Temenos

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Many years ago my T’ai Chi Chuan teacher Jean Kwok made a trip to Hong Kong. On her first morning in the city she walked into a nearby park to practice her form. The large park was filled with many separate groupings of people and individuals moving fluidly through a wide variety of styles of T’ai Chi Chuan. Developed by different families in China over the course of the centuries, there are literally hundreds of distinctly different forms of T’ai Chi. Jean walked around the park observing the variations in form with great interest.

Agency

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You are free to choose what you want to make of your life.  It’s called free agency or free will, and it’s your birthright.
(Sean Covey)

The moment that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanatta first encountered David Bowie on the cover of his record album Aladdin Sane at the age of 19, her perspectives and attitude were forever transformed. She said, “It was an image that changed my life. It was the beginning of my artistic birth.” She put the vinyl record onto a record player that sat on the stove of her tiny apartment and began to evolve into the Lady Gaga that we know today.

Bearing Witness

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For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.
(Elie Wiesel)

Poet and activist Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” In small quotidian affairs as well as in the context of large world events, bearing witness to the suffering of others matters tremendously. The fact of being seen with empathy, especially in light of persecution or distress, provides the event an objective meaning. Bearing witness makes it real.

Energy

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Composer, music theorist, writer and influential artist John Cage, known for his delight in the unplanned and the unexpected, nevertheless recognized the necessity for an artist’s rigorous preparation and training. “Energy at its highest level,” he said, “energy that can be expressed by the movement of the human body, will not burst forth unless the dancers have had the courage to train themselves with extreme meticulousness.” 

Copy, Transform, Combine

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You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more.
(Bob Dylan, from Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie)

Theater as Parkour

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If two roads open up before you, always take the most difficult one.  Because you know you can travel the easy one.” (Raymond Belle – Parkour Traceur)

As a teenager I was deeply enamored with French impressionist paintings. The canvases, even in reproduction, lit up my heart and fired my imagination and I wanted to live my life as if in an impressionist painting.  The first time I visited Paris, at the age of fifteen, my high school summer program organized a visit to the Louvre, and for me even better, the adjacent Musée du Jeu de Paume.  

Arousal and Control

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Most of us are regularly plagued by doubt, overwhelmed by the impossible odds against us, discouraged by lack of support and dragged down by physical and emotional hardships.  And yet, despite this, why is it that some people can regularly rise above such difficulties and make more headway in their creative work than others?  Is there a way to calibrate and encourage a balance of energies and forces in one’s daily life to optimize the ability to renew and flourish?  What is the ratio or balance required to maintain creative flow in sufficient doses in daily life?

Play as Paradox

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Chicago theater director Damon Kiely is about to publish a book entitled “How to Read a Play” with Routledge Press and he asked me to write the forward.   Inspired by the title of his book and the thoughtfulness of Damon’s manuscript, I wrote the following:

I love reading and yet I am usually anxious at the prospect of reading a play. I tend to put off opening a script for as long as I can because it requires such different tools from me than reading a novel, a poem, an essay or a biography. Plays are not intended to be read in solitude and plays ask for an inordinate investment of my patience and imagination.  Essentially a novel, a poem, an essay or a biography embodies the words contained within its covers and is brought to life by the reader’s imagination, but a play, also within its covers, ultimately exists to point at something else and it requires a team of diverse talents to animate it successfully. 

Control and Surrender

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I am currently directing Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth at Glimmerglass Festival (come visit this summer in beautiful Cooperstown, New York and catch the entire season of operas between July 11th and August 22nd). This past April with SITI Company, I co-directed the theater is a blank page with visual artist Ann Hamilton. These two productions provide a study in contrast around issues of a director’s control.

The reciprocal link between artistic and scholarly work

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An acting student at Columbia University once mentioned that her father, a surgeon, had a saying: “Study one, do one, teach one.” I instantly recognized that this formula, familiar to surgeons, “study one, do one, teach one,” is precisely the right equation for me as well. The ratio that allows me to be the best possible theater artist is: 1/3 research, 1/3 directing and 1/3 teaching. If I do not dedicate enough time to research or if I teach too much or too little, my work as a director, as an artist, is compromised. The correct balance among the three activities is key. 

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