Burning Coal - Artistic Director's Page

Burning Coal Artistic Director Jerome Davis weighs in on topics theatrical and otherwise.....NEW RULE: ONLY RESPONSES THAT SHOW FULL NAME OF BLOGGER WILL BE POSTED ON THIS SITE. - JD

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I've been thinking a LOT about American culture and what role we as citizens have in shaping the world's opinion of us and perhaps more importantly leading the world toward a more thoughtful, humane mindset. I don't agree with Aaron Sorkin when he had one of the characters on the West Wing say "An artist's responsibility is to entertain you for how ever long you will allow him on the stage." That's a cheap and easy way out, and one that allows us to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. How can that be right? Aren't we all equally responsible? If this is true, then the pilot dropping the bomb in only responsible for accuracy, the Hitman is only responsible for "whacking" the right person and the Matador is only responsible for getting the bull. Pardon the pun, but that is 'bull' indeed. In each of those instances, a moral choice is being made, and whether or not society approves of the decision to do the deed, the final decider will be that person in position to say “No.” We claim to believe that we are all citizens of equal value. If that is true, then do we not all have an equal responsibility for what we do with our time in this world.

We are about to open a production of EINSTEIN'S DREAMS, a revival of a play we commissioned and premiered in 1998. It was a big success for Burning Coal and I like to think it is a script that will have a life after we are done with it. In fact, it has already received productions in Manhattan and in Milwaukee. In preparation for the production, I read a remarkable book called AMERICAN PROMETHEUS, which I highly recommend to all. It details bookend episodes in the life of Robert Oppenheimer (the creation of the atom bomb and the 'witch hunt' that, figuratively speaking, tarred and feathered this icon of the American Century). Although a brilliant man, neither he nor any of his contemporaries seems to have thought very much about the ramifications of their actions until after the bomb had been built and dropped. They were "just following orders", a mantra that would come to haunt the American psyche years later at Mai Lai. Oppenheimer then compounded his miscalculation by speaking out loudly against the bomb and particularly against what he envisioned would be an escalating arms race. Already pummeled by the Left for his complicity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he hadn't seen the ferociousness of the attack to come from the right, already entrenched and protective of their military industrial complex. In the background of this story stands Albert Einstein. It is generally known that physicists do their great creative work in their 20s and early 30s. Long past that, Einstein remained more or less quiet to the morally complex issue of nuclear armament. But what ought he to have done? If we can ask our young men and women from the lower economic class to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield for principles, why is it so outrageous to ask the intellectually elite (including artists) to sacrifice their comfortable positions, their palatial homes, their grants from the nonprofit sector, in exchange for their clear and unbridled input into issues that will haunt the world and its occupants long after the names Einstein and Oppenheimer have faded from memory?


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