A Two Year retrospective: In Shadow’s Shadow: Neil Gaiman, 9/11, and me

I published this blog two years ago and remains one of the pieces I’m most proud of.

In the two years that have passed, more things have changed in my life. I’ve published two additional plays (one a year). Life is good for me, but we need to remember to keep looking back at the shadows that we have cast over the years and what we can learn from them.


In the days before September 11, 2001 my family had much to celebrate. The adoption of my sister was finalized, we attended a wedding of a cousin in Colorado, and got to spend lots of time with family. During that trip I made it a point to make sure we stopped at a bookstore. I have always been kind of a book nut, so no one was surprised on that Sunday afternoon, September 9, when I walked out with two brand new books, an anniversary copy of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and a newer book that I had recently read a review of called American Gods. I was familiar with the author, Neil Gaiman, but not versed in his writings. This was to be my initial exposure.

On Monday, the 10th, I read Goldman’s book and fell in love with Buttercup and Wesley all over again. The Princess Bride is an American classic that never fails to spark my imagination. I probably watched the movie that evening, although I can’t remember for sure, but that is usually par for the course for me, read a book and if it’s available watch the movie. I know I did some prep work for auditions at Colby Community College the next day. They were doing the play Heaven Can Wait. If you don’t know that story, it’s about a boxer who dies before his time and is sent back into the body of a dying millionare. He finds love and his world is changed.

I woke up Tuesday morning, September 11, and didn’t turn on the television. I’m a TV junkie, so this was a little weird for me. I didn’t turn on the radio, I didn’t have the internet in my little studio apartment, so there was no doing that. What I did do was pick up American Gods and begin to read.

American Gods is a “desert island” book for me. It’s a book I find challenging and inspiring and a true classic. It tells the story of a man, Shadow, who is released from prison a week early due to his wife’s untimely death. On his trip home, he finds himself being pursued and followed by a strange, older fella named Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With really nothing left to live for, shadow goes along for the ride. Along the way, while his zombie wife follows him and warns him, he discovers that the world he knew, isn’t what it seems.

American Gods is about the death of one world pushing against the on coming push of a new world. it’s about gods, myth, and magic. It’s about technology and its hold over us today. It’s about change. It’s about being lost in a world that is changing itself around us, reshaping itself, molding itself into something new and scary.

I read this book, all day, never once did my TV click on or did I tune in the radio. This would be betraying Shadow, and Mr. Wednesday, and Mr. Nancy, and Mr. Gaiman. I set, in a complete media blackout, while the world around me changed in a moment.

I went to auditions that night, which had been cancelled, and that’s when I found out. at 7pm CST, I found out what had happened. I, like everyone else, was in shock. Everything made sense now. The leaked words through thin plaster walls, dividing me from my neighbors, that “it looked like something out of Independence Day.” The lack of cars on the streets, the lack of activity anywhere. The fact that the radio station I worked for at that time, was airing the Presidents speech, when they hardly ever did things like that.

I felt like Shadow, lost in the shadows, not knowing what was going on. Lost, confused, shocked. I could take you to one of my “thinking spots” I went to that night. The place my friends Shane, Lacy, and Becca found me at. I can take you to the parking lot where the news was first delivered to me. I could show you the apartment we all went to and watched CNN, and Fox News, and Headline News, and CNBC and every other channel that was airing news. I could take you to the small Baptist church I went to and prayed. And even though I’m not a Baptist, it seemed like the thing to do.

I remember pouring over my Bible, looking for answers that didn’t come easily. Of drawing conclusions that probably weren’t there. The world around me had changed and I was fighting that change. I wanted to stay locked in a small bubble, in Shadow’s shadow, where maybe things weren’t safe but I couldn’t get hurt. Where I was forced to think, but not put thoughts into action.

Good literature forces us to think and to act. A life changing moment causes us to act and to think. For me those two worlds collided as a tower fell in New York City.

