Showing posts from October, 2009

I Laughed, I Cried, It Was Better Than Catharsis

When I teach at the BuildaBridge Institute for Arts in Transformation in Bryn Mawr, PA, I'm sent to work in shelters with at-risk teens, while the adults registered for the institute observe, participate, and debrief with me after. I use this description of the work in my handouts: Bodies and voices become instruments for change as participants explore societal concerns in a deeply personal way. We’ll call what we do “sociodrama,” though in truth we’ll borrow from a variety of excellent techniques to make a safe, enjoyable space for improvisation and image-making. Participants will try on roles and appreciate multiple viewpoints on issues as they "rehearse for reality," to borrow a phrase from Theater of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal. Each session will aim to be complete in itself—a necessary goal when dealing with transitional populations—though subsequent days will build on what has been previously accomplished. The simplest way to distinguish between sociodr


I'd like to think it was my drama curriculum, but my wild rice chicken salad probably should get some credit. Greg had invited Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt, author of Sound of the Harvest and Taking it to the Streets: using the arts to transform your community , to speak at Northwestern College back when we lived in Orange City, Iowa. He then asked Nathan over for lunch--the wild rice salad and bran muffins--and a few months later, I was teaching theatre to a handful of adults at the Campolo School for Social Change, for Corbitt's organization BuildaBridge. Over the next several years this annual institute grew, and I was privileged to teach at several homeless shelters in the Philadelphia area. These Monday nights I write about, my weekly teaching of theatre in a shelter here in Grand Rapids? Probably never would have happened were it not for BuildaBridge. BuildaBridge takes the arts to the tough places of Philadelphia; I can testify personally to the impact they have made. They'

Club Freedom (of Speech)

I've defended the antics of David Blaine, and, at 13, the effects of The Empire Strikes Back . I've rallied against TV shopping carts, hatemongers, and Michelle Malkin. Sorry to be redundant. I've... written lots of letters to editors. I love this medium; I love that my grandfather, with his grade school education, was prolific on the editorial page of The Beaver County Times . And I especially appreciate that the playing field is leveled: journalist writes for newspaper, average citizen's opinion is printed in same paper. But when my most recent letter appeared in the online edition of The Grand Rapids Press , the "Post A Comment" section made the occasion of publication a little more interesting than usual. Where I had taken time to make my point cleverly and succinctly within The Press's word count; submit it; return a phone call verifying I lived where I said I did; and hope the letter was good enough to be printed, anyone who registered on the site c

The Hours

Monday's session with the women at the shelter warrants not an essay this week but a sketch, instead. They'll pay you for a whole hour, she said, niggers can’t get hard. Hey honey, can I have a ride? But I was already leaning close to the intercom, announcing who I am and my purpose there. With the buzz I left her on the street. I asked the women upstairs Why all the commotion tonight, Why the extra bodies about. The nice weather, they said, rolling out their sleeping mats. For the one face I don’t know, whose eyes stay on the floor, I started my speech. If you believe in the story of Jesus, I said, You believe God took on a body. Put on skin and bones. He didn’t have to do that. There's something special about these bodies we’ve been given. She looked up at me. I led our exercises. This took forty-five minutes, an hour. I left. Down the steps and out, I passed the woman again, and drove by a band of men now encircling her, casting lots for her


And my current choice of reading material? "Huge in a Hurry."

A Call to Arms

I like the weight room because it's full of men. There are obvious reasons for my preference, and practical concerns, as well. For starters, men mostly mind their own business. They sweat, grunt and throw heavy weights to the floor, all off by their lonesome. You can mostly ignore them and continue with your workout uninterrupted unless they're throwing the heavy weights close to your head, or unless they're treating you like a helpless maiden, asking you if you need their expert assistance even though you were just rowing 140lbs, which was on a double pulley system but still . Not that I have any experience with this. But women, see, when they do deign to appear in the weight room, are not so easily ignored. For one, many are chatty. They don't know the rule about not talking while working out unless someone gives you a clear signal they want to know you better. These women will tell you about their basement flooding, their kid with the flu, the pros and cons of Fluffy

