By Martha Reed
My niece and I went to see This Wonderful Life playing at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. It’s a one-act, one-actor retelling of the Frank Capra Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the story is retold on a bare stage, with minimal props. And yet, Mark Setlock, the actor who plays George Bailey, had some audience members in tears, and I was one of them.
The reason I mention this is because one local reviewer said the performance ‘tells us nothing new”, and this comment made me wonder: what’s so wrong with plain old entertainment? With all the crap on television, all those wasted hours watching pointless reality shows that have no basis in reality, what’s so wrong with spending an hour or two watching a storyteller get on with the job?
Lately, I’ve given a lot of thought to the storytellers who lived among us before we humans learned to write the story down. There’s a continuity there, a commonality among us all.
Take the Bible, for instance. It’s full of stories, and it’s strange to think that the entire Judeo-Christian culture arose from some transitional Sumerian storyteller telling the tale of Abraham and Sarah to a bunch of nomads sitting around a campfire, but that’s probably just the way it happened. You can even still hear his/her voice in their spoken ancestral names: Abra-HAM, Sar-AH. I use the same breathy emphasis in my verbal storytelling to this day.
Geneticists are telling us that modern humans have only been able to speak for 100,000 years – our vocal cord mutation is that recent in our history. So, again I wonder, what did humans use for communication before we developed our voice? I think we used dance, and that’s why dancing remains so vital to the overall human culture. Look at every ethnic division and there’s a variety of dance, and if you look really deeply, you’ll see each group’s innermost culture expressed and exposed through their dance. A hunting tribe mimics the hunt; a coastal tribe mimics movement across the water. It’s still storytelling; the transmission of knowledge, spoken or not.
I wonder what our American kids are learning today as they dance to techno-pop, a computer generated series of squeaks and repetitive beats? MacWorld knowledge? PC? The beat goes on.