You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘activism’ tag.

Set and audience for Hairspray, at the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre.

I enjoyed my time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so much last year that when I received an email this Spring offering discount early bird tickets, I pounced and bought five. It took me all summer to arrange a visit south, but I finally devised a quick trip with the assistance of a fellow blogger. I only had to drop a couple hints and Curtis extended the invitation as though I had not manipulated him at all! The end of August I made the 5 1/2 hour drive south to see some plays and to finally meet Curtis and Peggy Mekemson from Wandering Through Time and Place.

I met them at a Medford cafe for breakfast and they immediately put me at ease and made me feel welcomed. Curt is the third blogger I have met, and I must admit I have great luck and good taste. My blogger friends turn out to be truly wonderful people in real life. (Take note if you’re reading this, and pat yourself on the back for being so awesome.) We got through introductions and current events in no time, and then I followed them from the cafe to their rural home in some of the most beautiful country in Oregon. They live even farther out in the boonies than I do, so I wanted their help getting out there in case my GPS didn’t work. I got a tour of their beautiful home on their gorgeous property, which I will highlight in my next post.

Then I changed into play clothes, and zoomed back to Ashland.

The set rotated, so the audience was able to see multiple sides of the building.

Prior to my trip Curt and Peggy had raved about Hairspray, which they had already seen, so I saw that one first. They said to keep an eye out for something and that I might realize the truth about a character sooner than they did. I saw right away that the character of Tracy’s mom is played as a transgender woman (though I believe in real life the actor is not transgender), and I love that the relationship of Tracy’s parents was healthy and loving and supportive, and no one ever mentioned it was non-traditional, which helped me to invest more in it as a real relationship and not a gimmick. And then I realized it is the most inclusive cast I’ve ever seen. Jenna Bainbridge, for example, who was partially paralyzed as an infant, has an impressive acting career and plays Tracy’s best friend Penny. There are multiple characters with different abilities, such as Luke Hogan Laurenson who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Zahra Detweiler who lives with Down Syndrome. These actors played parts in direct support of the story and their inclusion helped enforce Hairspray’s main message of tolerance. It’s not enough to say we welcome everyone, but we also have to act on it. There is a confrontation of body-shaming, of racism, of classism. And somehow, despite all those painful topics, the show is a riot of laughs from beginning to end (in between tears), with dancing to knock your socks off (Katy Geraghty as Tracy dances like nobody’s business), songs that rip your heart out, genuine characters, real love, and so much joy.

After the show I had hours to kill and decided to spend it in town. While inside the theatre it had begun to rain and although warm, the world was soaked. I wandered around gaining my bearings and found a sign on the Thomas Theatre that warmed my heart, and continued the message I had just heard at Hairspray.

Sign says: “We Welcome all races and ethnicities, all religions and creeds, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all immigrants and refugees, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken and signed languages, everyone.”

I wandered into town without an umbrella, while others were better prepared.

I found this mural along the main street.

I had a fabulous lunch with live music.

The rain stopped and I marveled at the landscapes outside of town.

I spent some time in the park with my feet in the water beneath the Atkinson Memorial Bridge 1912.

In that soggy grey day, I was startled to see this notice on the Elizabethan Theatre as I prepared to go to that evening’s play: change of venue due to wildfire.

Though I had noticed no evidence of wildfire and though it was raining, the venue for the play was not at the magnificent Elizabethan Theatre that I am dying to attend. I have not yet seen a play in that outdoor theatre. For air quality safety, during fire season they moved the play to the high school – that part I understand. But when there were no fires and no detectable smoke, why was it still at the high school? My guess is that the fire situation was unstable, and it’s probably a lot of work to move a whole production between venues. Until they know for sure the air is clear, I’ll bet it’s smarter not to move it back. I should have guessed that the high school in Ashland would have a phenomenal theatre.

The set was appealing but not comfortable. Kind of like the story.

All’s Well That Ends Well was well-acted, as I have come to expect at Ashland. It’s a tough story and grapples with the human conditions we all recognize: unrequited love, children that aren’t what we expect, missteps of youth, aging, missteps of mentoring – that kind of fun stuff. But with the Bard telling the story and the massive talent drawn to Ashland every year, it’s a story I was intrigued with. I was consistently irritated with Helen for clearly being better than Bertram and yet not having the self-assurance to rid him from her heart. (Reminds me a little of my own failed attempts at finding a man. I hope I have all Helen’s wit, strategy, and ability, but I hope I spend it on a man who deserves me.)

