16 August 2022 - Playwright Barry T. Brodie joined Post Productions Managing Director Michael K. Potter to discuss philosophy, wonder, and the complex relationships human beings have with nature, themselves, and others.
Based on the works of Kenneth G. Mills, David Suzuki, John Muir, and Ralph Waldo Emerson - A Great Round Wonder: a dramatic ecollage by Barry T. Brodie is set to premiere at Sanctuary Woods (1321 Front Rd. N, Amherstburg, ON) on August 26th for four (4) performances over three (3) days.
Watch the interview and read the full transcript below...
POTTER: I'm sitting here with Barry Brodie, and we are going to talk about his new ecollage, A Great Round Wonder, which he wrote, directed, is producing, and is acting in. So, he's all over this new theatrical piece. It's a very, very interesting and unique piece of work and I think I'll benefit from a conversation with Barry about this and hopefully you will as well.
What is A Great Round Wonder about and what makes it interesting?
BRODIE: A Great Round Wonder is about the environment and our approach to it. The reason I call it an “ecollage” is because it is made up of primarily the works of four philosophers of the past 150 years -- and that is Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Kenneth Mills, and David Suzuki.
It started out as a project from The Kenneth Mills Foundation to dramatize some material that had been worked up as a result of a panel discussion with Kenneth Mills and three environmentalists. One of those environmentalists approached me and said, “Barry, could you dramatize this?” Now, of course, I had some experience dramatizing the work of Kenneth Mills and had been doing that for about 25 years prior to his passing in 2004. So, I said sure, I'll try my hand at that. So, in doing that I wanted to show more of a spectrum and actually tap into the philosophers who had inspired me on other occasions. And so we then have a work of Emerson, Muir, Mills, and Suzuki.
So, it really is -- it becomes this adventure of discovery. We have a CEO, a young woman who feels she is doing everything she can for the environment but something is just not clicking for her. So she comes and visits these four people. The actors don't really play them as characters, but rather embody their words and their philosophy. And through that journey, she comes to realize that she cannot change the outer environment until she has changed that within her.
POTTER: What can you tell us about the development of this unique piece of theater from the initial genesis -- someone asking you to write something -- to where we are now?
BRODIE: I worked up a draft and in the course of that, initially, there were three philosophers – Kenneth Mills, Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Of course, the advantage of that is the Emerson and Whitman are in the public domain and that makes this kind of project much easier. In the meantime, I read an interview with David Suzuki in the Literary Review of Canada and thought, wow, I should really see if I can incorporate some of his work into this. So I contacted him through his personal secretary and turns out he was very enthusiastic about the project and gave us his blessing. So that incorporated one more philosopher, and a living one. And then in the meantime, I read an article that the work of John Muir had just come into the public domain. So now I have this smorgasbord of ecological philosophy at my disposal. So, what I decided to do was to work with the four authors that I mentioned -- Emerson, Muir, Mills, and Suzuki -- and then my dear friend Walt Whitman brings it all together in the end with one of his poems used as the epilogue. Then I started scripting it, as I normally do. I come up with a draft, I invite friendly ears in the form of actors and writers and directors and have a read through, and people were very, very, very helpful.
Two major suggestions, which were very interesting -- initially Beck, who is the main character, the CEO, does not respond to Suzuki. And when I shared this with one of my very successful business lady friends, she said there's no CEO in Canada who would not give Doctor Suzuki a run for his money, so you've got to have her respond somehow or other to David Suzuki. So that was extremely helpful and it helped me develop the character of Beck. And the other suggestion was from a fellow writer here in Windsor. He felt there should be children, or a child, in the play. And so I incorporated Phoenix, who is in this particular production the daughter of Beck.
The other idea was I wanted all of the roles to be gender fluid. Preferably a cast of three men and three women. This time around it is four women and two men. But I like it to be gender fluid because these are universal ideas, though the language of course in some cases is dated, but I think we can accept that because they're great writers.
Then we did a workshop in Toronto with a group of young actors. I worked on it a bit more, and then ye ‘ole pandemic intervened. And so it's been sitting a while in readiness. And so I decided that I would like to do it in the summertime, do it out of doors in case we had any issues with COVID again. And so I decided I needed someone with whom to coproduce this, so I approached my dear friends at Post Productions and posed this joint project with them, and to my delight and pleasure they agreed. And so we entered into a partnership between the Kenneth Mills Foundation from Toronto and Post Productions here in Windsor. And the special feature is that we're doing it out of doors and we're doing it at a very special place in Amherstburg. It is the residence of Katherine Roth, who has named her property Sanctuary Woods. She has a beautiful, beautiful acreage in Amherstburg, and she wants to share this with people, and she felt, what a wonderful way to do it would be to have us do the play there.
So, I think that covers most of what you asked.
POTTER: Yeah. You mentioned one of the consequences of the pandemic putting it on hold for a while was that you decided to hold it outdoors, and I think that turned out to be a very fortunate change.
BRODIE: I think so, Michael. We'll know better next weekend.
POTTER: Yeah, that's fair.
