Monday, 13 November 2017

Shaw and Ideas

George Bernard Shaw is probably who I could
have been, if I had the work ethic of a late Victorian, a sincere belief in socialism and the ability to grow a proper beard. His writing, unlike his beard, is now out of fashion (probably because his formality now reads like a pompous ramble), but his ideas are a bridge between enlightenment dramaturgy and Brecht, affirming the political potential of theatre and demanding a scientific methodology for the playwright.

Incidentally, reading Shaw explains why all of the Big Ideas that are currently tearing up the internet are around a century old. He's writing in a period when having a Big Idea (socialism, capitalism, religious belief) wasn't an embarrassment or evidence of stupidity. Post-modernism put paid to the dream of the meta-narrative, the one big story that explains everything, but GBS was a modernist, and could conjure up whatever scale of theory he fancied. The best I can go  - and retain any sense of integrity - is place events in their historical context, and have a bit of an idea about a specific event, and not assume that idea can apply anywhere else. 

Back to GBS' dramaturgy... he's a big fan of Ibsen, because he saw in his plays an echo of the revolutionary fervour that infected his politics. While other critics thought that Ghosts or A Doll's House were out of the gutter... GBS agreed, but hoped that gutter could undermine the dull complacency of British society. Pointing out the way in which oppression corrupts the individual - but not in the hyper-erotic manner of Genet's Maids, which traces the sexualisation of oppression into escapist fantasy - Ibsen was, for Shaw, the herald of a new social realism. How could capitalism stand against the shock tactics of the naturalists.

As it turned out, and as Shaw describes in the second edition of his Quintessence of Ibsen, it could by a process of assimilation. Here's where GBS shows his smarts, realising that capitalism can integrate any revolt against its values by emphasising those qualities that support the status quo, and quietly ignoring its dangerous elements. He gives the example of Shelley, who was once a deadly atheist: by the end of the nineteenth century, he was included in the cultural pantheon, because weren't his words just so... poetic. Or, in the words of Tori Amos:

Is it true, devils end up like you - something safe for the picture frame?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Pilgrim's Dramaturgy: Lee Gershuny @ Storytelling Centre

Pilgrim’s Progress – a Modern Monk’s Journey through Poetry and Music

Join Lee Gershuny and friends as they take to the road from Pathhead to Glasgow to discover a little more about life and love

Join a modern monk as he, or sometimes she, makes a pilgrimage across central Scotland and explores the mysteries of life and love.

Reflections of a Constant Monk is a joyful and highly original show that combines performance, music and poetry.

It takes audiences on a quest to discover a little more about themselves and their place in the universe.

What was the inspiration for this performance?  
About 40 years ago I dreamed that a group of monks and I were looking for "a lost monk" -- someone of no particular religious affiliation -- just a lone wanderer, seeking love and a more conscious way of life.  About 10 years ago I realized I was "the lost Monk" I had been looking for in my dream and studied and practised meditation with a group of meditation teachers who called themselves "modern day monks."   

During that 10 year period, I became a meditation teacher, i.e., a "modern day Monk" and wrote and produced 7 new plays. In 2016 I thought I had nothing else I wanted to say in theatre.  Then on holiday in Mexico, I  remembered that I still had one voice that really wasn't "my own voice," -but the voice of the modern day "Monk."      

How did you become interested in making performance?  
My poetry has always had dialogue.  It seemed a natural development.  I also lived in Manhattan for many years and frequently went to the theatre for inspiration. 
I favoured the oral reading of poetry more than the silent reading of it and felt performance art like that of Laurie Anderson was a great mix of music, text and improvisation --- a real collaboration.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
The poetry inspired the composer/director.  I arranged the poetry in a sequence that suggested the many challenges the Monk faced with each poem completing its own narrative.  Each poem told a different episode in the Monk's life journey.                                                                                                                                       
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
This show is a major departure from my usual productions.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
From what the audience said and seemed to experience last year in Summerhall performances and Henry's Cellar Bar in Edinburgh,  they experienced the show more deeply more than I had expected.  Even in a "jazz bar," the audience was riveted without a sound of crisp wrappers, glasses clinking or liquid being poured.  

