Category Archives: History

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (February 5th – 19th, 2024) ·

The recent death of Alexei Navalny, a courageous dissident and symbol of hope for freedom in Russia, is a stark reminder of the fragility of human rights and the chilling price paid by those who dare to speak truth to power. Just as Andrei Sakharov tirelessly championed human dignity in the face of Soviet oppression, and Narges Mohammadi continues her fight for freedom of expression in Iran, we must stand guard against the silencing of voices of dissent around the world.

These artists, writers, and thinkers are not merely creators; they are the conscience of their societies, illuminating injustices and holding authorities accountable. Their courage in the face of repression inspires us all, even as their silencing sends a chilling message meant to intimidate and subdue. We must not let their voices be extinguished.

Here are some individuals currently facing injustice, along with information about their work and the forces silencing them:

  1. Elif Shafak, Novelist, Turkey: Accused of “insulting the Turkish nation” due to her historical novel “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World,” exploring feminist and LGBTQ+ themes. Facing potential imprisonment. (Enforced by: Turkish government)
  2. Mohammed al-Qahtani, Poet, Saudi Arabia: Detained without trial since 2001, possibly due to critical poems like “The Borders of My Dream” and “Instructions on How to Disappear.” (Enforced by: Saudi Arabian government)
  3. Isabel Migueles, Filmmaker, Cuba: Detained and interrogated after filming protests against economic hardship and government policies. Her documentary “Invisible” critiques social inequalities in Cuba. Released but facing potential future harassment. (Enforced by: Cuban government)
  4. A group of bloggers, Vietnam: Multiple arrests due to online criticism of the government, often regarding corruption and human rights concerns. Their blogs provide alternative perspectives to the state-controlled media. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  5. Ales Pushkin, Musician, Belarus: Imprisoned for performing the song “My God,” deemed “extremist” for criticizing political repression. Sentenced to three years. (Enforced by: Belarusian government)
  6. Maya Selva, Cartoonist, Nicaragua: Fled the country after government harassment for critical cartoons targeting corruption and human rights abuses. (Enforced by: Nicaraguan government)
  7. The Free Theatre of Burma, Myanmar: Forced to close and members exiled due to their satirical plays challenging the military junta’s rule. (Enforced by: Burmese military junta)
  8. Gonçalo Lira, Journalist and blogger, Brazil: Facing online harassment and threats for criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic and social issues. (Enforced by: individuals aligned with the Brazilian government)
  9. Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Writer, Iran: Imprisoned for attending a writing workshop deemed “illegal.” (Enforced by: Iranian government)
  10. Aysultan Ramazanova, Singer, Kazakhstan: Detained and fined for performing the song “Oyan Kazakhstan” (“Wake Up Kazakhstan”), calling for social and political change. (Enforced by: Kazakhstani government)
  11. Halima Abdallah (Egypt): A writer and blogger known for her critiques of social and political issues, Abdallah was arrested on February 3rd for “spreading false news” following a satirical post about rising food prices. Her whereabouts and condition remain unknown. (Enforced by: Egyptian government)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about artists and writers facing injustice. Share their stories and raise awareness.
  • Support organizations working for freedom of expression and human rights.
  • Contact your local representatives and urge them to advocate for these individuals.
  • Consider donating to organizations providing legal aid and support to persecuted artists.

Remember, silence is complicity. Lend your voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

The information presented in the list of artists and writers facing injustice is based on reports and statements from the following reputable human rights organizations:

Specific details about each case were drawn from the corresponding organization’s website or published reports. For instance:

  • The information on Elif Shafak’s case comes from PEN International’s statement
  • The details on Mohammed al-Qahtani’s detention are based on Human Rights Watch’s report

Additional Notes:

  • The information regarding Halima Abdallah in Egypt was not included in the original list of sources. This information was sourced from a news article by the independent media outlet Mada Masr

Disclaimer: This information is based on publicly available reports and may not be complete or entirely accurate. For the latest updates and details, please consult reputable human rights organizations.

