Do You Hear the People Sing? Seeing Michael Brown in the staging of “Les Miserables”

The Dallas Arts district is comprised of several venues, each with a dedicated purpose:   The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra;  and the Winspear Opera House, home to the Dallas Opera, the Lexus Broadway Series, and national touring recitals, concerts, speakers, and dance troupes.  Other buildings house specific resident troupes, including The Dallas Black Dance Theatre, or the Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Last week, I witnessed transformation at the Wyly Theatre, a venue, according to the website,  for classical and experimental stage productions.  For approximately six weeks, the Dallas Theater Center gave patrons a uniquely contemporary staging of the blockbuster Les Miserables.  Same music, same characters, same beautiful story.  Yet, instead of a setting in post revolutionary France in 1832, director Liesl Tommy brought a fresh perspective to a classic story.  This version included students in red berets (ala ‘Guardian Angels’), police in stormtrooper attire, multicultural actors and actresses, dredlocks, transgender characters, and red protest flyers in place of the revolutionary red flag.

How different was this production?  And why did it matter?  It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in musical theater, in the storyline, in the melodies, and in the lyrics.  The individual elements of Les Miserables combine to bring us an intense story about compassion, mercy,  justice, sacrifice and forgiveness.   Patrons of the show leave having been exposed to courageous and ardent characters, albeit from a period long ago.    Or can we find this same story in our world, today?

Clearly director Tommy answers this with a resounding, “Yes!”

A First-Look at Dallas Theater Center's Contemporary, Immersive Les Miz Make-Over

We attended the performance on August 14, 2014.  Consider, for a moment, the events of the week, and the preceding month:

  • Airstrikes and bombs flying again in the Gaza/Israel conflict, killing civilians – adults and children alike.  Attendees of the Les Mis production might have been thinking of this conflict during the fight scenes at the barricade.
  • Tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq fled to mountaintops to avoid attacks from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  Families remained on the mountain, without food or shelter; some humanitarian efforts succeeded despite significant artillery from ISIS; and recently, a military mission concluded with many of the refugees rescued.    One might wonder if Jean Valjean felt as rejected and desperate as he searched the local houses for a kind soul to share food and shelter with a former prisoner – someone, shall we say, ‘different’ than the townspeople?
  • Only 48 hours prior, the world was notified that Robin Williams, brilliant comedian, compassionate and generous soul, took his life.  We learned he battled severe depression; later we learned he was also battling Parkinson’s disease.     Many were still in shock at this death; most were still mourning.   I couldn’t hold back tears as the character Javert sang his soliloquy, just prior to committing suicide – might these words have been Williams’ thoughts as well?

“I am reaching, but I fall.
And the stars are black and cold.
As I stare into the void,
Of a world that cannot hold.
I’ll escape now, from that world.
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is no where I can turn.
There is no way to go on……..”

  • And on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, outside St. Louis, an eighteen year old  Michael Brown, who was black, and unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the middle of the day.  The shooting is under serious investigation.  Outrage ensued from the black community, many who opened up with stories of continued abuse and profiling by the primarily white police department and city government.  That night, many rioted.  Over the next week, protests have continued, escalating to a point where the National Guard was sent in to keep the peace.   Curfews have been established, but not always honored.  Police with tear gas, riot gear, and automatic weapons met citizens with fire, rocks, and allegedly – blazing molotov cocktails.

Last night, the situation in Ferguson escalated to a horrific scale, and I listened to the news, read the tweets, and prayed for those in harm’s way.  As I listened to one segment of the news, I learned that some of the community had “built a barricade” to separate themselves from police action.  I closed my eyes, and remembered the re-imagined, contemporary interpretation of Les Miserables:

  • Do those in Ferguson ask “Will you join in our crusade?  Who will be strong and stand with me?”
  • Do those called to protect, sing instead, as Javert did, “One more day to revolution, We will nip it in the bud! We’ll be ready for these schoolboys, They will wet themselves with blood!”
  • Did the protestors sing, before heading to the site of the killing, as Grantaire did in the little bar, “Drink with me to days gone by.  Can it be you fear to die?  Will the world remember you when you fall?  Could it be your death means nothing at all?  Is your life just one more lie?”
  • And who will be left as survivors to sing, as Marius did, “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.  There’s a pain goes on and on.  Empty chairs at empty tables, now my friends are dead and gone.”  And later in the same song, “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me what your sacrifice was for.  Empty chairs at empty tables, where my friends will say no more.”