You were stalled by the pandemic, as you said, did anything else happen to the work itself during the pandemic? Did you leave it alone, or did it give you time to step back and reflect on it a bit more and come back to it with fresh eyes?
BRODIE: I actually left it alone. And I think, generally speaking, in my experience with writing I've never had that pleasure, or privilege, because I think it really is that. Because then when you do pick it up you are looking at it all for the first time because you haven't been worrying about producing it or who's going to fit what role, and you can read the thing fresh with fresh eyes. So that was helpful in that regard.
POTTER: Yeah, I find with my myself most of the things that I've written, if I go back and read them now I have no memory of writing them and it as though stranger has done it. Which allows me, I think, to look at it without that emotional investment that might keep me from seeing its flaws.
BRODIE: Very, very much so.
POTTER: You mentioned the thinkers that you selected and in some cases why you selected them. I was wondering – I was going to ask you about why you chose those four thinkers in particular, but I think I understand why. But I'm wondering for the purposes of the ecollage -- and I've been calling it an “e-co-lague” rather than “e-collage” because I've been thinking of it as an ecological dialogue.
BRODIE: Ah, ah.
POTTER: Yeah. What is created by putting these four minds in conversation with each other? How does the conversation between the ideas of these four minds help deepen the audiences’ understanding?
BRODIE: Ah, that is one great question, Michael. And I think at this point I would answer with a visual correlative and that is exactly that, a collage. Something happens visually when you put one image next to another. And of course one of the dangers of doing that with words is possibility of clashing, but you would have that in a visual collage as well. I have to say that the crafting of it, the devising of it, if you will, was to make sure that those -- how could I put it? That the seams were smooth and yet still allowed enough juxtaposition to be able to, in a few moments, see how minds from different centuries view something either differently or very much the same.
One of the things that I tried to do was to -- the scenes are grouped thematically, based on the elements. So we start with air, water, earth, fire, and so on. And in collecting the material from those thinkers along those lines, there's that continuity which kind of holds it together. But I find, actually, one of the delights of putting the play on is to actually hear those juxtapositions and what happens. And I think, certainly for the actors, it's very challenging because there's a different kind of continuity from line to line. And I'm hoping that that will not be too difficult a transition for the audience. Because of having to put it together in a different way than you would.
POTTER: Well, that's the benefit of having skilled actors and a skilled director.
BRODIE: Absolutely. Particularly skilled actors.
POTTER: So you’ve situated the ecollage in the context of our ongoing environmental catastrophe, or catastrophes -- one could differentiate, I'm sure – which lends the proceedings, right from the beginning of the piece, this sort of eschatological air of urgency.
Why is it important for you that the audience experience A Great Round Wonder with the context of environmental apocalypse in mind from beginning to end?
BRODIE: Well, I would say certainly from beginning, Michael. I’m ending with Walt Whitman, who over 150 years ago saw this incredible unity that was/is the globe, and that perspective I think wraps things up -- excuse the pun there.
There was a major source when I was working on this: it was an article in the New York Times Magazine section and I believe it was a 20-year retrospective on how far have we really come with climate control and all these things. And it was not encouraging by any stretch of the imagination. And I just felt it was important that we never lose sight of the immediacy of the issue. But what I'm hoping that this play will provide is a more universal and a more essential remedy to it.
POTTER: Yes, I can understand that. Without giving anything away, one of the key lessons in the ecollage is the idea that the approaches we've been taking to climate control -- or climate change mitigation, however you might want to put it -- are, in a way, held back not necessarily because of technological limitations, or only technological limitations, but they're held back because of the mindset in which they're being used, right?
BRODIE: Amen. Yes.
POTTER: So, Beck, the CEO, responds to Suzuki's attempts to establish a common foundation of premises -- a very simple premises such as that we all require clean air and water and soil to survive -- with some familiar, I think, economic and political talking points. But what I found most interesting was that she also uses a particular sort of talking point that is often found in some Christian circles, at least in North America, that the Earth is here for us to use as we see fit. And that suggested to me that what we're getting in A Great Round Wonder is not only a conversation and a collage of different philosophical and spiritual points of view, we're also seeing in some sense, some perhaps minor sense, a clash between the demands of spirituality and the habits of religion.
Was that intentional? Am I reading too much into that?
BRODIE: I wouldn't say it was intentional, but I'm very happy that you see that aspect in there, Michael. Because I'm certainly not out to bad-mouth religion. It certainly has a place, just as the good intentions of people who do what they can. I mean another very viable approach to climate change -- do what you can in your own backyard. Recycle, bike to work, the various things that, actually, Beck mentions in her opening remarks.
As far as the church is concerned, I think it's more of a cultural undercurrent that the Earth is here for our use. The question, of course, is: how do we use it? You could ask an indigenous person that same question and they would say, of course it was God-given and we were to use it, but how do we use it? And the whole idea of giving thanks before taking from it, whether it be from the land, from the animals, from the fish, from the waters, all of that sort of thing. So, that's a nice dimension.
