2. Visual and Sonorous Oct 30, 2014 Washington Place NYC

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Contemporary culture is concerned with the freedom of self-expression as an unalienable human right.  In this workshop, Julia Pascal and Mahnaz Yousefzadeh explore instead the meaning and stakes of the acts of “listening” and not expressing.  Through encounters with literary and philosophical texts of Greek, Christian and Persian traditions (Plato, Augustine and Rumi), as well as drawing from theatre methods, they explore not only the creative and liberatory possibilities in the act of listening, but also crucially the danger involved.

Mahnaz Yousefzadeh teaches global humanities at NYU.  She adopts an experiential approach to the teaching of philosophical and literary texts.  In this workshop she will bring the participants into encounters with Plato, St. Augustine and the Persian 14th century poet Rumi to explore the liberatory as well as creative possibilities of the act of listening.Rumi and Augustine

  • Video Sonorous and Time in St. Augustine:

Julia Pascal is a playwright/ theatre director who teaches Writing at NYU. Her texts are often inspired by the interviews, living testimony and music. She will explore how the human voice can affect creativity and writing. How can listening work as a stimulus and how can sharpening this ability help a student develop?

  • JULIA PASCAL Performance and Writing Exercise: visual+sonorous.
    The philosophy of all Western drama is rooted in Aristotle’s Poetics and the concept of the Five Act Play. In the twentieth century this was modernised into the idea of the Three Act structure where the audience witness set-up, crisis and resolution.
    Today, most playwrights are aware that every speech should also have three acts.  Connecting Aristotle’s Poetics and the importance of  the concept of Crisis and Catharsis, Pascal also related this to Bertolt Brecht’s Theatre Writings. Brecht stressed that character should be created not only to elicit an emotional response but also to make the audience aware of the character’s economic and political status.
    The theory of the Verfremdungseffekt, the idea of distancing the audience from the character, and allowing analysis rather than empathy to dominate, is also linked to the use of the messenger in Greek tragedy where catastrophe is not witnessed but is revealed as poetry.
     Reading from her play Woman In The Moon, Pascal shared a monologue of Irene, a Jew pretending to be a Christian in the Warsaw streets of 1943 . Irene evokes the horror of her situation within the three act structure and also helps the audience understand the complexity of betrayal to the enemy, even by fellow Jews.
    By examining the three act structure, and  by revealing how political terror  can be realised through dramatic action, the students were made aware of how fear and catharsis can be explored through text. Although Aristotle and Brecht may seem to be distanced by the centuries, the students were able to see how  Greek philosophy and German Marxist theatre can be synthesised.

14 thoughts on “Julia’s Assignment”

    1. I walk along the avenue. Winding, alien, but not paved with gold. Voices ring out around me, speaking in a language I do not yet understand. People selling. People buying. “Hey you!” Next to me. Startled, I turn to see a vendor and his offerings. Finally I have found gold, curved and ripe among apples and pairs. A golden fruit. I seize one from the bunch. The man cries out with an open hand. What words does he speak? I hear a familiar sound, but not one too familiar: the clanking of coins. Surely I have forgotten to pay, but how much? I withdraw my collection from my pocket and fumble my money awkwardly in my hands. Finally, the man reaches out, snatching a select few himself, allowing me my golden fruit. My stomach growling, I bring it to my mouth, ready to bite in. Shouting. I stop. It is the vendor once again, rushing towards me, pulling my purchase from me. What is it? Have I still yet to pay efficiently? Have I made a mistake? Why does he grab me so? My heart races. Over and over again, he shouts to me words I do not know. Finally, I repeat his words back towards him: Peel it. Yes, he says emphatically. Haven’t you ever seen a banana before?


    1. I walk. We walk. A truck too large for the tiny city streets roars beside us. Temporary deafness.

      “Do you mind the noise?” I ask him and he says he doesn’t but I think he’s lying. He tells me he minds the lack of trees. He says he hates the dorms. But there are ways those things can be fixed and I tell him he’ll just have to change a few things. “If you do x,” I say, “New York would be a barely tolerable place to live.”