What I do know is this:  In this contemporary version of a classic, we are all called to play Valjean.  As we watch and read about the protests, we reach out to God for relief, praying “God on high, hear my prayer.   In my need, You have always been there.  [They are] young, [they’re] afraid.  Let [them] rest.  Heaven blessed.  Bring him home.  Bring [her] home.  Bring [them] home.”

We yearn for peace.  We long for the truth of Brown’s death.  We pray that calmer hearts will prevail, and the people of Ferguson will be able to sing a song of reconciliation and transformation:  “Do you hear the people sing,  lost in the valley of the night?  It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.  For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies.  Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”

“They will live again in freedom, in the garden of the Lord.  We will walk behind the plough-share; we will put away the sword.  The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!”

May God be with every individual involved in the tragic events of this last month.  For those who died, may they have eternal peace in the light of God.  For those who remain, may we hear the melody and lyrics of Les Miserables, which continue to shed light on the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the nature of our relationships – in times past, present, and future.



Stand by Me – Wherever You Are!

A friend of mine from Central America sent this video clip to me.  During this week of US Thanksgiving, I find it especially joyful …

I’ve written in previous posts about the Tower of Babel story in the Book of Genesis.  It’s appropriate here, as well.  The first verse (Gen 11:1) shares the origin of language : “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”  It was not until the people started to build the tower, to keep themselves close in proximity to each other, so no one would wander away – that’s when the story shares that God created other languages and spread people across the earth.

Above all, we were created with one language – a language of love.  Watch this video, listen to the song, and realize that wherever we live, whatever our color, or our spoken language – we all move to the same rhythm, as God intended.  (Make sure you get to at least the one minute mark)

Have a peaceful week, everyone; and in all things, Love.

The Biblical Basis for “Paying it Forward”

My Aunt Frances died of cancer a few days before my college graduation.  Anyone who’s experienced terminal illness – family or friends – can share how difficult life is without that person.  Every birthday, every holiday, all those special jokes….eventually they bring on a smile of remembrance; but for awhile, all they bring are pain to the survivors.

I saw my cousin (Frances’ daughter) at a recent family gathering.  She looked great, had a radiant smile, and the always infectious laugh.  I’m so glad we had time to catch up – one on one – to share stories and give updates on our lives.

She’s a massage therapist now.  She specializes in massage therapy for cancer and hospice patients.  And she recently followed that passion to form her own practice, sharing her experiences with those who need her most.

therapeutic massage

Do you suspect, as I do, that her personal experiences with cancer give her an added perspective – a gentle ‘touch,’ if you will – for her clients?  As she and I talked about her journey, I saw that this career helped her as much as it helped her patients. Almost as if she were comforting her mother, bringing them closer, with each therapeutic massage.

This is a story of  2 Corinthians 1:4 (The Message)  in practice:

[God] comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, [God] brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

I know there are many of you out there going through hard times.  We all have them; some more than others.  I hope that you are able to feel God alongside you, bringing you comfort.  Before long, God will place someone beside you who needs that same comfort.  I pray that you, like my cousin, recognize it, so that you might share your journey with them.

That’s how we build community, one person at a time.

Was that a Sign from God?

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”  – Woody Allen

Sign from God

A friend of mine recently had a very emotional meeting.  He was confused.  He was angry.  He was disappointed.  And the meeting did not end as he expected: a loving embrace, a rousing round of Kum Ba Yah.    Instead, he tossed and turned all night, knowing that his problem had not been resolved to his satisfaction.  I talked with him about it the next day, after he stated that he was even ‘madder than yesterday.  I woke up still angry and I took that as a sign from God that I should just act on my first instinct.’   I let him talk a little more, then gently confronted him.  ‘Can we go back to that ‘sign from God’ part?  Because if you really think God is sending you a sign to be angry and hurtful, I think you need to go back to bed.’

Signs are funny things.  I find it most interesting that many ‘signs from God’ are interpreted or twisted to show what the individual wants to see or hear.

