Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So I do recall promising Becky a good number of posts ago that I would post a poem. I've yet to do that, and I don't really have a poem to post about No Fog West so I guess I'll just say a few things about this amazing summer. (Mind you, my writing style can be a bit incoherent so maybe we all should pretend that this is a poem in which anything goes.)

We all stood on a black stage and recited lines that blurred the lines between us vs. them. We displayed the ambiguity of humanity. We were the waves that washed away the fragile but firm lines in the sand. A lot of lines were blurred this summer.

Sitting in the house of someone I barely knew, I talked until a stranger transformed into a friend. On the front lawn of a hotel, I cried until I forgot who I was and someone was there to remind me. In the seclusion of an non-air conditioned car, we sang to the Killers until I was convinced I was already home. On the stage of a warm theater, I remembered things that had never happened to me and mourned over moments I never shared.

Having spent six weeks in the company of former strangers, I am more confused about my life and being than I have ever been. Because of this, I also find myself in the happiest state I have ever experienced.

There is something to be said about the beauty that can be found in confusion. I'm in the process of finding myself and losing myself all at the same time.

I think maybe this experience was a great thing.
an unforgettable thing.
a beautiful thing.
I think maybe I am the better because of it.

I've been thinking a lot lately.

In process of these 6 and some-odd weeks, I only managed to finish reading one book. In comparison to the numerous books everyone else read, I should probably be ashamed. But lately, I have been thinking that maybe it was the one book I NEEDED to read for this experience. It was the only book I needed to read. All because of one simple statement.

I feel infinite.

I think the author described it best when he said this.

This play has made me all the more aware of my mortality, of my flaws, of my misconceptions, and of my differences with others. Yet, seeing these things in me and in others have showed a humanity that is common in everyone. Whether it be a child rebel soldier, an Irish bomber, a Bethlehem school girl, or a victim of terrorism. This humanity is ever-present in everyone and it never dies. It is infinite.

Because I am apart of this humanity. Because I can see myself in everyone. I feel infinite.

I think thats all I could really ask for.

I'm rambling. But I guess this is my first and final post for No Fog West.

Thank you for such an amazing experience. Every single moment, and every single person has changed me.

Nijae Draine

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Loggersarus Rex

I wanted to share a personal account of the breakdown on the way to Idaho. We were blasting down the road in Adam's car, blasting some Li'l Wayne, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Angels and Demons when we blasted our tailpipe. It must have had something to do with the sudden change in road quality. We thought the scraping sound was just rocks in our wheels but some dude driving past us indicated that something was very wrong. We got out and played in the dust, most notably filming ourselves with tumbleweeds blowing past. I don't know about everyone else, but I wasn't terribly frustrated by being stranded. The group decided to rescue me and Hilary because we were needed for teching. Grace traded in and we left her, Adam, Mike, and Nijae in the dust- literally. I felt like I was betraying them by leaving them stranded, but they made it back eventually.

Jamie stayed with me in the theater as I tried to figure out this manual lightboard and the funky funky set up at the Alpine Playhouse. The converted church makes for a lovely stage with great acoustics and despite it not being state-of-the-art, I haven't had to compromise the lighting much at all. Tonight was our first show and the actors, perhaps inspired by the new intimate space, put on a jolly good show.

We took a jaunt around the lake today and stopped to jump off cliffs (into the water). It was big fun. Nijae thrilled us all by performing some exquisite swimming moves (for her first time). We think she channeled a big-eared Olympian. Jamie and Max found this gigantic fallen tree that was stranded just off a beach. I commandeered it, making it my steed dragon Loggersaurus Rex and sailed on it to the cliffs. We all proceeded to have a rollicking good time horsing around on it. We could have all fit on it comfortably this thing was so long. And it really did look like a dragon.

