Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What do the arts really say?

Recently I read an article about an Arab performer who said that arts doesn't change society. He has given up hope that people are really affected by what they see on stage. They just want to be entertained.

This is in sharp contrast to Moti Lerner, the Israeli playwright, who sees art and theatre as a way for the audience to change themselves. Lerner speaks to this when he says, “Theatre people must hold to the illusion that they can save their society by their art, that they can heal it. Yes. It is probably an illusion. We have experienced enough to know it. But let's not forget the power of illusions and the power of vision. Without vision, without illusions, nothing would change. Nothing would heal.”

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Art is a catalyst when people want it to be. Do the masses change themselves when they see a challenging play or read a provocative book? In most cases not. But do people change when they are open to change? Yes.

So what is the role of art in this process? It must be there searching for the ones who want to change. It must be probing and in the margins, as well as mainstream and popular. It must be audacious and political and it must be one-sided or balanced depending on the artist and their vision. The vision is the all important thing becuase that leads to the truth within the artist. Creating art by committee is not art. It is artificial, a product, a consumerist mentality.

What we are lacking today is imagination. It has been taken away by consumerism. Artists are our only hope because they are the ones who value imagination for imagination's sake, art for art's sake, vision for vision's sake. Value the artist and value the imagination, no matter where it leads.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lively Jewish Arts and Culture

Lively Jewish Arts and CultureThe History of the Jewish People, Barbie, and the War in Lebanon --- These things have been most on my mind lately. How do they all come together? Well recently I saw the movie "The Tribe: The Unorthodox and Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and About 15 minutes". And I am also wrestling with the horrors of war that we have seen in Lebanon and Israel.

Are we a tribe? Do we live in a tribal world? Is that in fact what I need to learn to accept. And the movie The Tribe is about how Jews are all connected even if we look like Barbie because we're all members of the Tribe (and Barbie is a member too since her creator was Jewish).

I do feel the connection but sometimes it is too intense. Like when the war was going on in Israel and bombs were dropping near my sister and her family and my mother, and the top floor of the hospital where my mother was, in Nahariyah, was taken off. And of course I hate Hezballah for starting it all and for being another Tribe that doesn't accept the state of Israel. So when Tribes don't accept the other this is what happens -- tribalism.

i want to promote the positive aspects of being a Tribe -- ceremony, ritual, shared history, culture, performance, beliefs, myths, stories. I want to have evenings where we celebrate our rich heritage and sing and create new stories based on our shared experiences. I want our families to be connected worldwide and I want to promote the things my Tribe promotes -- a land, a language, a collective narrative, archetypal images, the ethics and laws in the Torah and Talmud with their ongoing oral interpretation, transmission, and transformation.

But when do I allow the other Tribes in? How do they enter? Are they already here? As Stephen Sondheim wrote, "Send in the clowns...don't bother they're here." And is my Tribe a group of clowns, too?

One of the most poignant moments, ever, for me in film was in "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" at the very end. It is when Alec Guinness playing a prisoner of war in Japan and commander of the British unit in the prison camp, is killing his own men who are trying to bomb a Japanese bridge -- that ironically has been built by Alec Guiness and his men while in the prisoner of war camp. Guinness is so enraged that his bridge is going to be bombed, that he starts to kill the members of his Tribe -- the British -- to save the bridge he has been building for the other Tribe -- the Japanese. He forgets which Tribe he belongs to.

Seemingly he succeeds and he is the only one left, he has saved the bridge and the Japanese train is about to go over the bridge. Then he realizes which Tribe he belongs to. He realizes that he has an allegiance to the British and heads toward the explosives to detonate them. He is shot on his way over, by the Japanese Tribe soldiers, and in a beautifully choreographed movement, whirls falls and lands on the explosives. The bridge is destroyed and the Japanese Tribe loses (this round). And the final words of the film are by one of the British men who has been observing all of this from a distance (maybe he wasn't sure of his Tribe). He barrels down the hill surveying the scene of death on all sides and he says, "Madness, madness".