Words by John

Musings, Media Commentary and Original Fiction

MUSINGS BY JOHN

WE USED TO BE BRAVE, BOLD AND HEROIC – WHAT HAPPENED?

It is Christmas Eve 2016 and I remember vividly the mission of Apollo 8 and their trip to the moon and first time an earth-born spaceship orbited the moon. It was the first close look at the moon but the astronauts each commented on the stark loneliness and desolation of the moon. But it was as they approached from the dark side of the moon they were in awe of their home Earth.

Commander Frank Boorman said later that there in the darkness and vastness of space was the only color. A world of blue and white and the color pictures they took of Earthrise would become the picture to define a decade of adventure, danger, heartache and yes, triumph. Until this moment, the set backs and the Russians seemingly always ahead of the USA program called for a bold decision and even bolder men to carry out this all important mission.

The odds of getting the crew back, according to Mission Control later – much later – were based at about – at best – fifty-percent. The astronauts, their families and the politicians all understood that of these three men died orbiting the moon it would end our attempts before President's Kennedy's promise of a man on the moon by the end of the decade but for all time. Or worst case scenario leave the moon for the Soviet Union to conquer.

Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve live television broadcast where they read the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis (and can you imagine THAT happening today?). Frank Boorman, James Lovell and William Anders literally went “where no man had gone before” and paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill Kennedy's promise to the world. And here is the amazing thing, it brought the world together. The world of the late 1960s was in crisis. Wars, assassinations and devastation was all around. The Cold War between us and them seemed constantly on the brink of explosion and here, three men gave the world a view of their planet and placed it in a different perspective.

The Earth in that spectacular Earthrise picture and video showed a small and fragile place in the vastness of space. It was the only “friendly” looking place and certainly the only color seen by color TV cameras out the window of Apollo 8. Even the Soviet Union congratulated the three men on their great adventure. The world witnessed live on TV, together, a Cold War event that became a defining moment for mankind. We lived together on a small island in space. It was not us and them but we, and perhaps it was we for the first time.

So what has happened to us? Men in their early thirties were making life and death decisions at NASA and the future of not just space travel but science as well. The technology in that capsule was scarily crude and not as powerful as the iPhone in my pocket. How far would we be now if not for the decision to risk the lives of three men and the future of science to move forward? I cannot think of a world leader or a corporate leader today able to make that kind of decision.

We have become a fearful and mistrusting breed of human that look inward instead of outward. We have stripped ourselves of a space program and we depend on admittedly inferior Russian ( and actually outdated Soviet) technology to get to what they call the International Space Station but in reality a mishmash of capsules and former cargo bays loosely connected in orbit around the Earth. There is a new space race between Elon Musk and Jeff Besoes for corporate dominance of who is building the next generation of rocket and space vehicle.

There is a new Cold War brewing this time with China – Russia may bluster and use old technology to harass their neighbors but they do not have the money or will for space any more than our current government – and their desire to be on the moon by 2020 or at the least 2022. They are building a naval fleet and bases in the South China Sea and we stand ready for nothing. We were once bold, heroic and adventurous. We are a shadow of our former selves and the world is even more dangerous than at any other time. NASA was once a source of just not national pride but the pride of humanity because we sought to explore and NOT conquer. We went to space in the name of the Earth and humankind. Will the Chinese?

POSTED: 12/242016

 

CINCINNATI SHAKESPEARE COMPANY ON TOUR IS A TRANS-FORMATIVE EXPERIENCE

Yeah, I know. Sounds a little over the top and a bit too nose-in-the-air for real life. Still I sat through a public performance of this talented company's touring production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for approximately the sixth year in a row (could even be more). The Portsmouth Area Arts Council brings it in every year for school performances and at least one public performance.

How can I sit through the same production year after year? Because this talented and insightful company of actors, directors and crew-people craft a different “take” on the material every year. The touring company is also where the newest members of the company as a whole start their way to main stage and in-theater productions. So approximately every two years is a completely new cast with perhaps only one or two returning. The returning members are usually the touring manager and in charge of getting the show on the road.

