|Reflections Dragon Dance Theatre's Art Director, Sam Kerson*|
|How did the Pan-Am Go...|
|The 9th Pan-American Puppetry Arts Institute was held at the Dragon Dance Theatre's grounds, between July 18 and August 15, 2004 in Worcester, Vermont.|
How did the Pan Am go?
Having reflected on this for a couple of weeks, I realize, I feel so tongue tied, when people ask, because there are really a number of different answers, as there are a number of different questions wrapped in this one little phrase.
Economically, we get a pretty good idea by looking at these few figures:
Income, grants, contributions, residencies, ticket sales, expenses
As an existing cultural exchange project between these three significant cultural groups in North America, Mexicans, mostly from the south including a high percentage of native people, Quebecers and Vermonters, Dragon Dance Theatre’s Puppetry Arts Institute is the only such project I know of. We have been making cultural exchange projects with Roberto Villaseñor’s, Comparsa for ten full years! François Bruneau was the first of the Québecers who began to collaborate with us, and that was in ’95. This summer’s Pan Am was largely Québecois. For ten years we have produced at least one large cultural exchange event, many years have seen two such events.
In these terms, people, concepts, dramatic events, this project is going very well. The meetings are rich and productive, the energy is very high, the level of exchange is phenomenal, the aesthetic exchange, the dance exchange, the tech exchange, the theatrical exchange, the personal and interpersonal, the intellectual, the musical. The historic exchange, what happened to you and your people in this time? We exchange an enormous sense of possibility. We act out a kind of creative anarchy and we live in a temporal Utopia. These cultural exchange events create a Utopia. Where everyone participates and everyone’s creative energy and ideas are respected.
There is something profound and serious going on here and it keeps going on in spite of obstacles and limitations, the impact of “national security” will be described in another article, there are other obstacles, history, distance, money, time, language, culture clash!
Will you be offended
We are still looking for our purpose and for the meaning of our work. In that regard let’s look at some of these tough questions.
Are we becoming more and more alienated from our own communities? Take this publication for example. We know there is a seething language argument here and all three of the principle cultural communities are involved in it. Are we making the rich language complexity work for our friends and members, when we include all three languages? When you look through this booklet do you feel included, because we used your language, or alienated by the other two? Will you tell us how you feel? If you do tell us can we do anything about it? If we don’t do anything about it but keep operating in a way that allows languages to dominate depending on the number of people with minimal translation, will you be offended?
We continue to discuss moral and ethical questions in our productions. The twin towers show in Queretaro, “El Paso de la Muerte” one month after the Manhattan disaster, was a ritual recreation of the awesome attack and a ritual response to the death and loss. Partly what we did was read all the names of the victims and include all those people in the piece.
Consider “Seven Angry Men”, last produced in France, an outspoken denunciation of the violence, cruelty and terror of bombing, in this case bombing Baghdad.
We also produced and performed “Slaughter of the Innocents”, the nativity show, in Montreal, a show that looked at the ironic consequences of the nativity for the children of Bethlehem.
We brought Trotsky, Diego and Frida to Vermont, “Two Wedding and an Assassination”, a show that gave many of us a first opportunity to hear Trotsky speak.
Currently we are producing, “Persephone in the Underworld” about the draft, and about resistance to the draft, and about the underworld of the war zone.
I feel that all of us who work in these productions share a need to speak out on these questions and events. I feel that we who participate want to speak out and that the theatre gives us a forum. This is true for our public too, in a different way but essentially true.
|Groupe picture from the Pan-Am 1998
From Argentina: Norman Brisky and
From Mexico: Roberto Villasenor, Ariana and Sergio (he
From Brazil: Adriana
From Quebec, Canada: François Bruno, Marie-Claire
From the US: Marvin Bussy, Tim Keating, Dennis Darrah, Laura Congdon, Ben Dettman, Sue Bettman, Sam Kerson, Gabby, Sophie, Josh, Pete and Coqui the dog
Are we making friends with these shows?
