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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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(If you EVER get a chance to get near New York and see this play DO NOT MISS IT! We saw it last year and rolled in the aisles--KSH).
Jefferson Mays, leading man of "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder", has died 1,000 times on stage -- faster than any lead actor in Broadway history. His fellow actors marked that deadly landmark outside the stage door at the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th Street.
Watch it all.
[Donald Margulies’s play “Dinner With Friends'"]...underlying subject is the mysterious way in which all relationships — friendships as much as romances — can evolve on a deep level as people grow and change, while, on the surface, things appear to remain stable. Life is sailing smoothly by, then one day the familiar face on the other side of the bed, or across the dinner table, or maybe even in the mirror, looks utterly strange.
--Charles Isherwood in his NYT review of the play in Friday's print edition, quoted by yours truly in Adult Sunday School class this morning on Revelation 2:1-7
“When I saw ‘All My Sons,’ I was changed — permanently changed — by that experience....It was like a miracle to me. But that deep kind of love comes at a price: for me, acting is torturous, and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing. I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great — well, that’s absolutely torturous.”
--Philip Seymour Hoffman as quoted in the New York Times.
In the first hours and days that followed Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from an apparent overdose of heroin, there was an outpouring of grief on Facebook, on Twitter and in columns by recovering addicts and alcoholics like the journalist Seth Mnookin and the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin about their own struggles with sobriety and the rarely distant fear of relapsing back into the throes of active addiction.
There was also a palpably visceral reaction in the meeting rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, where, according to some in attendance, many discussions since last Sunday quickly turned from the death of a great actor to the precariousness of sobriety, and the fears of many sober people that they could easily slip back into their old ways, no matter how many years they have been clean.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Alcoholism Drugs/Drug Addiction Health & Medicine Men Middle Age Movies & Television Psychology Theatre/Drama/Plays * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
The outpouring of grief all around the country, but especially in the environs of New York City where "Phil" lived and worked, has been extraordinary and has, perhaps, taken some observers by surprise. The acute pain of my own grief has not abated for days; indeed, it has grown. I loved this actor beyond all others. There was a core of sensitivity and empathy at the heart of everything he did, even when playing the most unattractive characters. I was collecting his films, but in a desultory way, assuming that there was no particular urgency. Like many others who knew his work but not his personal story, I had no idea of the struggle he'd had. The idea that there will be no more performances is almost unbearable. He wasn't just a "character actor," though he certainly played a lot of characters; he had a range that, the more I think about it, was Shakespearean in its humanity. I can't even name a favorite performance; it was true of him across the board (or boards). I was looking forward to whatever he did next; now we can only play his old movies and suffer our loss. Now we will never see him play King Lear, a dismal thought that has occurred to several theatre critics who have lamented in print.
James Lipton, dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City, widely known as the creator and host of Inside the Actors Studio on Bravo, was interviewed by CNN (I think it was). I don't remember ever seeing a scheduled television appearance at the time of a death that was so ferociously in the moment, not studied, not thought out ahead of time, just pure rage and grief. He seemed to be gripping the table (he may not have been, but it seemed that way) as he almost spat out his fury at "god-damned drugs." He was liberal on most things, he said, but when it came to drugs he felt nothing but implacable opposition and hatred. It was good to hear that. We don't hear it often enough. I remember when Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning after years of drug abuse. Someone said, "She made bad choices." As if a person in the throes of addiction has a choice! This isn't about choices or "free will." This is about the bondage of the will by demonic powers.
Read it all (my emphasis).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Dieting/Food/Nutrition Movies & Television Theatre/Drama/Plays Urban/City Life and Issues * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman hurts like few recent celebrity passings I can think of. Well, like one of them: the death last summer of James Gandolfini. Both Hoffman and Gandolfini were fantastic actors, the sort of faces who'd make you say, "Hmm, maybe I'll have to see that," when they popped up in trailers. Both doted on their young children, and it stings to think about them right now.
But Gandolfini, for all his greatness, will forever be linked to one role. He spent eight years playing Tony Soprano, and that was after a couple years of typecasting as Italian-American Tough Guy No. 6. If you comb through social media today, you see movie fans tearing up over Hoffman and rarely focusing on any one role. The man could play psychopathic toughs (Mission Impossible III), frustrated artists (Synecdoche, New York), sociopathic intellectuals (The Master), gay intellectuals (Capote), gay spazes (Boogie Nights) slobs (Along Came Polly), and jerks (Hard Eight).
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Everyone knows that Indian Partition was a very bloody affair, but how many of us can name the man given the responsibility of laying the groundwork for it? In July 1947 Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed Cyril Radcliffe, a barrister, to the task of drawing the boundary lines between the two new sovereign states of India and Pakistan. There had been riots in the country and the British were looking for as orderly an exit from empire as possible.
The guiding principle, crudely, was that as many Hindus and Sikhs as possible should remain within India’s redrawn borders, while the newly created Pakistan would be home to the majority of Muslims. There was the additional problem of populous Calcutta and Bengal in the East. Radcliffe, absurdly, had five weeks to accomplish this: Independence was set for August 15.
Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line, which has been playing to full houses at the Hampstead Theatre (the curtain comes down with a live-stream performance this Saturday, available on a certain newspaper’s website), focuses on Radcliffe as he struggles with an impossible assignment in a country he has never until now visited, pulled in different directions by representatives from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress Party and Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League
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To some extent, Elizabeth Jordan’s depiction of Eugene O’Neill’s world as sunless and sinister was quite accurate. He suffered and saw the sins and suffering of others. Dorothy Day recounts the day when she and O’Neill witnessed O’Neill’s friend Louis Holliday inject enough heroin to kill himself in a Greenwich Village bar in 1918. The incident affected both Day and O’Neill deeply. Soon after Holliday’s death, Day left the Village and became a nursing student, and Eugene left for Provincetown. The death haunted O’Neill all his life.