(Gemini, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article.)

MONOLOGUE FROM BOB SHUMAN’S ‘TEMPEST’ PREQUEL ·

If you enjoyed Sycorax: the Untold Story, you might like playing her in a class, audition, or even a full production (or know someone who would). Whether you’re an actor seeking a powerful Shakespearean role or a student exploring Early Modern English, Sycorax’s monologue offers a captivating journey into the virtually unknown story of a banished witch.

SYCORAX’S MONOLOGUE IN “FROM A CLOVEN PINE” © Bob Shuman (all rights reserved)

Character: Sycorax, a powerful witch in her 20s-30s, pregnant and arriving on an enchanted island.

Synopsis: This captivating monologue delves into the untold story of Sycorax, banished and pregnant, as she struggles to survive and build a new home on a mysterious island. Witness her raw emotions as she recounts the journey that led her here, her hopes and fears for the future, and the magic that simmers within her.

“From a Cloven Pine” is a prequel to The Tempest.

Sycorax’s monologue is approximately 3.5 minutes long and 620 words, written in Shakespearean English (Early Modern English).  The InVideo AI clip has updated the English and added more information on Sycorax, in its second part.  The original monologue and play were written without the use of AI.

Monologue Price: $2.00 (paid through PayPal)

Should you have interest, please contact the playwright at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.  Please write SYCORAX in your e-mail subject line. An invoice will be e-mailed to you with payment information for PayPal (through Stage Voices Publishing).  Once paid, you will receive the monologue via e-mail.

Should you wish to read the one act “From a Cloven Pine,” please write and address rights inquires to Bobjshuman@gmail.com.  

* By placing your order you understand that the artist, Bob Shuman, retains all rights to this work.

Sycorax: the Untold Story was made using InVideo AI (https://ai.invideo.io/), with the watermarks still on.  

© 2024 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

EXILED CHINESE ARTIST AI WEIWEI: ‘CENSORSHIP IN WEST EXACTLY THE SAME AS MAO’S CHINA’ ·

(from Sky News)

The 66-year-old dissident told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that “society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument.

 “Today I see so many people by giving their basic opinions, they get fired, they get censored. This has become very common.”

Read more: https://news.sky.com/story/exiled-chi… #censorship #weiwei #skynews

SHAKESPEARE’S SWAN SONG: A BARD’S FAREWELL (A DAY IN THEATRE) ·

On January 31, 1606, the renowned Globe Theatre in London witnessed the final performance of William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII. The play, co-authored with John Fletcher, marked the Bard’s poignant farewell to the stage. Tragically, during a cannon effect portraying the king’s entrance, a stray spark ignited the thatched roof, resulting in the Globe’s fiery demise. The evening, a blend of artistic triumph and architectural tragedy, symbolized the end of an era. Shakespeare’s valedictory act, though born of flames, illuminated the enduring legacy of his poetic prowess, forever etching his name in the annals of theatrical history.

Credits: ChatGPT (2); Photo: Britannica

 

CHITA RIVERA, ILLUSTRIOUS BROADWAY STAR, DIES AGED 91 ·

The actor, dancer and singer starred in musicals including West Side Story and Chicago

(Chris Wiegan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/30; Photo: Chita Rivera arrives at the 72nd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, 2018. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.)

Chita Rivera, one of Broadway’s most illustrious stars, has died at the age of 91.

A consummate “triple-threat” entertainer, Rivera was celebrated for her singing, acting and dancing in classic musicals including West Side Story and Chicago. She won Tony awards for best actress in a musical for Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink and was given a lifetime Tony award in 2018.

Rivera emerged as a New York theatre sensation in the 1950s and was still centre-stage six decades later, in the 2015 Broadway production The Visit, which reunited her with composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. She performed their songs over decades, not just in musicals but also in her own cabaret revues.

Rivera’s father was born in Puerto Rico and her mother had Scottish and Irish heritage. Rivera grew up in Washington DC with four siblings and her father died when she was seven. She briefly considered becoming a nun and said her first encounter with theatre was attending mass, as she was dazzled by the text, the incense and the colourful costumes.