      And every once in awhile we’ll imagine moving everything up here but we know that’s irrational because he’ll be back. But it would be dangerous for him to hear that. “Never make a decision on my account,” I tell him, “Do what you want and don’t worry about us.” He can handle the guilt of that more than I could handle the guilt of closing a door for him. It’s scary to speak to a person who believes everything you say. I’m only a little smart, so don’t hear me so well. I’m confused too so don’t read too much into thoughts. I never know if I believe them.

      “But I’ll be back” he says regardless. “It’s only barely tolerable for so long.”

      What’s the point of speaking at all? I know what he says is true, but it doesn’t do me any good to hear it. He knows I want him back, but to say that would be profoundly unfair. When the ideas are important, speaking them means you’ve decided to affect the emotional climate of another. If the ideas aren’t important, it’s just filler. Why do we have to always be saying something? If humans were simple enough to make each other laugh without words, we wouldn’t need them at all.

      But also, remember, please don’t listen to everything I say.


    1. I walk. The brown planks creak underneath the tired souls of my worn out boat shoes. Music is playing over the loud speaker, it’s pop music, I hate pop music. There’s a bizarre smell in the air, it smells of a mix of seaweed and hot dogs. The last time I smelled something like this, was last fourth of July. I take another step, this time I step onto a boat. It’s a nice enough boat, but it is not fast enough. I always tell my father that but he never listens. Dads. I like my father but there’s no denying he is a stern man. I guess that’s why I’m out here. I take another step. This time I go to the bow of the boat. I liked Jerry a lot. We used to come on this boat every night during the summer and go sailing. It’s a shame what happened to him, I still think of him everyday. I take another step then a seat. Jerry had this laugh, this laugh that was contagious that made everyone around him laugh even if what was said wasn’t that funny. I get up. I miss Jerry. A man’s here, he’s going to buy this boat. I always told my father, it wasn’t fast enough.


    1. What is that noise?

      It’s eerie, like something from a horror movie. Or maybe it’s from a romantic one…

      Light, sharp screeches. Is someone in danger? Should I go help them? I’m too tired, I won’t be of any help…

      Why would they be screeching at this hour? It’s been a solid 30 minutes. I can’t stand it, it sounds like it’s right outside my window. I should go check…or maybe I shouldn’t; the less you know the better right.? Right?

      No I should really go check, I heard about that Genovese case and how no one helped even though they knew…

      Ok, here we go, I’m going to check. I tiptoe toward the window to not wake up my roommate, slowly drag open the curtains to check outside…

      In front of me stands a nest of birds, chirping; it’s 5 AM and I’ve been studying all night. I need sleep…


    1. Mahak Morsawala:
      Based on the Hindu-Muslim riots in the 90s in India.

      What is that noise?
      Muslim? Hindu? Who?
      Which side is the shooting from tonight?
      I should have shaved my beard. I feel around in my pocket and feel the state of Ganesh in my pocket.
      She must’ve put it there. I always knew she was smarter than me.
      I have to keep walking. I have to keep to the side of this dusty street.
      Oh God, no, I can’t cough. They’ll hear me.
      With soundless steps, I must walk towards shelter – my home.
      Home. I promised her I would be home. I promised. I promised that I’d be there before sunset.
      It’s already dark out.
      Please don’t think I’m dead.
      “Allah will put things right,” she said. “he has always listened to me.”
      Sitting in her bungalow in Lahore, of course her Allah listened to her.
      Bu no. I love her. I will not abandon her. No matter how I was raised and with what religion. No matter what my God abiding, ‘pure’ parents might think.
      Religion does not matter.
      Religion didn’t matter when my parents were thrown out of their special ‘community’ neighbourhood, when they couldn’t donate higher alms to the temple.
      Shh! Pay attention! You have to get home.
      More shots fired. I can hear footsteps running towards me.
      Who will it be this time?
      “Bhaago! Bhaago!” (run, run)
      I can hear a conch blare into the night sky. It is the Hindus.
      “Hanuman ki jai! Hindustan ki jai!” (Praise to Hanuman, Praise to Hindustan – Home of the Hindus/India)
      Relief courses through me. My people, as disgusted as I am that they are MY people.
      Tonight, I reach home safe. Tonight, I will live – for her.


