A Tiny Space

Well, folks, the contest play is over. It’s bittersweet in that we didn’t do as well as I had hoped we would, but I am glad to have more time on my hands, especially now that the weather is getting really nice here in Chicagoland.

I really loved the play we did, though, and I chose it because I related to it so deeply. Well, initially, I chose it because we needed a good, one-act play for one male and two female actors. But I also chose it because I could relate to it, so I want to say a few words about it here.

The play is called Crossings by Barbara Schneider. It’s about a man whose family survived World War II in Germany. Well, all but his wife survived. The play starts 15 years after the war has ended. The man, called only Papa in the play, has married a woman named Annemarie. His daughter, Katja, has grown up and emigrated to America. The play has several scenes, each denoting the passage of a decade until the last scene, which is only a few days after the scene before it. It uses very little set – we used a desk for Katja and a kitchen table for Annemarie and Papa. Katja never crosses over her side of the stage to meet her father and stepmother, and they never cross to her side, either, which denotes not only loneliness, but their two separate countries.

In the first scene (Well, the second. We cut out the first in order to meet our time constraints.), it is the 60’s, and Katja is angry with her father for not doing more to protest against the Nazis. He wasn’t a Nazi, but he didn’t resist or try to help the Jews or anything, either. As Katja is yelling at him, he tells her that the terror was hard to see, because “it was living.” He says, “You either joined with body and soul or else cut out a space, tiny space, and called it living.” His tiny space was his music (he was a conductor) and his family. He ends the scene by saying, “The idea of resistance never occurred to me.”

In the next scene, Papa sends her a tape of his voice, talking about the family and a man one of Katja’s brothers met who had worked to save Jews during the war. Through the scene, Katja is listening to the tape he’s produced and is stuffing anti-Vietnam flyers into envelopes. At the end, Papa tells her he’s proud of her work against the Vietnam War.

In the third scene, Reagan is President. She is worried about America, but she isn’t doing much about it. She is no longer an activist, but she still feels the country is headed in a wrong direction. Her father is composing music again, but she doesn’t know that. She insists that he not only ask what she’s doing, “ask what I’m not doing.” She, at this point, mentions that she wants to carve out a tiny space for herself.

In the final scene, Papa has died. Katja has flown home for the funeral, and her and Annemarie talk (separately) to him as if he could hear them. Katja says she found copies of letters he had written to the editor of the local paper against nuclear weapons and nuclear war. She seems proud of this activism in him, as it is what she wanted in the first place. However, later, she finds the originals in their envelopes, stamped and addressed, but unsent.

The play is heartbreaking in that Katja starts out as the young, passionate activist, not understanding her father’s need to try to ignore the war going on around them and work to provide for his family and keep his family alive. Papa, likewise, does not understand her heated accusations and her desire for him to have been an activist in a time of terror. Through the play, though, Katja begins to understand why Papa may have wanted to turn off the radio and the television, and not read the papers. She begins to do the same, herself.

I relate to this for obvious reasons. I, the young and passionate activist, have, at times, felt the need to tune out the news and focus on my family. Recently, I’ve thought about what it would mean to carve out a space for myself and focus on my family rather than my activism, indefinitely. We want to buy a house in the suburbs, and, frankly, I want to stay out of the city (even though I so desperately wanted to move there a month or so ago) because I want to be able to separate myself from the activism and the activity at times. Maybe I’m growing older, but I remember a time, not so long ago, that I couldn’t imagine wanting to carve out a tiny space for myself, and now I can see the appeal.

I think the key is to strike a fine line. I know my limits. When I feel the need to ignore all of the blogs and listen to music rather than NPR on my ride home, I’m not a bad activist. I just need a break. Eventually, I can come back to it all, refreshed and ready to make a real and tangible difference.

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