So how different can each new production be? Well, remember one thing that regardless of the costumes, the attitude or the “take” it is the classic and complete version of the Shakespeare play. So the difference is in the presentation and not the words. The students are getting real Shakespeare to the ear and discovering one thing that was lost to me when I was their age. And that one thing is that Shakespeare – the plays and the sonnets – were meant to be spoken aloud and not read in silence on the page. In the hands of real actors, the material leaps to life on the stage (or school auditorium or an outside venue) and is heard as speech and not a weird kind of English in an even more foreign rhythm pattern.

Fortunately, The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company employs real and talented actors. Last year the “take” was a Grease (as in the musical) motif in costume and attitude. It was a fun and lively production that had students and teachers cheering, laughing and – here is the most important part – listening and understanding the words, the plot and enjoying themselves. The show I just saw took its inspiration obviously from Hamilton (the hip-hop revolutionary bio-musical) and places some of the dialogue into a hip-hop meter complete with original beats playing and some of the actors acting as a beat box (Google the terms I have too much to explain already). During the question and answer period I asked who transformed the concept of a hip-hop Shakespeare. Touring manager Kyle Brumley also gave me more information one-on-one later.

The touring company's director Caitlin McWethy (who doesn't tour with them incidentally) was the one to come up with the concept and then execute it with composer Kick Lee and through yet another education arm of the company called Elementz – which according to the brochure is “Where street art meets street smart, Elementz is an urban oasis of hope and a catalyst of change for Cincinnati's inner-city youth” – Lee is a graduate of the Elementz program and has a degree in Music Production and works in Hollywood and the recording industry.

McWethy's own words describe it best: “This production uses Hip Hop to enhance the already existing changes in rhythm in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (excuse me while I push my glasses up my nose). When one of Shakespeare’s fairies casts a spell, Shakespeare switches from iambic pentameter (ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM) to trochaic tetrameter (BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum). An iamb (ba-BUM) mirrors our heartbeat, so a trochee (BA-bum) creates an unconscious discomfort in the audience. Pentameter mirrors the length and cadence of a standard conversational sentence, while tetrameter feels more like a child’s rhyme. The combination of trochees and tetrameter gives Shakespeare’s magic a distinctly different feel from the rest of his text – this is where the Hip Hop comes in. By rapping the magic spells and underscoring those sections of the play with Hip Hop, we’re highlighting how Shakespeare toys with rhythm to tell a better story.

“But there’s something bigger here too: on the surface Hip Hop and Shakespeare seem like polar opposites; but underneath, the art comes from the same building blocks. Put the two together and they not only work harmoniously, but in fact their combined effort makes both stronger, richer, more alive, more honest. At this moment in time, that symbolizes something massive. Something I am proud to show audiences of all ages.”

Okay, yeah, a lot of terms and concepts here but in the end this all works to create a new way to look at the rhythms of the work and how we speak and understand. I am not a fan of commercial hip-hop but here in this production (and as it does in Hamilton and before in In The Heights) it accents and enhances the awareness of the differences in how the characters communicate with one another. It is a brilliant concept she came up with to utilize with Shakespeare and they cast the exactly the right cast members to bring it all to life.

There are six actors that play all the various parts of the play. Costumes, changes in voice and attitude are part of the transformation the actors signal they are a different person. The actors in this production include the aforementioned Kyle Brumley as well as Aiden Sims; Brandon Jospeh Burton; Crystian Wiltshire; Vanessa Sawson and William Cary Davenport. All of them, with the exception of Davenport, were also part of the Summer Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo and Juliet that was presented on the SSU Alumni Green. Returning veteran from past years, Josh Katawick, appeared in Romeo and Juliet temporarily.

But it doesn't really matter because each and every one of these young professionals have the talent to take you to another place, another time and give you that trans-formative experience.

POSTED: 12/13/2016

PS: The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a full season of productions which include non-Shakespeare plays as well. They have their own theater in Cincinnati but will be moving to more modern digs in 2017. Go to their website cincyshakes.com or their Facebook page for more information.

 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS AT THE RIGHT MOMENT WAS STUNNING

The Sunday before Thanksgiving this year was both the worst day of my recent life but also the best. It had been a busy day at church. The medication I am on to feel better was backing up and making me feel miserable, as it does periodically. I needed to go to Kroger's for over-the-counter-stuff to hopefully move a mountain or two so I could feel better. I live in the downtown area about five blocks or so from the store.

