High School Professional — Cinderella At Conard

In a public High School in West Hartford, Connecticut — Conard High School to be exact — an incredibly professional production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was performed.

I don’t use the word “professional” lightly. It is exactly the term for what Conard produced tonight. I have seen traveling productions of Broadway shows. They are above this production. I have also seen many a community theater production in my lifetime. This production is better than those, and far better in quality than any High School production I have ever seen.

The reason for this is the incredible concentration of artistic students at Conard in band, orchestra, and choir, plus art, drama and stagecraft. Tonight, the two leads, Mary Looney as Ella and Jake Yearsley as Prince Topher sang for two hours (with a fifteen minute intermission) and never reached beyond their range, never were too quiet or too loud, never missed a line. That would have been impressive in-and-of itself and I would have gone home having enjoyed the evening.  But the next rung of players — Madame (Lila Goldstein), Charlotte (Janey Lorenzo) and Gabrielle (Delina Bartolomei) played their parts with comedic style and timing usually found in older adults. The boy who played Sebastian (Ray Plocharczyk) stayed in character the whole play — and did it well, with a unique flair to the character that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Charlie Uthgennant as Lord Pinkleton rounded out the cast.

Again, I would have been impressed with just the singing, comedy, and acting. There was more. My daughters go to Conard, one is in choir, the other in band, so I am used to seeing the semi-annual concerts given by their groups. They are huge affairs as there are at least four groups that are part of the overall choir. The best of these is “B Sharp”, an a capella group, but each has its own style and strength.  The ensemble in tonight’s musical was complimented by use of people from the school’s choirs.  They were everywhere.

In the pit, the show’s orchestra (made up of band members, I believe) was incredible. The music, like the actors and singers, had a comedic timing to it. My particular favorite note was the violin part at the beginning of the second act where the person played what seemed like the same note for at least ten measures to build up tension for the entrance.

As if that weren’t enough, there was beautiful choreography as dozens of dancers swooped and swished around the stage. I don’t know if Conard has a dance program, but the talent here was obvious and the dancing w as flowing and graceful for the two hour length of the play.

My favorite part, though, was the set and special effects. I had reasonable expectations about this before I got there. High School shows usually have good sets and cool little effects,  but this was spectacular. There was lattice work surrounding the stage that was intricate and almost looked Celtic, giving a sense of the woods somehow. Onstage, there were huge, intricate, and yet delicate trees — maybe a dozen of them. If you’ve seen the forest near the Batcave in the first Michael Keaton movie, you can get a sense of what these looked like — in a High School production! Sound-wise, the production featured horse-clomps and knights who reminded me of coconuts and Monty Python. There was a clock on a scrim that I assumed was wooden for most of the production. Turns out, it was done with lights and bells and so on. Technical director Jared Boulet, assistant stage manager Iris Madsen-Bibeau, the entire tech crew, and adult helpers like Patty Buccheri must have worked for months to get this  so well done. Kudos to them.

Oh, then there were the dresses during the play. If you’re going to see the play, trust me, there is magic in the dresses on-stage which can only be experienced with awe and wonder. I still don’t know how it was done and I was there.

In addition to that, the play was politically subversive in its own way, calling out the cynicism of the elite or those who think they are. There were a few scenes where the nobles played a game called “ridicule” and insulted each other. This was stopped by Cinderella being intentionally kind the wicked step-mother in public, and it changed the tone of the story dramatically. In contrast to our times, the crowd there tried on kindness and openness instead of hate, changing the whole society into one of unity and equanimity.

In short, there was no part of this production which wasn’t up to professional standards. This is, of course, what happens when music and the arts are part of the curriculum in a public school. Students use the wide range of gifts they are given, and the rest of their intelligence and creativity soars. Even taking into account the immense local talent here in West Hartford, wouldn’t it be great of every school in the country gave this much attention to the arts? The joy, the fun, the skill-building and confidence that was on display in Cinderella should be seen in so many other places, where it would lead to “optimism” among the “citizenry” (people in the play, see what I did there?).

Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella has a matinee tomorrow, March 12th and plays all next weekend at Conard High School, West Hartford, CT. Go see it, or miss an incredible chance.

Resisting with peace, music, comedy, dancing, and special effects tonight,

 

John

 

Shock And Awe… But Why?

For months, I have tried to talk about America as though it was one country, because I like to conceive of things that way — holding us accountable to our best selves and our highest ideals. Beside that, last I looked, we were 50 United States, so I’d like to think I have my facts straight.