Because of his illness, O’Neill was unable to grip a pen and write anything during the last seven years of his life. Having moved to Marblehead, Mass., he became isolated. He did not want to see others, nor did anyone wish to see him. In 1950, O’Neill’s son, Eugene Jr., committed suicide. The event was especially gruesome; some time after his son had slashed his wrists and one of his ankles in a bathtub, he tried to save himself and died on the floor of his house near the front door. O’Neill did not attend his son’s funeral. He was also estranged from his daughter, Oona, after she married Charlie Chaplin. Another son, Shane, was a heroin addict also disowned by his father. Shane O’Neill committed suicide in 1977. In the last years of his life, O’Neill made his third wife sole executor of his estate and made no mention of his children.
This was a dark world that was saturated with death and desire for death. But it is not, as Elizabeth Jordan pointed out in 1928, a world confined to Eugene O’Neill.
Read it all.
The drama program — at Harry S. Truman High School — opened this year with one more deficit: its galvanizing teacher, Lou Volpe, retired in June after more than 40 years showing students in an economically slumped, culturally narrow community how to strive for excellence, grapple with challenging ideas, empathize with people different from themselves and enlarge their notions of who they might become. And he brought their theatrical achievements glowing national attention. Under Volpe’s direction, Truman students presented pilot high school versions of “Les Misérables,” “Rent” and “Spring Awakening” — premieres that would determine whether these shows would become available to high schools generally. (All three triumphed.)
Being available, however, hasn’t made all the plays Volpe directed popular choices at other schools. Part of his success — pedagogical and theatrical — Sokolove suggests, comes from his “edgy” repertory. Not for the sake of sensation, but to engage kids in urgent contemporary social debate, he often selects works that raise the eyebrows, and even occasional ire, of local conservatives who object to frank representations of adolescent sexuality (hetero and homo), addiction, rebellion — the usual flash points in the old culture wars. Of the 25,000-plus high school theater programs in the country, fewer than 150 have produced “Rent.” At Truman, 300 kids — about one in five students there — auditioned for it. As one student tells Sokolove, confronting issues that make people uncomfortable is “one of the big reasons to do theater, right?...”
Sokolove, [once a Harry S. Truman High School student himself] landed in a literature class Volpe taught at the time. “Everyone in life needs to have had at least one brilliant, inspiring teacher,” he states. In Volpe, he found one. Read it all (emphasis mine).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children Education History Marriage & Family Teens / Youth Theatre/Drama/Plays * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
Watch and listen to it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Music Theatre/Drama/Plays * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military
What Falstaff represents is nothing more or less than life: life itself, life as such, the sheer indomitable fact of being alive. That is why Falstaff is so fat - he is larger than life, more human and more alive than ordinary mortals. When Hal points out that the grave gapes for Falstaff "thrice wider than for other men," it is true symbolically as well as literally. No ordinary grave could hold Jack Falstaff, for he is no ordinary mortal. He is large, he contains multitudes. When old Falstaff condescendingly tells the Lord Chief Justice, "You that are old consider not the capacities of us that are young," we feel the truth of it in our very bones. Falstaff's body might be "blasted with antiquity," as the Chief Justice replies, yet nobody is younger than he. He is young because he is youthfulness itself, the very energy and drive of life.
Nonetheless, in the final scene, a scene that has scandalised generations of playgoers and critics, Hal banishes his friend Jack Falstaff. Our minds recoil from the thought of it - even though, objectively speaking, Falstaff deserves everything he gets. It is not just that we like Falstaff and want things to turn out well for him. It is that this rejection of Falstaff seems like a rejection of life - an incomprehensible, nonsensical act. As Falstaff himself has intimated, to reject him is to reject everything: "Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world."
But perhaps the point of this difficult scene is just to show that Falstaff can be rejected. For all his irresistible charm, it is still possible to turn him away. The significance of the last scene is that it makes comedy more vivid by revealing its limits.
Read it all.
The Hollywood success of blockbusters like "Passion of the Christ" and "The Blind Side" has faith-based groups and entertainment executives looking to capture segments of the American audience eager for openly religious fare. Mr. Burnett's "The Bible" has more mouths watering: In its first week of home video release last month, it became the top-selling TV miniseries of all time, selling 525,000 units, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
But theater presents different challenges. "Hollywood is in the business of catching lightning in a bottle twice," says Jonathan Bock, president of Grace Hill Media, a marketing firm that has helped several Hollywood studios target religious audiences. "With movies, you can toe-dip with small releases or direct to DVD. On Broadway, you swing and hit or miss."
The Broadway shows about religion that have been the most successful are the less-than-reverent ones....
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Watch it all (a little over 13 1/2 minutes) or if you need to (second best) read it all.
...surely some things should be left to the imagination? The ancient Greeks knew the meaning of the word “obscene” and obscene acts – castrations, rapes, beheadings and the like – were not depicted in the theatre, but had to be imagined as having taken place offstage, the literal meaning of “obscene.”
Unfortunately for us, we live in the age of blatancy. Everything must be seen in all its disgusting horror or squalor – and usually both. We have been taught since Freud to think that this is somehow good for us. But all it has done is corrupt our morality and obliterate our powers of imagination. We live in an age where every image is an advert. Now I’ve gone and said it: we have forgotten the prohibition on the making and worshipping of images.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Media Movies & Television Religion & Culture Theatre/Drama/Plays * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theodicy
Twelve actors have played the Phantom on Broadway: Michael Crawford, Timothy Nolen, Chris Groenendaal, Steve Barton, Kevin Gray, Mark Jacoby, Marcus Lovett, Davis Gaines, Thomas James O’Leary, Howard McGillin, John Cudia, Jeff Keller, Ted Keegan, Brad Little, Gary Mauer and Hugh Panaro.
