The Story of Tonight

YHA Wellington, November 2015

 

“What were you showing our young American friend?” my Kiwi hostel roommate Linda asks my Dutch bunkmate Marian in a scathing tone with a sideways glance. She’s trying to change the subject and reinsert herself in this accidental trio, a fellowship of traveling artists of varied disciplines. Linda sips from her latest mug of wine while Marian and I silently negotiate how to work together as allies. We sense that she hasn’t sufficiently finished with her share of the conversation.

I’d seen Linda alone in our four-bed dorm a few times throughout the past five days, perched with her back to the room and her feet up against the window, a mug within reach on the sill. She’d laugh obnoxiously at her favorite YouTube videos or other loud phone-sourced entertainments. I’d quickly learned that she warms to attention and screeches at disdain.

Linda appears irritated that we’ve momentarily excluded her to revisit and wrap-up our private conversation, which had been interrupted moments earlier by Linda’s own grand entrance and announcement that she’d just walked out on a longtime friendship: “I’ve had a falling out with my Asian friend from Singapore!” It ended over an argument at dinner regarding whether Paris had changed. Linda said she “wasn’t trying to win,” per se.

Before Linda dramatically entered with a swath of wool cape and champagne hiccups, Marian had shown me a printed catalogue of her textile paintings. I’d connected with Marian almost immediately, after an initial day of gauging her distant niceties which she later admitted to, explaining that it takes her a couple days to truly converse with hostel roommates because they’re just strangers she might never see again. Per Marian’s prescription, our fourth roommate was often absent or silently buried opposite me in her upper bunk; it was a frigid week and I suspect she was nursing a cold.

This evening, it’s just us three in the room, duking it out in an intense conversation about the state of the world. The intensity is facilitated, of course, by Linda. A quick sample of Linda’s gem one-liners: Giving thanks is what it’s all about. . . Argentine Tango is the only one. … What’s your inner passion? Your inner journey? … Far out! … We had the chance for self-sustainability, and we sold ourselves to China. … I wouldn’t dare ask for a refund. … America should fucking well mind their own business. France should — do you believe Bush blew up the twin towers?

To answer Linda’s present question, Marian politely offers her the catalogue, and she refuses it with a back-handed wave: “What would I do with it.” Marian asks Linda why her newly-broken friendship affects her so much, if Linda is in fact not sorry that she’s called it off forever. When Linda thinks, she turns her head over her right shoulder. “…Love, peace and joy,” she finally declares with her hands clasped.

Linda is a self-proclaimed “researcher of the heart.” “When you go into the heart,” she waxes, “it gets bigger and bigger. You see the city skyline, but that’s not reality. And you think, far out, how much more space can my heart…? When you go within, you want to burst in tears because there’s something you need to express.” I think I follow. She’s a heavily-buzzed, far more eccentric septuagenarian version of myself.

While Marian and I pack for our next day of travel, Linda goes on for her captive audience, reading passages from her Santiago guide book as if it’s beatnik poetry. Her head falls back, eyes wide, jaw open: “Far out!” She practices her posture for tango, arms clumsily swinging around for balance. She tips into the bars of the bunk bed. This woman, who’s researching the heart and her capacity to feel and “take-in the enormity of the world,” haughtily and unapologetically blames “the Arabs” who “cheated her of 10 Euros” because “they’re Muslim.” And this is the woman who thinks Gone with the Wind is an accurate account of how “slaves must’ve been treated well.” She enjoys talking in stream of consciousness, particularly about herself, and immediately forgets what she said a mere moment ago.

Exeunt. Out she goes. Marian and I take a breath. I have a chance to jot down a few more diamonds from the rough: I was so tired after ten kilometers, so I sat at a cafe and a voice said, “Have faith.” Faith is the answer. … Mustard seeds and mountains — I’m still trying to figure that out. … I have one fault, and it’s drinking too much wine.

The truth is, I agree with Linda on several subjects and levels of thought. There’s something about her manner and privilege, though, that turns me off. I see her through a gated fence, one that occasionally opens for tender moments, and quickly closes again when my lip curls in disgust at her blatant prejudice and lush qualities. Linda is deceptively poised and proper despite her display of wine-drunk contradictions and flamboyant gestures of attempted grace. She’s certainly a curious spectacle to behold. I have an empathetic taste for the dysfunctional family she briefly mentions: “I’m the one who flew. I’m the black sheep.” I feel sorry for her, too, and I’m in awe of her choice to exclusively travel and live in youth hostels for three (or more) years. That’s a long time to function as a socialite out of a suitcase, especially when one is quick to put people off the moment one opens her mouth.