I would say, many if not all were in a "meditative state" -- silent and attentive to the resolution of each poem.  If they had tried to understand each poem, the listener would have missed the "experience" of the music and the next poem's adventure.  Many said, they became very emotional, found the performance riveting and thought-provoking with some laughing in the "right" places.  

In effect, the audience had to surrender the "monkey mind" non-stop thinking or trying to figure it out and simply pay attention to whatever presented itself in the moment in music and words.  
"These poems illuminate the spiritual path with a zen koan quality that is both profound and delightful." -- Narain, Mastery Meditation Teacher of The Bright Path

The three-date tour follows on from a successful premiere at Edinburgh’s Summerhall last year as part of the Luminate festival of creative ageing.

The monk comes from the imagination of award-winning Scottish-based New York playwright and poet Lee Gershuny. It is presented by Edinburgh’s Elements World Theatre and the performers are all aged 50 to 70.

Gershuny said: “This is a show which is bursting with life and follows the fortunes of a modern monk who is full of playful curiosity about the world.

“It’s about discovering what really matters and explores the big questions about life, love and our own mortality.

“This is a production that comes out of lived experience and the process we all go through as the certainties of youth begin to blur and we start to gain enough wisdom to recognise how little we really know.

“The monk could be any of us, someone who begins to understand that gender, religion, culture and background aren’t really the essence of who we are.”

The sense of fluidity, not least in gender, marks out Reflections of a Constant Monk as being very much a contemporary piece of work.

Yet there’s a timelessness in the questions it addresses like whether life has purpose, why bullies get away with trampling the weak and why we always seem to be on the brink of catastrophes of our own making.

Gentle and funny, poignant and intelligently observed, Reflections of a Constant Monk is full of parables, insights and questions but refreshingly free of firm conclusions.

Gershuny is joined on stage by an accomplished cast consisting of Robin Mason, music composer and director, James Bryce on keyboards and Peter Galinsky on clarinet.

- Ends -

Listings information

·       Poetry, music, theatre
·       Duration: 60 minutes
·       Suitability: All ages

Saturday, 11 November, 7:30 pm
Pathhead Town Hall, 11 Main Street, Pathhead, EH37 5PZ
Ticket Prices: £6 In Advance / £10 At the Door
Advanced Ticket Sales at Wahlberg’s in Pathhead 
Post Performance Discussion and Coffee  

Wednesday, 15 November, 8:00 pm
The Poetry Club,100 Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG
Ticket Prices: £8 In Advance / £10 At the Door
Tickets Scotland: 0141 204 5151 or 0131 220-3234

Thursday, 16 November, 7:30 pm
Scottish Storytelling Centre                                             
43-45 High Street
Edinburgh EH1 1SR
Post Performance Q & A
Ticket Prices: £8 / £6 concession / £5.50 (SCS)
Box Office: 0131 556 9579 or

About Lee Gershuny

·       Lee Gershuny PhD is founder and Artistic Director of Elements World Theatre.
·       She is an internationally published poet and award-winning playwright in both the UK and USA.
·       From 1992 to the present, she has written all the plays that the The Elements World Theatre have produced as well as developed and directed innovative collaborative theatre with professional and “natural” performers of all ages and backgrounds nationally and internationally.
·       Her poetry has appeared in Southlight (Scotland); the international We ’Moon Almanac; The Art of Dis/appearing: Jewish Women on Mental Health, edited by Leah Thorn; and in print and spoken word in Sarawut Chutiwongpeti’s video art and installations in Australia, Finland, Thailand and the USA. She has also presented her poetry in collaborative performance with dancers and musicians.