I count it a joy that I was able to see it with the whole family. Read it all.
Fans of "Les Misérables" on film or stage may be surprised to know that not everyone in France was of good cheer when Victor Hugo published the book in 1862. The anticlerical set was especially offended by the pivotal role of the Bishop of Digne, who helped determine the course of the novel by resuscitating the soul of Jean Valjean.
As Hugo worked on the novel, his son Charles, then in his 20s, objected to the reverential treatment of the bishop. He argued to his father that the portrayal gave undeserved respect to a corrupt clergy, bestowing credibility on a Roman Catholic Church opposed to the democratic ideals that he and his father held. Charles instead proposed that the catalyst for Jean Valjean's transformation be a lawyer or doctor or anyone else from a secular profession.
The pushback didn't work. Not only did Hugo hold his ground, but he amplified the importance of Charles-François Bienvenue Myriel, affectionately known in the novel as Monseigneur Bienvenue (Bishop Welcome). The book's first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel's exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration.
Read it all.
In spite of tepid reviews from some film critics, "Les Miserables" is booming at the box office, and that financial success can in part be traced to a group of its biggest boosters: Christians, particularly evangelicals whom NBC Universal went after with a microtargeted marketing strategy.
The story in "Les Miserables" is heavy with Christian themes of grace, mercy and redemption. The line everyone seems to remember is "to love another person is to see the face of God.”
NBC Universal looked to capitalize on those components and promoted the film to pastors, Christian radio hosts and influence-makers in the Christian community.
Read it all.
When did nuns become funny?
Was it in 1967, when Sally Field first donned her absurd cornette and took flight in the ABC comedy “The Flying Nun”? Maybe it was 1985, when the musical “Nunsense” made its Off Broadway debut — soon to procreate, paradoxically, many sequels. Certainly nuns were safe sport by 1992, when Whoopi Goldberg appeared in “Sister Act,” a movie that later became a play in the West End in London and on Broadway.
Americans began laughing at nuns just as the nuns lost the power to defend themselves. In the early 1960s, Catholic nuns were plentiful, working in schools, hospitals and orphanages, and visible, wearing the habits prescribed by their orders. Today their numbers are diminishing, and many of them wear civilian clothes.
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“We have this myth that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything. It’s not a very American thing to say, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s true for a lot of people, but you need other things to succeed. You need luck, you need opportunity, and you need the life skills to recognize what an opportunity is.”--Playright David Lindsay-Abaire.
When 'Scandalous,' a musical about Canadian-born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, opened on Broadway this week, it became the latest entry into the risky category of religious musicals.
With the exception of "The Book of Mormon," which swept the Tonys in 2011 and continues to play to packed houses, many Broadway musicals with evangelical themes have had dubious track records in recent years.
Perhaps hoping to tap into audiences that loved "Godspell" or "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Leap of Faith," based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, ran only 19 performances at Broadway's St. James Theatre. "Sister Act," based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie, was more successful but didn't break any records.
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Can you give us a sneak peek into the plot?
Son of a Gun presents an interesting mashup of music and narrative. And, from a story perspective, it's funny. It's a dark comedy with a serious arc to it. It addresses this question of family and how to hack your way through a life that can be filled with pain, and it asks where the redemption is in the midst of all of it.
Is it autobiographical?
The story emerged from my own life experiences. There are plenty of times where we would hit a roadblock in the narrative, like, What should we do next with this character or this thing? And I would say, "Well, here's what happened to me." And that would be the best dramatic solution to the problem. So there's times it's stunningly true to my own life, but, of course, I did not grow up in a family band. We were not from Appalachia. My dad didn't play guitar or sing. There were no duels anywhere. And so on....
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So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it's because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons.
Here's what else we learned this week about the emerging liberal consensus: That it's okay to denounce a movie you haven't seen, which is like trashing a book you haven't read. That it's okay to give perp-walk treatment to the alleged—and no doubt terrified—maker of the film on legally flimsy and politically motivated grounds of parole violation. That it's okay for the federal government publicly to call on Google to pull the video clip from YouTube in an attempt to mollify rampaging Islamists. That it's okay to concede the fundamentalist premise that religious belief ought to be entitled to the highest possible degree of social deference—except when Mormons and sundry Christian rubes are concerned.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Movies & Television Religion & Culture Theatre/Drama/Plays Violence * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The more specific you can be the more helpful it will be for the rest of us. We are especially interested in material others might not be aware of that you have found moving or interesting. What specifically brought this to mind is an off handed reference in my most recent sermon to my wife and I particularly liking English and Scottish mysteries. I was then asked about by several parishioners which mysteries and how did we get them--KSH?
On stage in a church on Detroit's east side, Myra Morrison thrust her right fist down in front of her body and pulled it up slowly - as if she was yanking out her soul and delivering it to God. She was dressed in a white robe, wearing white paint on her face like a mask.
With a flip of her wrist, she glided her hand up, her furrowed brow melting into a face of bliss.
"I give myself away, so you can use me," a gospel singer sang on a recording, as the Farmington Hills, Mich., woman acted out the words to the song.
Read it all.
