I Played That Scene

I played that scene for all that was in it,

for all that was in me, and

for all the coloured kids in the audience –

who held their breath, they really did,

it was the unmistakable silence

in which you and the audience

recreate each other –

and for the vanished little Leo,

and for my mother and father,

and all the hope and pain that were in me.

For the very first time, the very first time,

I realized the fabulous extent of my luck:

I could, I could, if I kept the faith,

transform my sorrow into life and joy.

I would never be useless. If I kept the faith,

I could do for others what I felt had not been done for me,

and if I could do that,

if I could give, I could live.

Leo Proudhammer in: James Baldwin, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone

Of course, I cannot claim to sense what James Baldwin’s young fictional actor might have felt during his breakthrough performance. All I can say is that his description seems breathtakingly apt for my life-changing experience when attending my second week-long psychodrama workshop in a residential feminist center in 1985. During the summer I had attended one that had opened my eyes when observing the workshop leader on stage: That’s what it is – coming alive.

Partly I felt taken back to my fascination as a 15-year old with the contemporary theatre in my home town of Stuttgart. Director at that time was Peter Palitzsch whose mission statement I would later read: Theatre simply has to change the world. – Without knowing of that sentence, theatre performances gave me at age 15 that much needed sense of the world being changeable.

Partly, as the psychodrama director improvised, I was taken back to my favourite painting, hung less than a mile from the theatre of my school days -. Caspar David Friedrich’s Bohemian Landscape, translucent with pre-dusk light. This picture had been a place holder for my own hope, my faith since primary school. An entirely anonymous faith – for which I had no name, no words. An elusive hope beyond hope.

Baldwin’s reference to faith offers rich material for reflection: Like his fictional protagonist, he had to shake off the abusive and bigoted ‘faith’ he grew up with.

Elsewhere I have written, g-o-d, the ‘Father in Heaven’, did not make sense for me from at least the age of 9… ‘I consider that a special grace for a lonely girl’.

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