Mothers Day Lessons from Beauty & the Beast
My friend Paul Challacombe just sent me this url for an excellent explication from the WSJ about how scientists have come to think that's true, by Sharon Begley: http://tinyurl.com/fd6ny (at least re: climate change).
What makes an idea, Mothers Day or global warming accessible and actionable?
The local Union Church service today, conducted by Michelle Wiley was about the nature of love. The famous passage from Corinthians was read, to the effect that nothing is worth anything without love.
Is that what makes an idea accessible? The lesson from my mentor, the artist Allan Kaprow, was context, context, context. The lesson from Mothers Day was: love, love, love. The Begley article offers demystification. The Beauty and the Beast story offers magic.
Recently, I have been writing about how to convey the message of ecological crisis. The question is, how do you help people see something important and unpleasant? I watched how you do that with social values, here on the island last night. The how part was both context and love.
The occasion was the island production of Beauty and the Beast. This island has a long and consistent tradition of amusing itself with wonderful music, dance and theatrical productions whether or not Summer residents are here to swell the ranks. There is something extraordinary about watching friends & neighbors transform into Princes, sorcerers, monsters and French peasants.
Beauty and the Beast is a parable about the power of shame. It is a story anyone can relate to, of making a terrible mistake, paying a heavy price, being forced to live as a social outcast and finally, redemption thru generosity (and love). We can all relate to it because to err is human. To know embarrassment is fundamental animal behavior. It is the observable cornerstone of social living for wolves, monkeys and humans. The desire for love and acceptance is universal amongst sane people.
Watching exactly how obstacles are overcome in pursuit of that end goal is instructive.
But none of that is why hundreds of townspeople came to see the local production of the version based on the book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Mencken, directed by Karen Burns from our local school. The cast was a mixture of local adults and children with music direction by Charles Brown. Charlie directed the music for the John Wulp-Edward Gorey version of The Mikado last summer on Northhaven Island. It was an unexpected pleasure for me to see and hear him last night. Sitting at the piano, his fingers carried our emotions like a clear stream of water, from the peaceful, to the ominous, to elation at the end, when everyone lives happily ever after in the performance.
The other reasons we came included, to listen to Bill Chilles sustain a French accent for two hours, to watch Pam Alley become an unwieldy round teapot and for all of us to say hello to people we had not seen in a while.
It was impossible to separate the performances from personal knowledge of the actors. In fact the experience would have lost a great deal had that been possible. The sweetness of listening to Belle sing, played by Anna Osgood, has the context for me of first meeting her and listening to her music while Wendy did my manicures in the salon her mother Lisa ran in their home. That was years ago, when Anna was a talented young teenager.
When Richie Carlson, whom I first met working out at the one-room fitness center here, Aerofit, years ago, becomes a posing Gaston, flexing muscles for the adoring country maids, our local school girls, the audience laughter has special context. When a Beast becomes a Prince again, the most important suspense for me was over trying to imagine how they were getting all the make up off as he lay with his head over the edge of some of the staging, since we all knew that he was the handsome fisherman & musician, Jamie Thomas.
Every possible device to gain and hold our attention was generously pulled out of the collective hat. The amateur voices were wonderful at times, earning my admiration, as in solos by Jamie, Anna and some choruses. The show was larded with delightful musical moments. There were times when I was close to tears from the acting, suspending all my disbelief. The costumes, lighting, choreographed shrieking peasants and cookies at intermission were all part of the magic of the evening, whether or not they might work on Broadway.
As Michelle pointed out about the show, in her service today, what made it all work so fabulously was love: love of the children who participated, love of the music, love of the community, love of the sheer fun of it all: the magic of life.
What does all that have to do with global warming and ecological art? It is that anything that concerns public policy is grounded in private values: the personal is political and ultimately we protect, cherish and celebrate what we love. The same desire to conform to public approval and seek love can destroy or sustain a small community. It can also create the context to sustain a large one.
It is not necessary to present in an international venue, to conduct an expensive ad campaign to succeed in making people come out to pay attention, to reach the hearts of people with basic truths. What IS necessary is to connect their experiences to a higher ideal and a more primitive mandate. In this case, the ideal was to discern what is good and right. The mandate was visceral: community survival depends upon love.
The appearance of ecological life for many Americans is that all is well or alternately that we are individually helpless. Neither is true. It is not pleasant to admit that appearances are deceiving, to take responsibility for a serious mistake, whether it is social or environmental. In the end, now, they may be the same thing. Because ultimately we all love the nature and resources we are seeing destroyed. especially the Polar Bears. It is also difficult to see right now how solving some of the problems ahead is going to be fun. We need magic.
I believe the magic is going to happen when those of us who care about all this, find the ways to pull out all our stops to address global warming. Then we can bring the largest possible community together to pay attention to the lessons we are all learning. And we can demystify how we can start applying them. Some of that might even be fun.