You know, after the show tonight I really have to say that these terrorists are choosing violence because of their love. They love their homeland, their families, and when these things are threatened, some of them choose to use violence. It may not solve anything but we have to recognize that we would do the same thing if we were coming under daily attack. Max's grandfather said this and I think it wise, something to be reckoned with. We need to use the knowledge gained from producing this play to spread love and understanding amongst ourselves every day that we can. I believe the message of the play is that terrorism is as human as our ability to love and thus born out of it. We need to "think how to love" everyone around us no matter the context. It is quite challenging but indeed possible. Little things like riding a water-dragon for a half hour are enough to bring us together.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nothing is better than swimming in a lake

We have settled into our final destination, McCall, Idaho. And it is beautiful. While every place we have stayed has luckily had a backdrop of mountains, for me, McCall somehow feels the closest to nature. Maybe it is the gigantic lake smack in the middle of everything, with the promise of cliff diving in our future. But this morning, I could have sworn I smelled the familiar fragrance of Cape Cod in the summer while I was walking down the path from my home stay. More likely, I have probably just become delusional from all the traveling.

Our journey to McCall from Salt Lake was not exactly smooth. Adam's car lost his tailpipe (sadly, I had to ask what a tailpipe was and why it was necessary) and AAA informed us that because it was Sunday, no mechanics would be available until the net day. So while the majority of up traveled onto McCall to set up the theater and keep everything on track, Grace, Nijae, Mike and Adam stayed in Boise to wait for the repairs. Thankfully, we were all joyously reunited last night. When you are with people constantly for five weeks, a day and a half felt like a very long time to be separated.

As I type right now in my third beloved coffee shop of the trip, Mountain Java, the rest of the cast and crew are doing a tech rehearsal at the Alpine Playhouse. Its taking some time, since all the lights have to be done manually for every cue. But hopefully we will have time for another dip in the lake before dinner.

I just wanted to end with an article about us in "In Utah This Week." I hope you are as tickled by it as my mom and I were.

Lifting the Fog
No Fog West Theater seeks to clear the mists of silence surrounding terrorism.
by Kelly Ashkettle

When Becky Katz’ mother heard that her 20-year-old daughter was going to be the road manager for a touring production of a play called “Talking to Terrorists,” she asked, “Why don’t you do something on gay marriage or abortion �" less controversial issues?”

In a red state like Utah, such a question is amusing, which perfectly illustrates the very point of the play: that cultural differences can vastly impact a person’s values. Katz’ mother wasn’t trying to make a joke: She hails from a liberal Jewish Brooklyn community where embracing gay rights and being pro-choice is part of the cultural norm, but it’s too traumatic to face the ideas of the people responsible for the 9/11 attacks that resulted in the deaths of so many of her neighbors.

“I witnessed the second plane crash from my classroom window,” Katz recalls. “It affects me every day and every year more and more. I was 12 when it happened, and I went to a Jewish day school. My teacher told our class, ‘Now you know how it feels to live in Israel every day.’ Originally I thought it was a cruel and unnecessary thing to say, but it always stuck with me that for America, for our generation, this was the big moment where we finally felt our safety threatened, and that in these places it happens every single day.”

Unlike her mother, Katz isn’t willing to shy away from the emotions behind terrorist acts. “For me, the fact that it’s controversial and that I have such an intensely gut reaction to this play means that I have to talk about it,” she explains. “Every time we want to change the world, we have to be uncomfortable. If something makes you uncomfortable and challenges you and makes you reassess the way you look at the world, then that’s something to pursue; that’s something worthy.”

It was much the same sentiments that led to the formation of No Fog West, the theater company Katz is working with. As a high school senior in Sheridan, Wyoming, Grace Cannon tried to convince her school to stage a production of “The Laramie Project,” a play about the 1998 hate crime murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Although the play is one of the most frequently performed in the country, it has only been staged a few times in Wyoming. Cannon’s high school refused to stage the play, but she took with her the dream of staging it in Wyoming as she went off to college at Vassar.

In her freshman year, she met fellow freshmen Max Hershenow of McCall, Idaho, and Madeleine Joyce of Denver, Colo., and convinced them to share her vision. The trio formed a board of directors, founded a company, rounded up some donors and some student actors, and performed the play for two weeks at a theater in Sheridan, Wyo. All by the age of 19.