But, if that’s true, why would we elect a man who has built a “shock and awe” campaign as his cabinet? For that matter, why would the President-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named request the Cabinet he has? His cabinet is a) a man f0r the EPA who doesn’t believe in the EPA, A woman to head public education who doesn’t believe we should have public education, an attorney general who won’t follow the rule of law, a secretary of state whose company is larger than many countries, and is therefore above this countries needs, a man who thinks his own people came here as immigrants on the bottom of slave ships. Those would be his ancestors! And, in the middle of it, is a man who supports White Supremacists, the President’s Chief of Staff!

Every liberal I know is busy defending themselves and the causes they believe in pretty much non-stop. Every day brings something new  — an attack on Muslim rights, on Women’s rights, an attack on the law, an attack on decency. The administration is waging a campaign of shock and awe against its own people. “Shock and Awe” was a term I heard first in GW Bush’s Gulf War and it was designed to loosen people’s resolve to fight against the overwhelming odds facing them, and a chance for us to show off our military toys which included a fireworks show that we could watch from afar. That campaign was designed to make us say “ooh” and “ahh” while we destroyed a country for political reasons.  The premise then was “this is war against our enemies and that’s different because these are extreme circumstances”….

While we now know there were other factors at work , that was the contention. But if that was the contention, if that’s the purpose of “shock and awe”, why would use it against our own citizens? Why would the administration break up families willingly? Why would our government make it difficult for women to get healthcare? In fact, why would we make it hard for everyone to get healthcare? Why would we hate workers rights? Why would does this government accuse professionals in the press of doing their jobs? 

Is it because America is homophobic, sexist, anti-semitic, racist, xenophobic and every other darn thing? It could be, but those are all philosophic answers and descriptors, rather than root causes.  They are different descriptions of hate, hate, hate, hate, and hate.  So then comes the question underneath it all — why does this country’s administration hate its citizens?

We are a nation of Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and various mixes of that. No matter what we are individually, we are not the majority. That means everybody else combined is. Why would we hate them?  We are a nation of men and women and apparently everything in between. If America has more women than men, why does the administration pass laws that penalize women? Isn’t that hating or distrusting or denying the majority’s legal rights?  We are a nation of people who like to be in love and occasionally have sex as a way to express that. 99% of people hope to that in their lifetimes. Why would we hate people who all do the same thing?  We are a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs, and atheists and a lot of others. Why would our government hate anyone that’s not Christian — and a certain flavor  of Christian at that!?

These are simply facts — citizens of this country are all a mixture of all these things . Why does our government hate  the majority of its citizens? What could those citizens possibly have done to require such a response? The answer is nothing anyone could do can justify this kind of treatment of America’s citizens by its government.

Years ago, someone I know had a bumper sticker which said, “Ordain women or stop baptizing them”. There are, factually, women who seemed to be called to ministry. A majority of people in any group can see that. They follow the rules and belong to the church. They are welcomed into full fellowship through baptism. Why should we sell them the half-set-of-rights package when they were told they bought the complete package?

In the same way, “Give citizens their rights or stop making them pledge allegiance and take an oath to become citizens”. We are told that the Constitution is for all citizens. We know that roads are driven on by all types of citizens and even people who aren’t citizens. Schools are built for all citizens. If they’re all citizens, they should have the rights of all citizens, and — for dignity’s sake — that should include the right to not have your parents taken away. Poor people are citizens just as much as rich ones are.  Full citizens should have full citizenship rights. That’s what makes America great. People who don’t understand that don’t want America to be great — in the first place or , as they say, “again”.  People who don’t understand that, in fact, hate most of  America, because they hate the part of America that’s not just like them — the majority.

Next time you vote, where ever and when ever you vote, don’t vote for someone who hates the majority of America that exists, but wants an America just like them from the past. They get their share of rights already. They don’t need yours.

 

Resisting with Peace,

John

 

 

 

In Praise of Good Kids and their parents…

My friend Liz is growing two incredible sons into maturity. My friends Jane and Ron have raised two great daughters. My wife and I have two really good girls — each special and wonderful in their own way. My children know other good kids and we know their parents.  George and Lourdes are raising a daughter who plays hockey and sings and is smart and. Derek and Dawn are raising two great girls. Rick has raised 3 great kids, whom he is proud of. Jane and her partner have 3 great kids. The list goes on. Ron has 2 and Bob has 1 and Eric and Evelyn have two brilliant incredible kids. Stephanie has 2 great kids. Marilyn and Paul have raised great children who are now raising their own great children. 