I drove back through the dark night to my very comfortable bed at the Mekemson’s home.

The next morning I enjoyed much great conversation and coffee and scones until it was time for us all to get ready to go. Curt and Peggy had agreed to attend the next show with me. We had decided on seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Pure melee ensued in the first half of Alice In Wonderland, and this is what the stage looked like at intermission. The debris is made up of feathers, broken pieces of teacup, balloons, and playing cards. Do you recognize the set? Yes, Alice was also held in the High School.

Alice In Wonderland took me back in time, actually, to what this show must have felt like many decades ago when it first astounded audiences in the 1930s. Turns out, that’s exactly what director Sara Bruner had in mind. I noticed how well the story followed the books: Alice in the first half, and Through the Looking Glass in the second. The program noted that every single line was in Lewis Carroll’s own words. My brain somersaulted through scenes, trying to make sense of it all, trying to use the white rabbit as a common theme, trying to find some greater message. But I was bewildered.

At intermission, Curt and Peggy and I gazed back and forth at each other in dumb astonishment for a few moments, finally saying something like, “Well, that was something!” Curt suggested that maybe it would be best viewed on LSD – none of us knowing anyone on LSD we could ask about that. We chatted until the second half began, all telling ourselves good advice on how best to approach the second half. I was unable to follow the advice (just like the story’s heroine), and found myself mouth-open in dumbfounded perplexity. It is a dazzling show! The adventure is undeniable, and I truly wish I could try again to watch it properly. I think one should watch this performance with the mind of a 8 year old child: open, curious, willing and wanting to believe – without cynicism or criticism or vetting. Nothing at all seemed to match, or tell a story, or relate to any other events. Sometimes characters showed up again, and it was not relevant. There was no message, no lesson, no caution, no celebration – just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and it is wonderful. It is really the stuff of fantastical dreams from the mind of a child. The creativity, artistry, performance, and spectacle are worth every moment of sitting there. Just don’t waste your time trying to figure it out; you’ll only get a headache and probably miss something.

After the show we found a great Mexican restaurant and joked around with the proprietor when we weren’t rehashing Alice some more – reminding each other of all the incredible things we had just seen. Peggy and Curt went home and I stayed in town because I had one more show to see.

I walked around Ashland some more. Spent an hour in a bookstore, browsed shops, then tried a yummy sake (Tentaka Kuni Junmai) before running back up the theatre hill to catch my last show at the Thomas Theatre.

The set of Between Two Knees points you right away to an outdated idea of Indians. It’s in your face, and so is the show. Suck it up, buttercup.

This is the one I drove to Ashland for. Between Two Knees is a production by Indian playwrights and about Indian topics, and also I had been waiting all year for a chance to see a new favourite actor, Rachel Crowl (who I talked about in my blog about Henry V last year). This production comes from The 1491s, a group of storytellers who challenge the history we’ve been taught, and provide an additional perspective: that of the indigenous, who have been actively erased from the story of our country. Oh, and it’s a comedy, as you may have guessed from the title that is easily a double entendre. One of my favourite things to discover in fellow human beings is when they poke irreverent fun and laugh. Bringing up the absolute worst and making a joke that is irresistible is such a great way to talk about trauma and pain. Laugh laugh laugh, people! Why not laugh? Crying won’t change what happened; laughing won’t change it either, but it’s so much more fun and laughing is transformative and releases pressure when stress has built up.

The opening scene is a game show, with actors tackily dressed as Indians, and obviously playing the parts that white people have had Natives play for a century. One Indian spins the colorful, blinking wheel of NAME THAT MASSACRE! And when the wheel lands on a massacre, the Emcee calls out to the audience: “We all know of the — massacre, of course!” The Emcee provides a brief summary of the deaths and destruction of Indians by white people. “Clap all of you who know this one!” No one claps. “No problem!” we are assured, “There are plenty more!” The wheel is spun, Wheel of Fortune style, and it lands on a new name. “The — massacre! Surely you’ve heard of this one!” Again, he describes a slaughter. No one claps, no one has heard of it. Again. Again. Sometimes a person somewhere in the audience claps.

And yes, this is how the story goes all the way through.

