Monday, July 31, 2017

July's Racism

Each month since Trump won the election, I’ve experienced racism from an unexpected source, racism the startles me. Racism is familiar—I’m 67 and was raised in the south—but since the early 70s I’ve experienced it less and less. It still happens, the everyday slights, the little ways that some people still need to let you know that they don't think you're as good as they are. But I’m accustomed to those. I’ve developed a thick skin. Those incidents don’t suspend my breath.

But since Trump won the presidency things are different. We’re peddling backwards, rapidly. Each month there is at least one personal affront that hits me in my solar plexus, a “naw, he didn’t say (do) that” moment.

The standout, everyday racist moment in July was interrupting the regular programming of every network channel and CNN to broadcast O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing. I watched as newscasters referred to O.J. as a murderer, he was not convicted of that crime, and one of the most notorious defendants in American history. Really? You’re putting O.J. up there with Jeffrey Dahmer, Dylan Klebold and his partner in the Columbine Massacre Eric Harris, and Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber)? Let’s be real, the reason the media was following O.J.’s car down the highway in 1994 was because they thought he had murdered a blond. If he’d killed his first wife, high school sweetheart Marguerite, trust me there would have been no news coverage. But that’s the everyday racism, the kind that doesn't penetrate into the soul.

The take my breath away racist moment happened at a potluck. Four of us had gotten together at a friend’s house for lunch. One of the women mentioned that her sister had recently received surprising DNA results from Ancestry.

Matter of factly I asked, “did she find out she had a different father?”

“I guess being African-American,” her husband responded, “you would know something about that.”

I felt my blood pressure rise. I wanted to blow up the spot but we were in the country and my ride back to town wasn’t coming for more than an hour. I sucked it up and after counting to 100, twice, said, “Their marriage wasn’t always happy and sometimes when people are unhappy in a marriage they stray.”

Later he made another racist comment. I don’t need to detail it; what I wondered was why? This was a man I’d thought was progressive—an active member of the Unitarian Universalists, Jewish by birth. How had shit like that spilled out of his mouth? If that’s what he felt, it was better to know than not know. But it made me sad. This was a close friend’s husband and I couldn’t be around him anymore.

Monday, July 17, 2017

On Stage Again

When Alan Jordan emailed to see if I was interested in working in a play he was directing, I gave my standard, last 10-years answer, “I’m not doing that any more,” and wondered why a director in this community who choose a play that required a Black actress. Alan persisted and sent me information on the writer, Robert Schenkkan. His credentials were impressive—a Pulitzer prize, Tony Award, and Writer's Guild Award winning playwright and screenwriter. Building the Wall was Schenkkan’s response to the Trump presidency—written in what he described as a white-hot fury that imagines a not so distant future in which now President Trump’s racist campaign rhetoric on emigration and border security has found its full expression. I couldn’t just walk away from this. I asked to read the play.

The Pollyanna piece of me wanted to believe Schenkkan’s scenario was inconceivable but I knew it was plausible. I’d known that Obama’s Presidency would unleash long-suppressed racism in the U.S. but it was much worse than I’d anticipated—three to four times worse. And internationally people were moving backwards, wanting to retract from rather than embrace globalization. Internationally racism, intolerance and isolationism are on the rise. Something as dark, as apocalyptic as Schenkkan imagined could happen. Did I want to live with this darkness for the next two months?

I like being blessedly removed from the turmoil in the U.S. and am glad that I don’t live there now. But I still want to add my voice to the resistance of Trump’s presidency in as many ways and as loudly as I can. Building the Wall would provide another vehicle and was ultimately the reason I decided to do the play. That and the need to shake things up—life in San Miguel was beginning to feel ho-hum. Plus I liked being part of the Building the Wall movement, being one of the cities, and the only one in Mexico, to participate in this rolling 2017 premiere. Two cities, Los Angeles and Denver, had already mounted the play and fives others had also committed to produce it.

We had our first read through a month before rehearsals started and Alan wanted us to be off-book (lines learned) when rehearsals begin. This was different from what I preferred—I liked to learn my lines with my blocking and the first read through was usually the first day of rehearsal, not a month before. But I was glad we did it early. It got me excited about being on stage again. I had a great rapport with David Galitzky, the actor playing Rick. I felt that little jolt, almost electric, I used to feel when I was on stage.

This was a different kind of role for me. Gloria was the interviewer; mostly she asked questions. There was almost no narrative arch to her lines, which I was catching hell trying to learn. I’d sloughed it off when a couple of people I knew joked about how my memory must be much better than their since I’d committed to do a two character play. It had always been easy for me to learn lines. I hadn’t considered the possibility that it might be different now at 67. The words weren’t sticking and Alan wanted us to be word perfect. He didn’t get what he wanted but they were 95+% there by opening night. I loved the directorial choices Alan made—Rick wasn’t a monster and Gloria wasn’t a passive interviewer. This play had the potential to be deadly dull but Alan created on-stage excitement.

There’s nothing like working in front of a live audience. It’s not just the interplay between the actors but that third live component that creates the electricity. We were sold out every night which means we’ll probably reprise the play in late November.

I’m looking forward to it.