INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

Spotlight On
International
Artists

“The life of the arts in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”
- President John F. Kennedy

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“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self.”
– Richard Bach

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
– Wilma Rudolph

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
– William Faulkner

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“My favorite piece of music is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.”
– John Cage

 


Essays

Ingredients Of A Creative Life: Sketches Summer 2017

The Method Acting Exercises Handbook

The Laboratory Instinct

All People Are Famous: Instead of an Autobiography

“CREATE! How Extraordinary People Live to Create and Create to Live”

Films That Make a Difference

Witness to Spirit: My Life with Cowboys, Mozart & Indians

My Life and Art

A Healing Art: How Eurythmy Lives in the World

Dramatic Circumstances: On Acting, Singing, and Living Inside the Stories We Tell: Teaching Through the Lens of Neuroscience

Chasing Light: Notes on Creativity

Changing Ourselves to Change Society

An Excerpt from DAH Theatre: A Sourcebook

I Can Resist Everything Except Тheater: the Work and Role of The Macedonian Centre — International Theatre Institute

Real Life Drama

 

 

 

 

“To flourish, society depends on a strong cultural heritage as well as innovation. The challenge is to breathe new life into the arts. Creativity is at the heart of every successful nation. It finds expression in great visual art, wonderful music, fabulous performances, stunning writing, gritty new productions and countless other media. Giving form to our innate human creativity is what defines us to ourselves and the world.
This is what the arts have always done. The lasting value and evidence of a civilization are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavor. What is education if it doesn't teach our children to think creatively and innovatively? What use is a robust economy unless it is within an innovative country that can attract and stimulate the world? How can good governance exist without a population that is engaged, educated and able to form its own opinions?”  Excerpt from an essay, “Reviving a creative nation,”
 – by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz, April 16, 2008, For the Creative Australia Stream at the 2020 Summit

“Simply think the words.”
— Goethe

“Action is the direct agent of the heart.”
— Delsarte

“The supreme goal of the theatre is truth, the ultimate truth of the soul.”
— Max Reinhardt

“Through the unity of reason and emotion, of spirituality and affection and sensation, the actor will discover his creative genius for the stage – the art of acting.”
— Erwin Piscator

“The artist-actor unveils his inner soul.”
— Eleonora Duse

“Living is a process. Acting is the act of laying oneself bare, of fearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself.  It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct.”
— Jerzy Grotowski

“Let us find our way to the unknown, the intuitive, and perhaps beyond to man’s spirit itself.. “
— Viola Spolin

Witness to Spirit: My Life with Cowboys, Mozart & Indians

Spirit is the thread that connects and makes send of the radical life-work contrasts. Spirit is a common concept with precise connotation because it can’t be captured and measured. Science denies its reality for that reason, but even so, most people have a feeling for it if not for a precise definition. Spirit if a force which lifts us into a realm beyond ego-driven needs and allows our highest aspirations to grow and integrate. Spirit provides a cosmic recognition of the sanctity of humanity and the natural world, as well as awareness of forces beyond our understanding that are responsible for and impact, both. Too often tied exclusively to dogma, sprit if the force that allows us to live fully and complete lives.

Ann Staffanson adjusting Arthur Fiedler’s tie
as Robert Staffanson looks on

It is the one element in our makeup that many people including some neuroscientists, believe is indestructible They agree that it is activated through the brain but hold that it does not originate there, anymore than music originates in a radio, and that its source in another dimension means it will return there when the body which houses it dies. It has many names: spirit, soul, consciousness, animating life principle. Regardless of name, any one who experiences it in depth knows its reality. Human beings tend to give the bulk of their attention to life’s short-term needs while neglecting the cultivation of spirit, which carries keys to the ultimate meaning and gory of life. Spirit in human beings can grow over time or it can atrophy. We have strict guidelines for maintaining physical health but neglect spiritual health. All body processes decline with age; spirit is the only element that, if nurtured, sees only growth. It is the greatest challenge of life. Spirit needs no special set of circumstances to grow, as has been evidenced by the accomplishments of spiritual leaders throughout history who have prevailed against the most egregious conditions.

