A 1950s Childhood

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Posted by Edward Budworth, Group Sales and Student Matinee Representative
In Maple and Vine, Katha and Ryu leave the modern world to live in a recreated 1955 society. Group Sales Representative Edward (Eddy) Budworth remembers his childhood in 1950s Santa Cruz as a more peaceful, safe, and polite era—but one in which not every person was encouraged toward self-actualization as we know it today.
Edward Budworth
1955: Five-year-old Eddy wearing the white suit his mother made for him. Photo courtesy Edward Budworth.
When Maple and Vine first came up as a possible production for our 2011–12 season, I was intrigued by the concept of going back to the '50 s and reliving my childhood. I was born in 1950 in Santa Cruz, at the time a small friendly town on the California coast.
My parents bought the house I grew up in for $7,000 with the help of the G.I. Bill. My father was a veteran of World War II, as were most of my parents' friends. Times were good for them, and my father started the furniture business that he ran until his retirement in 1978. My mother was, as the time almost dictated, a housewife, staying at home and raising me and my older sister Lyn.
There was a general sense of security in our lives. We never locked a door (house or car), and we were never told "Don't speak to strangers" because it seemed that everyone knew everyone. Halloweens were free-for-alls with no rules or supervision. We could walk to school without fear of being harmed.
In our little town there were no real class distinctions, but we only called a very close friend of the family by their first name. Mr., Mrs., or Miss were mandatory salutations for all others. I can't imagine hearing the language I hear on Muni nowadays in public in the '50s.
Would I want to go back and live that life again? Not completely. I am fortunate to have experienced that time and can draw on the many good things about the era. I believe there was more respect and consideration of others then. But I know that my mother, a woman of superior intelligence, was hindered by the customs of the day in achieving her true potential. I hope she can take heart in knowing she did the ultimate '50s thing: kept a great house, raised two children who loved her very much, and made a killer grasshopper chiffon pie.
Edward Budworth
1953: Three-year-old Eddy (left) with his family (from left), Bud, Alice, and Lyn. Photo courtesy Edward Budworth.
Edward Budworth
1959: Nine-year-old Eddy (in stripes) is chosen to demonstrate street-crossing safety by a police officer. Photo courtesy Edward Budworth.

Understrokes of a Modern Typer

Monday, March 19, 2012

Posted by Dan Rubin, A.C.T. Publications Manager
With Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine in rehearsals, there is a lot of talk in the A.C.T. offices about nostalgia. In the play, an unsatisfied urbanite couple decides to trade in their modern-day lifestyle for a 1950s model of suburban happiness. It is a divisive proposal: is our fast-paced, electronics-driven contemporary society something we need to retreat from—and if it is, would 1955 really be where we would look to find relief? As we see below in a post by A.C.T. Publications Manager Dan Rubin, your answer might depend on when you were born.
Maple and Vine
My first typewriter was my mom's. A heavy, suitcase-like apparatus that in the 1990s already felt archaic and impractical compared to our fancy dot matrix printer—which fed paper through its spindles by clawing at little, evenly spaced holes on the disposable, perforated margins that lined each page. Boomers and Gen-Xers (35- to 65-year-olds) shake their heads at this: "You have no idea! We had to lug those typewriters to and from the library! We had to write dissertations on those things. Cut and paste meant scissors and glue. Delete meant white out." Members of Generation Z (20 and younger [Aside: Is that really what we're calling you? Can we call you CyberGens instead?]) don't even have a clue what I'm talking about. They've seen typewriters in museum recreations of historically significant rooms, but when they Google-image search dot matrix, they don't really understand what they're seeing—and there's certainly no way to describe the repetitive clunk/purr/whine a dot matrix printer made when the print head ran back and forth along the page (luckily, we have YouTube).
I loved the weight of those typewriter keys. Typing was work. You pushed metal with your fingertips with nowhere to rest your wrists. Each stroke, each letter was a commitment: ink punched irrevocably into paper. But let's be honest: I never used that typewriter. It was too cumbersome, too unforgiving. Perhaps I turned out an adolescent poem or two, but never a paper for school—that would have been absurdly laborious.
I didn't bring my mom's typewriter with me to college, but when I purchased my first laptop years later, when Windows XP asked me to name my laptop (groan), I baptized it, "Typewriter." But this dorky gesture wasn't enough to quiet my soul, and one day, passing by a garage sale, I spied that familiar, bulky suitcase shape buried in a pile of throwaways. For $5, I bought my second typewriter. And I loved it; I loved owning it. There was something comforting about having it, as if, when the apocalypse eventually arrived and the internet broke and electricity was no longer, I would still be able to pound out prose. Then I realized the ribbon was dry (ribbons were the ink cartridges of yesteryear, dear CyberGens). So I tucked it away in my closet; before moving to a new city, I dropped it off at Goodwill—with the same mileage it had on it when I purchased it years earlier.
Even now, when I see a typewriter at a yard sale, or—as is the Bay Area way—left abandoned on some sidewalk, there is an impulse to adopt it. Even though I know I won't use it, I pine for something that doesn't plug me in, that doesn't connect me, that doesn't distract me. At the first rehearsal for Maple and Vine—in which a married couple escapes modernity by moving to a 1955 recreationist community—playwright Jordan Harrison articulated that this nostalgia defines a large portion of Millennials (20- to 35-year-olds): "I see this impulse in people in their 30s to slow down and to limit their choices."
At the heart of Maple and Vine is a question: What freedoms would you sacrifice for happiness? A.C.T.'s first reading of the play last spring incited a debate that raged for days, largely along generational lines. The Boomers, who grew up fighting for those freedoms, said (screamed) their answer: "None!" The Millennials, however, were more open to believing that the expectations associated with living in an age of unparalleled freedoms and unlimited choices could drive someone to want to flee. We can understand the desire to escape the overwhelming possibilities of a word processor to the confines of a typewriter—but perhaps that is because we never had to lug them back and forth to the library.

