• Nikkole Salter

A Time Such As This

Below is the speech I gave on June 3, 2020 at the TCG Virtual Conference... a convening that scrapped all its in-person, planned curation to address the volatile changes in the world and in our field caused by COVID-19 and the outrage surrounding the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (to name a few). Also during this talk were Artistic Director of True Colors, Jamil Jude and actress,

poet, director, translator, storyteller, acting instructor Monique "MoMo" Holt. You can find the whole thing on YouTube.

What a time this is.

A epically injurious time yes.

What an uncertain time, absolutely.

But also

What an opportune time.

I don’t mean opportune in the opportunistic way.

In a, “Let’s buy up all the property and stocks while the price is low,” way

In a the kick a person while they’re down, exploit them because they are desperate way

But I do mean what a particularly favorable and appropriate time this is.

Every time is a time for something…every condition lends itself to certain activities more than others

Ask women who have given natural birth - there is a time to breathe and a time to push

There is a time for everything under the sun.

Some of these times are the products of our applied force

But some of these times are natural.  

They’re built in to the life cycle of every living thing.  

We call these times break down.  Fall apart.  Break through.   Some call them ebb.  Some call them winter.  Some call them death.  

I think 

I believe

such a time is this

And, in that regard, 

at this time when I feel my industry crumbling around me, 

my society crumbling around me, 

my nation even, coming undone it seems…

Violently 

I’m choosing to be excited

Yes, I’m full of anxiety, and rage and exhaustion, and fear but I am also excited because 

Every tornado has an eye

And we all know from that movie with Helen Hunt

that the middle of that eye is still

It’s a pause

I’m excited for this pause

Because in it, we can look up and see everything whirling around us

We can see a bigger picture

We can do some assessments

some recalibration

some strategic planning

We can take a universal long view

And that

perhaps strangely

comforts me 

From this wide view I can can get out of my “me” narrative and see

that the dis-ease is something we are all experiencing 

and it is, well appropriate

Just like anger is an appropriate byproduct of perceived injustice

Destruction is an appropriate outcome

an inevitable outcome

a reliable outcome

when you’re out of alignment with the Truth of Nature. 

See, human beings create societal systems that reflect how we see the world 

In the western world

once, we thought the world was flat

Linear

Hierarchical 

And what did we create?

The food chain

The chain of command

Caste systems

Ladders of success

Over the hundreds of years of believing our perception was reality

we’ve finally, in relatively recent times, come to learn that the world is round

that life is cyclical

that nature is ordered, but not ranked

that lions are as important as bees

that there is no linear chain

instead we have seen that all things are connected, inextricably

if you move one rock in Montana

you make a wave on the coasts of Indonesia

We’ve come to know these things 

These things that indigenous cultures across the globe already knew beyond the shadow of a doubt

The western world used its scientific method

the method it trusts above all else

to finally come to know these things are True with a capital ’T’

But what systems do we continue to create?

We extolled the virtues of checks and balances, but all our systems have always only manifested the hierarchy.

We are out of alignment with the Truth

And 

whenever any living thing is out of alignment with the Truth of nature

Therein lies the emergence of disease

Dis-ease.

Dis-ease… signaled by not by pain -

Pain is natural, physical

teething is pain

Birth is pain… 

growth is pain

injury is pain

mistakes are pain.

This is dis-ease signaled by suffering.

Suffering is unnecessary

Suffering is the condition of remaining out of alignment, despite opportunities for restoration

I think it's safe to say, there is a lot of suffering in our world

Suffering that, at the root, comes from this dis-alignment

Suffering that comes from living a perpetual lie.


Scarcity is a lie

There is enough for every human being on the planet to have everything they need to thrive in life

We’ve created systems that do not allow that Truth to manifest

But just because we’ve insisted on the experience of scarcity

doesn’t change the Truth of Nature’s abundance

Just because the clouds cover the sky 

doesn’t mean the sun stops shining

Ability is a lie — we all have different abilities

we've just created a world that is catered to some abilities and not others

Race is a lie

Our skin has different colors and shades, that’s true

but what we’ve made the skin colors mean, that’s a lie

Systems that value some people more or less than others

that is a lie

The gender binary is a lie

our genitalia may be different, this is true

but what we’ve made this genitalia mean, that’s a lie

These lies cause suffering, ‘cause that’s what lies do.

