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I have a confession. What’s on my mind today actually began in the mind of Roni Sipp. If you’ve been to Irondale, you almost certainly have run into Roni. She is one of the valued third generation members of the company. I say third generation, because she’s not only young enough to be my child, but she could also be Mac’s. Roni performs technical magic, is a first-rate designer, and if you came to The Good Soul, she no doubt met you in the lobby and sold you your ticket. So, at the Monday Zoom Irondale staff meeting, the conversation turned to how could we as a theatre, which is by definition a communal art form, come up with meaningful programming to sustain our audience, community and extended friends and family during this time of social distancing. Roni’s idea: a 24-hour online Shakespeare marathon. Specifics to be determined.

My mom and dad fell in love through letters. It was World War II, and there was a lot of social distancing going on. They had known each other slightly before Pearl Harbor but you could hardly say they were friends. Simply put, Mom thought Dad was stuck up. And dad was too shy to be able to counter this opinion. But during the war it was something of a civic duty to write to men in uniform. They attended the same church in St Louis, and Dad was a leader in the Boy Scout troop where mom’s favorite nephew was a member. Anyone who worked with kids was OK in her book, so Dad made the list of people to whom she wrote. We don’t know what happened to Mom’s letters, but I have a shoe box filled with Dad’s. Somewhere along the line the correspondence got serious, and almost embarrassing in how personal it became. it’s an odd feeling to read the awkward words of a 30-year-old, naïve young man whom I knew only as a loving but at times intimidating, father. One week before Germany surrendered, they were married during his two-week furlough, and nine months later I showed up.

Their hopes for an ideal world were modest in those letters Dad wrote from the Atlantic shipping lanes and later the South Pacific – an apartment of their own in the old neighborhood, but in those stressful times they became important dreams that reminded them of the better life to come when this world wide chaos had reached its conclusion.
The power of words sent out to someone you cared about and whose spirits you wanted to lift up.

What better words than Shakespeare’s to do the same.

So, here’s our idea and we hope that as many of you will join us as possible. We want to do a 12-hour marathon of Shakespeare’s sonnets, casting our net wide to include not only the Irondale company and extended family, but friends of friends and their friends as well. We’d like to make this go viral, in a good way for a change.

Each participant will have up to 5 minutes to read their favorite sonnet and if they choose to say something about their own dreams for the return to a better, normal world following our own anxious time. If dreams for the future are too much right now maybe you could just tell us something that happened to you or that you observed that reminds you that there are a lot of people reaching out to one another as they go about their daily lives. Let’s use the power of this thing called the theatre to sustain our spirits and get this word out to others.

We’ll be sending out details of how you can be a part of this shortly.

My mind races back to a quote from Peter Brook’s The Empty Space.

“Germany after the war. In a Hamburg garret I once saw a production of Crime and Punishment, and that evening became, before its four-hour stretch was over, one of the most striking theatre experiences I have ever had. By sheer necessity, all problems of theatre style vanished: here was the real mainstream, the essence of an art that stems from the storyteller looking round his audience and beginning to speak. All the theatres in the town had been destroyed, but here, in this attic, when an actor in a chair touching our knees began quietly to say, ‘It was in the year of 18– that a young student, Roman Rodianovitch Raskolnikov…’ we were gripped by living theatre.

”We were listeners, children hearing a bedside story yet at the same time adults, fully aware of all that was going on. A moment later, a few inches away, an attic door creaked open and an actor impersonating Raskolnikov appeared, and already we were deep in the drama. The door at one instant seemed a total evocation of a streetlamp; an instant later it became the door of the money-lender’s apartment, and still a second later the passage to her inner room. Yet, as these were only fragmentary impressions that only came into being at the instant they were required, and at once vanished again, we never lost sight of being crammed together in a crowded room, following a story. The narrator could add details, he could explain and philosophize, the characters themselves could slip from naturalistic acting into monologue, one actor could, by hunching his back, slip from one characterization to another, and point for point, dot for dot, stroke for stroke, the whole complex world of Dostoevsky’s novel was recreated.”

What kind of communal, theatrical world can all of us create.
Please say you’ll do it.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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