How has the world changed in 11 years? We’re a much more global society then we were then. As high speed and wireless internet has been developed along with cheaper, faster, more mobile computers and smartphones, more people are “online”. Information is passed along, thanks to social media sites, as they happen. In 2001, there was no global Facebook or Twitter. there were no smart phones and instant Instagram uploads. No YouTube. No Netflix. That’s life on a global, technological scale. What has happened to YOU personally in the last 11 years?

At the time, Shane, Lacy, and Becca were my best friends. My only friends. The 4 of us were almost inseparable. We went to church together, we went out to eat together, we were always at one another’s houses. We were hungry for a fresh spiritual awakening. And in the years that followed, we did grew up. They all three are married now, to wonderful, godly people. Becca has two beautiful daughters. Lacy quit her long time job and moved to a small town when she got married. Shane just bought a house. I floated from job to job working in various media jobs (radio and newspaper) and hospitality fields (hotel and restaurant). Last year, I lost my job and decided to go back to college. I rediscovered my love of acting and theater. I’ve been privileged to travel over the world. I’ve made new friends and reacquainted myself with some old ones. I’ve had a play published. I’m trying to make this writing/acting thing work for me while I juggle a job and schooling.

In many ways I’m in a similar place to where I was 11 years ago. Then I had just moved back to my home town and made some new friends and sparked an old friendship. Today I’m in a different town with probably as many friends, some new and some old. I didn’t act in Heaven Can Wait in the fall of 2001, I dropped out for personal reasons. I really wanted to do the fall musical here,  Curtains, but I didn’t get cast. That’s life though. In 2001 I was a scared 24 year old kid. Scared, not that terrorists had attacked us, but scared of change and what the meant. Now I’m a 35 year old man, and while I’m still scared of change, and I think we all are, I no longer fight change, I embrace it. And that, I think, would make Shadow proud.

I have No Mouth and I Must Scream – A playwright’s response to #Ferguson

One of my favorite writers is the incomparable Harlan Ellison. Harlan once wrote a short story about a fickle “god” (in reality a computer) who manipulated and changed and warped a group of people for it’s own amusement. In the end there was one man who had no mouth and had to scream. Can you think of something so horrible? A need to scream, a warning to shout, anger to release, fear to vocalize and yet you have no mouth.

I am not that man. I have a voice. I am a writer, a wordsmith, an artist, a talespinner and a storyteller. I have a few publishing credits and a few people who follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I have a blog (obviously, you’re reading it now) and a few followers there who may read it (like you). I come form a place and background of some privilege (not as much as some, but more than others.) I have been blessed to travel to parts of the world that some of you never will go, I have stood on a volcano in Guatemala and on a beach in the Philippines. I have seen these countries natural beauty but also the dark side. Children in hospitals crying out and street urchins reaching, begging for a dollar. I’ve seen homes, shacks, that were barely liveable and offered no protection, let alone amenities. I have cried over the things I’ve seen. I can still feel the pull on my shirt of children going “Joe. Joe. Hey Joe, gotta dollar Joe?” 

But I haven’t just seen poverty in foreign countries. I’ve seen it here too. I spent formative summers in high school working on Mississippi Delta, working on homes that should have been demolished, or watching dozens of people living in a house made for a few. 

Some people will say I shouldn’t say anything even if I have a voice. To them I say, “If I don’t speak up who will” or as the famous saying goes “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So I will not stay silent, not about Ferguson, not about ISIS, not about arts in schools and arts education or any other subject I feel passionate about. 

There are people out there, in American towns like Ferguson, MO, who until two weeks ago, probably felt they didn’t have a voice. I KNOW that they felt they didn’t have a voice. I’ve heard their stories, people I know who are African-American and have experienced fear that what happened to Michael Brown, might happen to them. Fear, anger, and a lack of a voice lead to violence. When you answer violence WITH violence, the result is simply MORE violence.

