Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Reflections from our Artistic Director: "Ask yourself who you are. Love what you do. Get good at it. And watch things change around you."
Bond Street Theatre's Artistic Director Joanna Sherman gives the Keynote Address to this year's United Nations Youth Assembly. Here is the transcript:
ON THE THRESHOLD: Your Contribution to the Millennium Development Goals Will Matter
First of all, I want to welcome you all to the USA and my hometown, New York, and to thank Patrick for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.
He said, “I want you to give the Keynote Address – I think you’ll inspire the group.” And I said, “Who am I -- I’m not famous – you want Queen Noor or Oprah.” And Patrick said, “Who are you? You are the ‘real deal.’" The real deal -- that’s American slang for “You are the person who is too busy getting their hands dirty doing the real work out in the world to worry about getting famous.”
This is the essence of what I want to talk to you about today – being the “real deal" – being so dedicated to what you love to do and what you NEED to do, that you cannot be distracted from this mission, this passion.
For me it is the arts, and I can talk for days about the value of theatre: Theatre gives people a voice when they don’t have the courage to speak out, it stimulates the imagination, it teaches people how to collaborate…
Because what is art, all of the arts? Art is communication – it’s the way we communicate as individuals, as communities, as societies, as nations. Everything we know about our ancient ancestors, we know through the art that they left for us, those paintings on the cave walls – they tell the stories of their lives.
OK, that’s my advertisement for the arts … but that’s my path – we are not all artists. I do hope that the work that you saw in the video inspires you… but not necessarily to do theatre, but to discover your own way in the world.
So – how do you know what is your own way – your own particular path to make the world a better place?
Some of you may be well along in your career path and you are here at the Youth Assembly to make new connections, and learn more about your field. But some of you may be wondering where you fit into this big wide world, and you are here hoping to find that right career path and vision for the future.
Over the next few days, you are going to hear amazing stories and meet many inspiring people – both young and old – and wow! What an opportunity! Take it all in – notice everything -- listen to everyone – be open to all that you see and hear in this universe that is the United Nations, and even New York, a melting pot of cultures from around the world.
Be open to everything, and think about your particular strengths. We all have something to contribute: as future diplomats, teachers, business people, civic leaders, and yes, artists. We need every single one of you – and we are counting on you to find your voice!
You know, it’s funny but you never know how your life is going to go. I started out as a dancer, but my parents wanted me to be something more “serious,” something that sounded more “important” or at least financially stable. So I picked architecture. I thought – well it’s creative, and it sounds “serious.”
After I got my college degree, what did I do? I immediately returned to dancing. And through dance, and through a series of totally unplanned coincidences, I found myself completely involved in creating this very physical, dance-like theatre that you saw in the film. And traveling to villages in Colombia and Afghanistan and refugee camps in Bosnia.
As it turns out, inadvertently, through my dance training, I also learned how to express myself physically without using language, a skill that has helped me on my career path.
In the film, you saw a few of the moments along our theatrical journey that gave me clues to my future. The more I traveled, the more I experienced how my theatre skills could make a very real difference in the lives of the people we encountered – the children in the favellas in Brazil, the refugee children in Pakistan, the rural women in India.
Life is something you experience. You can plan, you can decide, you can compromise, you can change your mind…. But in fact, it’s like being a character in a novel, you just don’t know the crazy bends and twists that your life will take, and you don’t know the ending.
So I say - don't worry about success. Just trust in your instincts, and no matter what your skill and talent is, there is a place for you to contribute to the world.
Just be the real deal – the one who is so dedicated to what you love to do and what you MUST do, that you cannot be distracted from this mission.
Speaking of characters in a novel…. Have any of you heard of Harry Potter? JK Rowling? I recently heard an inspiring speech by JK Rowling, and she spoke about two things: the benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination.
The importance of imagination I immediately understand – the field of theatre is all about imagination. But the benefits of failure? I think this is our biggest fear. We think – what if I trust my instincts, and I am dedicated to what I love to do and what I MUST do….. and I fail?
This is what JK Rowling said. She said that she had been a failure – she had been very poor and completely lost. And her failure saved her because failure meant stripping away everything that wasn’t absolutely essential, and finding what was truly important to her.
She said, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”
And, of course, we know that out of her failure, she created the one work to which she was truly dedicated – the Harry Potter stories.
Now, at the age of 42, she is a multi-millionaire, but more than that, she is bringing great joy to millions of young people who are inspired by her stories and, really, by her imagination. Her ability to create a world of her own creation, and get inside her characters and bring them to life.
Imagination is the uniquely human capacity to envision that which does not exist. It is the basis of all innovation and invention. And this really resonated with me, “Imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”
The fact is… You must be able to imagine the world that you want to live in. If we can’t imagine a better world, we can’t create one. I think this is the problem with many of our politicians – they have lost their ability to imagine.
What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. This is an astonishing truth that I have seen proven a thousand times in my life. We have an inescapable connection with the outside world.
You saw in the film what our work is about… I bring my theatre to the front lines. I make healing, education, imagination through theatre a part of emergency relief in places where there are serious needs and issues.
A doctor from Doctors Without Borders once told us, “We are providing refugees with the necessities for human survival – food, medicine, shelter – but you are providing them with ‘food for the soul’ – you are restoring their humanity.”
Without our humanity, our soul, what good are food and shelter? So, I am combining two essential ideas: my creative skill as a theatre artist to imagine a better world, and my very concrete abilities to achieve my goals. You must have the skills to back up your ideas. Because none of this is abstract.
No matter what your skill and talent is, there is a place for you to contribute to the MDGs. Everything you do has very concrete effects on everything and everyone around you. What you do means the difference between a world that respects human rights for all people, or a scary world where there is no hope.
Love what you do. Get good at it. And watch things change around you. You will be surprised at what you can achieve.
I have trusted my instincts, listened to people who knew more than me, honed my skills, and never gave up.
Think of yourself. While you take in all the information about youth leadership and the success of the Millennium Development Goals these next couple of days. Ask yourself who you are.
Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, your education, your talents give you unique status and unique responsibilities.
If you choose to use your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to use your power to help the powerless; if you choose to use your imagination to experience how life might be for the less fortunate, then you will receive in return the amazing joy of having reached out and helped scores of people whose lives you have helped change.
And all of us expect no less from you; because it can be done. "No matter where you begin, you can be great! You can be the “real deal.”
As Ms. Rowling so well said,
“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."