Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at a concept and a dynamic that’s with us all the time but one that we rarely investigate; that of Community. We’re born into a community; we matriculate into others; we choose the communities we wish to identify with and leave the ones we outgrow. For these next few months, we’re looking at the role of theater in building community, celebrating and chronicling community, and in challenging the community to grow, to see itself, to respond. At Theater J, we make theater within the framework of a Jewish Community Center and we yet identify with equal measure to a theater community of both local, national and international dimension. This overlap of one community nestled within another infuses dynamism as well as creative tension which is the coin of the realm when forging dramas that seek to enlighten and tell us something about who we are as individuals and as a group. The community/crowd-sourced encyclopedia Wikipedia, has an entry on “Community” that provides a helpful survey of the range of community conceptions…
Types of community:
Geographic communities: range from the local neighbourhood, suburb, village, town or city, region, nation or even the planet as a whole. These refer to communities of location.
Communities of culture: range from the local clique, sub-culture, ethnic group, religious, multicultural or pluralistic civilisation, or the global community cultures of today. They may be included as communities of need or identity, such as disabled persons, or frail aged people.
Community organizations: range from informal family or kinship networks, to more formal incorporated associations, political decision making structures, economic enterprises, or professional associations at a small, national or international scale.
It also outlines a process by which a deep, or true sense of community evolves:
Community building and organizing:
In “The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace,” Scott Peck argues that the almost accidental sense of community that exists at times of crisis can be consciously built. Peck believes that conscious community building is a process of deliberate design based on the knowledge and application of certain rules. He states that this process goes through four stages:
Pseudocommunity: The beginning stage when people first come together. This is the stage where people try to be nice, and present what they feel are their most personable and friendly characteristics.
Chaos: When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their “shadow” selves. This stage places great demands upon the facilitator for greater leadership and organization, but Peck believes that “organizations are not communities”, and this pressure should be resisted.
Emptiness: This stage moves beyond the attempts to fix, heal and convert of the chaos stage, when all people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to us all as human beings. Out of this emptiness comes
True community: the process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community. This stage Peck believes can only be described as “glory” and reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one’s fellows.
We’re told that building a sense of community may be easy and increasingly temporary (think “flash mobs”), but maintaining this sense of community is much more difficult in our modern isolating world. For all our virtual communities online (all those “liked” facebook pages where we find kindred spirits), we’re “bowling alone” more than ever (to cite Robert Putman) with attendance at club meetings falling 58 percent, family dinners down 33 percent, and having friends visit falling 45 percent over the past 25 years. For all the proliferation of groups, we’re more alone than ever.
Theater brings people together in a manner unique from other art forms. This season, we’re looking at work that holds up a mirror to community dynamics and we, of course, have become the subject of a larger community drama about the role of an artist-driven initiative nestled within a community center. In the comments below, we’re going to hear from new students residing in Washington for the next few months as part of four university-sponsored semesters in Washington. In class, each of these students has described the community he or show was born into and the communities with which each chooses to identify now. We’ve all read Thornton Wilder’s study of community at the turn of the last century in Our Town, and we’ve responded to a contemporary spin on the familial and communal dynamics of a suburban community when their security is threatened in Darrah Cloud’s world premiere play, Our Suburb.
Now we begin to think about community and responsibility; social and individual responsibility and the battling allegiances that may unfold. We’re looking at Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play of 1947, All My Sons. Like Motti Lerner’s The Admission, it’s the story of two families; it’s the story of a father and son and that war-ravaged son’s older brother, killed in war. There is a plea and a call for consciousness at the end of All My Sons that continues to resonate through the generations. All My Sons remains required reading in Israeli classrooms and frequently on the national standardized Bagrut test. Motti Lerner’s moving, searing new play, some 7 years in the making and refinement, aspires to a similar call for consciousness — though that call has been contested by some who have yet to read the play. Our students have — just this week, in fact — the January 2014 draft of The Admission has arrived and is being prepared as rehearsals for the workshop presentation get ready to commence in the coming month.
What do 16 young people, from a wide range of geographic and religious backgrounds make of Motti Lerner’s play and its relationship to Miller’s classic? What might the intended hope for this play be as it’s offered to multiple communities both here in Washington and in Israel? Why does the playwright choose to fictionalize a drama based on historically contested events? Is the play, as its fiercest critics contend, anti-Israel? Does it have any pro-Israel message that people are missing?
These are just some of the prompts I’ve shared with the students. They’ll respond in the Comments below. Others from the community are welcome to as well, though there will be ample, ample time to host many conversations, both in person (16 discussions are scheduled during the run of The Admission, one for each workshop performance), and on line.