When Groups Play

Heaped onto the buffet of my interests and vocations is a job in television. For Calvin College's interview show Inner Compass, you'll find me researching topics, writing questions, powdering bald heads and styling flyaway hairs. I've run sound and recently begun editing video, as well. My hand was heavy in many aspects of this episode , "When Groups Play: Flash Mobs and Urban Experiments," from its genesis to the final edit. At around 1:10 there's a video package I produced and for which I slept with the composer to get some good music. My (and the composer's) son Simon, in jungle hat, is interviewed in the package; parts of the rest of my family appear, as well.

Reality Check

Denise was addicted for twenty years to one drug. Now in recovery, she works part-time for a staffing agency. This past Monday, and perhaps on other nights, too, she slept in a homeless shelter. But do not think of her as “down,” she says. “That’s what people get wrong, you see,” she says. “I had my low days, for sure, but there were good days, too. All was not bad.” She was speaking of her years as an addict, but her self-assured stance made clear she wanted me to know she would not let her current circumstances pull her under, either. Thank goodness our burdens mercifully slough away on occasion. When I’m with the women at this overnight shelter on Monday evenings, they’re tired from walking miles to a job interview or traveling back and forth between missions that provide food and assistance. But they’re also enjoying the opportunity to relax, they’re massaging lotion onto their arms after a refreshing shower, and I almost forget why they’re there. Always, ther

Thinking About Art

My family and I finished up our ArtPrize tour with a special trip to see Young Kim's salt & earth , an installation of portraits comprised entirely of salt and clay. I saw it, I heard how he did it (think silkscreening), yet I can still hardly believe it's possible. Transitory art, photography of the moment. These portraits of local people, already deteriorating from humidity and vandalism, will be swept away in a few days. The enjoyment of the piece is fleeting, as are the lives represented there, and those viewing them. Our local paper has done a nice job of covering ArtPrize and acquainting the unfamiliar with how to experience these creations. The tips offered in today's edition were particularly helpful as a guide to voting by tonight's final deadline. In my words: -Go with your gut. Does a piece move you? -Look for evidence of skill. How well is it crafted? -Search for significance. What's the larger meaning? These "local experts" thankfully pu


ArtPrize wraps up this week. Voting has narrowed now to the top ten finalists, including the portrait above made entirely of pushpins. My vote goes to Tracy Van Duinen's mosaic , which fortunately will stay in town after the competition is said and done. But I also loved the 100,000 airplanes soaring from the tops of downtown buildings; the red ball squished into a new place daily; people made of packing tape. For two weeks, art was everywhere and for everyone. Again I ask you: How cool is Grand Rapids?

Breaking Through the Blockade

At a church we used to attend, a well-meaning fellow often led children's sermons during the regular service. Paying no mind to the fact that young children are incapable of following metaphors, he'd grab an object, any object, and wring out all the symbolism it could spare, and more: "This flashlight Jesus! Jesus shines a light into the darkness. The batteries I mean, our daily Bible reading. (Children begin looking about, waving to parents.) Reading our Bibles daily gives us the power to shine Jesus into the dark. But you have to hit the ON switch, right? (A little girl stands, and holds up her dress.) Switching the flashlight ON is like..anybody know? (little girl showing panties, into microphone: "I have a Barbie purse.") Hey, that's great. Does it have sequins? That would shine a light, too, huh? So the switch is...the Holy Spirit. And God is holding the flashlight, like how you hold your Barbie purse! The flashlight represen

Oh Blessed Hisses

So a local church is offering a Blessing of the Pets in its parking lot this Sunday. The event celebrates the feast of St. Francis, who had a special communion with the natural world. Father Len Sudlik says the saint "viewed God's creation and all living creatures living in harmony." I wonder how harmonious it would be if we presented our giant hissing cockroaches for a little blessing. Theo thinks if we take a camera, we might finally get on "America's Funniest Home Videos." Meanwhile, it's too cold for these Africans in our garage, and they've moved inside. Wanna visit?