This weekend I had the privilege of attending the world premiere of The Breath of Stars by Caridad Svich at Carthage College.
The play was a free verse poem, spoken by thirteen actors for one hour and fifteen minutes. It was a whirl through the memories of people all over the world, many of them characters from the Tempest set loose on a brave new world of technology.
The play had its difficulties: free verse poetry as live theater is certainly a dare. It created a disconnect for certain audience members, as free verse poetry is not for the less-artistically minded, and that remains true even when breathtakingly presented on stage. Certain audience members were overheard saying it seemed pretentious, and many left the theater bewildered as to the play was truly about, and if it had been a story at all.
To say that it was not true theater, however, would be wrong. It was not a story so much as it was a collage of memory: to claim that it had a plot, that it was bent on moving the audience in a single, crafted way would indeed be over-reaching. It was poetry, presented as live theater, and it was brilliantly executed. Theater has the flexibility to present both the realm of the novel—plot, and the realm of the poet—expression. Both are art, and expression more so. It was poetry as theater, and poetry has a place and a power to move on stage.
The challenge presented to these thirteen actors and their director, Neil Sharnick, was how to take free verse poetry and make it theater. The script had no defined characters, and no assigned dialogue—it was simply a free verse poem. Tenderly and perceptively split into roles, the free verse poem became a dance of physical and emotional expression. The principle character, Ariel, and her memories did something every free verse poem should have the honor of experiencing—they made it visual. Not only did we hear beautiful imagery, not only were our ears swept up in crystalline loops of language, but we saw what we heard. The dance of the woman forgetting her life was witnessed, the memory of the dead lover was alive on stage. We partook of poetry with our eyes.
The story caught my personal attention with one innovative feature—never before have I seen social media used as an expression of humanity. Social media is defamed and burned on the blog-post stake for its corruption, bullying, and power of distraction. While Twitter and Facebook were not lauded by the play, they were presented as what they really are: humanity on the internet. The Breath of Stars displayed the longing involved in posting a status—do you see me? It explored the alluring power of online connection; someone across the world can catch of glimpse of us, of something deep and almost heavenly in us—they can connect. As people, we yearn for relationship, and even though we fail, we are trying more than ever through the vehicle of the internet. It was moving and ground-breaking to see that used in art.
I applaud everyone involved in the process, especially the actors who drew me into a poem. You have a rare privilege, and may you continue to execute it with the authenticity I saw last night.