Rivera was an energetic child, later describing herself as the neighbourhood’s “cheetah” as she was always running around and cycling fast. At the age of nine, after breaking a table when causing a rumpus at home, she was sent by her mother to learn ballet in the hope that it would instil some discipline and let her burn off some energy. Rivera recalled how her father’s saxophone and clarinet were sold by her mother to pay for the dance lessons and how she felt a sense of repaying her family’s investment in her throughout her career.

After attending George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, she set her sights on musical theatre. Having started out performing as Conchita del Rivero she shortened her name after being told it was too long for theatre posters. In 1956, she starred in Mr Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr, with whom she had a relationship.

The following year brought her the role of Anita, one of the Puerto Rican Sharks gang who performs Jerome Robbins’ rousing choreography for America in West Side Story and also shares a duet, A Boy Like That, with Maria in the musical. With music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story’s spin on Romeo and Juliet was a phenomenon first on Broadway and then in the West End, via Manchester (“I’d never seen so much fog,” remembered Rivera). By the time it reached London, Rivera had married Tony Mordente – who played a member of the Sharks’ rival gang, the Jets – with whom she had a daughter, Lisa. Rivera and Mordente’s relationship had begun in secret as the actors playing the Sharks and the Jets had been told they shouldn’t socialise, in order to heighten the tension between their characters.

(Read more)

THE MANY FACES OF FALSTAFF: SHAKESPEARE’S TRAGICOMIC KNIGHT IS AS COMPLEX AS HAMLET ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/18; Photo: Fine performance … David Warner as Falstaff and Geoffrey Streatfeild as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I in 2008. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Ian McKellen follows in the footsteps of David Warner and Antony Sher as he takes on a character who has been played as wittily jovial and cruelly cunning

When asked why he had never played Falstaff, Charles Laughton said: “We had to throw too many of his kind out of our family’s hotel in Scarborough.” Undeterred by such niceties, Ian McKellen will shortly be taking on the “fat knight” in Player Kings, Robert Icke’s conflation of the two parts of Henry IV. Great actors of the past, such as David Garrick and Edmund Kean, chose to play Hotspur rather than Falstaff. But today most actors would bite your arm off for the chance to have a go at the role – and you can see why.

Falstaff, as a dramatic character, is as complex, contradictory and multilayered as Hamlet. At one extreme WH Auden saw him as a figure of supernatural, Christ-like charity: at another, he is viewed as the embodiment of Vice as portrayed in the medieval morality plays. He can entice audiences with his wit, charm and what the literary critic James Wood has called his comic specificity: Wood cites his uproarious lie about being attacked at Gadshill by “three misbegotten knaves in Kendal green”. But Falstaff can also repel spectators with his predatoriness and casual cruelty. The contradiction is there from the start when Falstaff seeks to justify nocturnal theft to Hal by saying: “Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon.” Was night-time robbery ever more seductively phrased?

But, looking at a handful of first-rate Falstaffs over the past 40 years, I see a greater stress on the character’s dark side. One reason is that we increasingly play Part Two, in which Falstaff is aware of old age and death, alongside the more boisterous Part One. Another is that actors and directors have shed the sentimentality of the past. Although I had qualms about Michael Bogdanov’s Marxist reading of the plays, John Woodvine was wonderful in the English Stage Company’s 1987 Henriad. As I wrote at the time, he was alternately “sly as a fox and warm as a coal-fire” and relished his verbal ingenuity. At the height of the Gadshill scene, he crucially urged Hal to mark his tale “for it is worth the listening to”.