Who is our constituency? Who comes to our performances, and who does not? As our director, I have worked with some of you, since 1969, Estrin, Holsinger, Roth, Higgins, Tishman, my brother Mark who just reported walking by City Lights in San Francisco and remembering the show we did there together in ’70. I think the first Halloween show with Richard playing Perseus and me as the Sea Monster was in ’89, whether we are or are not working together at this moment we share many ideas about how the theatre works and how we can use it, we have a history of performed performances, we have a history of realizing our mutual collective projections. We have shared objectives and shared intentions.
We share a feeling for public spectacle, and we together have made many of them.
We have an interesting group of Alumnae, the Sophies, Scott, Taylor, Maya, Tomas, Mayra, Henry, and Marvin, Roth the Tatewaris the Tlacuaches.
Our community of hard-core workers, performers continues to expand, Faeterri, Estelle, Fréderic, Nora, Antoinette, John Richard, Tania, Katah, Lina. There is a middle group that responds regularly to the call and is skilled and experienced, Richard, Janice, Dennis, Jane, DD, Tomas, Nacho, Jerome, Bob Fisher…and as you know there are many more. To me, this long list of participants and the corresponding long list of theatrical cultural events makes it clear that the theatre plays a definite role in our communities efforts to realize our own cultural and historical experience.
Our last performance had a public of eight. We all understood that we were doing a ritual, we all acknowledged it. No one felt that the audience was insufficient or inadequate. An organic authentic ritual does not require an audience. The ritual was done beautifully and deeply. The participants, actors and musicians spoke of altered states of consciousness, of being one with their roles, they described their participation using words like, trance, meaningful, consciousness, carried away, losing themselves, understanding, becoming, flying. The performance was a very satisfying experience for everyone.
“We don’t give to the Arts.”
All the same I must speak about the theatre’s problems as I see them. There are a certain couple of professional men down town whom I have known since Goddard, 1970. They have worked here successfully since then and done very good significant public work. Once, a decade ago, I went to them and asked if they would contribute to the theatre. The one I spoke to said, “We don’t give to the arts”. A few years later I was invited to his house for a party and I saw he was collecting German Expressionists.
German expressionists who were refugees from the Nazis, in much the same way I feel, I will soon be a refugee from the Empire of the Texas Fundamentalists.
It is not unusual for artists to be out of synch with their communities; historically speaking it is all too common.
Artist are seen as rascals, con men, unemployed, jobless, sock less, strangers, people who fail to pray to the golden calf, fail to join the clubs, are bohemians and gypsies and, people who say the wrong things at the wrong times, and maybe more important fail to support the communities they live in, the way those communities need, when they need it.
Perhaps people need us to forget that Iraq had nothing to do with the twin towers? When we continue to state that fact in the face of the big lie, we compromise them. It is mortifying for our fellows, those who have accepted the big lie, those literate professionals who make up our communities, to have to say to us, “after the Iraqis bombed the twin towers what else could we do?” The people around us, who do pray to the golden calf and are members of the clubs need to see the world the way that is prescribed by the powers that be. We embarrass them if we insist on seeing the world another way?
Remember the Dewey day Parade?
“Why don’t you get a job?”
It is not at all unusual for people to say to me, people who know me, my closest allies, “Why don’t you get a job?”
It seems to me that creating these fleeting Utopias where creative caring people can express themselves and live out their view of cooperation and collaboration, and communal expression is what we are called to do. We must continue to imagine ways to connect people and to cross the borders that divide us. It is our “job” our role to engage in peaceful artful encounters, to exchange creative moments with people of other communities and of other nations. We must continue to defy our own institutionalized fear of the other people who share our world. We must find imaginative ways to speak together even though we speak other languages. We must continue to dance, to sing, and to create beautiful meaningful events and objects. Our argument, our thesis, our proposal is that creative exchange and honest heartfelt expression make the world live able and help people to understand one another. We do actually believe that expression precludes violence. That communicating people to people can end violence. Or to look at it the other way, that violence is a failure to communicate. That violence occurs where communication breaks down.
What I want, is for our own community to support us, to realize that we have a real function in this society and culture and to support the theatre and all of its activities.
