Drama and Music To Make Us Think: Disability Hate Crime, Religious Persecution, Bullying, Relationships, the Holocaust, North Korea, Scapegoating of Minorities…

Ten Ten Theatre Company - "The Jeweller's Shop"

Ten Ten Theatre Company – “The Jeweller’s Shop”

Ten Ten theatre company and "Kolbe's Gift"

Ten Ten theatre company and “Kolbe’s Gift”

Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt

Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt

Rise - "Soldier to Saint"

Rise – “Soldier to Saint”

Rise Theatre Company

Rise Theatre Company

Actors in Living Without Fear

Actors in Living Without Fear

 

 

90%of all babies with Down's Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions

90%of all babies with Down’s Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions

A Baby With Down's Syndrome

A Baby With Down’s Syndrome

"Some people think I shouldn't be here, but I am. I'm a human being, and I'm in love." - words of an actor in "Living Without Fear"

“Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.” – words of an actor in “Living With Fear”

 

   A theatre company, consisting primarily, but not exclusively, of actors with learning disabilities, recently came to Westminster to perform their play “Living without Fear” – and in one short hour achieved more in raising awareness about disability hate crime than any number of speeches delivered in Parliament.

   Drama has an extraordinary capacity to move, to touch, and to reach people and this production by Blue Apple Theatre made me reflect on both the issue which the company explored and on the way in which they succeeded in catching my attention.

  Jane Jessop is the founding director of  Blue Apple Theatre.  She says that the British Crime Survey found that each year a truly shocking 65,000 assaults take place against people with disabilities and that “this is probably an underestimate”. Some one million people with learning disabilities live in Britain and Mencap say that up to 90% of people with learning disabilities are bullied and harassed on a regular basis

 Determined to raise awareness among policy makers she believes drama is an effective way to do it. So, she persuaded Steve Brine, her local MP in Winchester, to sponsor a performance of the play and, by kind permission of Mr.Speaker Bercow, this was performed in Mr.Speaker’s House.  Among those who had travelled up to see the play was Hampshire’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh. Esther McVeigh, the Minister with responsibility for disabled people was also present.

  “Living Without Fear” shines a light on the vulnerability of people who are initially thrilled by the idea of independent living but who then have to come to terms with prejudice and negotiate the visceral hatred of the people with whom they have to live alongside. It’s simply impossible to be left unaffected by the play or by a cast which comprises some of those who have experienced such hatred first hand.

   I was particularly struck by the young actor with Down’s Syndrome who says Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.”

  He’s right of course: eugenic abortions now prevent most people with Down’s Syndrome from being here. 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome have their lives ended in the womb. The violence, discrimination, and prejudice against people with learning difficulties or disability begins at conception. How sad that this young man’s love is met with society’s rejection.

   Jane Jessop says that her first hope in bringing “Living Without Fear” to Westminster “was to bring our talented actors to the heart of Parliament so that people legislating on abortion and other issues would meet whole and rounded people with learning disabilities, especially those with Down’s Syndrome and see their talent and potential.

“I  hope you could see there is no limit to our ambition in helping them realise their potential. Next was to raise the difficult issues around disability hate crime.”

 Blue Apple’s web site shows the breadth and the range of work in which this inclusive theatre company is involved and which deserves to be seen by audiences up and down the country:   

http://www.blueappletheatre.hampshire.org.uk/  and this link features extracts from the play and lets the actors speak for themselves: http://bit.ly/YLcgFg

    Recently I have seen some other brilliant examples of drama being used to explore contemporary themes. At the Easter Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe there were performances by two Catholic theatre groups – Ten Ten and Rise.

  Rise produced some thought-provoking sketches and are now preparing to take their play “Soldier to Saint” on a UK tour from June 28th to July 12th.
Set in 2020, in an England which is persecuting Christians, it’s the story of a soldier, John Alban. Like his Roman namesake, his friendship with a fugitive priest endangers his freedom and his very life. On a daily basis, in many parts of the world, from China to Nigeria, contemporary Albans are deprived of their liberty or their lives and this is a timely reminder not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy in Britain: (http://www.risetheatre.co.uk/ )
Drama allows the exploration of countless rich and disturbing questions.
Ten Ten used Celebrate to stage a powerful production of “Heart”, a drama which takes on inter-generational relationships and the role a grandmother plays in challenging her grand-daughter’s bullying of another girl.
Later in the year Ten Ten, are back at London’s Leicester Square Theatre where they previously performed “The Jeweller”, an adaptation of John Paul II’s play, “The Jeweller’s Shop” – which examines relationships, friendships, and love, in the context of three couples whose lives become intermingled. The comedian, Frank Skinner, described “The Jeweller” as “deeply funny, gut-wrenchingly sad and thought provoking.”