Ann Staffanson, Kristin-Staffanson Campbell
and Robert Staffanson, 2003

My spiritual journey began in isolation, with the natural world as teacher. I grew up on horseback in the outback of Montana. A good horse gives a young boy a feeling of invincibility, but the natural world intervenes with a tempering influence. Riding alone in high country my horse provided both security and capacity. I was dependent upon him, and was actually the weakest of the community of life encountered there. The abundant wildlife, as well as domestic animals, fit within the environment and could take take care of themselves. I was an intruder: dependent on other life. Dependency is the mother of humility, which is central to spirit. Dependency also creates an appreciation of community, another ingredient of spirit. I learned to view elements of the natural world not as utilitarian objects, but as parts of an integrated system; each having a function and purpose with our which the system could not be sustained, creating a spiritual connection that affects how one feels and acts with regard to the vulnerability of the natural world, and our capacity for abuse and destruction. It grounded me, providing a solid base for spiritual growth along with a beed fir return periodically fir spiritual refreshment. I have the same strong instinct for the natural word of Montana as did our horse, “Diamond,” who swam the Yellowstone River every spring to return to the place where he was foaled.

Robert Staffanson conducting the Springfield Symphony

My deepest spiritual growth took place in music. Called the “universal language,” it is open to everyone with impact on sentient levels from physical and emotional to the highest spiritual insights, the latter coming from music considered supreme by generations of people. Because music is the most abstract of the arts and not tied to any temporal realities, it is also the most “spiritual,” taking its listeners into the spiritual stratosphere as far as their capacities will allow. To achieve greatness in the spiritual sense, music must stand the test of time confirmed by, and often enhanced by, many generations. A few composers remain at the top of that genre: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, among others. They’re the giants, but to every generation there are a few who capture the spirit of their time in overpowering ways. If that spirit remains relevant to ongoing generations it becomes part of a lasting legacy.

Mozart may have had the “purest” genius, and is to music what Michelangelo is to art or Shakespeare to literature. Mozart wrote music as if taking dictation, with no “Strum und Drang” as in Beethoven. I have special affinity for the music of Beethoven. He struggled to achieve some of the most powerful music ever, and in that struggle represented the capacity of human beings to overcome limitations to reach the loftiest spiritual heights. His internal struggles were compounded by becoming totally deaf after which he did his greatest work. I empathize with that challenge.

Each great composer represents a unique spiritual insight. Taken together, they provide windows into spirit. Advanced spiritual insights do not appear automatically, but are only achieved through time, effort, and commitment, in addition to an inherent aptitude. A fine conductor once told me he didn’t feel totally equipped to do justice to a Mozart symphony until he was about 60.

During my conducting career, great music integrated forces that were nascent within me. Always sympathetic to people marginalized by society, I gained new perspective on the integrity and humanity common to all people The pettiness and humanity of divisiveness that separates human beings and creates debilitating categories is made clear in the process of performing great music. Standing before more than 200 musicians, people of varying ages gender, races, ethnicity, and culture in bringing to life one of great choral/orchestral masterworks is a lesson in the unity of the human family and in love.

Robert Staffanson on the range

Spirit, at its core, is love. When spirit is amplified by performing musicians, and reinforced by a sensitive audience, it creates an experience like none other.  Over time it becomes a fore impacting all life. It is so deep in some musicians, particularly those who are most accomplished, that it becomes a cocoon; it dominates all elects of life: economic, social, recreational and spiritual. While liberating in some ways, the depth of that ficus can be limiting. Its like living in another world wherein you interact only with people of like mind.

During my conducting tenure, it dominated my life in alI the ways noted above; but it didn’t have an exclusive hold: I was never a slave to music. I took breaks from the world of conducting, which enhanced other spiritual perspectives; I believe these times of renewal added new impetus to music. That balance was one of the factors that allowed me to leave a conducting career when internal forces could no longer be denied, a decision that was incomprehensible to musicians at my level; to them, it was abandoning life. They could not imagine leaving a hard-won position held only by a favored few, running out on gifts not extravagantly given and being a traitor to a great art.