For years now, I have gone to work and seen children whose lives are a mess, or for whom safe behavior was maybe 1 day per month. I don’t blame those kids for their issues, though I  often blame their parents who have lived horrible lives as well. Sometimes biology is way off, sometimes the environment does it, sometimes both secure mental illness in place. I also, of course, know thugs and criminals and anti-social environments all of whom I don’t live with. 

And then I come home, and see my own children or a friend’s child and  I don’t know how we got so lucky. I know all of my friends have tried to be decent parents, and raise decent, kind, loving children. I also, from my work, know that that isn’t always enough. Lots of good parents have messed up kids. Honestly, sometimes I think, “there but for the grace of God, go I”. 

And yet, in a world of politics and hatred, of people who seem to prefer ignorance and want to teach their children the same, none of my friends do. I am happy to have them over to the house, happy to see how incredible the world will be when our children run it — and they will run it. The artist, the educator, the writer, the teacher, the social worker, the actor, the singer, the straight out good parent, perhaps a pastor or two. Who knows? 

I know the press portrays the juvenile delinquent as the norm, and I don’t know if it’s true or not. I may be the wrong person to ask. For no particularly good reason today, I just want to counter that narrative with all the experiences I have with incredible kids. If your a parent I know, you did okay for yourself and for all of us.
Resisting with Peace,
John

I Remember It Very Differently… 

Watching the news on my iPad on CBSNews,  they showed a live feed of the CPAC (Conservative …something). The key speakers were Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, being interviewed by the head of the organization, I assume.  They talked glowingly about President Trump and “the best cabinet ever”, they talked about (I kid you not) “Saint Ronald” Reagan, and they talked about their origins, under that great right-wing leader Barry Goldwater.   Boy, do I remember things differently. And, except for Goldwater, I was there.  

So, here’s the myth that worshippers of Reagan and early skinheads remember:  Richard Nixon wasn’t that bad a guy. Partisanship and that wacky press had him impeached for nothing. Gerald Ford was… Gerald Ford. A nice guy, a human being (aka “soft”).  America was weak under Jimmy Carter. The Iranians took our hostages and it was Game On!. Ronald Reagan came in and the very next day, Reagan gave ’em “what for” and they sent our hostages home. So there. Democrats weak, Reagan strong. (Grunt, Grunt).  America, under Reagan, feels good about itself once again. We’re the land of the free and the home of the brave again. Then Reagan said, “Tear down that wall” and they did — because Reagan said so. When Reagan left office, the world was as it should be.  The debt was reduced. The economy was great. Trickle down economics really worked . Companies made lots of money. The government decreased taxes and people found an abundance of jobs and money. Finally, we were proud of our soldiers again after a few minor skirmishes we called wars and won, for the first time in forever… In fact, things were so great that everybody was happy and we were proud to be Americans.

This is what I remember. Richard Nixon had an “enemies list” of people who opposed  him and he wanted to squash them. Among people this affected: John Lennon, the Black Panthers, peace groups, activists for humanity. He was petty and vindictive and Watergate was a scandal that brought down the White House because we believed that no one, not even the President , was above the law. Nixon was disliked by many, but he was considered a moderate compared to Barry Goldwater, the founder of the coalition now called CPAC. Just recently it came out that he and his cronies sabotaged the peace talks which could have ended the war in 1968, rather than 4 years later. Regardless of how you think we could have done in the war, that’s 4 years of death, destruction, conflicts in this country and in  Vietnam that are on Nixon’s head. I was a kid, but I don’t remember thinking he was a particularly bad or evil man. I will never look at him the same way with this new information.  Using politics to continue a war or any tragedy is immoral in so many ways that I just can’t imagine it. Had people known, Nixon, the “liberal alternative” to Goldwater would never been elected in the first place. As an aside: That many fewer soldiers would have brought back opiate addictions and drugs and much of the war on drugs would have been unnecessary.

Almost everyone agrees that Gerald Ford was a good President. He was mentally stable and a decent man, but Chevy Chase made his career over Ford’s physical clumsiness. 

Jimmy Carter was, and is, a great man. He claims that during his 4 years not one single shot was fired by our military. That said, he wasn’t always the best President. The Arab oil embargo changed everything we believed in the world. The olympics brought terrorism and the PLO to our attention.  The Iranians kicked out the Shah we had enstalled years before and took our hostages. Cuban jails were opened and many criminals came to our shores while Carter thought of them as “asylum seekers”. No one could have seen these changes coming and Carter didn’t have strategies to deal with these events. He was probably naive, but he brokered a peace between Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin which was unimaginable. I think everyone I know can agree on my assessment of Ford and Carter. That’s the last time, to my knowledge, the country had a shared opinion about history. 

