How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!

The Tempest
Act V, Scene 1

“Good Bye, Lenin!” is a film about a family living in Berlin during the Soviet era. The mother is dedicated to the socialist cause and after witnessing her son being beaten in a demonstration, falls into a coma. It’s October 1989. When she awakens eight months later in June 1990, her son attempts to protect her from a fatal shock by concealing what has transpired during her “absence”-the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism. He goes to such extremes as loading an endless library of old tapes of her favorite tv shows onto her set, which she believes is all new programming. And life continues in a reflection of a world that no longer exists.

That’s a bit what it feels like being out here in Pittsburgh. Barbara’s house could easily pass for a brownstone in Boerum Hill. Listening to the internet feed of WNYC is our prime source of entertainment and news outlet of choice. We don’t get out much, so it’s easy to accept the New York weather report that becomes our weather report and the local New York news that becomes our local news. The work that I’m doing in preparing for Mother Courage, the next installment of the Brecht in Exile trilogy is very much the same work as I would be doing in Brooklyn, The people on our block here could easily be transported to our block in Brooklyn, and since no one on our block in Brooklyn, except Jackie, is actually from Brooklyn, could pass as locals. They have the same warmth and generosity of spirit on Hastings St as they do on Pacific St and most likely on the block where you live. We also have the same Trader Joe’s; and, until a few days ago, we had decent Brooklyn-like coffee just around the corner. Alas, unlike New York, liquor stores are not considered essential businesses in Pittsburgh and have been closed for the duration. So far, we have been spared so much of what all of you must be going through back home right now, and time passes quietly and easily, as it once did on Pacific Street in Brooklyn.

But as pleasant and occupying as all this is, I find my mind more and more being drawn to what seems to be our most uncertain future whatever that might be.

I’ve never experienced a pandemic before. Have you? I was in New York for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, never want to experience either again, but we could accept them as moments in time when we could believe that “this too that shall pass.”

Now we just don’t know. Though a part of me holds to the belief that New York always comes back.
But right now, the closest thing that I can hold onto as almost a certainty is: we will go on making theatre. But what will that theatre look like, how will it be different, How will it remain the same? I know what we have done, but what are we in for?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lives we have chosen to put on our stage these last few years: the uncounted abolitionists of Brooklyn-brave nameless women and men who emerged, did their duty and went back to their lives. Henry V, Brutus, Rosalind, Hamlet, Murrow and Shirer, Galileo. Shen Te, and now Mother Courage. Who are these people? They are strong, they are driven, and each for their own reasons strives to keep going and, sometimes in spite of themselves, struggles for a better existence and a better, fairer world.

In his essay The director and the Actor, Brecht somewhat cynically laments that since theatre is basically an activity of the bourgeoisie, it is not possible for it to enact societal change. That can only come from the street.

The lives we put on stage are ones who gave of themselves, and, in some cases their lives, to create a path forward, to enact great change. and, even through the example of their failures, to inspire the next generation-those who are born later-to believe in and nurture a better world into existence.

I began this letter with a quote, And now I end with another.

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”  Anne Frank

 

Jim Niesen

irondale

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