POTTER: An attitude towards how it's used.
POTTER: In the section called ‘The Sulfured Cloud’ they start articulating a vision of nature that -- I guess it's meant to be a sort of a baseline understanding of nature qua nature before we get to nature’s relationship to humanity. And it seemed to me to have a lot in common with romantic philosophy and poetry, particularly the German idealist and also poets like Whitman, where nature qua nature -- nature prior to or divided from humanity -- has a purity that can be hopefully recovered.
BRODIE: Yes, yes.
POTTER: Make sense?
BRODIE: Yes, I think so. Also, I think hand-in-hand with that though is a harmony between man and nature – with human and nature -- that works. It's interesting because most of the philosophers in that section refer to their childhood. So not only do they perceive -- they perceived the environment unsullied because they were unsullied. And so there was no preconception about whether the water was infected, or whether too many of the trees had been taken down, and that kind of thing. But yes. Yes. And that, again, is the perspective.
POTTER: Yeah, you kind of return to that at the end of the piece, right? When we go back to the importance of that childhood -- the way we interact with and the way we understand and view nature from that childlike perspective. That there's something beautiful in there worth recovering and something that can be recovered.
BRODIE: Yes. And I think it's the perspective. You can return to a childlike perspective on nature, having now developed a deeper response to what appear as the issues. Not just, “oh, great everything's fine” but having – as Beck goes through this soul-searching in which she genuinely wrestles with these -- this was one of the great challenges of writing Beck. And I have to say that if there's any Barry Brodie in the play, it's in the character of Beck because all of that was scripted. I didn't pull her lines from any place else. And that is, she genuinely goes through this questioning procedure and comes out the other end saying, yeah, we – I – we, but I -- need to change my perspective on this. And then as a result of that, of course, only we can do it together. And that of course is the great paradox of solving any issue: it appears to be us doing it and yet it's not.
POTTER: Right. Quite so.
In ‘The Breath of all Green Things’ and ‘The Oceans Flowing Through Our Veins’ -- those two sections – you posit this intimate interconnectivity between all living things via air and water, primarily. And not just all living things in the present but extending back into the past, extending forward into the future as well. Do you think that the – and I found those sections -- I think maybe those are the most interesting sections of the ecollage to me too. But what I wondered about, reading those sections, was whether you saw the environmental catastrophes that we’re facing as threatening not only that unity of all living things and the survival of organisms -- individual organisms -- and the survival of ecologies as systems, but also the spiritual unity that you're talking about as well.
Is the spiritual unity that you address in the ecollage as threatened by what's happening to the natural world as the natural unity? Because they seem to be quite of a piece as well.
I'm not sure that was coherent.
BRODIE: No, it was, Michael. And, again, an amazing question. I would have to say that the simple answer is yes. Because they're inextricably interwoven one with the other.
What has amazed me in the actual performance of this work, and being in the play, is how each of the philosophers somehow or other in his own language expresses that. Which kind of warms my heart because that's one of the things I wanted to do initially was to showcase Kenneth Mills’ work in a collage -- in a collaboration with other poets and thinkers across time.
POTTER: Were you surprised by that? Were you surprised to find that all of them expressed, in some way, that unity?
BRODIE: Not really. Because, between you and me as writers, there is an intuition that draws us to certain things, and I’m thoroughly convinced that these four -- and Whitman, to a degree -- I was drawn to them because of some innate unity about the four of them. So, I'm more delighted than surprised.
POTTER: You might not have been entirely conscious of that drawing you to them, but you're not surprised by it.
POTTER: Another thing that I found really fascinating was that the thinkers in A Great Round Wonder express, or posit, an intentionality to natural forces like wind. There's a point where one of them says that the wind plucks a leaf or downs a branch when it's necessary to do so. And that intentionality I found quite fascinating.
Was that intentional and, if so, could you expand on that a little more?
BRODIE: I would say no, it was not intentional, but once again the fragrance of the coming together of the four of them and, I guess, seeing it focused. Because you have a fair amount of material from all of the writers, but we're taking something like air and seeing how Muir from his vast expanse of exploration – certainly in Western U.S. – would focus in such a way that he would make a remark like that so that he was perceiving that. And then in the different way you have Emerson perceiving a similar thing -- and Suzuki and Mills as well, but each in his own manner, or in his own Keyship, so to speak.
POTTER: I like that you describe the combination of them as a fragrance. I like that as well. I wouldn't have thought of that. I really enjoy that.
The other thing that this intentionality reminded me of was a lot of the deep ecology that was articulated in the primarily last three decades of the 20th century. In particular it made me think of James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis.
Did you think of that at all as you were working on this piece?
BRODIE: It didn’t… it didn't pass the scanning. What can I say? I mean, I was aware of it, but it didn't get captured in the scanning.
I mean, frankly, Michael, I think I could write another play with four entirely different thinkers and come up with something else. I think the reason that it’s these four is because these four resonate with me.
