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Man's Extremity is live Theatre's Opportunity


By Jason Chimonides, professor of drama at Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Last night, I had the illuminating pleasure to read, with a very talented cast of student actors, Caridad Svich’s The Way of Water for a large audience of freshman Honors College students. The audience and actors entered instantly into an easy and engaging rapport with the play. The colorful exuberance of the characters, their distinctive locality and the specificity of their lives and worldview jumped off the stage and there was a strong identification with and affection for all of the characters: their struggles, their yearnings and the incremental and devastating discovery of their almost post-apocalyptic situation.

To me, as the director of the reading, I discovered that it is quite the hallucination to think that the people of the Gulf are somehow distinct from the Gulf itself.  I was raised in Tallahassee, FL, 45 miles from this calm and mystical water and I know first -hand that they are a unitary system.  Like bees and flowers. This basic interdependence, though the most painfully obvious fact, is somehow the most elusive thing to FEEL.  Not just to understand intellectually, but to experience.  In the way one experiences the BLUE in SKY.  And the rupture that this ecological homeostasis underwent as a result of the spill and its attendant miseries is yet another reminder that technological man, “Homo Colossus”, has, in many ways reached a dead end - and is in very grave danger of choking on its own pollutants.

In fact, as the play, (and history), make clear, it already is.

And the social and spiritual effects, the total ecological cost, evoke a tremendous compassion in me. What a snarl we all have to untangle. But, as this project evokes – there is an unyielding capacity and yearning in the human being (perhaps because we ARE 70 percent water), to move our world into greater accord with The Way of Water, which to me is a metaphor for the Ancient Chinese concept of The Tao: the mysterious, spontaneous intelligence of nature and its eternal capacity to rebalance itself. The universe, as the late philosopher Alan Watts once said, “always bounces.”

In the discussion that followed the reading, I was struck, as I frequently am, by the millennial generation’s capacity to see clearly. They are a generation who grew up online.  Their consciousnesses have been intensely shaped by a cataract of cosmically fragmented information.  Bits and bits and bits and bits and bits…

And projects like The Way of Water provide them with an opportunity to touch the earth again.  To return to the ground of their being and to paradoxically, see straight through the delusion of the media cycle, the BP propaganda, “Drill baby drill” and the tenacity of the Cultural Ego to want to beat nature into submission.  They get the message. Instantly. And in almost every case I’ve witnessed, intelligent, reflective young people find this re-membering incredibly refreshing.

Like a strong, exhilarating cup of espresso.

Still, to be perfectly honest, there is also a strong whiff of fatalism in their psyches, of an innate and protective disassociation, and I felt this in the comments of the students: “yes,” they seem to say, “This is incredibly messed up. DUH! On to the next viral tragedy…”

Consciousness is so fragmented.  And so is compassion.

They live a paradox.  Since the internet has given them a visceral understanding of interdependence, though they understand human costs, their empathy is weakened by innumerable exposures to colossal, global disruption.  Remember, these students were in third grade on September 11th, 2001.

They understandably feel overwhelmed.  They grew up saturated with symbolic depictions of large scale human folly – and are, as a result, perhaps, profoundly, overwhelmed by voluminous DATA.  The sheer scale of the symbolic world in which they are immersed is exhausting in the stimulation it confers and many feel, because of their close dance with technology, social media, etc. increasingly depersonalized because of it - under surveillance, bombarded, disillusioned, etc.

That’s where the power of The Way of Water comes in.

Man’s extremity is live theater’s opportunity. An immediate and precise chamber piece on the stage, like this one – about human beings  - which points directly to an ultimate interdependence, is, I believe,  like the flow of water over rocks.  Deep and immediate.   And it smoothes and shapes and hone us, one at a time.

Thanks for the opportunity to share in this project.

Jason Chimonides
Assistant Professor, IUP Dept. of Theater and Dance

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Indiana University of Pennsylvania on April 10th, 2012 at 7pm, sponsored by the IUP Honors College.