Remember when Carter just paid a few of us, me and Arthur Stone and Carlene Fernandez, a very minimal salary? We had high school projects, we were in the community parades, and our studio doors were open to the mental health workers.
We can’t get there from here
That is really the problem with the Pan Am. Unless we can figure out a better way to relate and to be related to, we are sure to migrate to communities that are more able to embrace us. We are excited, by communities that find our Utopias acceptable and valuable. It appears that the nations to the north and to the south, neither of whom are on the kind of war footing we are on here in the U.S., are able to give more of their consciousness and spirit to the arts. Metaphor works for them, allegory is meaningful and valued. It seems they have more interest in our work and in including our point of view. Perhaps it is easier for them to see the US the way we do, than it is for our countrymen? Personally I find it a great relief to work in a country that has other national priorities than War.
By the time you read this Katah and Sam will be on their way to Montreal. At this very moment we are negotiating to hold the 2005 Pan Am during July and August, in Queretaro, Mexico.
|Is the Theatre being affected by the National Security phenomenon ?|
I won’t try to look at the big picture here, but just say what I think is going on with our friends in Mexico. You have noticed that the population of Mexican artists participating in the Pan Am has gone down to one this year, and it is significant that our one Mexican guest travels on an Italian passport.
Let me remind you of some of our previous visitors from Mexico, Nacho and Doris, and Tomas the Tlacuaches and the Tatawaris, Roberto, Mayra, and Tania. In April 2004 we invited two other artists, in May they applied to the US embassy in Mexico City for a visa. They were told that they could report for a visa interview in September, two months after the Pan Am.
It appears there is a four month waiting period before our Mexican friends see the day when they have to go up to Mexico City and stand in line all day, to get an interview, to explain what they are planning to do in the US.
A fellow we invited last year 2003 did go to this meeting, at the Embassy in Mexico City. He was unable to answer their questions to their satisfaction; he did have a ticket paid for by his University, and the US embassy refused to issue him a visitor’s visa. This situation was very embarrassing for this young man.
|Tomas Luna with local artist Judy Newman.
Tomas is leading a Day of the Dead workshop at Dragon Dance during the summer of 2002
The last time Tomas Luna came to the Pan Am
The last time Tomas, who still has a Visa from the Oaxaca years, came to the Pan Am, he was going to work for Barking Rooster in Seattle on his way to Vermont, he entered at Atlanta where he was thoroughly intimidated by the customs officials before they permitted him to go to visit Nathan in Seattle. Tomas was taken to a closed room where two customs officers interrogated him. Let me point out that he has not come back.
Are people willing to take the chance to organize a trip to the US, including financing and getting leave from their, jobs and communities, making arrangements with their families, only to find that they will not be admitted? Are people willing to put the effort into asking for support, asking for permission to be away, arranging their housing and work affairs, arranging their family affairs so they can be away and then subjecting the whole plan to the caprice of a uniformed border bureaucrat?
I think they are not. Our guests don’t like to say, “no” to our invitation, but we see they are holding back, not following through. Winning the approval of the US border guard who they happen to be assigned to when they get to Mexico City, is to unpredictable. Plus if they get rejected, by this same capricious border guard; it is an embarrassment to them.
The trip to the Pan Am could be a feather in their bonnets and some times it has been, in previous years. But right now there is too much risk involved and there is a very good chance that the whole effort to get a visa and make the trip will become nothing but an awkward story that will make them the butt of their friends jokes. So we find people are not accepting our invitations and even when they do, the process bogs down before they have to go up to Mexico City and meet the people at the embassy.
We are considering two solutions
Hold the Pan Am in Mexico, where U.S. and Canadian citizens have no problem entering. Or hold the Pan Am in Canada, where U.S. and Mexican citizens have no problems entering. We think entry for Mexican citizens into Canada is reasonably easy, but this is somewhat speculative, we have not had experience with inviting Mexican artist to Canada. Except that we called Canadian immigration and asked about getting visas for Mexicans, they told us, Mexicans do not require visas to enter Canada.