Phyllis Diller, the cackling comedian with electric-shock hair who built an influential career in film and nightclubs with stand-up routines that mocked irascible husbands, domestic drudgery and her extensive plastic surgery, died Aug. 20 at her home in Brentwood, Calif. She was 95.
Her manager, Milton Suchin, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.
Read it all.
The York Mystery Plays, a theatrical tradition dating back to the 14th Century, have been resurrected in an epic production involving an Olivier Award-winning director and 1,700 enthusiastic local people.
It is with a mixture of pride and exhaustion that the two directors of the York Mystery Plays talk about the numbers of people taking part in their production, which retells Biblical stories on a near-Biblical scale.
There are two casts of 250 amateur performers, with bricklayers appearing alongside lawyers and children with their grandparents, who have between them been rehearsing for six nights a week for the past four months.
Read it all and make sure to enjoy mae sure to enjoy all six pictures.
Marvin Hamlisch, the stage and film composer who created the memorable songs for "A Chorus Line," has died at 68. The composer died on Monday in Los Angeles after collapsing from a brief illness, his family said in a statement.
One of the most decorated composers in entertainment, Hamlisch had won a Tony Award, three Academy Awards, four Emmy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Hamlisch was still active just weeks ago. In his role as lead conductor of the Pasadena Pops, he conducted a July 21 concert at the Los Angeles Arboretum with Michael Feinstein.
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A Yiddish play with the title “Toyt fun a Salesman” opened at the Parkway Theater in Brooklyn early in 1951. As most of the audience recognized from the name alone, the show was a translation of Arthur Miller’s drama “Death of a Salesman.” It seemed a mere footnote to the premiere production, which had completed its triumphal run on Broadway several months earlier, having won the Pulitzer Prize.
Even so, a theater critic in Commentary magazine, George Ross, declared of the Brooklyn version, “What one feels most strikingly is that this Yiddish play is really the original, and the Broadway production was merely Arthur Miller’s translation into English.”
History, it must be said, has not exactly ratified Mr. Ross’s judgment. In an enduring way, however, he framed a penetrating question about Miller’s masterpiece, which has echoed from the 1949 debut to the celebrated revival now on Broadway. Is Willy Loman Jewish?
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"I think there is a "God moment" breaking out in the entertainment culture that's partly driven by a quest for profits in difficult economic times, but also by people's never-ending quest for transcendent meaning," said Tom Allen of Allied Faith and Family, a marketing agency that is trying to promote shows like "Sister Act" to Christians.
The Tony-nominated musical is emblematic of this religious revival: flashy and brash, yet earnestly spiritual.
The same can be said for the recently closed "Leap of Faith," which is contemplating a possible national tour.
Read it all.
Jesus is cracking jokes, sharing parables and dying for our sins in three Broadway musicals this spring, while another six shows feature religious themes that are woven through dialogue and lyrics.
But what many of these productions lack are ticket-buying multitudes who identify themselves as people of faith, a group rarely courted by Broadway producers offering the sort of focused advertising campaigns that turned movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Blind Side” into unexpected hits.
Tom Allen is working to change that. A partner in Allied Faith & Family, a Hollywood marketing firm that aims to attract churchgoers to movies and now theater, Mr. Allen has spent the past 18 months breaking into the cloistered world of Broadway.
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[STEVE] INSKEEP: You're touching on the part that is maybe even more poignant, that this is a guy, as his story unfolds, who, early in life, had an opportunity for adventure - go off to Alaska, something - and seems to have turned that aside in order to get security. He thought that selling was something that you could do all your life, you could do as an old man and support yourself. And in the end, he doesn't even get the security.
[PHILIP SEYMOUR] HOFFMAN: No. But it's his son. It's his son. You know, he had sons. He really did give his life for his sons. He didn't do it in a way that, obviously, was effective or got what he wanted or actually nurtured his sons in a way that was going to help them, but he did.
INSKEEP: Has your job of portraying this disappointed father affected your thoughts at all when you go home and you go home to your three kids?
HOFFMAN: Well, it's - you know, it affects your life. It's - I really do think it's one of those plays that just seeps into - as we talk about all these aspects, I mean, it's never that simple. I mean, this play really seeps into why we're here, you know, what are we doing - family, work, friends, you know, hopes, dreams, careers....
Read or Listen to it all.
As a pastor — especially as a woman pastor — the Rev. Kristine Holmgren is used to being in the public eye.
In addition to speaking from the pulpit, Holmgren has reached people across the country through the informally syndicated column she wrote for the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune and as a commentator for National Public Radio.
That exposure has perhaps helped prepare her for her newest venture as a playwright.
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Watch it all.
Illuminating God’s message of grace in popular culture, including in television shows like “Downton Abbey” and others like “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood,” is the cornerstone of Mockingbird, which strives to connect Christianity with everyday life.
Through mbird.com, contributors, including Zahl, analyze film, music, television, literature, social science and humor, dissecting the contents through a Christian understanding.
“We are not trying to cover popular culture,” said Zahl. “But we are trying to reach people through both conscious and unconscious parallels in good art.”
Read it all and do go check out the website.
By all rights, theatre ought to say its prayers. According to most origin stories, theatre emerged out of religious ritual, not once, but twice: initially courtesy of the ancient Greeks, and then again in medieval Europe, where many scholars trace the rebirth of theatre to the Quem quaeritis, a short section of dialogue in the Easter liturgy. But in New York, a city of 6,000 churches, 1,000 synagogues, and more than 100 mosques – to say nothing of the other faiths – drama often puts religion on stage only to criticise it.
Admittedly, Godspell continues a Broadway run, just as Jesus Christ Superstar prepares to preach its rock gospel on the Great White Way, joining the faith-cased good vibes of Sister Act. But in smaller houses this season, believers rarely get a round of applause....