Think about the lies you’ve lived

Think about the times you’ve been lied to

And the times you’ve lied

You suffered, unnecessarily

You’ve caused unnecessary suffering

You know this is true

You know this is true

These lies, this dis-ease and this suffering permeate every aspect of the Western world.

Perhaps every aspect of every world.

Our field is not excluded because it is well intentioned

because it is a 501(c)3 charitable endeavor

Our field is

in actuality

also built on these lies

Of scarcity of hierarchy of normalcy

Every season

the systems we have created

the systems we continue to honor and uphold and work within

affirm year after year 

that there is not enough to go around

that some people are more valuable than others

that some things are normal while others are not

Just as we as a nation

in practice

year after year

continue to affirm

with the systems that we build and maintain

that all people are not created equal

All persons ARE created equal

but we do not believe it

for if we believed it, it would be apparent in our manifested outcomes

So what do we collectively believe?

We believe there aren’t enough resources

We believe money and power will make us impervious to harm

We believe that the control and dominance of our spheres of influence are the most honorable endeavors

We believe in hazing

We believe in "get more, pay less"

We believe we believe in being rich, even if we have to exploit to get it

We believe inclusion is earned through dominance in competition

We believe in the survival of the fittest human being and that weakness is deserving of death

We believe poverty is a moral failing

We believe the victor gets to tell the story

We believe that white people are the center of the world’s progress… are the only contributors of the world’s progress

We believe the ends justify the means

How do I know this is what we believe?

Look at what we’ve created.

These beliefs are rooted in lies.

But I'm allowing knowing this to bring me joy 

because inherent in the awareness of the suffering

is the potential for the suffering to stop

for balance and alignment with truth to be restored

if we let it

It is not a transgression to be out of alignment with what is true

it happens

It is a transgression to remain out of alignment when you become aware that you are, when you see the suffering and do not change

It was not a ridiculous thing to believe that the world was flat

that’s all we could see

but when it became evident that we wouldn’t fall off the planet at the horizon

that the horizon is perpetual

it also became clear that the line is a lie… 

there is no line

it’s a circle

it’s a sphere

never ending

Everything is connected

Why don't our systems reflect that truth?

Another cool thing about the Truth of Nature is that it cannot be defied

Nature will not be mocked

As long as we are out of alignment, we will continue to be nudged to change by our suffering

We can numb ourselves temporarily

Create new policies

Distract ourselves periodically

but Nature will offer no reprieve to our suffering until we change

Nature's law is absolute

As long as we continue to live a lie

We will continue to suffer

Suffer until we destroy ourselves even

Nature does not care

She will just take our carcasses and decompose them and make rich soil from all our crap

for something new to be created

something new and healthy and in alignment with the Truth

Life goes on

The difference between human beings and most things in nature

to our knowledge

is that we don’t have to wait for evolution

We can opt into the necessary change

we can actively participate in and direct, to an extent, our own evolution

We don’t have to keep the systems we have

WE MADE THEM UP

We can make up something else

And there’s no better time to do it

than when things are falling apart

when the dam is breaking

because it would be sad

it would be so very very sad

it would be even more suffering-inducing

to -

after these moments of awakening in our field -

to return to manifesting the lies we were manifesting in our systems and in our “best” practices and in our work

So

How can we do that?

How can we choose to step out of suffering and into Truth?

First I think we should, 

even if just for a moment in our imaginations, 

we can take this moment to pause to assess the mission and whether or not we’re on it.

Who are we?

Artists… people who give creative expression to life and what it means to be alive

What are we doing?

We are telling stories.

Why are we doing it?

Because stories are an essential component to human existence

Every human being is a storyteller by nature

Humans can only experience life through the context of a narrative

Stories are the software to the body’s hardware

Narrative is the only way we can experience and make meaning out of life.

But if every human being is a natural storyteller, then why do we need to be professional storytellers?

Because we want to bring more consciousness to the story making

We want to influence the collective narrative of humanity so that we may participate with more awareness in our own collective evolution

So that we may choose with more awareness who we want to be

by looking at the events that determine who we are, why we are

We do it because 

Every human being 

by virtue of being alive

has a right to contribute to the human narrative

to be included in the collective narrative

to bear witness to the collective narrative of humanity

How do we do it?