This summer marks No Fog West’s second season. “Talking to Terrorists” is by Robin Soanes, a British playwright, and it is entirely composed of interwoven testimonies of ex-terrorists and their victims from all over the world. “What this play shows is that terrorism is a much older issue than 9/11 and it’s much more global. Only one of the five terrorists interviewed is from the Middle East,” notes Hershenow, the play’s director. 

Hershenow was speaking by phone on Monday after newly arriving here in Salt Lake City, where his aunt lives. She and her friends and neighbors are hosting the twelve young actors and crew members in their homes this week for the Salt Lake leg of their “Talking to Terrorists” tour. The troupe spent last week in Sheridan, Wyoming. Next week, they’ll move on to Hershenow’s hometown of McCall, Idaho.

Each performance of “Talking to Terrorists” is followed by a community discussion about the play, and Katz says she thinks the most useful of the Wyoming discussions was the one where she felt the audience was the least liberal. “It’s great to talk about these issues with people who agree with you and really talk about ways we can enact change, but the reason we wanted to do the play is to engage people who don’t think like us, to really have these interesting conversations from different points of view,” she says. “We want people with an open mind, no matter what mind that is.”

Hershenow says, “Our whole idea is creating theater about pertinent social issues that begins a conversation. There may be other opinions about the issue, or different ways of looking at it or just different ways or talking about it, but maybe there’s just not a forum in which these things can be discussed. Our idea is to create that kind of environment.”

The implication is that talking can lead to understanding of our differences, and that understanding can eliminate the need for terrorism. As Katz explains, “Terrorism has become part of our daily lives, both with the Iraq war and with Sept. 11, but I don’t think we’re having enough honest conversations about what terrorism means and what stereotypes we’re associating with it and how we’re using that word. We really need to start right now. It should have started seven years ago.”


Friday, August 8, 2008

The Salt Lake experience

Hi readers,

Tomorrow night is our last night here! We have averaged around 20-30 people every night, which is both lovely, since many of our friends and family have come out to support us, but also a little bit frustrating, since we do not seem to be attracting very many people who don't personally know us. And those individuals who do come generally do not stay for the talk backs afterwards. I was hoping with all the great publicity we have been getting, we might exceed my expectations for the number of audience members, but my optimistic side has been disappointed. Maybe this Saturday night, we will be greeted with a great rush of people at our doors. I just wish we had more time here to build a momentum, sneakily worming our way into every aspect of Salt Lake life. But thank you so much to everyone who has come and to the wonderful, welcoming community we have found here!

Yesterday, a group of us journeyed down to the Great Salt Lake and the Spiral Jetty (by Robert Smithson). The water looks like a unicorn's fantasy- a beautiful pink surrounded by crystalized salt in perfect geometric shapes. Unfortunately, the tide was low and the sand covered by sharp salt (it felt like walking on shards of glass), so we did not get to do too much floating and swimming. However, it was great coming back feeling the lazy exhaustion of spending a day at the beach.

I wanted to include a link a blog that has eloquently captured the spirit of our play. Thank you so much for writing about us, Davey! Check it out at http://www.dadarobotnik.blogspot.com/.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leaving Home

As we spend the day packing up to leave bright and early tomorrow morning for Salt Lake City, it's hard not to get ahead of ourselves. It is weird to really think about leaving Sheridan and Wyoming, especially for me. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to share my home with these wonderful people from all over the country and likewise to share these talented and intelligent people with my community. Our last performance and audience discussion is tonight. I want to savor it, but we've got to plan ahead at the same time.

For right now, though, I want to take the time to thank Sheridan. This community has supported us, challenged us, laughed with us and talked with us. That is all we could ever ask for.

I thought I would also insert the letter to the editor that I wrote to The Sheridan Press, which was not published in time for our performances this weekend.