POTTER: Oh sure, yeah. And I was just thinking as well that of course you're choosing from amongst a host of people you could have chosen instead, right? But one of the things that these four have in common that I can see is that they all write beautifully. And I don't think anyone’s going to accuse Lovelock of that.
BRODIE: Yeah. Yes.
POTTER: That’s my take on it.
BRODIE: Yeah. And I'm glad you mentioned that particular feature, Michael, because I think that that's also a really important part of what you’ve asked about – What do people expect? How will they come out of this experience?
There is no doubt that the language is very rich. It's very poetic. I sometimes describe it as cheesecake -- very, very, very rich. But I think it's important because people today are not exposed, in the regular order of things, are not exposed to good language, much less heightened language. And so if they come in contact with this language and sit with it for an hour or so, that will change their own frequency. I really feel very strongly that just being around it and hearing it and inviting it will change them.
POTTER: You know, tragically, I think it's very much the case now that you can graduate from a university, even from a humanities program, without being exposed to a lot of what is most beautiful in the language and the culture. Which seems to me just baffling.
BRODIE: I agree. I agree. It's funny because the other thing when we were pulling the program together, I thought, gee, I'd better put BIOS about these four philosophers because I'll bet you that any average audience member might know David Suzuki, but I would be hard pressed to have them know who any of the others were.
POTTER: Yeah, and they might know David Suzuki from his TV appearances and so forth but they probably won't have read his books. And, as is quite clear in A Great Round Wonder, he's a beautiful writer.
BRODIE: Oh, is he ever.
POTTER: Yeah, he can hold his own with these others.
BRODIE: Very much so.
POTTER: And as someone who hadn't read -- I read some articles by him, but I hadn't read any of his books -- I was surprised by how well his writing stood up alongside these three others.
BRODIE: Yes. Yes. I was delightfully surprised. The Sacred Balance, which is the book that the majority of the Suzuki material is taken from, there are passages, Michael, that are extremely technical and he gets a lot of science -- he gets into a lot of our archaeology, geology, and biology, and all those things -- but nonetheless there is this overriding poetic charge to it. In the book he quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins. He quotes Shakespeare. He's obviously very well versed in the poetics of ecology.
POTTER: Well, in that way he's an old-school scientist. The scientists 150-200 years ago were often beautiful writers themselves. I mean, Darwin's The Descent of Man is a gorgeously written book.
BRODIE: It is.
POTTER: And even that’s not even taught anymore. Which is too bad because it’s still quite relevant.
So, in ‘Dialogue 2’ Mills brings up his notion of the Absolute, which is similar in many ways to some conceptions of gods. And it's very Pagan in that it's almost indistinguishable from nature itself – I think it's meant to be indistinguishable from nature itself.
What more can you tell us about that notion of the Absolute? Because it seems to be very important to understanding the piece as a whole. What can you tell us about the role it plays?
BRODIE: Well, there are many names for that which governs our lives -- the order of the universe, etcetera. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, offered seven definitions, or different words for God – one which was “Principle”.
The wonderful thing, at least I find, about shifting that is that the mind doesn't bring with it all the baggage. If I said to you, “Do you believe in God?” there would be a whole raft of things that come into that idea, or that word, “God”. Whereas I say, “Do you believe in the Absolute?” or, “Do you believe in Principle, or in Love or Spirit?” it frees up a lot of mental baggage for those things. And I think particularly when we're talking about an ordered universe that something like “Principle” will ring truer in the hearts and minds of people than, say, something like “God”. And so it does -- I don't know if “Pagan” is necessarily the word that I would use but “universal”? You know, something that – how shall I put it – be accepted across regions of religion and philosophy and so on. I mean, as we saw earlier, people who are entrenched in religion will be entrenched in religion. But I think those like Beck, who are really wanting to see things differently, will be open to a new language and a new perspective.
POTTER: So philosophically I think you've expressed several reasons to use a term like the Absolute and explain what's meant by it. But there's a strategic reason too, which is that you would like the audience to be open to what comes next, right? And, as you say, if you use another term the connotations, the baggage that comes with it might prevent people from being receptive.
BRODIE: Yeah. Yeah, I would agree.
POTTER: It’s a sensible strategy, I think.
BRODIE: Uh-huh. I hadn't thought about it as a strategy, but you know.
I’m glad we're having this conversation, Michael, I'm loving it. This is great. This is great. Thank you for being – I must interject here -- thank you for having such astute responses to the script.
POTTER: Oh well, I mean, thank you for writing something that makes me ask questions. You know, it's not always the case, right? Some things, there's nothing in there to wonder about -- to question. And so I'm always appreciative if something makes me curious, makes me ask questions, makes me sit back and think for a while. And I love the experience of not immediately understanding something. I think that's a really important experience to have in one's daily life.
BRODIE: Absolutely, Michael. You are blessed. You are blessed to have that. Let's hope other audience members share that.
POTTER: I hope so.
