Nathan Thomas

april 2006

Shifting Sands  Redux

I see from the headlines on Yahoo that another 35 folks have met a violent end in Iraq today. 

Three years, countless lives gone, altered, and set on new tracks by an insane war. Before political foes take issue with what they've just read all war is insane. Read the diaries and letters from foot soldiers in a 'good' war like World War II. General William Sherman supposedly said, "War is all hell." It's not just this war. . . Although this one has its possibilities of topping the insane list.

No. Three years have passed, and it strikes me as sad that countless lives haven't been touched at all by the war. People wander through without being touched at all. No thought is given to the dead, to the mangled, to the wounded, to the lost. It may as well as never happened, and those people may as well have never lived. Such ignorance is a dis-service to the dead.

As we observe the end of the third year of combat in which combat was declared to be over three years ago, I thought to look back at what I wrote then. And I also found a brief letter I wrote back  during the Reagan years about war and nuclear armament.

Three years ago in this space I wrote the following:

As I write these words, the United States of America is at war in many places -- in the War on Terror, in the War in Iraq, in the War in many places. Particularly with the land war in Iraq, a columnist has a clear choice write about the war or ignore it. This particular war with its attendant political and diplomatic difficulties seems to me like walking through a fireworks factory with a flame-thrower while wearing a roller skate on one foot and a snow shoe on the other. It can be done safely, I imagine. But it takes a great deal of skill to go all the way across the floor and come out with your skin pretty much on your body.

Movement is a troublesome thing for the actor. It seems like such an easy task. Enter the stage. Walk across the stage. Sit. Stand. Walk some more, perhaps. Exit the stage. Yet, the actor is so often left at odds with the body. The body wants to do one thing, and body doesn't seem always to follow what's going on inside the mind/spirit/soul of the actor. Stanislavsky talks about the fear of "the black hole of the proscenium arch." (Unknowingly, Stanislavsky made an important discovery of physics in which a gaping maw sucks all energy that enters its zone of influence. . . .)

A soldier is trained to stand in the line of fire and fight and kill the enemy when it might seem like a good idea to run away and find a nice spot behind a very large tree. The field-soldier is rightly admired for facing great risk and meeting that risk with courage.

A great organizing force for the actor is breath the most human of all acts. When we enter the world for the first time, we take a breath. When we leave this world, we breathe our last. The cycle of inhalation, exhalation, and the mysterious pause when we neither inhale nor exhale -- influences the actor's speech, movement, energy. 

Conflict is said to have a life of its own. Someone slaps a troubled situation, and war cries aloud with a miserable wail. War lives like a troubled soul, flailing and cursing and wanton in its destructive force. The breath is pained and burdened.

More could be said, but at this time we see the future only dimly. I end with two quotes from Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. The first:

    "Through innumerable centuries, humans march in file through time; one generation following the other, and the burden of life is passed from hand to hand and the will of each person may decide whether that burden shall become lighter or heavier. The duty of each one of us is to see that it becomes lighter."

The second:  "The future belongs to us as long as we are alive."

In looking through some ancient papers I came across an old letter written as a reply to a position paper written by a national group to take a stance on war and nuclear armaments. I wrote the following:

In examining the study paper, my overwhelming feeling was one of sadness. The fact of nuclear weapons and the seemingly universal "kill-or-be-killed" defense thinking by world governments is sad enough. Then the paper abandoned precedented methods of change allowed within our system of governance. How sad.

We should be more imaginative in our problem-solving strategies. We have not exhausted our educational means in teaching our group, nation and world about peace-making. We must be more imaginative than the world's "Kill-or-be-killed" thinking. I don't think we should give in to a bi-polar attitude toward peace.

As the third year rolls by, and we look toward the fourth and those that follow, it strikes me that we as artists and actors and directors and people of theatre and people of music and people of film have the most important task we've ever had.

Imagination is our business. It is our job to help people in our communities, in our provinces and states, in our nations, and in our world to learn to use their imagination better. To simply imagine another possibility. We don't have to kill or be killed today. 

I know people have real differences. Real disagreements. Real reason for conflict. Real and actual wrongs that have been done.

But can we imagine that we can look honestly at reality and not kill or be killed today? Teaching the use of imagination is what we can and must do as artists.

Peace will come again.



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©2006 Nathan Thomas
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his
living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College.

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives




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