experience his sense of the mystical nature of line and color, I did share, in my way, his passionate hope that art could be a vehicle for spirituality and social change. Over the years those ideas have informed my visual and performance work.

Although I no longer perform often, I continue to think about issues of theatre and performance. At the center of my theorizing, aesthetics meets concerns about ethnicity, race, class, gender and disability. In all my years of university training (BFA, two MA’s, and a Ph.D.) discussions of the power relationships inherent in aesthetic standards rarely arose. I venture to say that they never arose in my arts courses. Even those anthropology and psychology courses devoted to consideration of race, class, or gender largely ignored aesthetics as culturally mediated. Now I routinely explore the cultural construction of aesthetics with students in my courses, although they are not always comfortable with the material.

Recently I have been engaged in discussions about the societal and political dimensions of aesthetics with a variety of performance practitioners. These folks tend to land in one of three groups: teacher/artists, performance venue administrators, or performer/directors. Clearly, these categories frequently overlap, yet they remain useful. When in conversations with performer/directors I find we can usually comfortably discuss integrating persons of diverse races/ethnicities and genders into troupes, as long as the performers share an aesthetic. Perhaps not surprisingly in our present economic climate, they seem more concerned with audience than inclusion. Often, this means that performers are excluded based on disability or class. (Interestingly, some performance space administrators seem more interested in the narrative and performative power of pieces, and book innovative, inclusive companies, seek out audiences.)

Disability becomes an issue when performers bring physical or cognitive challenges to theatre. Performance making requires the creation of narrative structure if the piece is to convey meaning. The director shapes the narrative, and in so doing privileges some aesthetic choices over others. (The performance space can also shape the narrative; many stages are inaccessible!) The result is either more, or less, inclusive of both performers and audience members. (One may argue that the history of the Avante Guard, in which I was trained and participate, is one of theorizing inclusion while establishing ever more restrictive cultural elites.) Generally, directors seem to feel more comfortable making accommodations for performers who contribute to the director’s formal choices, rather than building performance around the considerable skills of the disabled, or other performers who demonstrate difference. This is understandable, yet problematic. After all, performance is about storytelling, and aesthetic choices inevitably convey the subtext for the director’s (and often the culture’s/society’s) preferred narrative. Exclusion is inevitable and it matters.

An example of  the exclusionary capacities of aesthetics took place in New Orleans a couple of years ago when a famous director from the Northeast brought his version of Waiting for Godot to town, ostensibly to make a statement about the plight of local people immediately following Katrina. Godot is a centerpiece of the Western theatre cannon, and the play in question was greeted with much critical applause. Yet the commentary about the play largely ignored the conditions of the performances. One of my acquaintances, a theatre person from the Big Easy, critiqued the play thus (my paraphrase) : “The piece sold out the Dome, but there were almost no people of color inside. Many people of color and local theater and performance artists were in the lobby trying to purchase tickets. It was embarrassing. On top of that, the play is about doing nothing, about futility. Here in New Orleans people were active after the storm, trying to help one another. We still are. Neither the media nor the play showed that. Local theatre people here have made a lot of performances showing the bravery and generosity of the people here during and after the storm, but those performances get little attention in the national media. Yet the production of Godot was in all the national media.”

Clearly the Avante Guard’s use of social engagement can be highly problematic, especially when performance is done for (some say “to”) culturally specific audiences, for instance, the New Orleans experience of Godot. Or consider a group of non-disabled actors creating and performing a show with disability themes to an audience of disabled persons. Let’s say many of  the stories utilized to create the performance had been gleaned from persons who were now in the audience. When asked why there are no disabled performers, the director responds, “We could find no disabled performers who could this physically demanding piece.” The performance may have been visually stunning and spiritually uplifting, but also conveyed a strong message of inaccessibility. The medium is, ultimately, the message. (Interestingly, in the Eighties, Bill T. Jones was harshly criticized for including persons with life threatening illnesses in his performances of Still Here, even thought those participants publicly praised Bill and spoke about the work as life changing.)

I’ve been exploring spirituality in the arts, and issues of inclusion and aesthetics since the 1960’s. There are now many people of color, disabled artists, and folks across a diversity of classes, ethnicities, and genders thinking, speaking, and writing about cultural coding in performance. That’s good; we need those voices. Many of those folks are making art that arises out of their thoughtful exploration of these issues. Often, these works are filled with spirit. I like to think we are, like the good folks of New Orleans, no longer waiting for Monsieur Godot.

Next time you attend a theatre or other performance event, consider paying attention to the cultural codes being enacted. What are the values implicit and explicit in the piece? Whose on stage and who isn’t? What description of reality is given preference? Are you invited to drink deeply from the well of Spirit? I hope you’ll let me know what you discover.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.