Freedom in Confinement
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Freedom in Confinement

  • Author(s): Israel, Noah
  • Advisor(s): Meyer, Ursula
  • et al.

What does the body learn when told not to move? Tapemouth Man showed me the beauty of that confinement. How specific can I be with the nudge of a foot, the taps of my toes, the grip of my fingers around the edge of a desk? Storytelling happens on the tiniest of scales. I did not think I would be working under similar restrictions for the bulk of my grad school journey, but COVID-19 had different plans. Even in an industry that never guarantees work, I took for granted that I would be able to do the work that I came to school to do. I was wrong. This new normal of forced confinement brought unbelievable hardships, but it also brought unexpected gifts. My teaching style slowed down as I listened to the needs of my students, and in that shift I’ve begun to develop new pedagogy around the inspiration to act coming out of mindfulness, slowly building back stimuli as we listen with our whole bodies. I spent time with my father and learned how to throw pots, the way his parents taught him. My work became intimate and personal, as I no longer had an ensemble around me everyday, and I discovered the deep-seated dream of telling the story of my grandmother, Berne, an artistic force in my life that I never got to meet. I don’t think these gifts would have found me at this time without such restriction. In Kimber Lee’s play To The Yellow House, Vincent Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo, “One does not always know what he can do, but he nevertheless instinctively feels I am good for something… I wonder how I can be of use? How can I be of service?” Speaking those words for two unexpected nights on LJP’s stage woke the bones of an artist and actor who had really wrestled with their place in the world. I knew I was on the cusp of finding my voice. That’s when I met Gennaro. Gennaro, in Napoli, has so much to say. But he is brought to his heels when he recognizes the moments of connection he has been missing along the way while trying so hard to get his own message across. Gennaro forced me to breathe and listen well. In Hebrew, the word רוּחַ means “breath”, or “life”, but also “spirit”. The word גולם refers to a restricted inanimate being (usually made out of clay) that is breathed to life through prayer. As I begin my next chapter as an unapologetically Jewish artist, I am reminded of the struggles that Vincent and Gennaro face. How to step forward? When to step forward? What do you miss if you don’t listen? But just like the clay pots I now throw with my father, I am relieved to know that by breathing and speaking life into the uplifted stories that my confined clay גולם body will be service to, I will be contributing to good work by continuing the oral tradition that my ancestors began thousands of years ago. The breath that moves me through the restrictions of antisemitism, of COVID-19, of my aching body, of any confinement that is to come, will set me free. Just like Gennaro, choosing to sit at the table with Amalia, through the night, instead of hiding away. My breath, my spirit, is a part of that lineage, and that is beautiful enough.

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