I have officially left Boston! I’m currently in New York, where I will visit the City University of New York and New York University over the next two days. I will also get to have a lovely visit with my former roommate Anjali!
Not quite two weeks ago I was given my first applied theatre-related challenge for the trip: to create a performance piece of no more than two minutes, based on a contemporary theme or event. They suggested, but did not require, that we use a newspaper article as a stimulus. Specifically, their instructions were as follows:
This is an opportunity for you to:
- Create an original “fragment” of work
- Demonstrate a sense of theatricality and/or presentational qualities
- Show your ability to use your chosen content to pose questions, stimulate thought or otherwise challenge your audience
Your audience will include members of the Admissions Committee and fellow applicants.
- Write and share a short monologue
- Use images (tableaux) and music to show contradictions
- Create a character who needs help from the audience
- Use song or dance/movement
- Facilitate a brief discussion using an image (tableau), picture or text as a stimulus
We are looking for your potential to engage an audience, but you should not think of this as a conventional audition. We do not expect a polished final product.
In all my years of high school and undergraduate theatre, and even my brief stint doing community-based theatre at the Bauen Camp, I’d never been asked to do anything quite like this before – at least, not as a solo artist. I was terrified.
I let the idea sit for a few days and kept an eye out for interesting articles. One evening my roommate, Zahra, brought a very disturbing news story to my attention: five American soldiers have been accused of planning and carrying out elaborate plans to kill Afghan civilians. What’s worse, after killing these innocent people, they posed for photos with the bodies, as though they were hunting trophies.
In speaking with Zahra about this event, we wondered how someone could possibly be so cruel – you can’t possibly see someone else as a human being and treat them this way. These soldiers had completely dehumanized the people they killed, and we wondered why. Does it stem from the fear of the unknown? Prejudice? Why have people performed hate crimes throughout history? I knew I had to create my piece about this incident.
So the next step: how do I turn this into a performance piece? What medium do I use? I tried to think about my strengths as an artist, and I immediately felt that it was very important for me to incorporate song into this piece. The song “Strange Fruit,” made famous by Billie Holiday, gave me an inspiration, and I decided to rework the song as the foundation of my piece. I sat down to write, and came up with the following piece. When performed, it will be a sort of spoken word poem, beginning and ending with singing. Wish me luck at CUNY on Wednesday!
[Sung] Many years ago
Southern trees bore strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Now Afghan fields yield strange crops
Blood in our hearts – when will it stop?
[Spoken] Five American soldiers, killing for sport.
But these are no hunting trophies.
They are innocent men, women, children.
How many times must we see history repeat itself?
Auschwitz and Birkenau,
The list goes on…
Crimes born of hatred,
Hatred born of ignorance.
Are we so afraid of losing ourselves –
So afraid of people we don’t understand –
that we must prove our strength through intolerance?
That is not strength.
The only crop that we sow
With fear in our hearts
Is a strange and bitter fruit.
It poisons us from the inside out,
Weakening our souls until all that’s left is an empty shell.
This will not do at all.
We must tend these ravaged fields
With hearts of love, with seeds of peace.
We must stand up and face
that which we are most afraid of,
and embrace it, with open arms.
Only then will our trees grow fruit that is sweet.
[Sung] Those southern trees
Don’t bear fruit no more
The blood is gone
But the wound’s still sore.
The poison runs deep
It’s hard to dispel.
Open your heart
To the story it tells.