1. Are we in a time where we should stick to our guns or where should be more flexible and adapt to the changing times? Is one of these a better stance than the other, especially for our leaders to follow? (Think Abe Lincoln (adaptor) vs. Andrew Johnson (stuck to his plan no matter what).)
2. Can a leader have a bully pulpit in these times? Is it really viable given the 24/7 constant opinion chatter spewing out pronouncements right and left? Was it ever really effective? (Think FDR and his fireside chats, Ronald Reagan and “the evil empire,” and MLK Jr.’s “I have been to the mountain top.”)
3. And because we all see the same news, hear the same music and stream the same entertainment — are we all (where “all” is all in the world) becoming more and more alike? Or does this movement toward apparent sameness make us cling to our specific differences all the more?
Today’s Something Else: Three observations on My Antonia on the road in Fergus Falls
1) As we Board the bus in the bright February sunshine ready to head north for the first performance of My Antonia on tour in Fergus Falls, Minn., I can’t help but think of how many times I’ve boarded a bus, jumped onto a train and hopped into a car to tour Minnesota since Illusion’s first tour in 1976. Our life as a Theater Company started on the road with our first full-length play-The Pioneer Play -to celebrate the Bicentennial (remember the optimism of those times?).
We created that play from diaries, oral histories and stories about the Immigrant European farmers that came to this land in the mid-19th Century. We traveled to 10 communities and put the set in a trailer and all piled into one our parents’ cars — a living-room size Chevy Caprice. We were like Jim and Antonia as we trucked ourselves and our goods along the back roads of Minnesota and North Dakota that summer. And the landscape from our car and now from the window of our tour bus is not that much different from the land described in Cather’s novel: “There was nothing but land. Not a country, but the material out of which countries are made.”
2) It’s now that awkward time of waiting for the director. The actors are donning their costumes and making up their faces; the stage manager is running around doing all the last-minute checking; and the sponsor is out in the lobby instructing the volunteers how to seat people and who’s going to sell the concessions. We are ready to open and I am anxious to see how the audience responds. This play, from the moment the book came into the public domain and we wanted to adapt it, to my excitement when Allison said “yes” to working with me, to the process to get to tonight, all has been a labor of love.
In some ways the story of Antonia makes me think of the story of my Grandmother, Sophie, who, like Antonia, had an irrepressible life spirit. Sophie came to Minnesota in 1905 after one of the last, major pogroms that devastated the shtetls of Russia. The family lore is that she cut her hair, dressed as a boy (she was 15) walked to across Poland to a port on the North Sea and made her way to America, bringing her family over a year later. She, like Antonia, was a force of nature and was a major center of my young life. So, as I sit here thinking about the play and how it will go, I say a little prayer of thanks to my Grandma Sophie for giving me insight into the strength a new immigrant like Antonia had to have to survive.
3) Back on the bus for the long ride home. It’s nighttime, and we all are breathing a sigh of relief because the show went very well in Fergus Falls — looked good, sounded good, everyone hit the right emotional moments, and the audience even laughed (not something you can count on with Minnesota audiences — “I didn’t want to disturb the performers by laughing out loud.”). I notice the view out the window at night is not the same as during the day. There is no “complete dome of heaven” anymore — too many lights, too many people on the road — but if you squint and hold your hand up to the window, you can block some of the clutter of modern America and see those same bright stars Jim and Antonia saw on their first wagon ride from the train platform to the unknown and unchartered world of their new life. And with those thoughts, I fell asleep and dreamt my way back to Minneapolis.
Come see us on tour throughout Minnesota now through March.