We are asked to laugh and cheer and clap as the play details horrendous abuse, murder, removals, rape, kidnap of Indian children and forcing them into religious schools to “Beat the Indian out of them!” Everything is ridiculed, no holds barred, no taboo left untouched, no shock left unexposed. I was dying with laughter. I could barely contain myself. It was ugly and raw and uncomfortable and hilarious. There was an evil priest who abused children. There was a hippie who pretended to know how to conduct an authentic Indian marriage ceremony, while sitting beneath Buddhist prayer flags. They talked about using Indians as sports mascots. They made fun of using white people to play Indians on TV when there were plenty of Indians to fill those roles, and an actor on stage pointed out that he is actually Chinese-Korean. The message being the 1491s were willing to  poke fun at themselves too. There was an Indian in white face. HAAAAAA!!! Come on, that’s funny.

The audience fascinated me, in that some gave themselves up to the artists and let themselves be involved…but some remained stone-faced and never even cracked a smile. The audience was not attacked, but these topics are just topics that we are told we should take seriously. I could tell people were afraid to laugh. There was a couple next to me that were silent and still the whole time. I noticed them especially because I was cackling loudly with glee, sometimes the only person in our part of the theatre who was rolling around on the floor in laughter, so there was quite a disparity. I started up a conversation with them at intermission and found out they both really liked the show – so that was good. Maybe among the silent people there were admirers of what was going on. It must have been easier for me to laugh because I am Indian, or maybe because I love this form of activism so much.

They passed around a donation can, asking people to give to support their group. The host made a call out to different demographic groups in the audience, asking each to give differently based on what they might be able to afford. But at the end he called to white people, “Give as much as you can spare! And don’t feel bad about it, you’ll still own everything.” The final scene was a musical where the whole cast sang about a future when they got rid of the settlers and oppressors forever, and the chorus repeated over and over: “Goodbye White People!”

It was great. I think my description here makes it seem troubling, or maybe confrontational for some people in the audience, and it is not. The creators did a brilliant job and I did not think any portion of this production was inappropriate. I would love to see it again and again. But instead I left the theatre and made my way home through the dark to a little piece of paradise in the Applegate River Valley.

Litefoot graciously acquiesces a selfie with one of the group.

Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.

At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.

He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.

Litefoot was gracious and generous with all of us.

Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard.  He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.

Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap  or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.

The messages of positive action poured out of him.

It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”

Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”

Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.

Davis gives us his perspective on how things get done in Indian Country.

Members of the Mt. Hood Cherokee group listened as Davis inspired us.

He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”

The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”

Davis grew more animated as his message became animated.

“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.

“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.

“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?

“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”

Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Plants by the front window

Can someone please explain the fish cracker in the bathroom?

Here are a few tidbits from my life the past week that I find amusing:

I got into the shower still partially asleep, which explains why I didn’t notice the fish on the shower rug until I opened the curtain to step out. Hm. Goldfish snack cracker on the rug in the bathroom. Interesting.

Ahmadinejad

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks like the Fonz. Oh, totally! Not in a still photo, but animated, when he’s speaking. How can a President in the middle of a country in chaos perpetually look like he’s waiting for you to get the joke so he can laugh with you? If one can ignore his politics and go just by appearance, this man has something boyish about him that is irresistibly endearing. Every time I watch him speaking, he raises his eyebrows, and I’m waiting for him to go, “Aaaayyyyyyyyy….”

My mother is a woman comfortable to remain within her realm. She finds peace in the familiar. She is not an activist, she does not stand on soapboxes, she avoids conflict. She says to me on the phone the other day, “I really want oranges, but I refuse to buy the ones Jerry has at the store. They are from New Zealand. I explained to him, ‘I won’t buy those, they’re from New Zealand.’ It’s too far away. That’s too much traveling. I think of all the expense of sending an orange to north Idaho from New Zealand, and I just can’t buy it.” Huh. I wonder if she’s even aware that she’s participating in activism. That’s pretty cool.

While my daughter was helping me with dinner a few nights ago, she started quoting the Black Knight scene from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. She just kept going. Word for word through the whole scene. I was laughing so hard I was gasping for breath. It was funnier without the images, because I could pay attention to the brilliant comedy in the words themselves. Besides, my daughter is a natural comedian. Black Knight: “I am invincible!” King Arthur: “You’re a looney!”

And hey, in addition to our meaningless form letter, we have now received a phone call from Wells Fargo’s office of the CEO, and also have been contacted by Sen. Jeff Merkely’s (D, OR) office about beginning a congressional inquiry. It can pay to stand up for yourself in America. Not always, and not usually the way you hope for, but if you bark with confidence, someone will eventually toss a bone.

One of my many guises

Recently I posted…

Other people like these posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 588 other followers

Follow Conscious Engagement on WordPress.com

I already said…

Flickr Photos