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[Cynthia] Nixon is a mother herself; her two oldest children are Samantha, 15, and Charlie, 9. Their father is Daniel Mozes, a classmate of Nixon’s at Hunter College High School, where he now teaches English. The couple never married and split in 2003....A year after splitting with Mozes, she began a relationship with Christine Marinoni....
[She is frustrated by]...the skepticism she says her relationship has sparked among some gay activists who find her midlife switch in sexual orientation disingenuous.
“I totally reject that,” she said heatedly. “I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”
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On Saturday afternoon, Broadway's longest-running show, "The Phantom of the Opera," will raise the curtain for its 10,000th performance. Behind the scenes, it'll be just another day at work for the more than two-dozen crew members who have been with the musical since opening night, Jan. 26, 1988.
Jimmy Billings, 78, the head electrician for the Majestic Theatre, began preparing the space—tearing out the stage and digging out the basement—eight months before the production was scheduled to arrive at the theater. Now he's responsible for a crew of 10 electricians, one of whom is his son, Frank Billings.
Mr. Billings hasn't ever seen the show, and neither has Jack Farmer, 61, who as fly floor spends the duration of the performance on catwalks behind the stage that are as high as 100 feet in the air. "I've seen the tops of heads and hear the songs," he says.
Incredible--read it all.
Both as a dissident and as a national leader, Mr. [Vaclav] Havel impressed the West as one of the most important political thinkers in Central Europe. He rejected the notion, posited by reform-minded Communist leaders like Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, that Communist rule could be made more humane.
His star status and personal interests drew world leaders to Prague, from the Dalai Lama, with whom Mr. Havel meditated for hours, to President Bill Clinton, who, during a state visit in 1994, joined a saxophone jam session at Mr. Havel’s favorite jazz club.
Even after Mr. Havel retired in 2003, leaders sought him out, including President Obama. At their meeting in March 2009, Mr. Havel warned of the perils of limitless hope being projected onto a leader. Disappointment, he noted, could boil over into anger and resentment. Mr. Obama replied that he was becoming acutely aware of the possibility.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Theatre/Drama/Plays * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Europe Czech Republic
Before "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" first hit off-Broadway and Broadway, respectively, 40 years ago — the first like an ember that caught fire, the other like an explosion — who but the most prescient or devout would have laid odds on any musical that ended with a crucifixion?
But both shows have been entertaining audiences ever since. And there's no sign of either of them wearing thin. A revival of "Godspell" opened on Broadway this fall; and a revival of "Superstar," born at Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival and now playing at the La Jolla Playhouse, is slated for Broadway next spring. One can't help wonder what it is about these works that enabled them to beat the odds when they were new and that has enticed a new generation now to try to reproduce their success.
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... “Godspell,” which opens Monday in its first Broadway revival, was serious business in 1971. At the time American religion was in a profound state of flux. The pews were emptying out, and children especially were disappearing from mainline Christianity. Vocations to the Catholic priesthood were cratering, and from 1963 to 1972 the number of American Catholics going to Mass declined from about three quarters to half (and kept falling). To take one startling statistic, Episcopal church school enrollment fell by a quarter from 1965 to 1971, the year “Godspell” made its debut Off Broadway. John-Michael Tebelak, who conceived and first directed the show, was himself an Episcopalian who later flirted with the priesthood before dying, at 36, in 1985. His church’s pews, even more than most, were vacant.
Young people wanted to leave the church, but not all of them wanted to abandon Christianity. Many wanted to return to a more primitive expression of their faith, and they reimagined Jesus as an accessible hippie, a cool friend rather than an object of veneration. In 1970, when Carnegie-Mellon theater majors threw together “Godspell” — which dervish-danced from La MaMa to the Cherry Lane Theater to the movie screen and finally, in 1976, to Broadway — it was quite subversive, or so they hoped, to make up Jesus like a clown. They dressed him in a Superman costume, and he danced joyously with a multiracial cast, quite obviously having fun (and, easy to imagine, having sex).
The musical’s challenge to polite Christian society was not lost on the establishment....
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William Shakespeare was probably a Catholic, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury in an exploration of spirituality and secularism in the Bard's plays.
Dr Rowan Williams discussed the themes with Simon Russell Beale, the great Shakespearean actor, in one of the most eagerly-anticipated talks of the Hay Festival.
Little is known of Shakespeare's life and there is no direct evidence of his religious affiliation, but Dr Williams said he believed him to be a Catholic. "I don't think it tells us a great deal, to settle whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant, but for what it's worth I think he probably had a Catholic background and a lot of Catholic friends and associates.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture Theatre/Drama/Plays * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic
The central theme of “The Book of Mormon” is that many religious stories are silly — the idea that God would plant golden plates in upstate New York. Many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch.
But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs....
The only problem with “The Book of Mormon” (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.
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For all of its lewd jokes and potty-mouth banter, “The Book of Mormon” commingles the profane and the sacred, dramatizing the culture shock, the physical danger and the theological doubts that infuse what one might call the missionary narrative. That narrative has been lived out for centuries by Western missionaries in a range of denominations, and it has been expressed in recent decades in a spectrum of art and literature.
“The Book of Mormon” forms part — admittedly a loopy and idiosyncratic part — of that corpus of work. Both the musical’s respect for faith-based idealism and its criticism of fundamentalist certitude have informed such films as Roland Joffé’s “The Mission” and Bruce Beresford’s “Black Robe,” novels including “The Call” by John Hersey and “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, as well as nonfiction accounts like “The Rebbe’s Army” by Sue Fishkoff, which is not even about Christians but the Hasidic Chabad movement’s emissaries to wayward, far-flung Jews.