So in ‘The Divine Fire’ the thinkers talk about the double-edged sword of energy. In particular our use of energy. And I was surprised that, as the discussion progressed, that the potential that alternative sources of energy have -- like solar and wind -- to also be double-edged swords wasn't addressed. Because it seems to me that, given what's said in the ecollage and given human experience to date, we have good reason to expect that renewable sources of energy will also prove to be double-edged swords.
What do you think of that?
BRODIE: You raise a good point. I hadn't thought about that. I guess you're right. I mean, electricity. Anything. To me the ultimate -- and this is where I come down with it is this -- I think Suzuki has it -- the idea fire was the first technology that we dealt with. And there you've got it. And I mean it's as clear today as it was in centuries past -- double-edged sword. It can heat your home, it can burn down your home. And we see that vividly over the past few years with these incredible forest fires all over the globe. I certainly didn't intend to differentiate one from the other. Some are easier to -- and even I think Beck says there is a place for oil in the scheme of things, and it's not an either/or situation, it's an and. But it's, in each case, how do we use it? How do we use fire? How do we use oil? How do we use wind and all that kind of thing.
POTTER: And the extent to which, right? In terms of oil, for instance, I don't think even the most skeptical or the most resistant CEO of an oil company must admit that we overuse oil, right? Do you think? You know, I was reminded I recently read –
BRODIE: We have a war going on in Europe over that.
POTTER: Right. Right, exactly. Recently I read the play, Copenhagen, about Niels Bohr’s mystery visit from… oh gosh, what was his name? Heisenberg.
POTTER: Heisenberg, yeah. He was working in Germany and during the war. Heisenberg was not a Nazi, but working for the Nazis, but he got special permission to go and visit Niels Bohr. And these are two of the fathers of quantum theory and nuclear science, or atomic science. And the play explores -- the conceit of the play is what happened at this mystery meeting that is documented, but no one knows what they talked about. But the real heart of the play though is a discussion about these advances and what they're opening up, but also their dangers. What I found interesting in that play was that there’s a lot of discussion about the dangers -- the potential dangers, because at this point they're only theoretical -- that atomic weapons presented. Nuclear weapons. But not once do they discuss possible dangers of nuclear reactors for energy. So they were coming at the idea of nuclear power with a certain blindness to the potential drawbacks, which can be pretty dramatic. And I wonder sometimes whether we just haven't seen the other edge of the sword yet when it comes to solar and wind. It's hard for me to imagine that they pose much danger, but that may be a limit of my own imagination.
BRODIE: Yes. Again you raise a great point. Part of it, I think, is the enthusiasm of something new. You know, especially like when you fall in love with someone. You don't want to know the bad side and if you get to know them better and love them deeper, you discover the multifaceted. I think the same thing with any technology or any discovery. That there is as you as you get to know it, as you get to use it, you begin to realize -- and, to me, that's where the great responsibility of the human race is that's what's given -- if it says in the Bible it's been given to you to use -- if it's been given to us to dispense, to use, to manipulate, for the benefit of mankind, not misuse it or overuse it just because we have it.
POTTER: Right, it's not permission to be reckless.
BRODIE: Exactly, exactly.
POTTER: If I let my neighbor use my lawnmower, I'm going to object if he smashes it to pieces in the street.
BRODIE: Of course.
POTTER: Or uses it as a weapon to attack my other neighbor.
BRODIE: That's right. But if he's using it to mow both of your lawns so that they look like one continuous lawn, then it fulfills its purpose, right?
POTTER: Absolutely, yes. Yeah, I like that analogy.
So in ‘The Arms of Love’ your thinkers adopt what seems to me a really interesting form of materialism – a sort of pragmatist variety of materialism in which matter is all there is. However, it isn't always observable to us until it's used. Until there's action. And I found that very, very interesting and I wanted to know more about this conception of the world, of parts of reality being invisible until they're used, until they're acted upon, or until they act.
BRODIE: Wow. Yeah, I always like to be aware of that too. I think the closest, most immediate example we have, Michael, is our own imagination. Because on the one hand it's not material, but when we put it into action, when we choose as artists – as creatives – when we choose to bring something into this dimension we're doing that. I think it's in the lines of Kenneth Mills, it's bringing an idea into a corresponding identity. So that you take the idea of comfort and then you bring that into reality as a chair or as a chaise lounge.
POTTER: Right. It's a very pragmatist orientation, which I find really interesting. The idea, for instance, that whether or not someone has the potential to do something is an open question. The potential doesn't exist until the person acts, and then we'll know whether or not they have the potential. But until that point it's just a possibility. It doesn't really exist except as a possibility in the world, right? And James famously said, “Thoughts are incomplete until discharged in action”. You know, for him, thoughts weren't real -- in the sense that people often mean the word real -- until we do something with them. It reminded me a lot of that.
BRODIE: The visual that comes to me, Michael, is that scene in I think it's Raiders of the Lost Ark where, and I think it's Harrison Ford who sees the Grail, the arc, whatever he’s after, across this chasm. And it isn't until he steps out that the bridge is there and basically catches him and carries him across. I've always found that as an incredible image for any act of creativity. You have to kind of do it to ignite the result.
