Art Making, Conversations, Healing Wars

Risk. Purpose. Love.

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Photo by Teresa Wood, courtesy of Arena Stage

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I think we need these reminder days that give us all a chance to think together about something or someone that matters to us. Before I started working on Healing Wars, a dance/theater piece set in a time warp between the American Civil War and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I used this reminder day to think about my father. He was in the 10th Mountain Division and fought in Italy during World War II. Like so many, he came home and tried to find work (his brief flirtation with communism made that even more difficult than usual for returning vets). We moved to Washington DC and then Milwaukee where he went into the family tire business and then turned to politics.

I have been reconsidering my father and his stories and myths as I set about researching the life of returning vets from these other conflicts that fill the stage of Healing Wars. In addition to reading many accounts from diaries, books and online resources, the performers and I have sat in many circles with returning soldiers and have heard their stories. It made me see that my father’s reticence in talking about his war years was a failure on all our parts. He was gregarious about so much in his life; why the quiet about those years?

What I did glean from him, was the special place in his heart he held his war companions and the way in which he missed them. I always thought of it as a kind of love that was particular to these men. Now listening, as we have over the past few years, I have come to see this yearning with a bit more clarity. It is not just love that they miss. They also miss the purposefulness of their every waking minute, even when they were waiting. And they miss the risk.

I began to ponder this more deeply as I looked at my own life. I too am addicted to these three things: risk, purpose, and love. And I see that those ingredients fill my life as an artist whether I throwing myself into a project without knowing its ending, or  building the environment for the ensemble to do its best work, or listening to countless stories from individuals who have so much to tell. I hold an absolute belief that art can make a difference especially as it emerges from inquiry, compassion, truth telling in all its ambiguity, and a certain willingness to collaborate with anyone who enters the space including the audience.

My father sought these three things too. He found his purpose in fighting for others as the secretary of Labor for the state of Wisconsin, as he fought for civil rights until the day he died. I think he found his risk by refusing to become bitter and by attempting to sustain his belief in democracy despite all its flaws. Risk. Purpose. Love. The ingredients for remembering Veterans Day.

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Art Making, Artistic Process, Conversations, Teaching

What I Didn’t Say at Dance/USA

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Me with Jawole & Ananya

It was such a surprising moment to be honored at Dance/USA a few weeks ago. Jawole Zollar’s introduction was in itself an honor, and it was a great pleasure to see so many colleagues all in one place. After giving my “speech” I sat down and then immediately realized what I had forgotten to say.

So I am saying it now.

I wanted to talk about developing laboratories that allow us to make mistakes, grow, over reach, try again. I had mine at the Dance Exchange. I was so lucky to come of age when starting a non-profit was relatively easy – there weren’t so many rules. I was lucky enough to have a steady stream of wonderful curious performers, teachers, administrators and partners who came to the organization and might have stayed a few months or many years. Each person helped me carve out who I was and what I believed in. And then, almost three years ago, I left it in the hands of a remarkable group of artists and managers led by the amazing Cassie Meador. They are busy remaking everything, as they should. And I am busy discovering myself as an individual again. Which is a fine thing to do at my age.

I wish I had said all of this in Minneapolis, but I didn’t, so I’m saying it now. I was thinking it all along … and now others can hear it too.

Thanks,

Liz

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Art Making, Conversations, Healing Wars

A conversation with Paula Vogel

One of the perks of working on a Civil War Christmas at CenterStage in Baltimore was getting to share a brief cup of tea with the playwright Paula Vogel. We talked about many things including the collaborative systems in theater, how to manage dialogue on stage, and our shared interest in projects involving veterans from our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In one sentence she said (and I paraphrase) that her sense is that the veteran’s PTSD gets worse as they tell the story over and over.  Somewhere in that process she believed they needed something else and so she brought in actors and had the vets “direct” them in the action.

I found this idea so compelling that on our recent residency at Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), I decided to try it.  We had an afternoon workshop with the performers in the piece along with a nurse from the Vietnam War, a young woman home from her recent  deployment , and a mother who had lost her son in Iraq.  It was an amazing two hours filled with stories, premonitions and tears.   And we also had our visitors give us direction on how to perform some of the ideas of the project we are working on called Healing Wars.

I don’t know if any of what happened will “make it into” the performance piece.  But I do know that the way we were affected will, and that the movement and storytelling that came after our encounter that afternoon will carry forward in our bodies for a very long time.

-Liz

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