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Even many South Carolinians barely remember the night when two unarmed black college students and a high school senior were killed, and 28 others injured, after state troopers opened fire at a civil-rights demonstration on Feb. 8, 1968. It was the first incident of its kind on an American campus, but the news was swamped by the Tet Offensive a week earlier and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. two months later.
There was no heavy news coverage like the Jackson State killings in Mississippi received in 1970, no unforgettable photograph like the image that burned the Kent State shootings into the American consciousness that same year.
Among those unaware of the incident, in spite of growing up two miles from where it happened at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, was Calhoun Cornwell, a budding student playwright there. But he was gripped by classroom lectures on the ’68 shootings that had become known as the Orangeburg Massacre, and in 2009, at the urging of classmates, he wrote a play about the event.
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ON a recent humid Sunday, 26 members of the Harmonium Choral Society shuffled into Grace Episcopal Church here and dropped their belongings among the pews. As they stood in a scattered group, they locked gazes, stretched their arms skyward and hissed at one another.
That was a warm-up for a three-hour session that would culminate in the recording of three minutes of original music, created on the spot, to be woven into the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s production of “Hamlet,” which is running in Madison through Oct. 11. Music previously recorded by the group would be used at other points in the play.
Bonnie J. Monte, the Shakespeare Theater’s artistic director, approached Harmonium’s director, Anne Matlack, about a collaboration after she heard the singers at a First Night event in Morristown last year.
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After nine grinding years of war, the once-mighty soldier abruptly comes unglued. Denied an honor he thinks he's due, he goes to kill the officers he holds responsible, but after his night of rage finds he has slaughtered barnyard animals, not generals.
Shamed beyond endurance, he plans suicide. "A great man must live in honor or die an honorable death," he tells his wife. "That is all I have to say."
The soldier is Ajax, fighter of the Trojan War, his downfall portrayed in a Greek tragedy written more than two millennia ago.
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“The Gingerbread House,” a new play by Mark Schultz at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, hits an iceberg just a few minutes into the first scene, in which a young married couple chill on the living room couch in front of the television.
Toys and general kiddie detritus surround them in disarray, suggesting a wearying day of parenthood. Brian (Jason Butler Harner) stirs from his exhausted slouch. “Honey,” he says, “I think we should sell the kids.”
Stacey (Sarah Paulson) responds with a blank stare and a light laugh. “Maybe we can get a new fridge,” she says dryly.
But Brian isn’t kidding. He’s sick of the children. “We can start our lives again,” he says in a coaxing tone. “We can have it back. All of it.”
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Mental illness on the stage and screen is often portrayed in extreme ways, and not just for dramatic effect. In Western culture psychic pain has tended to be seen as the territory of the artist, visionary, rebel and genius, from Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath and Friedrich Nietzsche to John Forbes Nash Jr. So it should be no surprise that madness is often used to signify creativity, sensitivity or spiritual and intellectual depth.
In “Proof,” for instance, a troubled math prodigy fears she will unravel like her brilliant father, and in “Equus,” recently revived on Broadway, an emotionally flattened psychiatrist envies his young patient’s creative religious passion, however warped. In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” mental illness is portrayed as the only refuge of the social misfit.
“Depression can appear to embody an aesthetic or moral or even political stance,” the author and psychologist Peter D. Kramer writes in his book “Against Depression.” In our culture, he added, it “is what tuberculosis was 100 years ago: illness that signifies refinement.”
Brian Yorkey, 38, and Tom Kitt, 35, the creators of “next to normal,” were keenly aware of that romantic strain and studiously worked to avoid it. “Someone said to make her a painter,” Mr. Yorkey said of the protagonist, Diana. “I said no. She’s a suburban mother.”
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Professor JEREMY DAUBER (Yiddish Department, Columbia University): We have “Fiddler on the Roof” in Hindi, and we have “Fiddler on the Roof” in Japanese, so clearly the stories that Sholem Aleichem told, even translated, have this universal appeal, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way his stories talk about the appeal of tradition and the struggle of maintaining tradition in a rapidly changing world.
[BETTY] ROLLIN: Theodore Bikel, who has played Tevye more than 2,000 times, is now touring a one-man show called “Sholem Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears.”
THEODORE BIKEL (Actor and Singer): Sholem Aleichem doesn’t only appeal to Jews. I get non-Jewish audiences who find parallels in what he wrote and how he wrote. I ask them, “What does this play mean to you?” Pogroms, Jews, Russians, turn-of-the-century shtetls —“What does that mean to you?” And they said, “Tradition.” We know what that is. We know what it is when children don’t want to follow the tradition of their parents.
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Listen to it all. This interview is about 9 1/2 minuteslong and says so much about our society and what we value right now. Take the time to listen to it all and do not miss all the incoherence in her remarks.
Each year, churches large and small stage Christmas dramas, plays and musicals like this one to unite their people in common purpose, have a little fun or get non-churchgoers in the door, ideally for good.
This year, fallout from the nation's battered economy has brought added drama.
Some amateur Marys, Josephs and Bob Cratchits are enduring their own hard times. For them, the stage provides escape into someone else's skin, a support network that might have disappeared along with a job, and a chance to deepen their spirituality at a trying time of year. For many families in the audience, the performances are free entertainment when tickets to "The Nutcracker" are a luxury.
All those things are true at Arvada Covenant Church, which staged the musical comedy "Bethlehem's Big Night" last weekend after months of planning and practice.