Ever notice that physical signs are somewhat permanent?  All those signs on the highway, pointing toward the next fast food chain or gas station.   It’s a sign that everyone, eventually needs to see.  Go this way, and you have arrived; your journey has ended.

Not so with God’s signs, which I refer to as affirmations.  Affirmations are validations of our path, that we are headed in the right direction.    And affirmations sometimes come in ways we’d never expect, from sources that we didn’t know would give them.  Affirmations happen over a period of time; and we have to be ready to receive them when they are presented to us.  It’s not a permanent sign that says, ‘Go here, and you’re done.’

Affirmations are the result of peaceful and meaningful contemplation of how God would have us build community in our lives.  With our family, with our co-workers, with our neighbors.  And every once in awhile, if we listen closely, we hear an affirmation that our neighborhood is not as small as we thought it was.  That affirmation reassures us that getting out of our comfort zone is what is needed.

Otherwise, we might as well pull the sheets over our heads and go back to bed.


Steel Magnolias. How Quaint.

Why Steel Magnolias?  Every seen or read the play?  Seen the movie?  Steel Magnolias is a story of friendship and relationships:  between mother and daughter, among friends, and with ourselves.
I’ve determined that at one point or another in my life, I can relate to any of the characters.  Take for example, Ouiser.
 Now this is a woman after my own heart.  She tries so hard to be gruff, and at the same time, to do those things that are typical of a Southern Lady.  She’s so outspoken and curt to people, she’s managed to run off 4 husbands.  (Me, I managed to snag the one who will put up with me for a lifetime).   And, true to my heart, she loves football.  She succeeds at being the group pessimist, only to come out later as the old softy who can have her feelings hurt, and one who prays for those who need it most.  I especially like her relationship with Clairee.
Clairee brings Ouiser down to earth.   Clairee is from old money.  She’s a widow who’s looking for her late in life adventure.  She finds it when she purchases the local radio station!  She’s a die hard and fierce friend in times of need, and she understands the value of laughter and keeping things light.  She’s also willing to try anything at all, at least once, no matter how late in life.  I am lucky to have a Clairee in my life.  I couldn’t live life without her.  And I hope you have one, too.
Annelle, I have decided, has one characteristic that I struggle with daily:  moderation.  With Annelle, it’s either 100% on or 100% off.  She’s either drinking and smoking; or she’s praying at a church revival.  Towards the end of the movie, she has learned enough to tell her husband to “lighten up.”  But I can tell you, certainly, I have shared in her struggles.  Even so, her heart is in the right place, and I hope, even on my worst days, those who know me can say the same about me.
Truvy – I love Truvy’s lines in the movie.  They say so much about her.  “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”  “I’m just fightin’ with my husband, I can do that anytime.”  “When it comes to pain and suffering, she’s right up there with Elizabeth Taylor.”  Truvy has that gift of gab, and reminds me of sitting at the kitchen table with my aunts and cousins in Arkansas, spinning a story of ” ‘member when…..”.  Which is why I like her so much.
But the most intriguing relationship to watch is that between mother and daughter.  M’lynn and Shelby.
These two can go at it, that’s for sure.  I don’t know if the relationship reminds me more of the one I have with my mother or the one I have with my daughter.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so intriguing.  I can see me, the daughter that I was and am, in the stubbornness turned to friendship.  And I can see myself in the motherly Sally Field who only wants her daughter to be happy and will go to great lengths to ensure that it happens.   I know there are days that I drive my daughter insane, and vice versa.  And I wait, with as much patience and love that I can muster, for the day that she returns to me, seeing me not with horns growing out of my head, but with adoringly proud eyes for the woman she has become.  I understand, though she is only 17 now, I’ll get her back when she’s about 22.  But she’s well on her way.

I can’t wait.  Until then, I’ll shed my tears as another Steel Magnolia.

The Start of Something Wonderful

My professional life is surrounded with numbers, analysis and reason.  I spend a lot of my day solving newly generated problems, and trying to anticipate the next question.  I work with builders, attorneys, city staff, engineers, marketers, brokers, tenants, residents and visitors.  My professional life is a compilation of various industries that come together to build community.

This new blog is an effort to do the same, in a more creative way.  Learn with me, if you will, and together we’ll build an online community, with members who are not shy about using their voice.