Then came Reagan. After a dispiriting Carter era, Reagan fixed that problem by lying to us, saying that the old ways were best. By “old ways”, he meant “before the Civil Rights movement”. Maybe it was a “great time”, but only if you were a White male, and by extension maybe, a White female. After we, the citizens, worked as a country to include more and more people in democracy, Reagan divided us into “deserving” and “not deserving” even if circumstances were beyond someone’s control. Some homeless people, he said, wanted to be homeless. Under Reagan, free thought was curtailed in a new way: you couldn’t get college loans unless you signed up for the draft because “college kids” had “caused all that turmoil” in the 60’s. Government was bad. Freedom to avoid social progress was good. African-Americans were marginalized and Reagan fostered the “one issue ” voting thing we now see. The “one issue” was abortion. It didn’t matter what other issues were on your mind. Anti-Abortion rights got people to the voting booth to vote for Reagan. Reagan told us we could have won the Vietnam War if we hadn’t stopped ourselves and wanted peace. Suddenly “liberal” was a swear word. 

Taxes were lowered. Yay! We didn’t have to pay for each other! Fire companies suffered, schools suffered, anything the government did was de-funded and with it went the social contract. The poor couldn’t get welfare or food stamps because they “didn’t deserve them”. Blacks didn’t deserve rights or help because they were all a drain on the economy and deserved to be poor (poor being bad), because they chose to be poor.  

And here’s the biggest lie of all: Trickle-down economics never worked, because money never trickled down. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

So, here’s the short version of what I remember: American regained a strong national identity by losing its soul. Ironically, as the “Christian Right” came to power, we became less Christian to each other. Patriotism became defined as “agreement” with racism, sexism, and something new altogether: either bashing or letting die gay folks who “deserved” AIDS. This is the world Ronald Reagan gave us: Think about yourself. Don’t think about others. If you do care about others, you’re not patriotic enough.

Homelessness increased under Reagan. The debt went up under Reagan. Compassion went down under Reagan. Ongoing war was encouraged by Reagan. The Drug War started under Reagan. Poverty went up under Reagan. Division went up under Reagan. Deep thought was discouraged under Reagan. “Simple and wrong” was encouraged by Reagan. 

In my view, America –as one countrystopped being great under Reagan. Far from being a saint, Reagan demonized most of America and said certain  parts of America — straight, White, men with jobs — deserved to be great. 

But here’s the even sadder part: Reagan was considered moderate compared to Goldwater. Trump at CPAC represents Goldwater Republicans! Even Reagan wouldn’t divide us as much as Trump/Goldwater/Steve Bannon types! 

Honestly, this is how I remember it and I was there. When people talk about “alternate facts” and “lies”, reconstructing history, they are the ones doing it. I was there, the 20-something or 30-something square-jawed neo-conservative White, hateful and violent folks weren’t Don’t believe them. Don’t let them spread lies. Don’t buy into their BS. 

If that makes me “unpatriotic ” and “unAmerican”, so be it. At least I’m telling the truth. If “making America great again” doesn’t mean making all of America great, I don’t want it. If being patriotic means not caring, (and thus, not a follower of Jesus) then I guess I am unpatriotic. At least I can look at myself in the mirror and not be insane.

Resisting with peace, and truth…
John

 

 

An Open Letter To President Trump 

Mr. President:

Approximately one month ago, you took an oath that you would “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of [your] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”. A man’s word is his bond. I expect you to live up to your commitment. 

When the Bill of Rights (a part of Constitution)  says 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; it is your job to nor allow Congress to  make laws banning any religion. It is also your job not to encourage such laws. Christianity cannot be our national religion. Islam can not be prevented, nor can any other religion. You took an oath to do this. I expect you to do it.

When the Constitution says, there shall be no “abridging the freedom of speech”, calling people ‘professional protesters”, saying we should “punch people in the mouth” for speaking up, does just that. It is unconstitutional to do such things. You and members of Congress who support such actions must stop doing that. You (and they) gave their word.

or of the press; railing against the press as “the opposition party”, refusing to answer questions asked by the press and so on is Unconstitutional. You must stop this from occurring. I don’t care if you like the press or not. You took an oath to protect freedom of the press. That is your job. Please do it.

 or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, attacking people who are peacefully protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline — or any other site — is  Unconstitutional . You should not encourage this, nor let that happen, nor — in fact — order it to happen.

and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. when people in Congress tell another member of Congress to stop talking, you are required to defend her. When a cause of Hispanics is prevented from meeting with your administration, it is your job to prevent that from happening. You, in order to faithfully execute your office, must prevent that

This is what you swore to do. This is what the President does — protects the Constitution. If you want the authority the office has, this is your responsibility. Do your job, or lose your job!  