One innkeeper's wife has a 9-month-old baby and can't find work, but she chipped in making costumes and props. The understudy to Mary's mother was laid off and her husband moved out of state to find work, but she was still backstage memorizing lines at the last rehearsal.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Theatre/Drama/Plays * Economics, Politics Economy The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals
I caught this earlier this week and thought it was a really nifty story. I was unaware of this research--watch it all and see what you make of it.
No googling or using references, etc. Who is the only American writer to win an Academy award, a Tony award, and the Pulitzer prize. I didn't know and wondered if you did--KSH.
Watch it all. Also, here is one Judy Collins version of the song.
Finally, one of my favorite discussions of this wonderful song may be found on NPR's Performance Today from May 2002.
Now it's "Godspell" that is saying "no go" on Broadway.
A revival of the 1970s Stephen Schwartz flower-power musical about Jesus has announced it will not open as scheduled, the fourth production to put on hold plans for a New York run this season.
"I am devastated that, due to the loss of a major investor in the harsh reality of a slowing economy, there were no other options at this time than to postpone," Adam Epstein, "Godspell" producer, said Tuesday in a statement.
"Godspell" had been set to open October 23 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The musical, reportedly budgeted at more than $4 million, joins a growing number of shows that are doubtful for Broadway engagements in a nervous, recession-wary environment.
"There are so many variables in bringing a production to Broadway -- theater availability, artists' schedules, and securing capitalization to name but a few," said Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing.
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A nifty Youtube video--watch it all.
Actress Helen Mirren has played countless royals — Cleopatra, Queen Charlotte, Queen Elizabeth I and II.
It's no coincidence. Aristocracy is in the blood, she tells Renee Montagne. Even the working class women in her family were "queenly."
Her new memoir, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, outlines her aristocratic beginnings, from a time before the Mirren family was known as such, until she found a very special "religion" — the theater.
No matter how perfectly she may play a queen, however, she admits that she still gets intimidated when she gets a script and sees the "enormous number of lines" she has to learn.
Listen to it all from NPR.
His recommendation [for how to watch one of his plays]?
"Pretend you're at the first play you've ever seen — have that experience — and I think 'what the play is about' will reveal itself quite readily."
Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of The New York Times, says Albee is "without peer among American playwrights."
"Certainly of his generation," Brantley says, "but I would say period."
Among living dramatists, Brantley says, no one else takes the grand themes Albee does.
"I'm not talking about questions of politics or immediate topical issues," Brantley stresses. "Edward Albee asks questions — the most basic existential questions. He confronts death, he confronts sex with, I think, eyes that remain very wide open."
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If you haven't made a 100 things I would like to do before I pass from this world to the next list, do make one and make sure seeing this musical one time is on there--KSH.
You’re almost starting to sound cynical again.
The good news is it’s a spectacular country. We’ve been around for 230 years in spite of human nature, because that’s what the Constitution is all about. It’s saying, of course everyone’s gonna try and take control. Of course they’re gonna subvert every law that’s supposed to keep them in line. Of course the president is gonna want to be imperial, of course Congress is gonna want to become obstructionist, of course the judges are gonna be activist. Duh. They figured this out in 1787 and drew up a few sheets of paper that have kept the country in line. It’s a great place to live.
Read the whole interview (Hat tip: Green Mountain Politics 1).
Mary and Joseph were headed for Bethlehem when the donkey hauling the Virgin spooked, bucked her and bolted. Joseph frantically jumped on the donkey's hind end but fell off and got caught in the reins. The creature kept going, dragging Joseph behind for several hundred feet before it finally settled down.
That mishap, of course, doesn't appear in the Bible. It's from a so-called living nativity scene that was performed here two years ago at the Fellowship Baptist Church.
These Christmas season spectacles, in which human volunteers and farm animals are recruited to stand in for Mary, Joseph and the rest of the crèche-come-to-life, are growing in popularity. They're drawing big crowds, especially children, who are sometimes allowed to pet the barn animals and take a peek at the swaddled infant starring as Baby Jesus. But the realism has ushered in some less-than-joyous moments like the one at Fellowship Baptist.
"We don't have that scene anymore," says Pastor Andy Wallin of this church near Philadelphia, which now uses a tape recording to narrate how Mary and Joseph arrived at their destination. "We gave up on trying to tame the donkey."
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“IN an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness.”
When the actor Wendell Pierce spoke these words in performances of “Waiting for Godot” here last month, he really was in the middle of nothingness, or what looked a lot like it.
The performances, by the Classical Theater of Harlem, took place outdoors in parts of the city particularly hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and slow to recover. In the Gentilly section, a gutted, storm-ruined house was used as a set. In the Lower Ninth Ward, where one of the largest black neighborhoods in a mostly black city was all but erased by roof-high water surging through a levee, the intersection of two once-busy streets was the stage.
The streets are empty now, lined with bare lots. A few trees and houses stand far off. Reclamation work by returning homeowners and volunteers is under way. But some residents live in cramped trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, here widely despised for its inefficiency. Under the circumstances, Beckett’s words sounded less like an existentialist cri de coeur than like a terse topographic description.
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When Paul Chan visited New Orleans for the first time in 2006, the gutted houses, abandoned streets and bare trees reminded him of Samuel Beckett's legendary play Waiting for Godot.
"The sense of waiting is legion here," Chan said. "People are waiting to come home. Waiting for the levee board to OK them to rebuild. Waiting for Road Home money. Waiting for honest construction crews that won't rip them off. Waiting for phone and electric companies."
The artist and activist says the desolation in New Orleans inspired him to "create art in places where we ought not have any." This weekend, Chan's vision comes to fruition in the Lower Ninth Ward, where the New York public arts group Creative Time and the Classical Theater of Harlem are staging free, outdoor performances of Waiting for Godot. They will continue next weekend in the city's Gentilly neighborhood, in front of a flooded home.
