Thoughts on Goleniów

After nearly a month living in northwestern Poland with the Touchstone Theatre ensemble, working at/for/with an international theatre festival, I’ve had a few thoughts.

  1. Pierogies are hard to make.
  2. The Polish people are generous, thoughtful, kind, and willing to help with anything.
  3. There are madly talented people all over the world.
  4. I’m starting to allow myself to believe that I do know what I’m doing, maybe, after all.
  5. There are many, many cats in Goleniów.
  6. I like borscht.
  7. Despite all of the amazingly talented and creative people I met, my favorite folk to work with were a group of young adults from a half-way house in a near-by village.  Their honestly, vulnerability, and willingness to trust us was astonishing.  The art they ended up helping create and perform moved the audience to tears, laughter, and a huge dance-party.  The best!
  8. You can find gelato anywhere.
  9. I went unsure of what I would discover, and a little scared:  I was about to perform a piece of theatre dealing with rising authoritarianism and dictatorship in a country faced with it.
  10. I ended up performing that production, creating a new theatre piece about overcoming monsters, and re-writing a fable I’ve told for years about freedom.  I realize now that everything I was doing was, in the end, about singing a redemption song.
  11. Pierogies are delicious to eat.
  12. Working 14 hour days, ad nauseam can wear a person out.
  13. The cute Polish name I was bestowed by a delightful group of local folk-dancers, and that I delightedly used to introduce myself, has a slang meaning that made everyone smile.
  14. I ate too much.
  15. Did I mention I like borscht?
  16. There is something remarkably powerful about gathering a group of people from all around the world, giving them a platform to express themselves, and despite the variety of performance styles or experience, there was a unifying message:  we are one, and the thing that binds us all together is love.
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Dictating Dictatorship

For the past few months I’ve been at work on a new play called Dictators 4 Dummies at Touchstone Theatre.  It’s by fellow Touchstone Ensemble Member Christopher Shorr, with fun music, even more fun dances, and witty, sharply biting political satire.  And I play 6 of the dictators, 5 of them historical, 1 of them a made-up 5 year old son of Adolph Hitler.

It’s been an interesting journey.

There’s Stalin — mastermind murderer with a taste for jazzy, snappy song & dance numbers to explain how to be an autocrat

Gaddafi — a madman with a heart of pure tar who loved to play puppetmaster to his people

“Little Timmy” Hitler — imaginary 5 year old son of Adolf who is so very ready and willing to follow in daddy’s shoes sharing family favorite recipes for “scapegoat”

Slobodan Milosovic — a stand-up comic with a sick routine and a soft-shoe shuffle

Josef Goebbels — the power of propoganda in full force

and … finally…

Mussolini — Italian dictator with a taste for disco

It was a powerful journey into caricature, truth and consequences, and how to come to grips with playing evil men.  It’s also been my first foray into the world of full-blown musical since I was in college!

The play pulls no punches.  It’s forthright to the point of bluntness.  Sing loudly and carry a big stick, as it were.  And it’s funny as all get-out.  Also disturbing, as only political satire done well can be.  You find yourself laughing and then feel slightly icky for it.

The first time I read the script I thought “oh, no.  There’s no way I can say some of these lines.”  And yet, here I am saying them to an audience.  The slight revulsion I felt upon first speaking them is something I realize I am hoping the audience feels upon hearing them.  As an actor, you don’t always get to play the hero.  Sometimes you have to play the bad-man.  And sometimes you have to play 6 of them.

And sometimes it is really, really, really important that you do.  Especially when it’s really, really important that folks not forget how easy it is for a dictator to become one, if we don’t watch out.  As the song says, “dictators rule the world when we play along.”

photo credits to Cristina Byrne

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What a Wonderful (and small) World

It was May of 2016 and I was about to head off for a three week tour in Europe with Touchstone Theatre (Bhudoo performed in Budapest and at the FLIPT Theatre festival in Italy).  My husband and I were having dinner with our neighbors, a delightful couple we’ve come to call friends.

Hans:  Where are you touring?

Me:  Budapest and Italy

Hans:  Ah!  My aunt was a famous actress in Budapest!

Me:  Really!

Hans:  Maria Sulyok.  (exits to get book written in Hungarian about his aunt with pictures of her from film and stage.  A famous actress indeed.)