POTTER: Right, right. You know, it’s funny I was just thinking of that scene this morning. And I don't know if it's because I was thinking about A Great Round Wonder this morning. Probably that's why. But I was thinking of that exact scene.
BRODIE: Amazing. Amazing.
POTTER: It's also the idea, when it comes to pragmatism as it applies to morality, that you don't have a virtue as a characteristic of yourself apart from what you do. So whether or not you are respectful is determined by how you act, how you treat other people and you can't say, “I'm respectful” while acting disrespectfully without being incoherent, right? That there's no virtues, and vices don't exist apart from our choices and actions either.
BRODIE: As a very wise man once said, “Beauty is as beauty does.”
POTTER: Yes. We're bringing all sorts of references and thinkers into this.
I want to go back to the Absolute. My background by the way is in both philosophy and religious studies, so there were aspects of this that led me to reflect on things that I hadn't reflected on a while, which was nice. So, regarding the Absolute, is it possible to -- or is it necessary that we relate to the Absolute, that our relationship to the Absolute is one of worship? Is it possible, for instance, to have a relationship to the Absolute that involves more dignity? Because worship, of course, involves subservience.
BRODIE: Well, I’d have to say I don't think worship necessarily has to involve subservience.
POTTER: Okay. But there’s a power relationship –
BRODIE: I think our relationship to the Absolute is multidimensional. In the sense if one views the Absolute as the source of creativity, the self -- again, whatever these terms are, they are closer than the nose on our faces, they say. Because it's what we are in essence.
POTTER: The ecollage seems to promote a relationship to the Absolute that is defined by worship, or did I misread it?
BRODIE: Well, that language is used for sure. But I think -- I don't know, Michael, you've caused me to consider whether worshipping is something subservient. I guess… I don't know. I can worship someone I love and not necessarily feel subservient. Although I would do anything for them. I guess that's what I'm twigging on is the subservience. I don't see that it’s necessarily an element of worship. Certainly, it is. I mean people, I think, who worship blindly, or who worship unconsciously, could be subservient.
POTTER: To me it seems worship always involves a serious power difference, in that worship is directed towards something that is, or is believed to be, more powerful than ourselves. And that can be a power that is forced upon us, but it can also be a power we grant.
BRODIE: True. True.
POTTER: I was thinking when I was reading that what occurred to me was that, to me, worship wouldn't be the attitude I would want to take, but certainly awe would be. And I don't think there's enough awe in the world right now.
BRODIE: I agree with you 100%. I think maybe we could find a joining word, which would be “wonder”.
POTTER: Wonder. Yeah. Yeah. Wonder and awe. I think these are fundamentally transformative, emotional experiences that we often in our present society get very little opportunity to experience. And in fact I think much of our present society is organized in such a way that we forget that awe and wonder are even possible and were kept so busy and preoccupied that we couldn't experience these things even if we were in a situation to do so. Which is terrible.
BRODIE: Kenneth Mills once said, “A world without wonder is a world without miracle.”
POTTER: Right. Yeah.
BRODIE: I think the greatest thing you can do is keep yourself open to wonder. That's why the child is -- and I'm so grateful to my colleague, who suggested putting a child in the play, because the child comes in with that childlike wonder of discovering the beauty of a leaf or the beauty of a frog. Something that seems so ordinary to the adult mind because we're jaded but is always a wonder. The fact that the leaves can be stirred by the wind.
POTTER: Yeah. You know, one of the I think the -- for me anyway, one of the most bittersweet experiences I have on a regular basis is watching people grow up and watching, therefore, that wonder vanish. It's tragic, but it's almost universal. However, I think that it can be recovered with effort.
BRODIE: Oh, I know it can. I agree. And hopefully a play like A Great Round Wonder will do that.
POTTER: I should hope so, it's in the title.
POTTER: And that's kind of why I was thinking about awe, because what is described throughout the play -- the picture that you're gradually building -- it reminding me of a painting where you dab colours here and there and for a while you're not sure if anything is really being painted, but then the picture emerges from the dabs of colour. And what you've created with this word painting is something that reminds us of not only, perhaps, the possibility of awe but the necessity of awe if we understand the world and our places in it.
BRODIE: Amen, brother. Amen.
POTTER: Alright, we’re on the same page.
BRODIE: Very much so. And I would hope then that people would come away from the performance having, as you put it, put together their own picture from how they assembled the dobs of colour and the pieces of collage to create – it kind of reminds me of -- there is an artist, and many artists do this, but there's one artist that I've met recently who takes little images of, say he's doing a portrait of Napoleon, he will take a little images of Napoleon, and scenes from Napoleon's life, friends of Napoleon, and so on. And he will put them into a mosaic-like collage so that when you step back from the painting you see a portrait of Napoleon. But when you go up to it, you see all these details from Napoleon's life. And perhaps maybe that's a way of experiencing A Great Round Wonder.
POTTER: I love that idea. If I weren't blind, I'd really love to see this. I wish I'd seen it when I wasn't. That sounds really interesting. It sounds incredibly difficult, but worth the effort.