When I was a kid, my folks had a gas grill, one day I was told to light the grill. I went outside, turned the gas on to high like I had done hundreds of times before, and went to light the match. Nothing. The wind was blowing and the matches wouldn’t take. I got more matches and finally got one to light the grill. However, I spent so much time messing around with the matches that when i touched the match to the grill, a flame leaped out and toward my face. I was lucky, I singed a few eyebrow hairs that’s all. What I didn’t know is that while I was trying to lit the grill to control the fire, the gas was building up until it “popped”.

That’s what happens when you have no voice. The gas just builds and builds and builds until it explodes.

I don’t have an answer, I wish I did. I pray I had an answer. I wish I could definitively say that if there was greater emphasis on arts in school, in painting, drama, writing, dance, etc, that the voiceless would find their voice. I think it helps. I know it has helped me, but that seems like such a simplistic answer in the face of such racial turmoil.  So maybe we need a little more arts education.

I want to say that if we just talked better, opened up communication and learned from one another these things wouldn’t happen. And that would help, I’m sure of it. I know my personal views on certain issues (not related to race) changed when I met people that believed different than I did. So maybe we need a little more communication.

I don’t know the politics of race that well, but I’m a student of history. I just finished a couple of plays that, at least to me, resonate, in these troubled times. One is about a young girl who moves to Lawrence, KS with her family at the dawn of the Civil War and why they moved there (to stop the tide of slavery). The other is about the most unlikely Civil Rights advocate you can imagine, a “bad guy” professional wrestler named Roscoe “Sputnik” Monroe, who was responsible for the intergration of Memphis, TN in the 50s. Sputnik Monroe’s story particularly struck me. Here was the most unlikely of heroes, an ordinary guy, who saw and injustice and fought for it. He was arrested six times, he was threatened and he threatened to give up his livelihood if there wasn’t intergration and it worked. I dont’ know if this is the full answer, but we could use a few more Sputniks, good men who aren’t afraid use their voice to speak for those that can’t.

You may feel you have no mouth and you must scream, but I assure you, you do, just try.

#Ferguson

Wrestling With the Wrath of Writer’s Block | Heather Hummel

I got the chance to share my thoughts on how I overcome writer’s block with Heather Hummel, a blogger at The Huffington Post. I encourage you to give it a read.

You might have thought that writer’s block got ahold of me, I’ve been silent for awhile over here on my blog, but the truth is I’ve been busy writing and am now casting a new radio play that I will be directing in August.

I’m also performing in two different community theater shows (and I’m a big supporter of community theater). I’ll be performing as The Mysterious Man in Stephan Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods and as Rev. Sprague in Ken Ludwig and Don Schlitz’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

So it’s going to be a busy summer of theater for me.

 

Anyways, check out Heather’s article and give the other contributors some love.

Wrestling With the Wrath of Writer’s Block | Heather Hummel.

Autism and the Theatre

If you didn’t know, April is Autism Awareness Month. Today (April 2nd), people were encouraged to wear blue to show support for autism awareness. Over the next month, I will be highlighting autism on my blog and how the arts can affect and help autistic individuals (specifically autistic students.)

Autism affects one in 88 children today, according to Vanderbilt University researchers and theatre and theatre related activities can help in those children’s devolpment.

A recently released study assessed the effectiveness of a two-week theatre camp on children with autism spectrum disorder and found significant improvements were made in social perception, social cognition and home living skills by the end of the camp. There were also positive changes in the participants’ physiological stress and reductions in self-reported parental stress.

Called SENSE Theatre, the Social Emotional Neuroscience & Endocrinology (SENSE)program evaluates the social functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.

Camp participants ages 8 to 17 years join with typically developing peers who are specially trained to serve as models for social interaction and communication, skills that are difficult for children with autism. The camp uses techniques such as role-play and improvisation and culminates in public performances of a play.

“The findings show that treatment can be delivered in an unconventional setting, and children with autism can learn from unconventional ‘interventionists’ – their typically developing peer,” said lead author Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry.

Theatre and the arts is making strides in helping children on the autism spectrum and is something theatre professionals should encourage and help out with.