But to me the decision expanded life: allowing me to reach for new goals that would broaden and enhance life. I didn’t believe I was abandoning gifts as much as perfecting others that were equally, if not more urgently needed. I left with a clear conscience. The departure from music took a physical toll and its absence leaves an empty spot in my psyche, but its residue will continue to be sustaining. Spiritually, the move was positive, contributing to a broader horizons. I owe so much to music, and I will alway hold it deeply in my heart.

In entering the world of traditional Native Americans, I was as much a neophyte as I was when entering the word of music. The difference was a strong spiritual base that has been conditioned by music providing a fertile field for growth. It was a new learning experience. The traditional Native American worldview has a spiritual base, rather than a material base, which drew me explicably to it, There were glimpses of it in my early life, and then baptism in a Blood Indian medicine camp got my attention like being doused in cold water; it took years of learning from traditional leaders to integrate it into my being.

I am my own person with my own heritage, but traditional Native Americans have fulfilled my spirit. They brought depth to the concept of “oneness” in the human family and its relationship to all life. They brought urgency to the need for respect and nurture to our little spaceship Earth that has no escape hatch. Today I have a feeling of “oneness” with them that is deeper than blood. I am much in their debt.

Robert Staffanson signing copies of his book,
“Witness to Spirit”

Spirit has been the silver bullet in my life journey. I have cultivated it; although its consequences have the imprint of forces beyond my control. I believe spirit connects each of us to a dimension from which we came and to which we return, and that through this connection, we have access to both moral and tangible influence. We all hold the capacity to cultivate sprit, to connect with the true source; but the demands of physical existence, the ego-driven needs for material accomplishment and comfort as a measure of “success,” the insistence of science that our higher aspirations including love, are simply a chemical reaction to the brain, and the drum beat of commerce telling us that materialism is the highest goal, pushes spirit into the background or entirely off our radar screen.

Robert Staffanson with the late Joe Medicine Crow

Love is central in spirit; not the kind of live symbolized by Cupid with a bow and arrow, but the love that is an overpowering sense of connection on levels above the functional and pragmatic. It is a confirmation of the miracle of life, which unites human beings into one family, and makes all other life forms our relatives. Love rescue us from narrow concerns for self and those close to us, allowing us to see ourselves in others and value common goodness above division,  If we have the welfare of the group in mind — helping each other, and using the resources we have wisely — we will survive. But if self interest rules our relationships and our attitude towards our journey, our species’ chances of survival are diminished.

“Witness to Spirit” by Robert Staffanson,
published by Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing

Love not only connects us to the whole human family and secondarily to all life, it is our umbilical cord to the source of life which we came and to which we return. It can enhance the quality and depth of life beyond other powers, with no limit to our growth.  At every life stage I believe I had love in its fullness and at every stage it deepened. Now in my ninth decade, it fills me to overflowing, mitigating physical decline and making this life era in some ways the best of all. I see people and all life with different eyes: no longer with a comparative  or judicious slant, but as miracles; I see now with appreciation and connection, which has grown over a lifetime.

Spirit/Love is our lifeline to dimensions beyond us and the source of divine power in each of us. •2016

Excerpts from Witness to Spirit: My Life with Cowboys, Mozart & Indians by Robert Staffanson. Reprinted with the permission of the author and the publisher, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.

ROBERT STAFFANSON, Founder of the American Indian Institute, creator of the Billings Symphony, and conductor of the distinguished Springfield Symphony in Massachusetts, Mr. Staffanson was born in 1921, along the flanks of the Yellowstone River near the badlands of Sidney, and grew up as a cowboy in the Deer Lodge Valley, where his grandparents had settled in 1872. After becoming a conductor, he founded the first symphony orchestra in Billings, Montana. Devoting the latter part of his life to the preservation of Native American culture and wisdom, in 1977, Mr. Staffanson founded the American Indian Institute, creating with traditional indigenous leaders the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth. His work with these Elders opened lines of communication between indigenous cultures globally in ways that never before existed. For close to forty years, Mr. Staffanson has built lasting relationships with political, business, and spiritual leaders in Japan, Russia, European countries, and in Africa. Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in Oregon recently published Mr. Staffanson’s memoir, Witness to Spirit: My Life with Cowboys, Mozart & Indians, with a foreword by Chief Oren Lyons, and an introduction by Todd Wilkinson.

 


"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

The Soul of the American Actor Newspaper