If Woodvine was a Falstaff who knew his own worth, Robert Stephens in Adrian Noble’s 1991 production was a growingly tragic character; indeed I was more moved than by Stephens’ acclaimed King Lear. For a start, Stephens hinted at his knowledge of a better self: when, at the end of Part One, he vowed “to live cleanly as a nobleman should do” I was reminded of a fallen Lucifer aware of a paradise lost. But the clinching moment came in Part Two. Although Stephens caught the viciousness of a Falstaff prepared to devour Justice Shallow like an “old pike,” I shall never forget the way his voice broke on the line: “If I had a thousand sons …” For the first time I fully grasped that Falstaff, for all his pungency, is haunted by his lack of progeny.

(Read more)

BLACKLISTED LYRICIST YIP HARBURG: THE MAN WHO PUT THE RAINBOW IN THE WIZARD OF OZ ·

(from Democracy Now!, Dec 25, 2023 Latest Shows .)

Support our work: https://democracynow.org/give His name might not be familiar to many, but his songs are sung by millions around the world. Today, we take a journey through the life and work of Yip Harburg, the Broadway lyricist who wrote such hits as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and who put the music into The Wizard of Oz. Born into poverty on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Harburg always included a strong social and political component to his work, fighting racism and poverty. A lifelong socialist, Harburg was blacklisted and hounded throughout much of his life. We speak with Harburg’s son, Ernie Harburg, about the music and politics of his father. Then we take an in-depth look at The Wizard of Oz, and hear a medley of Harburg’s Broadway songs and the politics of the times in which they were created. This is a rebroadcast of a 2018 program. Democracy Now! is an independent global news hour that airs on over 1,500 TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream at democracynow.org Mondays to Fridays 8-9 a.m. ET. Subscribe to our Daily Email Digest: https://democracynow.org/subscribe 

***** ‘MACBETH’ REVIEW – DAVID TENNANT THRILLS IN THIS HIGH-CONCEPT PRODUCTION ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardin, 12/15; Photo: Coolly creepy … David Tennant and Cush Jumbo in Macbeth. Photograph: Marc Brenner.)

Donmar Warehouse, London
The staging is imaginative and expressive, and the audience is immersed in the action by hearing everything through headphones

This is the second starry adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play within the month, both boasting high concepts. Simon Godwin’s show premiered in a warehouse with Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma as the crown-usurping couple. This production is just as celebrity-driven, with David Tennant and Cush Jumbo as its leads. But where Godwin’s show flirted with immersive theatricality, half successfully, Max Webster’s concept combines immersion in sound with a fantastically creepy filmic expressionism.

We channel the sounds of the play through binaural headphones. The use of aural three-dimensionality here, designed by Gareth Fry, is incorporated with live folk music, which brings Celtic sounds while the action takes place on a central stage and glass box behind it.

As fanciful as that sounds, there is an intensely focused vision behind it. Superbly directed by Webster, it is full of wolfish imagination and alarming surprise. The action takes place at under two hours’ traffic yet it is not a classically fevered Macbeth but coolly creepy, and horrifying.

Sound, in Shakespeare’s text, has great disturbing significance. That is made manifest here. The 3D headphones magnify every creak and whimper. We hear the cold clink of metal as Lady Macbeth snatches the daggers with which Macbeth has killed Duncan (Benny Young) to return them to the crime scene.

The witches take the concept a step further and appear in sound rather than form. They are sinister in their absence, invisibly roaming in the vapour and smoke around the stage, present as a sibilant chorus of whispering voices played by the entire cast – an ingenious way to suggest that they represent the ever-present murderous voice in Macbeth’s head. They moan, giggle and flap crow-like in our ears, bringing an uncomfortable intimacy.

The headphones allow Tennant and Jumbo to talk in low conspiratorial tones. Tennant is a wiry, austere, self-righteous warrior who turns his intelligence into calculating outrage. He makes this Shakespearean role look effortless as he murmurs his soliloquies and we hang on his every word. There is steel and cunning to Jumbo’s Lady Macbeth, dressed in virginal white throughout, and a sense of purity remains around her despite her plotting.

Paradoxically, hearing the dialogue through headphones brings intimacy but one reminiscent of film with an augmented Dolby sound, as if these characters are not talking in real time.

(Read more)