Linda returns with a clean blue mug. Never mind the stack of collected red mugs on the desk, sticky with rings of dried wine. I field more of her blunt, abrasive questions about America, consistently followed by more ignorant assumptions based on her one-time reading of Gone with the Wind. It’s shocking to remember what little is taught to other countries’ schoolchildren about US history (and that’s true for the other way around), in addition to the humbling reminder that accurate and multi-perspective US history is scarcely taught even to US schoolchildren (based on the prevalence of biased books and lesson plans). I try not to voice my disgust in reaction to Linda’s poorly-informed opinions. She goes to the bottle again to top-up the petite mug.

The hostel’s fire alarm takes a turn to interrupt. Without a word, Linda instantly disappears. After about thirty minutes outside, while everyone huddles in the wind-tunnel of a driveway, I finally spot her darting to and fro among the college kids. When we three reconvene in our room, Linda explains, “I survived the earthquakes in Christchurch. You learn to take the essentials. Warm clothes and GO. I felt guilty for bolting and leaving you to be trapped in the elevator.” Marian and I exchange a subtle head tilt.

Marian embodies an admirable level of grace and compassion, particularly when Linda refocuses these vino-fueled eccentricities toward her. (Linda eventually tired of my lack of satisfactory participation). I detect Marian’s growing annoyance when Linda refills again and carries on for another forty-five minutes at least. By the time she’s reached the end of the bottle, Marian and I are clearly tucked in and ready to fall asleep. I catch a couple of Marian’s glances up to me as if to say “Is she real?” during Linda’s inexhaustible laps from the window (city lights) to the desk (last drops).

Linda is “overwhelmed by the world” and “the size of her heart,” yet she “doesn’t let the world into her heart.” NOW she’s speaking to me, the innermost me…except for that last bit about not allowing the world into her heart. I don’t know what she means by that. Then she asserts: “I’m not religious. Sickening.” I try not to spit-take my water at that surprising delivery. She exalts, “Even I go in a cathedral and stand agog.” I get a top-row view of her pageant-esque reenactment of cartoonish reverence between the bunk beds (transformed into miniature flying buttresses of Notre Dame). Linda deliberately turns to each of our four walls, one by one, to repeat a ritualistic display of encompassing arms and gaping mouth. She’s pleased with her performance and concludes, “Humans forget to look up.”

Before the resonance of her pithy observation fades into silence, Linda snaps off the light.

 

Cheers to you, Linda and Marian, wherever you are today. Cheers to a new year of wonder and compassion, connection and patience, inspiration and purpose. To more chance meetings. To new perspectives. What will you see?

What Else Can We Say

I attended a weekday matinee of Idris Goodwin’s And in This Corner: Cassius Clay! at SCT. The script covers pivotal moments of Muhammad Ali’s life from his 1950s Kentucky childhood through his 1960 Olympic victory, and several scenes unapologetically address racial prejudice and acts of domestic terrorism toward African-Americans. During the cast’s talkback session with the school group audience, a child about eleven years old asked: “Do you like the part you got to play?” Direct and lighthearted, asked of the entire cast of nine, most of whom were people of color.

The one white female actor immediately drew in the full room’s attention when she audibly inhaled; we could also see her react physically, resituating a couple times on her chair. Despite her failed attempts to form words, she didn’t pass the invisible mic to her fellow cast members, so we watched her wiggle and writhe for what felt like five minutes, waiting for her to nod or do something definitive. She was costumed as the diner waitress who angrily refused service to the protagonist. Something about that imagery combined with her visible discomfort created something tense and electric in the air; I doubt I’m the only one who detected it. And it’s always much easier to note moments like this as an observer, not as the person in the middle of it. This moment of uncertainty and confusion, of saturated racial subtext, stood out — screamed wildly — as an enormous, brilliant opportunity for a real conversation.

Allow me to press pause and speak directly to her for a moment, as a witness to the entire charade, as a side-coach to cheer her toward her edge. A Ghost of Conversation Present, if you will. Pssst. I saw your impulse to speak before the rest, and you (and I mean me and all of us people seen and treated as “white” who sit in that chair with you — making this a collective “you” in addition to the singular “you”) needn’t be the first one to jump in. I appreciate that you seemed to catch yourself because we need to stop being the dominant voice in the room. Especially when we feel exposed or uncomfortable.

Pssst. Here is an opportunity to address the reality of the situation, even if you can’t yet identify what’s going on or to what you’re reacting. (Sound familiar, Clown Lab folks?) How about speaking to these 300+ young people from a grounded albeit raw place of awareness? Take a brave breath, mentally check any feelings of shame or guilt (those common representations of a white person’s internalized racial superiority), and say something like, “Wow, I just got really uncomfortable. Did anyone else feel that big shift? Did something get weird? What was it?” We’re all in the same room, so the acknowledgment would be extremely satisfying.