Once in Budapest I happened to mention to the members of the Maladype Theatre that hosted us that my neighbor had an aunt who was a famous actress.  Who?  I couldn’t quite get the last name right (the piece of paper I’d written it on was back in my suitcase).  They looked baffled.  Later, I found the slip of paper and this ensued:

Mary:  Ah!  Her name was Maria Sulyok  (pronounced SHOOL-YOK).

Ildiko:  (eyes VERY wide)  SULYOK?  

Mary:  I think that’s how it’s pronounced.  (shows paper to Ildiko).

Ildiko:  SULYOK MARIA?  SULYOK?  Your neighbor is nephew of SULYOK MARIA?

Mary:  (thinking WOW!  She must be VERY famous!)

The next day Ildiko told me she had a surprise for me.  And on a walk she brought me to an apartment building in the old Jewish section of Budapest across the street from a great jazz club.  And there, in gold leaf on marble was this:

Home of Maria Sulyok

Home of Maria Sulyok

Yes, I went to Budapest and found the home of my neighbor’s relative.  How cool is that?

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Budapest…or bust

Hello friends!

So world travelers….if any of you are spending time in Europe this summer (or if you are already in Europe) I hope you might find your way to one of these beautiful locales…

 

budo_plakat_FINALI’m happy to say that two weeks from now,

I’ll be landing in Budapest, Hungary

about to perform for Maladype Theater

on June 17th;

 

And then on to Fara Sabina, ItalyScreen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.44.10 PM

for FLIPT,  a theater festival with Teatro Potlatch

Festival is June 21 – July 3.

We kick the Festival off June 21st!

Ott találkozunk!

Ci vediamo lá!

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Jesus was a refugee

Years ago, as I was moving away from one city with my husband and new born daughter into an uncertain future, a friend gave me a Christmas present. It was a little porcelain statue of Joseph leading a donkey with Mary and the infant Jesus on its back…that part of the Christmas story we so often forget to include in our retellings. She said to me, “They must have been scared too.”

And now, twenty some years later, I am struck, as I’m sure we all are, by the images of the thousands upon thousands of Syrians fleeing their homeland, desperate to find a place where they can live in safety and create a safe space for their children to grow up. And as Christmas fast approaches, I think about that figurine and all it represents.

According to the story, Mary and Joseph took a very young Jesus and fled for their lives south into Egypt. They weren’t migrants searching for new jobs. They were refugees. They were trying to escape the sure devastation of remaining where they lived. They wanted their son to be able to grow up. The story doesn’t tell us whether they were stopped at a border. It doesn’t tell us whether there were refugee camps, or whether temporary fences got put up trying to keep them out.

I wonder what would happen if every image of the Syrian’s included a man, his wife and their little baby riding on a donkey. A young family bringing nothing more than what they can manage to carry, seeking refuge in a strange land. I think this Christmas I will place my little porcelain statue in a place of honor — and be grateful that the story tells us that those refugees of so long ago were allowed to pass out of their country to live in another until it was safe to return.

Perhaps this Christmas I will donate to refugee relief in honor of those other refugees more than 2,000 years ago. Even better than that, perhaps I can find a way to feed the hungry, to give clothing to those without, to welcome the strangers among us. Perhaps you will join me.

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Sunday morning meditation

This morning I am headed off to worship in a foreign language. In Allentown, PA, there are a group of refugees from Burma who are all of the Chin ethnic group. I met with their Elder, Timothy Van Nei and his brothers back in the Fall and heard part of their story.

Today I’ll experience first-hand what most of them have been dealing with for a long time now. Being a stranger. Being the foreigner. Being the one who struggles to figure out what is being said.

Today I will also experience something that many of them have probably not experienced a great deal of: being the one who is welcomed.

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Mae Sway

After a long, bitter winter and a busy, busy spring, I am at last able to return to that project that has been on the burner for awhile now:  the Mae Sway Project.

I am in the midst of gathering the personal stories and adventures of some of the Burmese refugees that have resettled in the greater Lehigh Valley.  I am also in the midst of discovering a resonance within me as I talk to these folks.  My three-year-old self recognizes the faces, the names, the foods, the voices.  These people are from the land of my birth.  It’s been interesting to be re-introduced as an adult.

