Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lessons from history

Yesterday, I was an invited guest at a day long celebration of The Group Theater at CUNY (City University New York). I saw some rare footage of interviews with my father, Stella Adler, and Harold Clurman, talking about the Group. It stirred up a lot of memories, familial, and work. It was also a Full Moon. So, normal. What struck me most, after all, was how my life has been driven by the same dreams they had. I love history. It was always my favorite subject in school. I never suffered studying it. Knowing how life was, how people thought and behaved, was more exciting than anything you could make up. That there is nothing more theatrical than life itself. But, that's not the lesson I'm thinking about. What history also teaches us is where we come from. And, how that influences who we are. And, what we do. At the end of the event, there was time left for questions. More than questions, we heard some comments, mostly criticisms of the panel. And, that the Group, and Brecht, yes, he was brought up by a European attending the event. The declaration was that all of this was passé. That young theater people were looking for new forms. My reaction, other than anger at the stupidity of the thought was- In other words, young people believe that great theater, which was what Brecht did, theater that was entertaining and provocative, and spoke to the problems of the audiences lives, and actors whose work was dedicated to being deeply real and truthful, was old-fashioned and passé. Does that mean that young people in the theater today are trying to be awful? I wondered if the gentleman had read Chekhov, It's not a question of old forms, or new forms, but that one speaks from the heart. (My paraphrasing). I hope that young people embrace their history, not ignore it. The risk is that you might learn something. What comes before defines where you come from. And, helps you understand why you are where you are, now. And, sometimes, helps you to understand where you are going. Imagine if we actually learned from history. What would the world be like? Nature learns. Plants and animals develop immunities, as they learn to survive in a changing world. It is totally natural. Most of us human beings have forgotten that we are part of the world we live in. Too often, we think that nothing came before us. Or, that everything came before us. History teaches us to understand, so that we can live in the moment. And, not be afraid of life. It's not a question of old forms or new forms, but to speak to the world we are living in. And, are a part of.