When I press play and review the event again, there were in fact TWO opportunities. The initial one was within her ten-seconds-or-ten-hours of confusing silence, which was thankfully interrupted by the actor who played Cassius Clay; he chimed in that he loves his part and he’s very happy about it. But then, remarkably, I watched both cast and audience check back in with the white actress. Why? She had a second chance to tackle this generous, gentle elephant pacing the stage in a broad parade of “Over here! Pick me!” The audience, the majority of whom were children of color, waited again in another elongated moment of suspense.

Unfortunately, the moment played out as an opportunity thoroughly missed. In the second go-around, she eventually muttered something like, “No, I didn’t like my part,” gesturing down at her blue and white ’60s waitress costume as if it was covered in vomit, as if it should’ve been obvious to us that of course she wouldn’t like that role. Why did she only mention that bigoted character when she’d said she played a “bunch of characters” minutes earlier in her introduction?

Her smoothest option was to detour completely: “Yes, I liked playing the boxing match commentator.” Or, more bumpily and boldly: “Yes, I’m glad I got to play a bigoted person because she is part of our country’s history” — hopefully with the addendum — “and I’m working on understanding how that history continues to affect the pervasive racism that people of color still encounter in 2018.” Better yet, with another: “And how I as a white person play a part in that system right now.” I can think of at least twenty more options to have either included or varied within this short snippet of an answer. An answer that would’ve ideally acknowledged her character’s impact (then and now), rather than one that indicated an embarrassment of embodying a racist everywoman who walked the earth back in the day (and who, incidentally, continues to occupy all fifty states).

I don’t know if the children shared my disappointment, but the overall lack of pachyderm-pointing unleashed a deflated exhale with the reality check that we still have a lot of work to do together, just like when one hopes for the most incredible professional magic trick and instead has a cold coin dropped on their shoulder by their amateur uncle. Is there an internal obstacle interrupting or blocking her — my, our — ability to show up as a whole, articulate human in the room? I ask this insistently and lovingly of everyone who benefits from systemic racism. I’m not looking for accolades by asking, either; I seek answers. Real, authentic answers, which inevitably lead to deeper questions.

If the child’s inquiry set off a sub/conscious reaction within the actress — indescribable and incapacitating as it may have been, perhaps linked to the constraining costume she wore and confusions she bore — then the onus wasn’t on her to facilitate this opportune conversation. The onus was on me and whomever else witnessed her discomfort, particularly any of the other twenty to thirty educators and chaperones in the room. We all shared the responsibility to notice that she was stuck, then take the baton to the finish line as a team.

We (I) could’ve sustained the question, voiced the energy shift in the room, and given time for each actor to answer. We (I) then could’ve returned to the bigger picture to ask what happened within ourselves the moment the actress inhaled. What stories did we (I) instantly project onto her that heaved a weighted suspicion out of a child’s innocuous question? Here was an opportunity to be honest, non-expert role models to the children, and regard the arduous work of undoing white supremacy in the US. Can we please give these youth an ounce of hope that the process is underway?

Speaking of which, are we committed to that work, or not? Are we ready yet to observe the fact that white people (myself included) owe our lifestyles of increased comfort and safety and accessible provisions to the millions of people of color who’ve had the concept of being “less than” literally beaten into them? Perhaps not on purpose, hopefully not consciously (though certainly not all white US citizens can be credited with good intentions), we nonetheless all participate in and profit from the imbalance of power informed by prejudice, as fellow “separate but equal” products of the systemic racism that founded this country. We are complicit. Yes? Yes.

As a teaching artist, I missed my opportunity to feel uncomfortable and pipe up from the back row. Why did I expect and wait for someone else in the room to address the issue when I was fully capable? I sat out the chance to invite everyone to maintain a childlike curiosity throughout their day-to-day lives and within their personal interactions, especially on the topic of race. If this work is so important to me, why didn’t I use my voice?

I have to thank Kevin Jones, co-founder and Artistic Director of the August Wilson Red Door Project in Portland, for his deft pivot of my out-bound mirror back toward me. Not one of my white family members or friends who proofread this blog pointed out my own miss in the moment. To those beloveds and everyone who identifies as white, let’s relieve the educational load from our beloved country-people of color who’ve never volunteered to take it on, yet who’ve been struggling — and dying — every day under the incessant pressure of racism for at least three hundred years. Let’s happily (or earnestly) take on the task of learning for ourselves where we have been anesthetized by centuries of systemic racism and where we’ve disconnected from own humanity.