Stay tuned for what happens next.  The performance will premiere in January of 2016 at Touchstone Theatre!

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MacGyvering Life

As I prepare for a performance tomorrow night on the theme of “IMPROV(e)” I have gotten to thinking about how most of life is a complete improv.  We fool ourselves into thinking we somehow are in charge when really all of us are making it up as we go along.

That led me to thinking about a show I used to love watching “back in the day.”    Remember MacGyver?

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I loved watching that show because of the chewing gum rescues of submarines.  And the ever present swiss-pocket-knife that made me long to get one as a Christmas gift.  And…let’s be honest here…I loved Richard Dean Anderson and his shaggy mullet.  Back in the late mid-80s that look was hot.

I think about all of the quick fixes MacGyver was able to make to deter the bad guys…with nothing but a paper clip and a rubber-band he could make a helicopter fly.  And I realize that while I’ve been wishing for a “What to Expect When You Stop Expecting” book to give me the how-to’s for the rest of raising kids, and for a “What To Expect…Period” book for the rest of life, really all of us are MacGyvering life.

We are making it up as we go along with the tools at hand and what-ever scraps of knowledge we’ve gleaned from past episodes of life.   So, the next time you peer into my purse and wonder why there is a piece of chewing gum, some duct-tape and a safety pin in there, know that I’m just hoping I’m prepared for what-ever’s next.

images

It’s just me Macgyvering it.  Like we all are.

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Name that plate…

In a time when images of willful wild destruction of property are in the news, I am reminded of a ceremony I participated in:

Name That Plate.

A number of years ago I held a ceremony at the time of a painful divorce that included breaking crockery. As a female who’d spent most of her life taking care of things and people around her, it seemed like a freeing thing to do. And it was.

But this was not willy-nilly destruction. I went to the thrift store and found lots of mismatched saucers, tea-cups, small plates and cups for cheap. I gathered a group of women around me who were dear friends, sisters-in-love. Each of us was invited to bring something from home we wanted to destroy if we so wished. A large metal trash-can stood in the center of the room, with a covering of newspaper. The center of the newspaper had been cut out to allow for things hurling in — the rest of the newspaper was there to help prevent things flying out.

And here was the beauty of the ceremony: Before you could throw a plate (or a cup, or anything else you felt like tossing away from you) you had to name it. And we did. All of us named our plates:

“This is the years I turned a blind eye…” smash.
“___(insert name of person here) ____”
“This is the feeling of inadequacy and failure that I don’t deserve.”
“This is because I was always second best to my mom”
“Because my dad never said he loved me…”
“This is….”

the list went on and on from all of us.

All of us good girls, good wives, good mothers who had been squashing our resentments and angers and feelings of inadequacies for far too long.

And the smell of the ozone from the broken glassware and ceramic saucers was a heady mix of negative energy pent up in our bodies for too long and the shock of our own willful destroying of pretty things.

And it felt good. It felt powerful.  But it also felt contained and safe.

You could not throw something into the junk heap of time without naming it first. That gives power to us over our darkness, to our demons, our hurts, to the long cry of the child who has held it in for far too long.

I understand the desire to throw things sometimes. But you’ve got to name that plate first.

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Out of the mouths of babes.

I am fortunate to teach a two-week long theater day-camp every summer for 9 to 13 year olds.  It’s a popular camp with many returning campers.  We teach the kids how to create original characters, how to create original scenes, how to create original theater.

We also teach so much more…

At the end of each day we have a closing ceremony.  Standing in a circle, each person shares something about their experience, based on what-ever prompt we give:  how we feel, what we discovered about ourselves, what the best part of the weekend was, etc….

On the final day of camp, I often ask everyone (campers and teachers alike) to think about something new they discovered about themselves during the two weeks of Camp.  Sometimes the things they say are great advertising for camp:  Camp was AWESOME!  There is the occasional teacher adoration: Mr. Kyle is AWESOME!; and the occasional tip-of-the-hat to something learned during the two weeks: Shakespeare is AWESOME.

And then there is, every so often, something spoken by a young person of age 10 or 11 that speaks a truth we all need to hear:

Life really only begins when you are willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Thank you Angelica.  You are right.  It’s good to be reminded.

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