Fergus mac Leti and What The Leprechaun Said

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I’m reposting my 10-min play “What the Leprechaun Said”

WHAT THE LEPRECHAUN SAID

At rise, the set is dressed as the Irish seashore, up stage left (USL) should have a large boulder large enough for two men to lay against. Down stage right (DSR) should have a small boulder. A large man, FERGUS MAC LETI, enters. He is dressed in traditional Gaelic attire: a long-sleeved, thigh length tunic, a long black cloak, a belt around his waist, a brooch on his shoulder, and boots. A large sword is strapped to his back. Fergus looks around the setting and yawns, stretching. Fergus is joined by MUENA, his servant, who is dressed similar to Fergus.

Fergus: Ack, it’s been a long day and sleep is calling my name.

Muena: Your highness, are you sure it is wise to sleep here in the open?

Fergus: Bah, you worry too much Muena, Ireland is finally at peace, what harm could come to us here?

Muena: King Fergus, you still have enemies scattered throughout the land. If one should stumble upon us…

Fergus: You worry too much lad, (slapping Muena on the back) besides, if we don’t sleep and we do stumble across an enemy, we’ll be as worthless as the day is long!

Muena: But my Lord, what about the fair folk? The sprites, and dwarves, and such?

Fergus: I spit on the fair folk and all their like. They would have let us tear the land apart with war and reclaimed it for themselves. If they dare raise a hand against me, I’ll bash their heads in too! Now come lad (slapping Muena on the back again) it’s time for a rest.

Fergus finds a spot USL and settles down against the boulder, closes his eyes and immediately falls asleep, snoring quite loudly. Muena looks around nervously. He even walks to the down center stage and peers into the great depth of the ocean. Satisfied that no one is out to get them, he moves upstage and settles down next to Fergus and goes to sleep as well. 

As they sleep, the first Leprechaun, ARGYLE, enters. He is wearing a RED coat (not green) with gold trim and seven rows of buttons with seven buttons to each row, green leggings, and shoes with buckles. He enters with a flourish, flips or walking on his hands, something similar. He moves to DSR and begins to poke around the boulder, finally pulling out a small crock of gold. He settles against this boulder and begins to count his gold. That’s when he spies Fergus and Muena.

Agryle: Ack, what’s this? Thieves and brigands out to seal my gold!

He moves up stage and pokes Fergus, who snores louder and turns, almost spooning with Muena in the process and mumbling something in his sleep.

Argyle: No, not a thief, a thief wouldn’t dare snore so loud. A traveler perhaps, wandered here and decided to take a rest. FOOL (Argyle smacks the back of Fergus’ head), don’t you know the kings of men war and fight? This is no place to nap!

Argyle moves to stage right, and calls off stage

Argyle: Seamus! Chanuncey! Get out here, I need yer help

Two other leprechauns enter SR, SEAMUS and CHANUNCEY. They are dressed identical to Argyle.

Seamus: What have ye found Argyle?

Chanuncey(pointing at Fergus and Muena) MEN! Come to steal from us!

Seamus: Or bring their war to our shores!

Argyle: I thought so too Chanuncey, but they are the most foolish humans I’ve ever seen. Look how they sleep. I can poke the fat one and he never wakes up.

Seamus: I don’t believe you.

Argyle: Try for yourself.

Seamus and Chanuncey each take turns poking and kicking at Fergus, who never stops snoring, only responds with grunts and half-hearted, sleepy swats.

Seamus: What should we do with them?

Chanuncey: Kill them.

Seamus: Chanuncey!

Argyle: For once I agree with Chanuncey, the best thing we can do is rid ourselves of these fools. If they stay here, more men may come and find our horde of gold. Or they could bring their war to us and force us to fight their battles for them. The best thing to do is kill them.

Seamus: Which one do we start with then?

Argyle: The right one, look he carries a sword, that makes him the greater threat.

Seamus: Fine, but how?

Chanuncy: We drag him to the sea and let the loch take him away.