Resisting with peace,
John Madsen-Bibeau, US citizen

We Can Be Heroes…For More Than One Day (thinking of Silas)

As you probably know by now, I love comic books and have for years. As comics have migrated to the Big Screen and the little one, something interesting has happened. I’ve see it twice in the last few weeks, and it applies to us as well.

According to the Huffington Post, Melissa Benoist, the actress who plays Supergirl on the new series, said that she “tries to embrace her character Kara Danvers in her own life, pushing to be the best possible version of herself everyday.  “[Supergirl] and Superman are truth, justice, and the American way,” the 28-year-old actress said. “She sets some really high standards to live up to and, playing the role, it has definitely infused itself into my life and helped me to be a stronger, braver person than I ever have been. It’s been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Definitely the most difficult job, but really rewarding in that way. I love it. I love Supergirl.” 

She made a sign for the Women’s March that said”Hey, Donald, don’t try to grab MY p…y. It’s made of steel!”

Today, the news comes that Chris Evans, who plays Captain America in the movies has tweeted taking on former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Evans couldn’t remain silent after Duke gave his support for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation.The actor tweeted, “If David Duke….DAVID!…DUKE!… thinks you’re right, then you are unequivocally wrong.” And further, when Duke responded, Evans responded with a compilation of quotes that Duke had made in the past. in short, he responded to bigotry with facts.

Now you may reasonably say, “They’re just actors — celebrities who opinions don’t matter”. In that case, you miss the point. It is because they are actors that I call your attention to them. No, they are not real superheroes. They pretend for a living! But the iconic nature of the characters they portray calls out from what Jung termed  “the collective unconscious” and in finding that part of their nature, they become the characters they portray on screen. More to the point, though, is that that part of them guides them. The archetype sets the standard for the person, and the person becomes more than they are. 

When we are guided by the heroic icons within ourselves, we too, can act like heroes or heroines. Beyond prooftexting, no one knows which words of Jesus or Buddha or anyone else are actual quotes. But one could do worse than trying to imitate either of them. Gandhi wasn’t perfect, nor MLK, nor Kennedy either. But using any of them as role models, and striving to live up to the legacy that they left,  can make us more than we think we are. 

Yes, we too, can pretend to be heroes. And in pretending, we can actually be heroes, for more than one day. We don’t need super powers. We need courage, and kindness, and decent treatment of one another. Apparently, those things can be found within us, just as they have within these two actors.

So, maybe you want to find a hero of either gender and try to become like them, to fight back evil with good. This is the time to do it.
Resisting with peace,
John

I Refuse To Be Afraid …

Donald Trump and Kelly Anne Conway want us to fear people who are not from here. Oddly, they’re ok with terrorists who are from here — the KKK and neo-nazis and such. 

I don’t want to be stupid, but I refuse to be afraid. I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again. No, the world isn’t always safe. Yes, there are lots of crazy, violent people out there, but there are far more decent, sane, caring people out there and –according to the statistics, I should be safe. Beside that, as a Christian, even if I die, I live. Not that I want to die, I don’t. I just want to clearly be alive while I live.

Years ago, when I came home from college, there was supposedly a gang war happening in West Covina, California where my parents lived, according to the newspapers. There were random cars, filled with random kids, shooting random people. I was hungry. I walked to the local 7-11, just as I always had done, and have I have since done. I didn’t see any people with guns. I clearly wasn’t shot by one. My experience is that terrorism and crime are over-reported, not under-reported.   We rent out far too much space in our minds for the mass shootings, the murders, the random violence and give kindness far too little coverage. I’m not saying that we don’t have our “Mary got stuck in a well” or “Billy got a nice puppy” stories. We do. But real life decency, kids got good grades or Girl Scouts built a shelter or guy in traffic let you go by — that somehow gets lost. 

Virginia Satir points out that — while fatal driving accidents happen every day — millions of people co-operate, follow the rules, and get where they’re going. Most of us don’t pick fights, most of us aren’t jerks. Most of us want to get along. We just do. 

In the more specific political scene, the number of terror attacks from the 7 countries we’re banning is zero.  Why should I fear them? It makes no sense.

In addition to that, I have seen the alternative — loving community where people I didn’t know sang this song: “Welcome in, take my hand. Let us walk no more and talk no more/as strangers in this land. Let the waters of our lifetime/roll all over one another… Welcome in”. After that, why miss the chance to live life well?

Resisting with peace, 

John