I use a huge-ass power wheel chair I call The Behemoth to get around these days. I had given up my driver's license the last time I was in a nursing facility recovering. I was weak and getting weaker in strength and it seemed the right time to move on and away from driving. The Behemoth does everything except blend drinks. It lays back to allow my legs to be elevated; it raises up another foot or soI can reach cabinets; it also goes very fast if needed. Its big, heavy and without power dead in the water. Last January through March we had battery issues and they finally worked out issues. But it proved I needed to be careful.

The chair has two motors and two huge batteries. Insurance paid for the chair because of a need to preserve the strength in my arms and shoulder (which I was damaging using the manual chair for everything) so I could take care of myself a little longer. Batteries can be exchanged yearly and should be – they wear out. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving The Behemoth suddenly said it was out of power and died in the middle of Eighth Street just beyond Kroger's parking lot and in front of Fifth-Third Bank's drive through. I coasted to the curb.

I had left the apartment with four of six bars showing on the control panel. It should have been enough to get me there and back and through the rest of day. I had done this many times and was confident when I left. In the middle of shopping I noticed it was slowing down and I left for home ending up on the curb – dead in the water.

I called the person I usually call when I am in dire need and we both didn't know what to do. The chair wouldn't fit in anyone's trunk – it was too heavy to lift anyway – and I was five blocks from the apartment. He asked if I was warm enough and he would be there as soon as possible. I lied and said I was warm enough. It was getting dark and colder but why worry him more? As I ended the call a big-ass white diesel pickup truck pulled up and three gentlemen got out. They asked if I needed help. I told them I was fine and friends were on the way.

The gentleman driving was well dressed but the two who got out of the second seat of the cab (did I say this pickup was huge?) were not. They were scruffy, needing a bath and reeked of old alcohol. They offered to push me the five blocks. I said no, it was too heavy, but the smaller of the two said, “Nah, we can push. The girlfriend's mother has one and it conks out all the time. How do you release the brakes?” Okay so he knew there was a braking system which prevented pushing the chair. So maybe? I told them how on each of the two motors and they began pushing me. Thank goodness there was a seat belt.

The driver said he would drive on and meet us ahead in case there were other issues. I indicated early I had no money on me – I learned from living in Los Angeles not to carry cash – and they both laughed. The one who knew about the breaking systems said. “No problem We're HOBOS – Helping Other Bros and Others – its what we do.” So I sat back as they pushed me down Chillicothe Street. The other one asked if that was Kentucky ahead. I said yes and he sighed a big sigh and said, “Well at least we'll be out of state before dark.”

As we came to Chillicothe and Fifth (Hudson House is on Fifth Street) I pointed past Bigelow Church and at “the big brown box” as our destination. The guy in the truck said he'd go on and see if there was help in the lobby. And we continued on down Fifth Street. They were huffing and puffing – I mean with me in the chair it was even heavier – but we finally reached the lobby. We shook hands they refused money and left me in the care of people I knew in the lobby. I turned on the chair's console and it said I had two bars. It was incredibly slow still but with Mr. Goodwin following I made it to my apartment and plugged in and sat there amazed by what happened.

I've often sat in church and heard ministers, priests and others talk about recognizing Jesus in the unsavory. What would you do? I was nervous when these men approached and offered help to a helpless stranger. They were not the people I would necessarily strike up a conversation with and yet they offered something I need so much of at the time – kindness, understanding and unconditional help. If ever there was an example of the innate goodness – and yes, love – in the ordinary person here it was in all its Biblical glory.

I sat in the growing dark thinking about what had just happened. It amazed me then and amazes me now. When people say there are no miracles, they refuse to understand what shape a miracle can take. Believe me I saw Jesus in the scruffy faces of two men who obviously drank too much and wanted out of Ohio by dark. But thank God they were there.

WRITTEN AND POSTED: 11/24/2016

PS – There is a dead battery cell and insurance won't replace it until January since it is not completely dead. The person who manages maintenance on the chair said to continually top off the charge and don't run it down too much. I've been able to go to a meeting at Shawnee State University; still going to Coffee @ the Lofts and Port City Cafe but I most likely won't be going to Kroger until January.