The common, ongoing white denial with words of “I don’t like playing her” which is to reject association, as in “I’m not her” which is to squirm “I’m not racist” — these are all thorny evasions and veiled lies obvious to an innocent-yet-wise audience of children. We have to agree that these avoidance tactics are old. We have to agree that these maneuvers must lose their footholds as more and more white people accept accountability and finally insist upon evolution (and revolution). We have to agree that there’s no time to squirm and shrug in the held focus of hundreds of intelligent, impressionable young minds — who already know of and personally experience racist words and actions, whether via microaggressions or macro — because their lives are at stake. We have so much work to do. Let’s please begin by answering a simple question with a “Yes, and –”

 

 

 

Note: I invite readers to participate in community conversation, and I understand that this topic can shake up emotions and confusions and defenses. Since I am responsible for this platform, any cruel, violent or otherwise harmful comments will be deleted. Let’s embrace the work with our hearts and mindful thinking.

Autumn News

What a summer! Happy September! I have a lot of fantastic news to share, so get cozy. First and foremost, thank you for your participation in my life by way of reading my thoughts posted here. I hope you’ll also choose to receive what I offer via my live performances, too! As my dear late vocal coach repeatedly said from the moment I started training with him at age 13: “It takes two to tango!” (Rest in power, Victor).
Speaking of twos (and tangos), I am now the recipient of TWO “Best of Fest” Awards for my solo show The Two-Step. I’ll perform a special encore weekend at 18th & Union in Seattle on Sept 27-29 (7:30 pm) and Sept 30 (3:00 pm), and I’d love to repeat the sold-out run I had in August at the Boulder International Fringe Festival. The show garnered three new awards in Boulder: “Best of Fest,” “Best Love Story: Past” and “In-Demand” for my streak of full houses. I’m proud of the rewrites I made this summer; the script finally feels finished. This revival is a hot ticket!
And speaking of revivals: The Moonshine Revival Tent also returns to the stage at 18th & Union on October 4-6 (7:30 pm) and October 7 (3:00 pm) to debut a new story inspired by the ol’ classic western musicals, plus we’ll revive an audience favorite “The Transformations of Herbert”. To enhance Bret Fetzer’s modern fairy tales, we sing original compositions by the illustrious Sari Breznau in 4-part a capella harmony. Family-friendly storytelling with live music!
Live music?! Yes! I’m writing a new script that features a cello as a character in A Captive Song (working title). I have a few PWYC one-hour workshop readings scheduled this fall to keep the momentum moving and my creative fire stoked. Witness the script’s development on Fri Sept. 21 @ 7 pm, Fri Oct. 26 @ 7 pm, and Sat Nov. 10 @ 8:30 pm – each at the Pocket Theater in Greenwood.
These are all of my scheduled onstage appearances for Seattle in 2018, and perhaps indefinitely thereafter! I’m taking a sabbatical from the many business hats of self-producing and performing in order to push myself in a new direction and focus exclusively on writing and teaching. Part of that push includes a commitment to the terrifying venture of posting blog articles here. Should you enjoy morally supporting young artists, my 3rd-5th grade theatre students will perform their rendition of The Boxcar Children (directed by moi) at 7 pm on Friday, January 11 at McDonald International Elementary School near Green Lake!
And now, the rest of my recent news: I’ve been granted a month-long creative residency in Italy in summer 2019, and I won’t return to Seattle as a resident upon its completion. I’m taking this opportunity to wander Europe and explore my cultural roots, particularly in France and Sweden. I plan to seek residency outside my ol’ Washington State comfort zone, either elsewhere in the U.S. or in another country. Therefore, this announcement is my first step in bidding a fond farewell to you all in the Pacific Northwest: my lifelong community and home base. I’m pouring my heart into these potential “Farewell, Seattle!” performances of 2018*, so I hope you’ll join me at each one in celebration of my era as a Seattle-based artist.
*I’m leaving room for possible winter/spring/summer gigs with my beloved ensembles of The Moonshine Revival Tent and Lucia Neare’s Theatrical Wonders. Keep an eye on the calendar page for dates and ticket info!
That’s all for now! I’d love to hear from you, and especially to see you in person at one or several of these events. I hope this update finds you well with your summer’s transition toward the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. May your winter solstice be equally bountiful as a time for reflection and growth. Wishes of blossoming intentions and new growth for you friends in the southern hemisphere!
With immense love and light,
Christine

Boulder premiere of The Two-Step

Thank you to my opening night audience at the Boulder International Fringe Festival for your enthusiastic and supportive welcome to town. Despite a handful of tech hiccups and accidentally skipping a few lines, the show itself went swimmingly. A few women in particular were unwaveringly with me, nodding in agreement and smiling with solid eye contact; they seemed ready to share their own rich stories. I heard accolades afterward such as “Transporting!” and “Incredible storytelling!” and “Marvelous!” My heart is so full!

    

Hello world!

My new website is live! I’ll start posting blogs in the coming weeks, perhaps during and definitely after my quick solo tour to Boulder Fringe Festival.

Enormous thanks to Umbrella Graphics for making this website a reality!

Keep yourself informed of upcoming events on my calendar page!

See you soon…

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