BRODIE: It's very laborious for the artist. Very time consuming, I should say. It's not laborious, he loves doing it.
POTTER: That’s incredible.
BRODIE: Thank you for giving that visual image of the play because, you know, as I say it started out with this visual image more than anything else. Which is why I kind of call it a “dramatic ecollage” rather than a “play”. There is a beginning, middle, and end. Beck is transformed, I believe. And I'm hoping, since I want the audience to identify mostly with Beck, that she will bring people with her through her epiphany, if you will, or her conversion experience, or her transformation. And she's the main character in that regard.
A couple other things before I let you go because I know this is going on a long time.
BRODIE: Been great fun, Michael.
POTTER: The “law of love”. Can you explain the “law of love” to me a little more? I want to make sure I understand it.
BRODIE: I think the “law of love” is that which holds us together.
POTTER: So that’s the spiritual unity.
BRODIE: Yes. If you have that everything else follows from that. I think the “law of love” is wrapped up in the paradox that we each appear to be individuals, and yet we are all one. And that love transcends any differences.
POTTER: Right, right. And so, yeah, it functions in the same way then as the air and the water do, linking all of the living organisms physically.
BRODIE: Yes. That is why I included it. The scenes in the play start out with the four elements: air, water, earth, fire. And so I wanted to have what I considered the fifth element with: love.
POTTER: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Or “spirit”. Some would call it “spirit”.
POTTER: I don’t know if that’s -- yeah.
BRODIE: Mary Baker Eddy calls it a synonym of God.
POTTER: Right. Yeah, yeah.
Similar to that, I was sort of intrigued by this idea that -- what was it? How did it go? That in order to transform we needed elegance, grace and simplicity? Or that we needed to apprehend the elegance, grace and simplicity of the world? Is that how it went?
BRODIE: Yes, the line goes, “But the question to ask is, does my outer environment express the all-inclusive nature of elegance, grace and simplicity?”
POTTER: Right. Yeah. And I understood what was meant there in terms of elegance and grace, given everything that came before, but I have to admit I was surprised by simplicity. Because to that point it seemed that what was being expressed was an almost incomprehensible level of complexity. But that led me to believe I don't understand what he means by simplicity. He's using simplicity in a way that I'm not accustomed to. So, could you explain what he means?
BRODIE: That could very well be. I can't necessarily speak for what he means by it. But I do know that in my experience working with Kenneth Mills words were primarily a frequency. And there were often times when we would, working with him as actors presenting his material, approach it in a more musical way than, say, in a linear verbal way. And I think simplicity -- I must say, in devising that and using that excerpt, and then now having to say it on stage, or on ground, that it surprises me too, Michael. It surprises me too.
POTTER: I've come across different conceptions of simplicity. So my thought at that point wasn't Mills doesn't know what he’s saying, it was there is something being expressed here that I'm not accustomed to and maybe it will just take some more reflection to get it too. We'll see.
BRODIE: That should be the case with any good performance of any good play -- it doesn't leave you where it finds you and you walk out of the theater wondering.
POTTER: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
BRODIE: If somebody walks out of the theater and wonders, “Well, what’s simplicity have to do with elegance and grace?” Good for them.
POTTER: Yes. Yes, I like that attitude.
Well, I have one question for you and I don't know if this is completely off base so, if it is, you just let me know and we can ignore it. But to me it seemed that there was an economic argument bubbling under the surface of A Great Round Wonder here and there that was never explicitly set out or articulated. And it has to do with the way that our economic ideology, Capitalism, ties us to those vices -- ties us to the ignorance, the spiritual ignorance that Mills talks about, which ties us to the vices of greed and apathy and selfishness. And that, given the power of that economic ideology on individual human lives and on ecosystems and so forth, I was wondering if we needed to -- if in order to change or outer and inner environments in the way that the ecollage pushes us towards, I think rightfully so, do we then also need to change our economic ideology? Is it possible for those kinds of changes to happen while retaining the dominant economic ideology of our times?
BRODIE: Wow. I don't know, but I would imagine that -- I mean, any time that I've had a life changing, or paradigm shift in my perspective on something essential, a lot of other things follow along the line. I'm trying to think of an example, but I think once you decide to do something then other things fall in its -- I'm trying to think of an example.
POTTER: Well, beliefs are part of our systems and they're connected to other beliefs with all sorts of different threads of varying strengths, right? So removing a belief is going to take other beliefs with it.
BRODIE: It certainly will.
I'll toss this out there, for what it is. If you choose to stop smoking you open yourself up to saving money, saving time, having more connection time with your family and friends, and a whole world opens up to you just because you've decided to stop smoking. And by no means do I offer that as a trivial, insignificant decision because it's major and changes your life.
So changing your perspective on how you view the world will naturally -- the next time you go to the grocery store and look at a plastic bag it's going to change you.