Listen to it all from NPR.
Any minister of religion who despairs of the secular obsessions of modern society hasn't been paying much attention lately to the Chicago theater scene. These last couple of weeks, it's felt like every opening night has been the harbinger of another religious debate.
Let's take it from north to south.
Up in Glencoe, Southern Protestants currently battle Southern Catholics in Evan Smith's limp new comedy, "The Savannah Disputation." In Evanston, a progressive Anglican minister is trying to square her faith with familial reality in Keith Bunin's slick, smart and theologically obsessed drama, "The Busy World is Hushed." On the North Side of Chicago, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's skilled director Anna D. Shapiro has taken that old rationalist Arthur Miller and ramped-up "The Crucible" as a probing of the dangerous gap between factual truth and hysterical belief. And in the Loop, Sarah Ruhl's unruly epic "Passion Play" is deconstructing the political and human manipulation of the Passion of the Christ over two continents, 500 years and more than three hours of stage time.
Some of this is theatrical business as usual -- to go to the theater every night is to ponder the meaning of life with atypical and probably unhealthy regularity. But you couldn't see all (or even most) of these shows without noticing the sudden preponderance of actors in vestments.
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The Broadway musical has won several awards and was later tuned into an American movie called The Birdcage, which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. La Cage features a gay couple in which one partner runs a French nightclub and the other performs there as a drag queen. The couple has been together for 20 years but make changes when their son bring home his fiancee and her conservative parents.
Janine Papin, Trinity Prep's fine-arts department chairwoman, said earlier that she wanted do the show to "push the limits." She said the play is about family and tolerance, not about homosexuality.
Fred Trabold, a 32-year-old attorney who graduated from Trinity in 1993, agreed with the bishop's decision.
"The issue is whether the Trinity Preparatory School, which is an Episcopalian school, should honor the bishop of the Episcopalian church," Trabold said. "It's not a matter of homophobia. I saw the movie The Birdcage and it was hilarious."
[Bishop John] Howe had no further comment Friday night two hours before curtain.
"I really have said all I want to about it," he said.
Ah, er, might one point out that it is the Episcopal Church? Episcopalian is a noun. Anyway, read it all.
Trinity Preparatory School's production of La Cage aux Folles will be performed off campus at a local theatre this weekend, billed as an independent show with no ties to the Episcopal school.
Headmaster Craig Maughan announced the decision in press release this morning. There will be four performances of the musical at the Orlando Repertory Theatre.
The production was to open last weekend at the private school near Winter Park but was cancelled at the request of Bishop John Howe, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Howe, a leader among the nation's conservative Episcopal bishops, thought the comedy featuring a gay couple and actors dressed in drag was inappropriate for a Christian school.
We regret the scheduling of this performance has been interpreted as a departure from our 40-year history as an Episcopal school," Maughan said in his statement Thursday. "The students who worked hard to prepare for this play had neither a political nor social agenda."
The decision to cancel the show -- a culmination of Trinity Prep's summer theatre program -- angered some students, parents and alumni who questioned why Howe should dictate shows at the independent school. They also said the award-winning musical, which opened on Broadway in 1983, promoted tolerance and family values, even if not of the traditional sort.
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Two Orlando theaters Saturday offered stages for a prep-school production of La Cage aux Folles that was halted after an Episcopal bishop complained about the show's themes.
Both the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the Orlando Repertory Theatre -- a group for youngsters -- offered Saturday to provide a venue next weekend for Trinity Preparatory School's performances.
"We do it with enthusiasm," said Jim Helsinger, artistic director of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
Trinity Prep's fine-arts director, Janine Papin, who directs the show, said Saturday that she would keep her promise to let the school's board of directors decide this week whether to let students resume performances at the school's auditorium.
"I do believe things will turn out well," she said. "I am an optimist, and I believe there is a learning lesson in all of this for us."
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The school theater production aimed to "push the limits," and it did -- way too far for its conservative Episcopal bishop.
Trinity Preparatory School canceled its opening-night performance of La Cage aux Folles on Friday at the request of Bishop John Howe, head of the Diocese of Central Florida.
"His request was not to stage the production, and we decided to honor his request," said Headmaster Craig Maughan, who called off Friday's and tonight's planned performances. "I met with the cast and all the people involved in the production and announced the decision and explained it to them."
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Update: Some background from yesterday's article in the paper here.
Daniel Beaty is the star and author of a one-man play called Emergence-See! In it, a sunken slave ship from the past — with its cargo of bones and chains — magically surfaces alongside the Statue of Liberty in present-day New York Harbor.
The play portrays the response of 43 different characters — old, young, male, female, straight and gay, all of them black — to this puzzling event. Their reactions to the suddenly inescapable memory of slavery vary dramatically.
Beaty stands 5 feet 11 inches tall. But as he changes characters, he swells into a bigger man, slumps into the size of someone smaller, and shrinks into a child. He recites poems that he has written, and he sings like a trained opera singer — which he is.
Listen to it all from NPR.
Many young people rank listening to a sermon right up there with a trip to the dentist's office or taking a pop quiz.
But what if that sermon included miming, inspiring music and dramatic dance moves?"Some people go to sleep listening to preachers," said Mason Porter, a Dallas mime who uses his talent for the dramatic to encourage people to embrace the Christian faith. "We're outta the box."
Mason and his twin brother, Jason, are founders of the Wandering Mimes Ministry, a 17-member group of Christian mimes and dancers with the motto, "We are just showing the world what they refuse to hear."
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