by Harriet Worrell
I adore lovely sunshine in Vermont, but scorching heat I prefer to escape. Nonetheless, the warm weather activities of summer have been particularly pleasant to bask in. Over the weekend, I was happy to have been present at the Hopkins Center preview of part one of Ken Burns’ latest three part film series on prohibition. The auditorium was packed. The master storyteller and filmmaker was at his charming and illuminating best as he introduced the piece and then took questions at the conclusion. If part one speaks well for the remaining two, you will once again find an exquisite personal pictorial that draws you in to a human story. All impersonal history becomes gentle telling of cares, choices and actions of people that we could have known and certainly should know.
It is as if an older uncle or a great grandmother were on hand to tell the family history; voices, words, and memorable faces travel across the screen in an absorbable human tempo that makes us feel a part of history, a continuum of the storytellers.
In this film, one finds the best evidence of the balance between the human condition and technology. To be honest, even though tech talk is constantly plus selling itself about how technology is a non -threatening aid to life, one seldom feels it. The work that Burns does, however, is heart warming evidence that in an art form, when the target is the human story, indeed technology unlocks archives of evidence and images to join with human thought and beautiful words to tell the poetry and nobility of who we are. One sees weapons and factory machinery and other tools of “progress” against a backdrop of our story, our sensibilities and our spirits. The human being remains the protagonist.
In medicine we see the repaired human beings who may know less suffering. The balance is reasonable. In space we see future travel and perhaps communication with other beings that we must prepare for. We understand ourselves better as we meet the history of how we hang in the universe. Technology is helping us answer questions of origin and definition of who we are.
Then there are technologies that would destroy privacy and liberties. There are technologies that kill, control and enslave. There are technologies that dull the senses and replace wisdom and knowledge with uncontrollable information. These influences on our lives happen so quickly that we do not question but simply take for granted as benign. There lies trouble.
So as we face daily consumptions of new techno considerations in our lives, we surely assume that we are constantly asking questions about what we are taking on and how it affects life on this planet. No good to grow better food and realize how all species are connected if we lose our humanity to machines that empower the few. A response of discerning questions seems such an obvious thing to do. But then we are so busy.
So education kicks in. Unfortunately this environment sometimes runs so alarmed that we are all falling behind that there is no real push for intellectual questions. Balance can be ignored even there. Some of our greatest thinkers have warned that the balance is all-important, that education is in the questions and that democracy grows best among them.
The Yoh Juniors are taking up some of the rights to question with their summer “follies”. In story, rhyme, song and great fun they take us through tech appropriateness and introduce us to the toys of their time. They even suggest that their generation may very well be tagged the TTB: Tech Toy Babies.
Thirty-five creative thinkers (young actors and their theatre coaches) improv, satirize, and question the influence of technology on their daily lives. Using favorite stories and poems and tunes, they delight and challenge the fast moving tech trends that change their lives daily.
The irony of their performance is that except for lights and hand tools and the vehicles that got them to the theatre, their theatrical work is built on creative thinking with only occasional trips to the computer archives for the words to a nursery rhyme or the tune to a song. Largely, their sources were their own clever ideas, regular bound books, and collaborative story telling. Their set is made of wooden hand made boxes and steps left over from other productions. The set decorations are made from stuff that was to be thrown away. A handful of costume hints are on actors wearing their own warm weather summer clothes and most of the sound is live. Words and non-verbal story are highly imaginative and very low tech. Nonetheless, they have a glossary of techno words in their program so that all of their references will be clear to you.
I think back on my children as babies at gift-giving time. The gift was not as much fun as playing with the wrapping paper and the colored ribbons. Babies today still want to rock dolls in cradles and use their own power to peddle something and use their own hands to wind up a toy. Despite overzealous adults who fall prey to the advertising industry, they still want to make sounds with wooden spoons and an old kitchen pot and built tents under tables strewn with sheets. If not overburdened with toys that leave the child very little to do for himself, he or she will create from nothing and ideas will swell and bloom and carry the child into a life of grace and inventiveness and confidence. No matter what we may purchase for them, they still would rather you be involved when you build a tree house with them, teach them to swim, take them fishing, go on a hike, make cookies together, go out and throw the ball, or put on a play.
The Yoh Juniors’ summer pleasure is to put on a production. Please join them as they wink at technology and, more importantly, exhibit a grand exercise of highly personal creativity and the fun of play. The performance of Tech Toy Babies is Friday, July 22, at 6:30 PM in Yoh Theatre Auditorium on the campus of Woodstock Union High School. Admission is by donation. Your being there is what tells these young people that their creativity is valuable.
This article first appeared in the July 21st print edition of the Vermont Standard.