A Time Such As This
Below is the speech I gave 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.
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.
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…
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 strategic planning
We can take a universal long view
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
And what did we create?
The food chain
The chain of command
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
whenever any living thing is out of alignment with the Truth of nature
Therein lies the emergence of disease
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
but 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
also built on these lies
Of scarcity of hierarchy of normalcy
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
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 hurt
And yet 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 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…
it’s a circle
it’s a sphere
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
after these moments in our field
return to manifesting the lies we were manifesting in our systems and in our “best” practices and in our work
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 "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.
“Let me text you the link to the bus schedule so you can get where you’re going.”
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 us to be in and maintain this integrity.
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/ 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?
We are writing the story that creates meaning out of the events most recently strewn upon us
I want us
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.