Between October 1st and 5th Ten Ten turn their attention to another Pole, St.Maximilian Kolbe, whom John Paul called “the patron saint of our difficult century.” This brand new production of “Kolbe’s Gift” – an inspirational play by David Gooderson – takes us to Auschwitz, where the imprisoned Kolbe encounters a soldier, Franek Gajowniczec, and freely gives his own life to save the other (http:www.tententheatre.co.uk).
Like “Confessions of a Butterfly”, the one man play about the life of Janusz Korczak, written and performed by the Catholic writer, Jonathan Salt, and which I saw at a synagogue in London a few months ago, “Kolbe’s Gift” reminds us of the savagery of the Holocaust; the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.
Salt introduces us to Korcczak’s heroism but also to children like the boy with the violin – who chooses to become selectively mute after watching the execution of his parents. A profoundly moving and poignant story, it’s not one which I will quickly or easily forget.https://davidalton.net/2012/11/02/confessions-of-a-butterfly-the-remarkable-story-of-janusz-korczak/
Each of these dramas explores a different question and tells a different story but they all raise profoundly important issues in a world which can too easily become indifferent and where we need to find a range of different ways to effect change.
And it’s not just drama: art and graphics, writing, poetry and music all have their part to play. The Catholic musicians, Ooberfuse, have just marked North Korea Freedom week with a brilliant song, Vanish the Night, released on Youtube and features the North Korean escapee and human rights campaigner, Shin Dong Hyok: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=be7WTX_z_E8&feature=share.

An earlier song, about the assassination of Pakistan’s Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, His Blood Cries Out, has now been watched by over 137,000 people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABOIQfhyh1g .

In every generation we must guard against prejudice and bigotry, racism and xenophobia and cherish our precious freedoms and liberties. In particular, minorities, ranging from people with learning disabilities to vulnerable ethnic groups or dissenting religious believers, need to have their stories told. And, this is a world in which anti-Semitism, racial intolerance, and the scapegoating of minorities – such as homosexuals living in those Commonwealth countries which still impose the death penalty for homosexuality – or Christians facing death in countries like North Korea or Iran – or institutionalised discrimination in the form of caste based prejudice against Dalits in India – are all distempers of our age.
Perhaps music and drama will succeed in waking us up to these horrific realities when speeches and commentaries do not – and maybe challenge us to change our attitudes and our laws.

https://davidalton.net/2012/09/13/the-killing-of-people-with-downs-syndrome-bbc-report/

As antisemitism once again disfigures Europe we should remember our past: Confessions of a Butterfly – the remarkable story of Janusz Korczak

As anti-Semitism once again disfigures Europe we should remember our past

Coiexist

Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again in Europe – with Jews vilified because of their religion, their race or their State. August 2014 has seen Jews fleeing from Paris after shocking attacks in the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles. Kosher shops have been burnt out, synagogues have been under siege and placards threatening “death to Jews” are openly brandished. This is France 2014 not Germany 1934.

Jews are targeted because they are different and, as we increasingly see in the ISIS controlled areas of the Islamic State, for some ideologues the concept of difference is something which they refuse to countenance. After a visit to northern Iraq a Jewish politician, aware that Christians are persecuted in more than a hundred countries, observed to me that “Christians have become the new Jews.”

But it’s not just Christians: it’s Yazidis, Bahais, Muslim minorities, Ahmadis, secularists or any minority which refuses to conform. Sometimes this naked use of power and violence does so in the corrupted name of religion, sometimes in the name of the same secular ideologies that butchered millions in the twentieth century.

The opening chapters of the Bible, sacred to the Abrahamic faiths, reminds us of a common humanity: that we are “imago Dei” – each made in the image of our Creator. And, phenomenally, each is uniquely different. What a hideous world this would be if every man and woman was identical or forced to abandon their identity . Difference is to be prized and upheld – and the political imperative which flows from this assertion is that we must learn respect, tolerance, and co-existence.

In speaking clearly against a rising tide of anti-Semitism we must also recall our own history…

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2014/03/08/paying-a-price-for-belief/

https://davidalton.net/2010/12/23/berlin-police-and-a-memory-of-the-holocaust/

Confessions of a Butterfly.

Pope John Paul II once described his Jewish countryman,

Janusz Korczak 2012

Jonathan Salt – who wrote and performs Confessions of a Butterfly

, as “a symbol of religion and true morality.” Korczak’s story is well known in his native Poland where this 70th anniversary year of his death has been designated as The Year of Janusz Korczak. In Britain his story is becoming better known thanks to a remarkable play written and performed by Jonathan Salt, an English Catholic. I recently went to the Kinloss Synagogue in Finchley to see “Confessions of a Butterfly” and was profoundly moved.