Dear Editor:

Our world is full of divisions. We distinguish “us” from “them” by country borders, languages, dialects, beliefs and skin tone. It is easy to simplify the “other” and to fear their unpredictably evil acts by virtue of misunderstanding. I have been derided at times for implying that those we refer to as terrorists should be talked to, rather than shot at. I have been told I am na├»ve not to dismiss someone of a certain skin color and religious belief as animals or otherwise unalterably scary things. I understand why people fall into the habit of hating the unknown. It is so much easier.

Imagine the feat of empathy, of recognizing humanity. For really, there is no “other” that is not also a part of the much larger “we.”

I write to you and to the city of Sheridan to invite you to overcome terror and personal fear, to talk about what might make you angry, to laugh and to listen. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm at the Carriage House Theater, No Fog West Theater Company will present “Talking to Terrorists,” a play by Robin Soans.

Our goal in producing this play has been to challenge ourselves as well as our audiences in our preconceptions and our emotions. We hope you will join us this weekend with open minds and open hearts.

There is a lot to be said.

Grace Cannon

Friday, August 1, 2008

has the day we have been waiting for already passed?

Our first performance was last night! Because we have been having rehearsals in the week leading up to it at the same time as our actual performances would be, the day itself did not feel like anything special. Even after our encounter with the protester, it still felt, for me, like any other day of rehearsal. It only started to feel real when people, actual paying audience members!, began to stream in. Even though I did not have the pressure of being onstage, I still felt that horrible and exciting weight in my stomach. We had around 30-35 people come see the show, a great turn out for a play with our controversial title. Hopefully, one of the actors will write about their experience on stage, but back stage, everything went smoothly. Sadly, I just realized I will never see the whole performance of the play.

I think the play itself is much less explosive than people would expect. It simply presents humans talking to humans, allowing all the propaganda, prejudgments and stereotypes everybody carries with them to take a break for two hours.

Seven people stayed for the after show discussion, an understandable turn out for how late the show ended (one woman told me that it was past her bedtime). I was a little worried that people might be shocked into silence, but everybody participated in the talk back. What stuck with me the most was when one man, who before the show was arguing that talking to terrorists was an oxymoron because terrorists, by their categorization, don't want to talk to anyone, said he became emotional when listening to the I.R.A terrorist's story. His family was from Ireland- he remembered people at Irish bars in Boston trying to collect money for the IRA and thought it was the least he could do for the cause. I guess this is the best example how terrorism is relative. As one audience member wonderfully put it, there is good and evil in every nation, but we would each like to believe we are the ultimate good and our enemy is the ultimate bad.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

we have our first protester

Dear Friends and Family,

Max, Nathan, and I (Becky) were working in the wonderful cafe (that has become my third home, after the Davis's), Java Moon, when somebody told us that there was a protester outside the restaurant. She is holding a sign that says " Talking to Terrorists? Endanger our Military? Shame on You!" The protester, an older woman somewhere between the ages of 60-70, believes a quote on our poster, that says, "I realised that if I had been born in Crossmaglen or South Armagh, I would have been a terrorist. And that's an understanding every soldier should have. None of this is personal," means that we are saying that if we had been born in Baghdad, we would have been terrorists. However, the quote is actually a colonel talking about Ireland (South Armagh and Crossmaglen are both in Ireland. There seems to be this concept that not supporting the war in Iraq somehow translates into not supporting and hoping for the safety of the troops. Maybe it is a repercussion of how terribly the country treated the troops who fought during the Vietnam War. But I condemn the war and support the troops. Yet that opinion of mine does not factor at all into or show up at all in the play.

She was talking to a couple on the sidewalk and after she was finished, I went up to them to explain what our play was really about. I told them that the play did not offer a stance on the American troops in Iraq, but rather presented a British view on terrorism. The man replied to me "The British are dumbasses. That is why we kicked them out out of our country. The British and the French are dumbasses." I just walked away at that point.

To me the protester misunderstood us. Grace saw a tanned man in golfing gear give her a thumbs us. Is this what we should expect from some of our audience tonight? Is there any chance of a true dialogue with the protester and people who share her views? I do not think she will listen to us, to anything we say, for even a minute. I am scared of the people who come to the play with closed minds, there to argue with and shame us for what we are trying to do.