Seamus and Argyle nod and the three of them grab Fergus’ legs and start to drag him to the water’s edge. When he’s almost to the edge, Fergus’ wakes up and starts to struggle.

Fergus(roaring) WHAT IS THIS! LET ME GO YOU DAMNABLE CLURICHAUN!

Seamus: We’re not Clurichaun, we’re leprechaun!

Fergus: Then let me go you damnable leprechaun!

Fergus continues to struggle and manages to grab all three of his intended murders  and holds them close to him in his arms. 

Argyle: Let us go!

Fergus: Never! I’ll kill you, like you tried to kill me!

Fergus starts to drag them to the water.

Chanuncy: STOP! Don’t kill us and we’ll..

Seamus: We’ll…

Fergus: You’ll what?

Argyle: We’ll grant you a wish.

Fergus: (stopping) A wish you say?

Seamus: Yes, anything you want.

Fergus: (Looking at the sea thoughtfully and then pulling off his cloak) I want you to enchant this so that it allows me to breath underwater.

Chanuncy: You want to breath underwater? Why?

Fergus: So that no sprite, pixie, dwarf, Clurichaun, or leprechaun can ever do this to me again.

The three leprechauns huddle together and whisper, nodding, shaking heads, arguing silently. Finally they break the huddle and nod.

Argyle: Fine. (He spreads the cloak on the ground and begins to waves his hands over it) Tuatha Dé Danann

Seamus: Falias.

Chanuncy: Finias.

Argyle: Gorias

Seamus: Murias

Chanuncy: Enchant this cloak and let its wearer breath in the waters of every Loch.

Fergus, satisfied  reaches for his cloak and slips it back on his shoulders. Argyle quickly grabs the hem.

Argyle: Except for Loch Rudraige.

Fergus(roaring) What have you done!

Seamus: What we said we’d do.

Chanuncy: You can breath in every loch and under every body of water except this one.

Argyle: Loch Rudraige.

Fergus: Why?

Seamus(confused) Because that’s who we are and that’s what we do. You didn’t expect us to grant you a wish without condition did you?

Argyle(a beat, waiting for an answer from Fergus, which doesn’t come) He DID!

Chanuncy: Foolish man, don’t you know that the leprechaun are tricksters and pranksters?

Seamus: We don’t mind you bothering our kin and cousins, but we don’t want to see you HERE again.

Fergus(grumbling, walks over to Muena) Wake up Muena, it’s time to go.

Muena(waking up to see the three leprechaun’s laughing and rolling) What…are those leprechaun?

Fergus: Yes. But ignore them, we need to go.

Muena: But why my liege?

Fergus: I don’t want to talk about it. (dragging Muena toward SL)

Muena: Fergus? You didn’t make a deal with them or allow them to grant you a wish did you?

Fergus: I don’t want to talk about it.

Muena: Because if you did, they’ll trick you every time.

Fergus(as they exit) I SAID I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!

Close

The story of Fergus mac Leti contains one of the earliest references to leprechauns and displays their more trickster nature and is a story I wasn’t real familiar with until I started brainstorming ideas for this blog and thought it was wonderfully theatrical. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this.

An Official Statement from Emergency Room Productions and Everett Robert

Some may think I kowtowed to pressure, some may think that I’m a coward. I may be trying to cap something off that is too late. Let me state that I stand by my original post. I stand by what I wrote. However,  for the students involved, their safety and their future, I have edited my original blog “We’re Seniors Too“.

I fear that Google Searches on these students names will bring up my original article and they may be viewed as troublemakers, I fear that letters of recommendation will be withheld, and participation in future activities may be halted. I am afraid for what the next 12 weeks of school for them may hold as I have already seen backlash toward them begin to appear from their fellow students and parents of their fellow students. I don’t want them bullied because of something I wrote and I don’t want them to be punished because of something I wrote.

