Sunday, October 8, 2006

What the Amish are Teaching America

I'm in the midst of directing A Tale of Two Cities, which I wrote with my co-writer Steven M. Huey and developed in Ohio in July 2003.
The show will make its Los Angeles premiere on November 10, 2006. 
I'll keep you posted about how to buy tickets for the show.  It will then run in rep through January, alternating with Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
I'm still looking for three actors:  STRYVER, 40s, (supporting role), LORRY, 78, (major role), and JACQUES ONE, 40s, (supporting role).
Rehearsals have affirmed my belief that I have been too long absent from the theatre.  I'm blessed with some amazing talent.
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Several days ago, I decided on some basic limitations for the new play I plan to write next summer. 
This new play will be developed out of town in Massillon, OH -- it will be developed in Hartland's Laboratory Studio -- during the Hartland Theatre Festival next July.  
The play will then move to Los Angeles, where it will be professionally staged by The Charlens Company, where I now serve as Writer in Residence.
Here are the creative limitations I am setting for myself:
1) The show will be set entirely in one room.  I'm inspired by the simplicity of the Taper's production of Doubt, which took place within a principal's office, and the courtyard of the church.
2) The show will be limited to 4-6 characters.  I've learned not to write plays with massive casts.
3) And finally, I've decided upon the subject of my play:  I want to examine the last few hours of the Amish Shooter's life -- setting the play in his motel room the night before, and then ending the play as he picks up his gun to drive over to the Amish classroom.
My dear friend and composer Myron Fink has agreed already to write the incidental music for the show.
Of course, all of these original ideas will change, and the ultimate product won't look anything like this when I finish the first draft.  I'm used to that.  I've accepted the inevitability of the process.
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What would make a person murder innocent children, and then kill himself?
I don't know.
Writing this play means I'll be going to a dark place, something I don't wish.

But it's a story that needs to be told.
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There are so many BAD ways of writing this play.  Cliches abound.
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I thought I'd share an article I got by email.
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What the Amish are Teaching America
Published on Friday, October 6, 2006 by

By Sally Kohn

On October 2, Charles Carl Roberts entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He lined up eleven young girls from the class and shot them each at point blank range. The gruesome depths of this crime are hard for any community to grasp, but certainly for the Amish — who live such a secluded and peaceful life, removed even from the everyday depictions of violence on TV. When the Amish were suddenly pierced by violence, how did they respond?


The evening of the shooting, Amish neighbors from the Nickel Mines community gathered to process their grief with each other and mental health counselors. As of that evening, three little girls were dead. Eight were hospitalized in critical condition. (One more girl has died since.) According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay?
But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.
Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction — increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are “three strikes” laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children’s videos — including “Cinderella” and “Free Willy” — from a Kmart.
Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be “smoked from their holes”, even without evidence of their guilt.
Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done in life. Someone who cheats is not only a cheater. Someone who steals something is not only a thief. And someone who commits a murder is not only a murderer. The same is true of Charles Carl Roberts. We don’t yet know the details of the episode in his past for which, in his suicide note, he said he was seeking revenge. It may be a sad and sympathetic tale. It may not. Either way, there’s no excusing his actions. Whatever happened to Roberts in the past, taking the lives of others is never justified. But nothing Roberts has done changes the fact that he was a human being, like all of us. We all make mistakes. Roberts’ were considerably and egregiously larger than most. But the Amish in Nickel Mines seem to have been able to see past Roberts’ actions and recognize hishumanity, sympathize with his family for their loss, and move forward with compassion not vengeful hate.
We’ve come to think that “an eye for an eye” is a natural, human reaction to violence. The Amish, who live a truly natural life apart from the influences of our violence-infused culture, are proving otherwise. If, as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” then the Amish are providing the rest of us with an eye-opening lesson.
Sally Kohn is Director of the Movement Vision Project at the Center for Community Change and author of a forthcoming book on the progressive vision for the future of the United States.

1 comment:

hravenrose said...

Hey Steven:

Wow! Amazing things are happening for you. Lots of joy for you and to you for the opportunities in your life. I admire your courage in choosing to write material that will likely both stretch you psychologically and be a rich literary work!

Smiles and Writing Flow to you,
H. Raven Rose