POTTER: Yeah. It reminds me of something that we often run into, and it's part of a lot of what I teach in my course -- I'm teaching people how to teach effectively, how to engender learning, let's say -- and so what that is, in a very simplified sense, is that you are trying, at minimum, trying to sell beliefs. You have beliefs to sell and you want the students to buy them. And you want them to not only buy them and be able to remember them when it comes time for an assessment, but you want them to become part of how they see the world -- how they understand existence and so forth. But the biggest obstacle to learning a new idea, or a new belief, or a new theory, whatever it might be, are the other things we believe. So meaningful learning often can only happen after a process of unlearning. And a lot of frustration is experienced by teachers when they don't know that, when they don't recognize that all this effort you're putting into helping students learn something is a waste of time until you find out which false beliefs, or which outdated ideas and so forth, they already have and then create situations in which you can bring about the unlearning of those. And that's what your piece made me think of.
BRODIE: Well, thank you. I hope that it will, at the very least, jostle some beliefs.
POTTER: I think jostling is always a wonderful end in itself. But I – you've already said too, and I think it's a wonderful thing -- that what you hope people come away from A Great Round Wonder with is their own constellation of colours, their own paintings in their heads, their own way of making meaning from what they've just experienced. And there will be a beautiful multiplicity of meanings coming out of this.
BRODIE: Yes, I hope so.
POTTER: I hope so too.
Well, thank you very much, Barry. This has been really interesting and I really appreciate that you took all this time to sit and chat with me, because it was a long time.
BRODIE: It’s been fun.
Thank you for such a diligent and thoughtful read of the script. I can't wait for you to experience it.
POTTER: I'm looking forward to it too. I mean, I'm always just happy when someone gives me something to read that actually makes me think and doesn't just vanish from my mind the second I put it down.
BRODIE: Hear hear.
POTTER: That’s a wonderful thing in itself.
Well, thank you very much, Barry. And we'll see you soon.
BRODIE: Okie doke bye bye.
1/20/2023 - THE CHILDREN - Meet the Casts
11/25/22 - Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown - Interview with playwright Joey Ouellette
11/19/22 - Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown - Meet the Cast
10/25/2022 - Announcing the winner of THE 2022 WINDSOR-ESSEX PLAYWRITING CONTEST
9/28/2022 - STUCK - Interview with playwright Jonathan Tessier
9/14/2022 - STUCK - Meet the Creative Team / Cast
8/22/2022 - A GREAT ROUND WONDER - Interview with playwright Barry T. Brodie
8/9/2022 - A GREAT ROUND WONDER - Meet the Cast
6/5/2022 - PREPARED - Meet the Cast
5/31/2022 - PREPARED - Interview with playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn
4/19/2022 - Interview with playwright Edele Winnie
11/10/2021 - DEAD BEAR - Meet the Cast
11/5/2021 - DEAD BEAR: Interview with playwright John Gavey
9/12/2021 - BLASTED: Meet the Cast
7/2/2021 - CRIMINAL GENIUS: Meet the Cast
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: interview with playwright Matthew St. Amand
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: Meet the Cast
11/16/2020 - THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE: Meet the Cast
10/5/2020 - FATBOY: interview with playwright John Clancy
7/16/2020 - Winner: 2020 Playwriting Contest
6/23/2020 - Announcement: Nikolas Prsa joins Post as Outreach Director
3/15/2020 - BETRAYAL - Meet the Cast
1/18/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: interview with playwright Edele Winnie
1/15/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: Meet the Cast/Crew
11/4/2019 - THE PILLOWMAN: Meet the Cast/Crew
9/18/2019 - AUTOPSY & A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: interview with playwrights Alex Monk & Joey Ouellette
8/29/2019 - AUTOPSY: Meet the Cast
8/29/2019 - A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: Meet the Cast
5/31/2019 - AMERICAN BUFFALO: Meet the Cast
3/31/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: Meet the Cast
3/19/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: interview with playwright Eve Lederman
2/25/2019 - So You're Writing a Play...
1/17/2019 - NO EXIT: Meet the Cast
11/22/2018 - ANOTHER FUCKING CHRISTMAS PLAY...: Meet the Cast & Composer
8/28/18 - EQUUS: Meet the Cast/Crew
7/15.2018 - SHELTER IN PLACE: Meet the Playwright
7/9/2018 - SHELTER IN PLACE: Meet the Cast
7/2/2018 - Writing to be Read
5/3/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Fay Lynn as Callie
4/10/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Lauren Crowley as Sara
4/27/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Dan MacDonald as George
4/25/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Matt Froese as Peter
4/21/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Cindy Pastorius as Mrs. Winsley / Nurse
4/18/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Alex Alejandria as Detective Cole
1/24/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Niki Richardson as Sister Aloysius
1/17/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Eric Branget as Father Flynn
1/10/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Carla Gyemi as Sister James
1/3/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Jennifer Cole as Mrs. Muller
10/2/2017 - TRUE WEST: Joey Wright as Austin
9/25/2017 - TRUE WEST: Dylan MacDonald as Lee
9/18/2017 - TRUE WEST: Ian Loft as Saul
9/11/2017 - TRUE WEST: Cindy Pastorius as Mom
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