Currently?  We do it out of of integrity.

We say one thing and do another.

The non-profit theatre world was created to ensure every community has access to participate in evolving collective narrative of humanity… but most our institutions across the country are seemingly only interested in producing theatre derived from the from New York/Ivy league/Broadway industrial complex

How do we measure success?  Box office receipts?  Reviews?  Transfers?  Options? Are those indicators of service?

We say we give voice to the voiceless when some of us haven’t even heard from our own staff members in earnest

We say we serve the community, and the people across the street from our institutions don’t even know what we do, let alone find our offerings to be of service to anything they need

We say we believe in diversity, equity and inclusion

And our staffs and boards and audiences and the majority of our artists are disproportionately white and cisgendered and heterosexual and "able"

And lets not even talk about the diversity, equity and inclusion of ideas and artistic forms

We tell lies

I was asked by Devon to reflect on what I want to change at this moment.

There are many policies I want to change in this world.

I would love it if every case of police misconduct was automatically sent to an independent prosecutor and the officer arrested (like regular civilians are) taken off duty and put at half or no pay, and kept from using benefits until the issue was thoroughly, but speedily, resolved.  Maybe then they’d think twice about how they treat us, because they’d no longer have the benefit of the doubt… just like every other person in this country.

But that would just be pruning the tree

‘Cause at the root, if the idea that certain lives have no value lives on, prejudice and discrimination and racism, and transphobia, homophobia, and ableism, misogyny will just manifest in some other heinous way. 

In our field, I want to take this opportunity to get at the root of this strange fruit we keep producing

I want us to correct this lack of integrity.

Stop lying to ourselves and to each other 

Stop lying to the communities we’re in

about what we value, about what we are doing to serve.

Don’t say you’re in solidarity

when what you mean is that you offer distant support and endless sympathy

‘Cause where I’m from

Solidarity looks like:

My sister is fighting

I take off my earrings, put up my hair and start fighting 

And when someone asks me why I’m fighting I say

My sister's fighting.

Support is

“Let me text you the link to the bus schedule so you can get where you’re going.”

Solidarity is

I pull up to your house in my car, you get in and I say, “Where we goin’?”

Solidarity with an ideal means

When the tentacles of hierarchy and dominance are dismantling equity

I get some bricks and go rebuild it

I risk my reputation and speak up

I snatch the mic like Senator McCain and say, “No, no.  That’s not true.  We can disagree, but we will not lie."

Raymond Bobgan told me that his CFO believes the story of a person or an organization’s values lies in its budget.

How you spend your money and your time tells the story of what means the most to you… and tells the prophecy of what you will become.

I want our budgets to reflect the Truth of Nature

I want our mission statements to reflect the Truth of Nature

I want our actions to reflect the Truth of Nature

I want the systems for the delivery of our services to reflect the Truth of Nature

I want our artistic output to reflect the Truth of Nature

I want us to be in and maintain this integrity.

So

I either want us to change our entire system to achieve this integrity… or I want us to tell the truth: that we serve rich and/or white, and/or old, and/or able, and/or heterosexual, and/or cisgendered members of our society… ‘cause that’s what we’re actually doing.  That’s who spends money and time with us.  That’s who we spend money and time on.

I want us to step into our power and accept the full responsibility of being storytellers

I want us to take the storyteller’s Hippocratic Oath - I shall not lie. 

The theatre making of the past may be just that - of the past.  If that system dissipates, as it apparently is, do we stop being of service?  Is our service no longer useful?  Are we non-essential?  When there is no hospital, does the nurse stop being necessary?  Or do we turn the gym into the hospital?  How do we build systems that allow us to be of service to all, no matter what?

Today

right now

We are writing the story that creates meaning out of the events most recently strewn upon us

I want us

right now

at this opportune time

as the tornado razes the land

to find joy

in the destruction of the lie

in the destruction of the systems that limit us to the lie

in the destruction of the cultural notion that we exist for entertainment purposes only

and I want us to find joy

that we get to rebuild 

in Truth with a capitol T

We get to make a contribution that will end this unnecessary suffering

This is a turning point full of possibility

We are the storytellers.  

We tell stories that create the meaning.  

By what we do, we can make this moment mean whatever we want.  

What will you do to shape that meaning?  

Let’s get to work.




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