    1. Does he notice me? I cannot be the only one he sees. There are thousands of women in this village, yet he shouts for me. I am trivial, in fact, I wish I could make myself even smaller. To shrink into invisibility, to shrink for eternity. For every moment he shouts, “my sweetie”, is like piercing nails, shrieking, “this is she!” Of course, they won’t notice. My tongue has stretched and coiled to match theirs. Every syllable and dialect, every word and gesture, I have learned. I was not born here, yet here I am. I have followed their flows, reenacted their ‘oos’ and ‘ohs’. For today, for the rest of my days, I am Igbo.

      “My darling, my darling. You’re eyes are so shining. Your waist, made of sunsets, now come let me rise”, and to my surprise, he taps my shoulder, so slightly. Should I make contact? I do not call myself a fighter in this Biafra War. Yet every moment wasted, is losing ever more. I cannot shout for help, they’ll spot me in a minute. They’ll hear my voice, they’ll hear me speak. My God, why would he notice all in the world, but me?

      I take my chance, turn my head, I am furious…

      “My apologies miss, please no strife, you look so much like my wife.”

      This is a story about my grandmother in Nigeria during the Biafra War. It was a time of division against the Country of Nigeria and the Igbo ethnic group. My grandmother used to go to Igbo land to sell salt, since the country refused to give them salt as long as they planned to succeed. She took so many risks traveling there but needed to make a living.


    1. I walk past with the confidence my mother taught me. I can feel his eyes watching me but I would walk backwards before I ever looking at him. No matter how fast I walk I still have to pass him. What will this guy say? Hopefully something I haven’t heard before – I’m so tired of the lack of originality. I just start to think that maybe I was wrong, this guy won’t say anything – then I hear it “Hey sexy.” Damn, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one. And I was really hoping I could get something new to add to my mental list of derogatory things yelled at me. Wherever, whenever I am walking alone in this city, it’s not a question of if it will happen but when. Keep looking straight ahead and never acknowledge them so that when something is said you aren’t fazed. Only the fool would turn to look. Like I care what he looks like – makes no difference to me. The moment I learned to respond this way I couldn’t pin point. It’s not from experience, because I came into this city with the same mindset. It is the respect taught to me by my mother and father that radiates from me – the cat callers don’t care about it but I know it’s there.


    1. I walk.
      My thin arms outstretched above my head, the lean and tired muscles staining under the weight of
      A bucket.
      Water swishes back and forth.
      I winces as drops of it fall on either side my me.
      Plop. Plop. Hssssss.
      The dry sand darkens where the water hits
      And I think, ‘one less drop for my sister’,
      One less drop for my mother.
      As I push my tired feet on, I can imagine her sitting, with the other women in the village; hands diligently and efficiently slicing ocra. I can almost smell the aroma of palm oil as it slowly boils. It is like a call from home, beckoning me to come quicker.
      My bare feet slap slap slap. I press my lips together. Blisters and calluses.
      Water is now streaming down my arms.
      The bucket whines under its own weight.
      It is inadequate, bursting at its seams.
      Goosefless sprouts on my skin as I realize that I walk
      But like my energy, my water is spent.
      Ill have nothing to show for myself.
      I stop, and throw the bucket, its contents spilling.
      I stare, watching the water slowly seep through the ground
      And my heart sinks
      And my soul shrivels
      And I grow tired


    1. It’s so loud. Each time I picture them flying towards the car and cutting through the door like butter. Only my hands are above the window now, how am I still driving? I can’t see where I am going. I hope they don’t hit my hands. A roar of a bike engine and nothing. Silence. Are they gone? Slowly I disentangle myself from the hollow space under the wheel and between the pedals and the seat. I reach for the door handle as I slow to a stop, and pull myself up to the seat, now covered in glass, where I had been driving. Only minutes before, along the Carreterra San Salvador outside of Guatemala City in the direction of Antigua, the picturesque colonial village beside the volcanoes. Two young men on a motorcycle, just like always, only they had not tried to take my money. I had hardly a second after I saw the second kid, with the sharp army features and denim jacket pull out a revolver. Thank God that he only had six shots.

      I need to leave. My children will not know this country. They will know America.


