Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Inspire

We have the Creator in all of us. My interpretation of those pointy church spires has a creative inspiration. Perhaps they were designed to be the highest point in a village so that the citizens would forever be reminded of their own creation and by extension their inherent creativity. Think of these spires as antennae, reaching out and drawing in all manner of information. If inspiration comes from some mystical place, who is to say that those who are inspired are not just tuned into the correct frequency to receive the message. Imagine a writer working on a play, walking through cobble streets when suddenly catching sight of a pigeon lifting into the air. As the bird is followed, our artist spies the steeple and inhales as if struck by an inspired idea. Perhaps a church spire, with a God’s help or not, can be a conductor of what is sometimes called the collective consciousness. Ideas are out there, nothing is really new, thoughts hang in the air like fruit waiting to be picked.

While some inspirations may come from tall manmade structures, artists and scientists are forever having inspiring thoughts in all sorts of locations. One wonders where that inspirational signal comes from to create that seed of an idea. We’ve all experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, that magic moment when you feel as though all your previous ideas and thoughts congeal into a coherent whole. It’s the ‘Aha!’ Or ‘Eureka’ moment that drives the engine of change. It can be an expression of joy for a new way of doing things.

First we are curious: “How is this done?” We look through the cutouts at a construction site and stand transfixed at what is being created. We marvel at the birth of an animal in a farm setting. Lots of experiences inspire us to reach for our own goals. Once creativity starts, it rarely stops. The members of the band RUSH, like other artists, seem to be constantly inspired to do art in different ways. Here they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Watch for the inspired way that member Alex Lifeson (who is the last to speak) accepts his award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M7AEi68a20

We can watch moments such as this and be inspired. At other times we may stare blankly out the window or at a proverbial blank canvas and wonder how to find a way to express what we are feeling or thinking. I’ve been stuck like this many times in my life. Sometimes the best thing is just to wallow and wait. Find a place of safety until something colourful flits across your field of vision. Rekindle the ember that was, and still is, the child within. A child is rarely without inspiration. Is that called innocence?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Roman God Cupid is a wee babe with a skill to inspire love in those it pricks with its arrows. Once inspired, all negative thoughts subside, our eyes are opened to a fresh day, and a new way.

Re: Protest

I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?

Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’

Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.

In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.

Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.

There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI

Re: Silly

I like being silly. Silliness is a part of me that rarely sees the light of day because I am such a serious person. When I get silly, people are often unsure whether to believe what I have just said so I will have to reassure them that everything I say isn’t to be treated as gospel.

My silliness is usually verbal. My late wife once called a halt to a family card game because I had started a series of silly sounds with our young sons that went on and on until my boys and I were in tears of laughter. I think silliness may be a guy thing. As a form of humour, silly ranks up there with slapstick. The Three Stooges: Adults acting as kids. What’s not to like? These comics were physically funny and goofy at the same time. As a kid I couldn’t get enough of them. As an adult, I marvel at their comic timing and visual artistry.

Being a self conscious individual and quite reserved in general, it’s no wonder friends and family members have taken umbrage when I let my silly out. There are some seeming contradictions to my silly side. For example, I don’t like Halloween or any kind of charade game. I feel badly when I’m teased and work hard not to tease others. Romantically, my enthusiasm can be construed as silly, but then love can be senseless and beyond rational explanation, so what’s wrong with that? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK5oJcn99d4

The mood has to be right for me to feel comfortable being foolish. I have to be as malleable as a blob of Silly Putty. At my most absurd I am likely overtired. That’s when my funny bone is most sensitive to suggestion so an outrageous video can be very cathartic. Stand up comedians often rely on silliness to drive their sketch. A good performance will reveal just how crazy we humans are. George Carlin tops my list of artists who can make silliness seem sensible. His intellectual manner shone through even while he made endearingly goofy faces. Robin Williams was a master of showing the beauty of keeping the child within from being smothered by the responsibilities of adulthood. Time after time he would delight me with his silliness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmqmyYRi-lU

Responsibility can be a burden more lightly born when mixed with a dash of jester-ism. That’s likely why rulers once ordered fools to be amongst their court. The troupe Monty Python is clearly an example of using comedy to make the powerful look silly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoIdEjdZIls

Sarcasm is hurtful, yet silliness can’t possibly harm. An act of silliness may disturb someone’s sensibilities yet I say, “Get over yourself!” I herald those who can pull off purposeful irreverence through a silly reference. Sometimes a sound like a snort, well timed, can reveal the snobbery, the stuffiness, that too often comes with polite society. Kudos to those brave enough to bring others, too serious for their own good, to a heightened awareness of the value of nonsense.

Re: Shakespeare

Shakespeare writes music, if music be truth. And since music is Art then Art is also truth. And since I can see Art in everything then Shakespeare is everywhere.

My blog postings are regarding words and though I not be the Bard, by any stretch, I can value the power of words. So I propose that Shakespeare is more than a name but a word with meaning far beyond the person who was Shakespeare. For me and many, the name used as a word can itself conjure up words that cast spells on the imagination and bring clarity to one’s existence.

I was introduced to Shakespeare, the man, in high school history class. This writer lived and worked over 450 years ago. His work is still studied, re-imagined, reproduced and talked about today. To me he is Sir William, although he was never knighted. The fact that scholars have doubted some of his originality matters not to me, for his name stands as a brand upon the beauty of the English language. It was in grade ten that I came to know Shakespeare as a word beyond the name. We studied The Merchant of Venice in English class that year. We dissected the words in the play. We practised the poetry. We acted out parts. We became characters. We went to Stratford, Ontario to see the word made flesh on stage.

Henceforth, I saw Shakespearean things in other art forms. Just as music can move you without knowing from whence that feeling came, experiencing Shakespeare can bring understanding to my very existence. Like music, Shakespeare is a language that I don’t need to translate to fathom. When read, Shakespeare flows like poetry. When watching actors portray the parts transcribed, the audience moves with a rhythm palpable. It doesn’t have to be live theatre either. The film Shakespeare In Love captures well the play within the play. Who cannot feel as the audience does at this scene near the end of Romeo and Juliet?

I have visited some of the sites in England where William Shakespeare once walked. I have paddled on the Avon River. I visited his cottage in Stratford.
I discovered the spirit of Shakespeare is not of a place. When I feel the word Shakespeare my mind opens. Today I came across a piano installed on a sidewalk beside a beach and I thought, “My! How Shakespearean!” Last week I went to a production of the musical Mamma Mia. The songs were not so much sung as recited rhythmically, as in a play that Shakespeare might have written. Here through the inspiration of music by ABBA; love was asked for and not given, betrayal was evident, protagonists were aggrieved, antagonists were forgiven, lovers were reunited, souls were enlightened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OBneuoZaOw

The word Shakespeare comes to mind, whenever I see signs that someone is exploring humanity. In my community we often see Living Statues: People dressed as characters who mime. They are human, trying to reach other humans through Art: That’s Shakespeare! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szeq1M0_7PQ