I never imagined that this would reach almost 20,000 page views in 50+ hours. I have been overwhelmed by the response and at times almost sick with what to do. I have been moved to tears by the stories I have heard coming out of schools across Kansas and the United States of student artists who have felt marginalized and alone. To them I say, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

To the original students in the article and their parents, I do apologize if I caused you any undue harm or stress. It was never my intention. I believe you know that my intentions were good and I don’t think any of us ever expected this to explode the way it has.

To the original school in question, I apologize to you as well. I never meant any disrespect. Your community has never been anything less welcoming and supportive to me. I thank you for your spirit of hospitality to me. I do hope that, in the future, you consider though, how you organize your senior nights.

To everyone who shared the original post, who commented on it, who liked it. I thank you as well for standing with these students and their cause.

 
Everett Robert
Playwright-Emergency Room Productions
Feb. 28, 2014
2pm
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Where Do We Go From Here?

2/28/14, 1pm UPDATE: In the past 50+ hours of my original blog post post going live, it has exploded like wildfire. This is my fault. I have encouraged people to share this blog on social media across Facebook, Twitter, etc. I originally thought I would get at best a 100 or so views. I wasn’t expecting the fast approaching 20,000 hits it has received so far. As the page view count grew so did my passion for this area and my desire to see it grow more.

As it has grown, I have received messages from all over the US expressing support and solidarity. I have also been told stories that break my heart about schools like this. These stories, coming out of Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, and others, continue to show that this is a subject which has touched off a lot of people. I have seen, in the very comments here, posts that I would consider bullying in nature, from fellow students and from parents. For that reason, I’m LOCKING THE COMMENTS SECTION DOWN and removing the sharing options. I’m sorry I have to be doing this, but I feel that it is for the students safety.

I have heard from fellow members of the senior class who played in the band that disagree with my statements and the facts as they were presented to me. I have invited them to share their thoughts.

I am also changing many aspects of this article, I’m removing the name of the town and the names of the students, from both the article and the comments section. I have also removed the original picture. This is for the students own safety and for their future.

I am also removing ALL contact links to the school in question.

I never imagined that this story would take off as it has, I never imagined it would become the juggernaut that it has become.

Thank you all for standing up for these two students. I am proud of what I wrote, I am proud of them. They are my heroes for taking an unpopular stand that they felt was right. #WeAreSeniorsToo

-Everett Robert
Emergency Room Productions
Feb. 28, 2014
1pm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

So, if you haven’t heard, I wrote a blog a couple of days ago that has been getting a lot of attention. How much attention? Well, over 17,000 views since it went live early Wednesday morning. At the bottom of all my blogs there is a little “Share This” bar, the Facebook “Like” button has been hit 3.7K times. I’ve received comments, tweets, Facebook messages from across the state and the nation. I’ve heard stories that have made me cry because of how schools (schools across the nation!) have treated their children who choose to focus on their music, their art, their writing, their academics, their whatever instead of sports. How they’ve been ignored and mistreated. How funds they’ve raised have gone on to be used for the athletes, how teachers pay for things out of their own pockets and fight for their students. Stories about this being used to encourage other band students. Somehow #weareseniorstoo has started to bloom into something I never expected or anticipated.

In these messages, I’ve been asked “What can I do? What’s next?”

You maybe wondering that too, but didn’t know how to ask. Here’s my answer, short and sweet.

SUPPORT THE ARTS!

Don’t bully students that are involved in the arts, don’t pressure students into doing athletics if they don’t want to. Recognize student artists, student academics, student farmers, student volunteers. Don’t prioritize sports over everything else.

Sports is a fleeting moment in a person’s life, it lasts for a moment and then it’s gone. You may learn valuable lessons and hard lessons and that is good. But don’t prioritize it over everyone else and don’t romantize it. Support the arts. Go to concerts, plays, musicals, art shows, etc. If your school has a Twitter or Facebook page, encourage them to not just post the latest team scores but also the honor roll, when the FFA does well, the Scholars Bowl, the artists, etc.

#WeAreSeniorsToo

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