I’ve often thought that art is the perfect antidote for war.
Ed Stern, Producing Artistic Director for “Playhouse in the Park” in Cincinnati, made a comment in support of that statement: “So much of wartime is talking about evil and who we hate. The arts can so much more easily show us what we believe in. Theatre specifically shows us the roots and threads that tie people together far more than the differences that tear us apart.”
There’s something about sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers watching actors on a stage close enough that you can see their body language, feel their emotional energy, and hear the cracks in their voices. It’s tribal. It’s akin to survival. Theatre is as old as the first story ever heard round the first campfire.
Of all plays to trot out as an example of theatre as a tool for peace, “Golda’s Balcony”, a one-woman show about Golda Meir’s life, might seem to be the opposite. Stay with me on this one. I saw it twice when my local theatre, Actors’ Summit, produced it a couple of years ago. Whenever I attend live theatre I like to look around the audience to see their reactions during the performance. Both times that I saw “Golda’s Balcony”, the audience said it all – forward, captivated, smiling, laughing, crying. Afterward I listened to what those around me were saying. One woman came up to talk to the people sitting behind me. Her face was still wet with tears. I heard her say that she had attended theatre her entire life, living in NYC, and all over the world, and had never seen such a powerful performance. Her friends agreed. I heard similar comments both times I attended. I couldn’t stop smiling. Great theatre affects people that way. Why so?
Theatre allows people to feel connected in a way that no other medium can. Golda Meir’s story reverberated right through our ordinary lives. Our emotions were plucked like the strings on a harp. For example, at one point in the play, Golda made the comment that she didn’t want to be a woman stuffed in a kitchen making matzo balls all day – she wanted to do so much more – she wanted to make a homeland for her people. She then mused on how the world could have been a much better place if women had had the opportunity to use their collective wisdom in positions of leadership. (I’ve often had that thought myself…)
But, by far, Golda’s sentiments at the end of the play pulled feelings from the very depths of our hearts into one common voice. Her words were about war. She said that she could forgive the Arabs for killing Israeli boys. But she could never forgive them for making the Israeli’s kill Arab boys. Then she stood center stage and raised her arms saying “Shalom” to each side of the audience. I looked around the theatre at that moment. I could see white tissues in the dark, wiping tears from under the eyes of the men and women in the audience. Our common voice had been heard. Peace is what most of us want. Since we are the majority, how does war overrule the strength of our common desire?
I don’t have an answer for that. But I do agree 100% with the quote at the top of this blog. I liked what Ed Stern said in the last sentence, “Theatre specifically shows us the roots and threads that tie people together far more than the differences that tear us apart.”
Art is the lullaby of our lives. War is the screaming nightmare.
Please support your local arts. See a play this weekend. Attend a concert. Wander through an art festival. Sign up for dance lessons. Who knows what good could come of it. You might even sleep better.