BY STEPHANIE BARBÉ HAMMER
July 12, 2014
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I feel extraneous these days. The political situation (which, is distressing, if not downright depressing, no matter where you stand politically), combined with the long ferry lines to and from the island, and the losses of the Whidbey MFA program, the Coupeville radio station, and the Coupeville pharmacy (I’m not sure that’s related, but I’m throwing it in anyway because I really miss it), along with the financial threats to the local hospital make things feel difficult here. I can’t, for the life of me, get a community college to hire me as an adjunct lecturer, although I’ve won two teaching awards and have three graduate degrees.
Yup, it’s time to face facts: I’m extraneous.
So, what am I doing? I’m reading a bunch of books — novels and poetry — I’m writing (working on three or four different projects), and I’m going to volunteer at the Island Shakespeare Festival in Langley.
OK, Langley people, I admit it. You do have very cool events in the “southern” part of the island.
The Island Shakespeare Festival is staging one of my favorites, “Hamlet,” as well as “Comedy of Errors” and Chekov’s “The Seagull.” I am crazy for “Hamlet.” I’ve seen it, read it, and taught it multiple times. It’s the perfect play for our dysfunctional political moment (“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark”). “Comedy of Errors” is great too. The missing link for me is “The Seagull,” which I’ve never read or seen. So, now I’ll have to read and learn about it this summer.
It’s important to remind yourself every day that, even if you’re extraneous, you can still educate yourself about things that interest you.
As a volunteer at the festival, I will get to see the plays for free and come early to get a great seat. If you haven’t seen a play in a while, allow me to remind you that seeing plays is awesome. There’s something about live performance that is, well, enlivening. I just talked to my daughter, who went to a professional wrestling event with her spouse out in Long Beach, California, and she tells me that she’s still “high” about it. And if New Japan Wrestling isn’t theater, then I don’t know what is (Will Shakespeare would dig it for sure).
Live performance connects us with others in complex and interesting ways. First, we are members of a collective group (a.k.a. the audience), and there is a real pleasure in being with other people at a live performance. If the performance is outside, and especially if it is during daylight (which lasts till past 9 p.m. here), we can really see our fellow-watchers, unlike when we go to the movies. Watching others as we see the show is meaningful.
I remember kids gasping last year, their eyes widening in fear, when Julius Caesar got assassinated in last year’s production of that play. I got to witness these kids’ reactions and, as a result, I shared them. I felt a fear and sorrow at the assassination of Julius Caesar that I had never felt before when watching that scene (and I’ve seen that play many times). I felt something new because I experienced those kids experiencing the play in such an intense manner.
Second, there are the ways in which we connect with the on-stage actors as we watch them perform. It’s fascinating how we come out of a live performance, feeling as though we have “lived” it ourselves, even though we’ve just been watching the whole time. That’s the magic of performance. We get to live lives we’ll never know through our regular, limited means.
When I watch a live performance, what my friend Robert calls “the heat of the real” takes over, and I feel engaged and intensified. I forget myself and my extraneousness, and I lean in and drink in the energy of the performers. I come away feeling not just better, but somehow like I matter more. Like we all matter more.
I’m looking forward to my volunteer time at the Island Shakespeare Festival. And it sounds like they need volunteers. So, for a little while at least, I will not feel extraneous.
Stephanie Barbe Hammer is writing a new magical realist novel, a new collection of poems, and a possible biography in poems and prose about her best friend from the university where she worked. You can follow her on Twitter and read 13 sonnets by wonderful poets for 13 different senators on her website, Magically Real.
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