The Power of Names in Scorched

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Posted by Torange Yeghizarian, founding artistic director of Golden Thread Productions

Torange Yeghizarian
Torange Yeghizarian. Photo by David Allen Studio.
As founding artistic director of Golden Thread Productions, a Bay Area theater company focused on the Middle East, Torange Yeghiazarian has traveled widely and seen hundreds of productions that have originated in—or focus on themes surrounding—the Middle East. Below she shares her very personal reaction to A.C.T.'s production of Scorched, which introduces playwright Wajdi Mouawad, a powerful Middle Eastern voice, to the Bay Area. For more information on Golden Thread and a list of upcoming productions, visit www.goldenthread.org.
Spoiler alert: Scorched is a mystery about the violent history of a fractured family. The play unfolds as the pieces of the story are reassembled by its characters. The following post reveals some secrets. If you would like to experience the thrill of discovery as the truth is revealed onstage, you may prefer to read this post after you see the show.
After watching the opening night performance of Scorched, I could not be sure which country the play was set in. The performance was so moving and the story so shocking that I thought I missed some details, especially during the more emotional scenes. So I consulted the script. I wanted to see if any of the characters ever actually mention Lebanon, the country I was certain the play is set in. The names of the towns are specified in the play, but not the name of the country. Why does the playwright not mention Lebanon? Why do the twins say "the country my mother came from" and not Lebanon? I found this rather baffling.
There is a beautiful scene in the play, one among many, where Janine, Nawal's daughter, asks Malak, an old peasant, about the child that was born in prison by "the woman who sings." Through a lovely call-and-response-like dialogue, the old peasant asks the name of everyone Janine had encountered on her journey: "And who sent you to the shepherd?" "Fahim, the school janitor . . . " "And who told you about Fahim?" "The prison guard . . . " When the peasant tells her about the twins, he insists their real names are Janaane and Sarwane, not Janine and Simon. In fact, in the script the scene has a title: Real Names, underscoring the importance of names in the play.
Another play on names is Nawal's reputation as "the woman who sings." All through the play, we learn that it is Sawda who sings, Nawal who writes. Naturally, when we hear people mentioning the prisoner known as "the woman who sings," much like Janine we assume they mean Sawda. There is a fleeting mention of Nawal singing. It is in the scene where she describes the path she has chosen. In that moment, Nawal tells Sawda, "When my courage fails, I'll sing." It is a tiny moment in a very emotionally large scene. It is so tiny that it could easily be missed. Because it seems to me that the main point of that scene is about the promise Nawal makes: a promise to not forget, a promise to stay together no matter how far apart they become.
Last Sunday, the Oscar for best foreign film went to Iran for A Separation. We all screamed with joy, with tears rolling down our faces. A Separation is a family drama centered on a young couple's divorce. Their daughter's name is Termeh, my sister's name. Watching the film, every time someone mentioned Termeh's name, it was like they were stabbing me. I kept imagining how difficult it must have been for her when our parents divorced; like the Termeh in the film, my sister was a teenager at the time.
I went to see Scorched with my sister, Termeh. It is her real name, and real names are powerful. It was very powerful to hear Arabic names on A.C.T.'s stage. I believe this may have been the first time that has ever happened, at least as far as I know. To come to know characters named Nawal, Sawda, Malak, Shamseddin . . . to hear Arabic singing, to see an Arab playwright's name on the announcements. Wajdi, the playwright's first name, which means "ardent love," at least according to some web sites. Real names with real meanings.
Films and plays help us tell our stories in our own words. It is a way for us to share our world with others. For some people, Scorched may be the first time they experience a personal story about a contemporary Arab woman. Anyone who sees A Separation will catch a rare glimpse of an urban Iranian family that, surprisingly, shares much in common with its American counterparts.
I still don't know why the playwright chose not to mention the name Lebanon. But I do know that Scorched is a breathtaking play that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats until the final moment. It's a play more about keeping promises than about war, about staying together even when separated, about learning the truth of a name even when it is hidden.
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