Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nearing the Home Stretch

Greetings Friends!

So it's been a while since we updated you on our progress over here in Delhi. Many apologies for the wait.

I am lounging here in our Jasola Vihar flat sipping french-pressed coffee and listening to live tracks from The Hold Steady's breakthrough LP, "Stay Positive." It seems little more than coincidence as the album's title has been a recurring mantra for Josiah and I over the past couple of weeks. A lot has happened since our last post. We have made significant progress with our actors but we have also encountered some major (let me repeat for emphasis) MAJOR obstacles.

Here's a comprehensive summary...

Two weeks ago, the ensemble finished writing their four-show performance. The shows are tentatively titled "A True Love Story," "Mariner's Revenge," "Family of Thieves," and "The Fall of the Proud." We held auditions the following week with some unexpected surprises. One reason to "stay positive" is that we now have three enthusiastic girls as a part of our company to complement the nine boys. This is truly a miracle. Unfortunately, one of our most loyal and energetic students decided not to show up for auditions and therefore will not be acting in the showcase he helped create. The absence of that particular student notwithstanding, the ensemble has gelled over the past week as we have been blocking the shows (theatrespeak for "putting the actors in the right places on stage"). The actors have shown tremendous resolve and initiative in learning their lines and more often than not they demonstrate a keen facility at taking directions.

However an unforeseen obstacle was the recent revelation that the Eleventh Standard will be starting their regular classes beginning August 3rd. This stands to remove approximately twenty hours of planned rehearsal time between today and the performance (scheduled for August 17th). Please pray that we can find adequate time in the afternoons and on the remaining weekends to rehearse the show. It's mad scramble mode from here on out.

(Stay Positive. Stay Positive.)

As if that weren't enough of a monkey wrench, we have also run into problems regarding the content of two of the plays...

One of our pieces, "A True Love Story," is based upon the actual events in the life of a student's parents. In the play, the "lovers," Alex and Tina, are from different castes so they decide to marry without their parents knowledge. Tina's family reluctantly approves of the union but Alex's father curses them and says they will not bear children because of their actions. This is the close of Act One. As Act Two unfolds, the couple acknowledges the severity of their elopement and they turn to God for guidance and forgiveness. Ultimately, their faith leads them to repentance and they are blessed with a baby boy (that baby would grow up to be Yabesh, our student). Alex's father and mother return in the final scene to make peace and deliver the blessing Alex thought would never come.

Now, as I said, this is a true account of the events that brought Yabesh into the world and drew his family closer to the Lord. However, the story has raised eyebrows among teachers and administrators for its frank portrayal of feelings between a young man and woman. There is no kissing, hand-holding, or even hugging onstage; the simple mention of "true love" and a "court marriage" independent of a family's designs has drawn the aforementioned scrutiny. In a second story, "Mariner's Revenge," questions have arisen over the main character's disobedience to his parents, a decision which directly precipitates the major objective of the play: to rescue his parents and best friend from the pirates who have kidnapped them.

The pirate story has proven a much easier fix than the story of Yabesh's family, which is by far the most touching and palpable piece in the entire show. In both cases, it has been frustrating to feel accused of encouraging frivolous content for sheer shock value when both of the stories contain scrupulous resolutions to the conflicts that the protagonists face.

The challenge Josiah and I face is to edit the shows appropriately and to convince the administrators of a reputable Christian school of the value and integrity of these shows without overstepping the bounds of cultural sensitivity. We are bending over backwards to do justice both to the students' work and to the reputation of the Good Samaritans School. Our fear is that we will get to the final weekend of rehearsals only to be told that we can't perform the pieces at all.

It's at this point I begin to identify with Jeff Goldblum in ANNIE HALL, meekly admitting: "I forgot my mantra."

Fortunately, I have not totally forgotten my mantra. I temporarily lose it, like my car keys. But more than just staying positive, I have renewed faith that these challenges, which feel far too big for me to handle, are instruments for God to work his will in the lives of all involved. It's hard not to feel despondent when you imagine so much time and effort going up in smoke over something as miniscule as a few lines of dialogue. Theatre is nothing if not provocative, I suppose.

Please keep us, the students, and the community as a whole in your prayers as we negotiate these sensitive issues.

Despite the challenges that await, I couldn't be more excited about the next two weeks. I have no doubt our finest work will arise out of the most seemingly hopeless times. There are more positive items to report (including our fantastical weekend in Mussoorie) but I've been typing away for a while. The Hold Steady has given way to Grizzly Bear's "Veckatimest" (another delightful record) and it might just be cool enough outside for a therapeutic jog around the neighborhood... ahhh India.

Stay Positive y'all :)


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