Korczak’s real name was Henryk Goldszmit. A doctor and paediatrician he was an educator and children’s author. He was also director of two children’s orphanages – one Jewish and one Catholic.

During the Nazi occupation of Warsaw over 400,000 Jews were confined to an area of 1.3 square miles – the Warsaw Ghetto. During the summer of 1942, at least 254,000 Jewish people from the Ghetto were herded into cattle trucks and removed to the Treblinka extermination camps. Among them were the 192 Jewish orphans at Dom Sierot orphanage. Their director, Dr.Janusz Korczak, was given the opportunity to go into hiding – and was offered a number of chances to escape – but he refused and insisted on accompanying the children in his care to Treblinka.

In August of this year, exactly 70 years after German soldiers sent these children to their deaths, a plaque was placed at the site of the orphanage and wreaths laid at Korczak’s statue. A letter was read from Anna Komorowska, Poland’s first lady.

If ever we need proof of the rabbi’s teaching that “the man who saves a single life saves the world” surely it was the redemptive and sacrificial life of this remarkable pioneer of children’s care and education. In a discussion which followed the 90 minute stage production Jonathan Salt explained that it is a life which speaks into our own times.

Salt describes Korczak as “phenomenally brave” and says he “gave children a sense of dignity at a time when the world was stripping it from them” ; that at a moment of crude brutalism this inspirational figure represents bravery and self sacrifice.

During the play many of the children’s names are used – along with authentic sayings collected from Korczak’s diaries. The children’s names reminded me of the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust children in Jerusalem and which underlines the humanity and vulnerability which lies behind harrowing but often incomprehensible statistics.

“Confessions of a Butterfly”, for instance, recalls the profoundly moving and poignant story of the boy with the violin – who chooses to become selectively mute after watching the execution of his parents.

Authenticity, vulnerability, fragility and humanity breathes through this one-man play. Salt takes on Korczak’s persona as the play recounts these extraordinary stories.

The drama is set in the hours before Korczak left the orphanage, in August 1942, walking ahead of the children to board the cattle trucks. The children were dressed in their best clothes, each carrying a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy. One eyewitness said

”Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. A few nurses were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar.”

Korczak tells the children that, whatever happens to them on their journey, their destination will be a freedom which no adult will then be able to take from them. Salt’s play has moments of pathos, humour, self deprecation, and discovery.

Jonathan Salt first became interested in the Jewish educator’s story when he heard about it at the Edinburgh Fringe. This led to him playing the part of Korczak in a musical production and then, in 2004, he decided to visit Poland. For him it was a seminal moment as he held Korczak’s original diaries in his hands. A visit to Auschwitz was equally “life changing” and led him to create a small company which gives young people the chance to visit the camps and to learn in great detail the story of the Holocaust.

Salt comes from Cambridgeshire, where he was born in 1964. He studied for seven years at the Canisianum Jesuit seminary in Innsbruck (which was closed by the Nazis during World War Two) and was ordained in the UK in 1990, but left priestly ministry in 1995 – finding a different form of ministry which enables him to use his deep understanding of theology and philosophy to promote a message which the world badly needs to hear.

The contemporary relevance of the life of Janusz Korczak bore down on Salt during a visit to Rwanda where a he met a nine year old boy whose family had been slaughtered by his neighbours during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 when at least 800,000 people were murdered. Crimes against humanity continue in our own times – from the gulags of North Korea to the slaughter in Darfur and South Kordofan.

Despite the horrors with which it deals “Confessions of a Butterfly” has moments of humour, and there are some lovely scenes where he talks to the imaginary children around him, and even becomes a child himself. Using props like cups or apples thrown onto the stage we can imagine the presence of the children who animated Korczak’s life – whom he lived for and gave his life for. Clothes, blankets, and toys are all used to create imaginary conversations with children now long dead but whose spirits are given new life in this sensitive and intimate drama.

At a time when Holocaust deniers try to dispute the veracity or scale of the Shoah – which claimed the lives of six million people – and as we see crimes against humanity visited again on people the world over – from Sudan to north Korea – Salt believes that Korczak’s story is like a wakeup call. When we become indifferent to the Holocaust and the savagery of those times it surely paves the way for those terrible events to occur all over again.

To warn us against this, Jonathan Salt’s play ought to be staged in colleges and communities up and down this country. Korczak’s story is a warning to always guard against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of minorities but it is also a rebuke to nations who leave their children to suffer as victims of war, trafficking, exploitation, abuse, malnutrition, curable diseases and from the deprivation of education. Korczak’s story is a story for our times.

Contact Jonathan Salt at: jonathan@ojemba.com

Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak

Confessions of a Butterfly