    1. I walk.
      I walk along the ruddy stained roads of where my brothers fought my brothers;
      Past the battered grounds of the fields where I used to rest;
      Into the city now marked by blue eyed soldiers
      Handing out wrapped sweets to the dirt-faced children.
      I walk.
      I walk with my eyes shut from the families left broken,
      The dogs left unfed,
      The buildings left unkept,
      And the tears of my sisters longing for what they’ve had.
      I walk.
      I walk with my ears closed from the cries of starving babies,
      The screams of one-legged soldiers,
      The constant noise of gunfire;
      That’s all I can do for now;
      Walk with my eyes closed,
      My ears shut,
      My heart still crying.


    1. Monologue: Philip

      I walk, today
      In a place where I once ran
      I forgot the feeling of the bitter cold wind.
      Today the chill seemed to stain my cheeks longer than when I left Brooklyn twenty years ago.
      The air still smelled of rats and piss, but it no longer left me with the feeling of impermeability and the constant unsettling need to leave.
      I did leave.
      I came back not to find my home, but to find resolution.
      I walked by the hotel my mother once put on a party. It was grand and fabulous like she was.
      I walk by an elementary school holding the hands of my granddaughter. Similar to the one I attended

      Would my biological parents have walked me to school?
      I shut my eyes and walk.


    1. I wonder if I can wear overalls two days in a row?
      Maybe I’ll just wear sweats and a snapback.
      I wore sweats on Monday.
      I actually don’t hate Mondays, but I do hate dressing up every day.
      Blazers and hipster button ups.
      The blazer I got from my grandma, the button up a flea market in Hells Kitchen.
      The cheaper the cooler.
      I’m always told how cool I look.
      Its cold out, colder than back home.
      Back home we have Christmas at the beach and take our holiday cards in strategic studios with perfect air-conditioned snowflakes.
      Today its snowing; the natural kind, not man made.
      School is extra far today, but the sun is even further, home is even further.

      Bus is late… again.
      It seems like a toxic relationship.
      I feel like I’m in the relationship for the both of us.
      I show up on time, he’s 30 minutes late.
      Sometimes he doesn’t show up at all.
      He’s always making me late to class.
      I’m tired of waiting.

      I think its time to move on, rely on myself to get to the next destination.


    1. *After leaving the house*

      What a big mouth, du me. I don’t have a job now but who built this family huh?! Not you with your 9.63 an hour wage. I can’t take this anymore, I have to go. Drive somewhere. Get away. I need a drink.

      *Gets in car, starts engine*

      I will go to my dad’s place. I can’t stand her anymore. When we came over to America together who put food on the table huh? Who kept us alive? I went to school and paid off my own debt, I made 16 an hour and I worked comfortably, what have you done? I fix my own house and car, I helped you get that job.

      *Almost arrive*

      Yes. Silence. Disrespectful woman. If it weren’t for the children I would beat you like the old days. No. That’s wrong. Who am I? She works over 40 hours a week for the family. She doesn’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this either. I’m so furious. Du me… I will get a job so she can’t say anything to me. I’ve been providing for this family, I don’t need this shit. I need a drink.

      *Leaves car, enters house*


  1. (Cam, Cam, Cam) It’s hard for me to say “Cam” instead of “Cam- accent on the ‘A’”.
    “O’Campo. O (apostrophe) Campo.”
    “Why yes, it is Irish!” I quickly respond after being asked.
    Did I respond too slowly? Too quickly? Can they see right through me? Do they notice?
    Later in the evening (which was going smoother than I thought), they ask for my favorite food.
    “Enfrijoladas.” I respond without thinking. Mistake. Have I given myself away? Surely an Irish-born couldn’t pronounce a Mexican dish with a perfect Mexican accent.
    Saben que estoy mintiendo? Pueden ver que no soy de Irlanda?
    They’re staring/
    “It’s a Mexican dish of (I think about it, then pronounce) torti-LLas dipped in beans and stuffed with chicken wrapped in ta-COS, sprinkled with cheese and sour cream” I add on…hoping they accept my response without thinking too much of it.
    “Wow, sounds amazing!” My soon-to-be British mother in law replies.
    Phew! They don’t notice.
    I whisper to myself…”Ocampo” (accent on the “a”, no apostrophe).


One thought on “2. Visual and Sonorous Oct 30, 2014 Washington Place NYC

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