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LEBENSRAUM musings from the PAD

First, if you have not read up on our new play what the heck are you waiting for?

That pretty much leads me directly to my “second.” If you have read about the play and have not picked up a ticket, I hope that I can talk you into that here. My suggestion is to get a ticket to opening night, Fri., Jan. 8. We’ve finally managed to make our opening nights a thing! You might wonder, “aren’t opening nights always a thing?” Well, they are to us, it’s just that Tampa audiences are notorious for waiting until the last weekend, often making closing weekends more the thing. For us to have a successful run with every production, we have to reverse this trend.

We have some baller partners who’ve really stepped up to make opening nights special. Rollin’ Oats Tampa, our newest season sponsor, has started donating a big ol’ fresh-baked cookie, individually wrapped, to all of our opening night goody bags. Fodder & Shine is our official opening night post-show destination, where they throw a party after every opening featuring a sumptuous spread of show-themed snacks and a drink ticket for all of our guests. We also set up a photo drop in front of the theater to commemorate your visit. The opening night of Lebensraum features an even greater honor — playwright Israel Horovitz will be in attendance and part of the post-show talkback with the artists!

We are humbled by this relationship with one of the world’s greatest living dramatists, a relationship we began earlier this year with his week-long residency in February that culminated in the rehearsed staged reading of Sins of the Mother that included a post-show Q&A, poetry reading, and book-signing. Over the summer we were also honored to be among the first companies staging a reading of his short play Breaking Philip Glass. Now we start 2016 with a full production of his play Lebensraum.

The play offers us a view of a fantastical future where a German Chancellor wakes from a nightmare inspiring him to make reparations for the Holocaust by inviting 6 million Jews back into the country with the promise of jobs and citizenship, creating an unintended sea of troubles that leads us to consider that it might just happen all over again. It is critical of me to stress here that this is NOT “just” a Jewish play. It’s not “just” a play inspired by the Holocaust. This story is universal. Horovitz says that “I just think with what is going on all over the world — *again* — in Europe right now … it just breaks my heart, this is a good time to start thinking about this play again and not just thinking about it as a play about anti-semitism but thinking about it as a play about racism … at my age, if you were to ask me what’s the dumbest thing you’ve seen in your life it’s racism.” Check out a full interview with him on this play here.

Throughout the piece Horovitz gets after the idea that we keep making the same mistakes as a species. Our tribal tendencies, our bigotry and racism, is not just confined to conflict between Jews and Gentiles.

Hitler may have used the ideological construct Lebensraum (literally “living space” though often idiomatically likened to “elbow room”), but he didn’t invent it. We’ve done this over and over again throughout human history. Hitler even pointed to our own American Manifest Destiny (from sea to shining sea!) as evidence that the German people would get behind his plan since it worked so well here. Countless empires and nation states have shifted borders, encroached on the lands and resources of others, purged those believed to be unworthy or infidels, or have simply taken things away from a group of people on the foundation of divine right, historical precedent, national ideology, or just in-the-moment mob mentality.

I watch the world burn around me and I churn inside, finding my thoughts difficult to articulate and often fearful of offending someone, somehow, because my thoughts don’t fit neatly into a particular party/ideology. I see conflicts continuing on in Iraq and Afghanistan, I see antisemitism rearing its ugly head again in countries like France and Germany, I watch Islamaphobia run RAMPANT across the globe, I see the horrors coming out of Syria, I watch the aftermath of terror attacks around the world. Horovitz says in a piece he wrote for NPR that “rien n’est simple,” “nothing is simple,” and I cannot agree more.

We don’t like to talk about what we did to the natives in this country, don’t even bother picking at the Arab-Israeli scab, and in general it just seems we somehow never learn that marginalizing (or worse) one group of people for the benefit of another is just a horrible, horrible idea. It’s just too easy for us to say that this situation over here has nothing to do with this other thing that happened in the past that we try to point to as a warning.

This all can start to feel like a massive downer and Horovitz himself has light-heartedly commented that “no one wants to watch a play about the Holocaust.” To circumvent this, or at least to lessen it, he’s done two brilliant things: first he’s set this in a possible future looking BACK at the Holocaust and then second he’s created a show that is so highly theatrical, that so seamlessly blends high comedy and the best of drama that it is a 95-minute ride that never feels heavy-handed. Take a look at the cast and rehearsal stage manager talking about the show:

LEBENSRAUM interviews

My doctoral dissertation used Kenneth Burke’s Comic Frame of Acceptance, it’s key to my argument and a way that I truly try to look at the world. I’d like to believe by and large that my fellow humanity is not evil, just mistaken. Looking at the world through a broad comic lens allows us to see the bigger picture, it allows for nuance that’s just not possible with that hyper-focused, narrow, tragic view of the world. A thing I love about this play is that it allows an audience to see situations and events we tend to only allow a tragic view of and places them in the comic frame. Through such a move perhaps we’re given a new perspective. That perspective hopefully stays with us after the performance, and perhaps we find a way to articulate that somehow to someone else. That’s the only way real change occurs — person to person. It’s not the art, it’s us. The art is just the thing that makes it possible, a catalyst, for us to to come to those awakenings. As Horovitz says toward the end of his play, “Art has no answers, no solutions, no resolutions … Art only has vision and revision … Art has only hope and more hope … again and again, against circumstance and history … What we hope life might be, again and again, against what we see it has been. In hope, there is a reason to continue.”

This is such a timely play, and I believe there are countless conversations that can be generated by it. I hope that you choose to come out opening night. If you can’t, we’ll also have another talkback on Jan. 17 including the artists and Elizabeth Gelman from the Florida Holocaust Museum. I’d love to see you out and have you as part of this conversation!

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