Rediscovering the Power of Our Voices
“Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.”Rumi
Nathan, Sarah, and I were about to enter New Rep's blackbox theater to see the one-woman show Unveiled, written and performed by Rohina Malik when Nathan's attention was drawn to something on his phone. There was a ballistic missile attack warning sent to everyone in Hawaii this morning. It took 40 minutes (I believe) before they announced it was a false alarm.
Of course, Nathan was seeing this information after the fact. But he grew up in Hawaii. We met while in our mfa program at the University of Hawaii. I lived there for three years. We got married there. Nathan's parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins live there. We still have many friends there.
All I could think about was the 40 minutes of terror those people were living through--40 minutes that are even scarier given the current state of our government.
We walked into the theater. My head spinning.
The stage was set with three stunningly beautiful Persian rugs--two hanging, one on a platform made of wood (which Nathan built). A table held an orange, a glass tea set with rich dark hazel tea, and a tray. To one side sat a wooden chair. The warm patterns of red, gold, brown, black and cream created a welcoming yet exotic atmosphere.
On their website, New Rep Theater describes the production in this way:
"Racism. Hate crimes. Love. Islam. Culture. Language. Life. Five Muslim women in a post-9/11 world serve tea and uncover what lies beneath the veil in this critically acclaimed one-woman show."
But it was so much more than that. It was approximately 45 minutes (more or less) of human emotion, honesty, laughter, pain, love against hate, tears, and hope. It was honest story telling, and beautiful poetry including the quote from Rumi posted above. It was language and faith and culture. It was one woman taking on many roles of people from different cultures, different races, different life journeys tied by only one thing--their Muslim faith and their choice to wear the veil. It was the story of women learning to dance through the pain, find the power of their love, and remain strong in a world filled with hate.
It was, to me, a reminder of how powerful theatre can be to make a difference in the world. A vivid reminder that if we really listen to the stories of lives lived, it becomes so much more difficult to hate.
Part of the time I sat with a smile, simply enjoying this powerful performance. Sometimes I laughed out loud, as characters exhibited the joy of being who they are. In the end, though, trails of tears poured down my face--tears of heartbreak, of hope, of sadness, of joy.
I wasn't alone in this. Sarah's tears and smiles glistened by my side.
For me it was also a journey into memory. A suppressed memory of my mother being screamed at on the stoop of our home while a very young me was nearby to witness it. The crazed woman using foul language hated my family simply because we are Jewish. The memory of men staring at Nathan and I with hatred in their eyes a few days after 9/11. We were eating in a restaurant, and Nathan is a man with dark hair and brown skin. Nathan's back was too them, so he did not see. They glared and whispered and watched as if ready to attack. They followed us out and my heart beat a fearful drum pattern, but they merely watched as we got in the car and drove away.
Memories that remind me of what I hope to someday change with words, with art, with theatre.
On the way home, I started seeing the posts from my friends from Hawaii, both those who live there and those who still have family there but lived the terror from here. The posts contained humor, anger, fear, and confusion, but the one that hit my heart the most was this one written by a former professor of mine from the University of Hawaii:
"All joking aside, to huddle with my family in our bathroom after the 'this is not a drill' cell phone alert warning of a ballistic missile attack woke us all up—this was a life-changing experience."Dr. Lurana O'Malley
This is the terror we all face in a world gone mad that is ruled by hate, and a country that is run by a racist bully. But, my experience at the theater today reminds me that we can fix this if we learn to listen, to share stories, to drink tea together, to get to know each other, and to dance even when we are broken open.
That is the power of all our voices singing and dancing together in love. That is the power I intend to use. Will you join me?