Wednesday, May 30, 2007

religious logic is oxymoronic

yesterday my shakespeare gig performed+workshopped @ berman hebrew academy in rockville. now berman has been negatively mentioned in these here parts before because we got publicly prayed against, so as repeat offenders they now get called out by name for being the overprivileged brats they are. my 2nd experience with them was the day i worked with the girls probation house, but since there were more egregious happenings that day than berman's piss-poor behaviour i neglected to mention it.
so yesterday i arrived already sour because we were to perform, then sit around and wait a half-hour to workshop because they had scheduled prayers; why they didn't just book us so that they didn't need to pray in the middle is beyond me- you'd think they could find an uninterrupted 2hour-block somewhere in their school year (we book november-july) but apparently not. at least we were warned, right?
we arrived to find the stage neither clean nor lit as requested in our contract (and considering that that's all we request, from at least 15minutes pre-show to set props+costumes and fight call, it's amazing how seldom we get it) and the students as ignorant and poorly-behaved as i remembered. we cleared the stage ourselves while the teacher kept up an annoying stream of chatter about nothing.
we started the show and their lack of broughtupcy became clearer with every passing second. i hated them already when the annoying teacher came backstage and stopped our show (literally pulled us all aside offstage so that nothing was happening onstage for the audience) to inform us that their orthodoxy extends to rules of no touching or mention of body parts, and thus, by extension, no murder. now romeo+juliet alone violates all 3, and shakespeare is, as we all know, almost entirely about sex+violence, so we skipped some stuff and did an abbreviated version of our last scene, which is the murder of banquo from macbeth, but we do it as a western and it's funny, so somehow the rules didn't apply. our manager gently reminded annoying teacher (much more diplomatically than i would've) that such concerns on the part of institutions is why the contract comes with a list of what we're performing, with play, act+scene notation. annoying teacher came back with, "well, that doesn't mean we know what's in them...", which made me red one time:
1. anybody who knows even a little about shakespeare knows that the plays are about sex+violence, and a teacher should know enough to know that much.
2. everybody knows romeo and juliet die ("with a kiss" if one is even marginally more informed) whether they've seen/read the play or movie, or have no direct experience with the text @ all. it's common knowledge in any place where people have the time+resources that the name shakespeare is common knowledge.
3. most important- isn't it the responsibility of educators to familiarise themselves with any material they're exposing students to, especially when the material is being presented by an outside source?
4. if you know your organisation follows rules not followed by mainstream society, isn't it in your best interest to say so and thus ensure beforehand that these things don't happen?
5. an addition to #4- schools seek our show out and not vice versa, so berman's not checking on this shit seems like the equivalent of calling an acquaintance to accept an open invitation and saying you'd like to come for dinner, without mentioning to your host that you're vegan...
6. last season we performed @ berman with 2 dudes kissing as pyramus+thisbe from midsummer and tybalt killing mercutio followed by romeo killing tybalt and they didn't seem to care. the justification for allowing the pyramus+thisbe kiss is that it's "through the hole of this vile wall" and they "kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all", but that's just like taking it up the ass for jesus (this chick in college was christian and insisted on the virgin-until-marriage thing, but would let her boyfriend fuck her in the ass instead, as if the rules only apply to vaginas and no other orifices, or as if god just can't see past the 1st hole or there's some asshole-loophole, any of which diminish the religion by making its god dumb, blind, and/or easily lassoed by loopholes- we referred to her as the girl who took it up the ass for jesus, and i called her "holy hymen" in my mind).
7. she didn't just cause dead air onstage; she talked to us like undesirables.
so basically, i lost all respect for them as religious people and as educators. and the sad truth is, we get shit like that all the time- in various shows, i've been asked if we could do macbeth without the witches because we shouldn't give youths nightmares and ideas of the occult, and been told that romeo+juliet is too violent and the tempest teaches students to be drunk and lecherous.
on top of all this, after they prayed for their half-hour the students returned for the workshop without a single teacher- whoever usually teaches them in that timeslot decided to have a free period instead and left us alone to handle nearly 60 of their little brats (well over the student-limit on our workshops) who were so bad that for the 1st time in the 5years i've had this gig, we put someone out of our workshop- admittedly, more for not knowing when to stop than for extreme behaviour, but was ridiculous. i hated them with every fibre of my being and wished we could only work with those who deserve it, but couldn't help wondering if maybe forbidding touching arrests the development of socialised, empathetic humans.
and as a helpful hint to anybody out there who believes in these rules about not touching, perhaps it's time to accept that theatre's just not that compatible with your limitations, and make a choice about whether restriction or education is more important- when we asked berman students if people were allowed to touch to help each other when in danger (in our workshop we help them stage the scene from r+j when the friar tries to get juliet out of the tomb before she sees dead romeo but fails and she refuses to leave, risking her life) they said, only in real danger and since everything in a play is acting it doesn't count...
psa for orthodox jews (at least, those of the specific form of orthodoxy practised @ berman hebrew academy in rockville, md): theatre with absolutely no physical contact is rare; art imitates life, and in this case "life" means "experiences shared by most of humanity".
walk good.
ps: full disclosure for anyone interested in just how much berman allowed us to offend them before stopping our show, we opened with the tempest, which features drinking (but of 'mocha cappucino' instead of 'liquor' because schools have complained in the past) and 2dudes hiding under a 'gaberdine' laying one-atop-the-other, followed with r+j and pyramus+thisbe (contrast of exact same story used for tragic, then comic, effect) which features romeo killing paris over juliet's prostrate body then kissing dead-asleep-juliet and her kissing dead-romeo then killing herself with the dagger that she pulls out of dead-paris after romeo previously stuck it in there then pyramus drinking poison and stabbing himself with the dagger he pulls out of dead-juliet then accidentally smothering thisbe when she tries to lift his dead body, and followed with comedy of errors which features unfavourable (but funny) comparison of a woman's facial features to different countries, which they viewed as "mention of unspeakable body parts", apparently after confusing teeth with breasts...


Blogger crazyfool said...

the ignorance of some people is astonishing. if you choose to remain ignorant about anything, be it shakespeare or theatre in this case, then you doom yourself to continued blindness. as educators, these teachers must make the effort to enlighten themselves about all sides of every topic. if they refuse to educate themselves, how can we expect them to educate the youth with anything but their closeminded perspective? and we wonder why the youth in trouble. religion and rules have contributed to a school full of close minds. art, especially theatre can open those minds and inspire understanding. those at berman hebrew (i'll avoid calling it an academy) are doomed to continued darkness. they must first open their mind, before they can open their eyes.

2:18 am  

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