Name Your Nihilist

Last week, our e-newsletter asked people a simple question:

Who’s your favorite nihilist?

The question might seem like a strange one to the uninformed, but if you’ve been reading in the past week, you know that the main character of Fathers and Sons, Bazarov, is an avowed nihilist. Nihilism is officially defined (thanks, Webster) as “the idea that traditional values and belief systems have no inherent worth, and that existence in general is pointless.” Bazarov presents this definition with a political twist: as traditional values and beliefs have no inherent worth, he suggests abandoning them in favor of massive social and political reform. (As Robin Goldberg mentioned earlier this week, mid-19th century Russia was considered by much of Europe to be a once-great nation in steep decline.)

It’s a heroic concept, really

At any rate, we asked members of our email list if they would share their favorite nihilists with us, in exchange for the chance at free tickets. We figured we’d share a few of their favorites with you, as well. (Think you’ve got something better? Share them in the comments…)

Favorite Fictional Nihilist:
Mersault, from Camus’ The Stranger
By far the most-nominated character…though Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was also a pretty strong favorite.

Daria_MorgendorfferFavorite Female Nihilist:
This list is pretty male-centric. Daria Morgendorffer from the animated TV show Daria was the only female nominee we received.

Favorite Nihilist Who Probably Can’t Really Be Called a Nihilist
(because he was written centuries before the phrase was coined):
The title character of The Scottish Play (EmStage’s offices are backstage of the Greene, after all) got  a surprising number of nominations, each of them referencing this soliloquy as proof:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


UlquiorraschifferFavorite Nihilists Portrayed in Non-Mainstream Media: 

Ulquiorra Cifer, from the manga and anime series Bleach (at right)is actually an embodiment of nihilism itself, and refuses to accept any statement of value that he cannot prove with his own senses.

and

The Comedian/Edward Blake from the graphic novel Watchmen – started out as a superhero, but grew disenchanted. Now sees the world as a “cruel joke” and suggests that he does bad things partially because no one else ever tries to stop him.

 

breathless-jean-paul-belmondo-michel-poiccardFavorite Film Nihilist:
Breathless (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard) is described as a “nihilistic road movie” in which a Bogart-worshipping, chain-smoking, libidinous car thief goes on the lam in the streets of Paris. He is seen as being at odds with the world around him — to the point that that his criminal persona is modeled on an inappropriate American model.

Favorite Nihilist Moment  (tie):
The suicide note from Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place:”
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”

and

This paragraph from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:
But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.”

NietzscheFavorite Real-Life Nihilist:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Mr. “God is Dead” himself.
(Actually, point of debate: Nietzsche believed that it was impossible for the human mind to exist without ascribing meaning and values to otherwise neutral items. He did, however, feel it was important that people be aware of whether they were choosing their own interpretations, or thoughtlessly accepting the interpretations of others.)

Favorite Anti-Nihilist:
Sisyphus, from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus – a man sentenced to a useless, endless task who still manages to find meaning and happiness in his work.

 

Thanks to everyone who submitted their favorite nihilists. We look forward to seeing you all at Fathers and Sons  next week!

In Defense of Piotr: Why this 19th-Century Hipster is My Favorite Character in “Fathers and Sons”

By Robin Goldberg, production dramaturg

11.Piotr

Costume rendering for “Piotr”
by Sarie Gessner ’15

If you were an inhabitant or member of the staff at the Kirsanov manor, hearing the master of the house, Nikolai, yelling for Piotr would be an infuriating everyday occurrence. Never where he’s supposed to be and always ready with a cheeky comeback, Piotr is a teenage, newly emancipated serf testing the boundaries of what he can get away with at work. Despite taking place about 150 years ago, Fathers and Sons hosts a cast of characters that resemble people we’ve all run across in our contemporary lives. As older teens and early twenty-somethings, it’s no surprise that we relate so strongly to this punk kid with multi-colored hair and piercings who talks back to and questions his boss.

Piotr is a great foil for the more serious young people in the play. Arkady and Bazarov are clearly passionate about the politics and social issues of the day, but pay less attention to how this progressive movement is personally affecting their peers. Piotr is also progressively minded: as a former serf, he actually lived through the conditions Arkady and Bazarov are fighting against. However, as a member of the peasant class, he was not afforded the opportunity to go to university and learn about the bigger picture of what was happening in his country. Piotr’s perspective isn’t one of general indignation; for him, everything is personal.

As someone right at the center of a social movement, Piotr has a greater understanding and appreciation of the experiences of the people. For him, this is a cultural revolution – something that directly affects his way of life. He’s not interested in high-minded writings and political discourse; instead he embodies the revolution through his dress and in his voice. His hair, turquoise earring, and sarcasm are presented proudly as membership of his social standing and beliefs. If he were alive today, perhaps Piotr would resemble a city kid like us, with political pins, patches, and t-shirts boasting slogans related to our most cherished causes.

Emerson kids are jokingly referred to as hipsters – primarily concerned with our vinyl collections, oversized sweaters, and writing our next poem or screenplay or tweet with a coffee in our other hand. Whatever anyone calls us, however, we are part of a younger generation that’s taking stock of our social and political environment, and not necessarily liking what we find. Like Piotr, our rebellion may seem largely trend-heavy, but we’re just as well-versed in current events as the older folks who may see us as “insolent pups” too.

Like Piotr, we can see the bigger picture while immersed in our own lives. We’re just as concerned with politics as we are with the individual parts we play in our culture. Arkady and Bazarov may see themselves as removed from the issues they concern themselves with, but Piotr knows his place is with his peers, right in the heart of all the change.

As with everything, personal experience is more important than an expert opinion — in other words, don’t take Robin’s opinion for your own…check out the show, running Feb 6-9 at the Paramount MainStage  Tickets at any Emerson box office or here

Love & Nihilism, Fathers & Sons

By Robin Goldberg, Production Dramaturg

Robin’s article was originally published in EmStage’s biweekly newsletter, which also includes extra behind-the-scenes photos and contests for free tickets. Want to get the jump on the inside scoop? Consider joining our list. 

In its most basic sense, nihilism is the philosophy that life has no real meaning. Our thoughts, beliefs, relationships, and possessions hold no true importance or weight, and actually detract from our potential to work for the greater good. Yevgeny Bazarov, the central character of Emerson Stage’s upcoming production of Fathers & Sons, identifies himself as a nihilist because he believes that Russia’s grand traditions and romantic heritage are meaningless when balanced against his country’s urgent need for economic and cultural reform. Even romantic love, Bazarov believes, should be discarded, lest it cloud the judgment of those working towards social change.

Bazarov’s views on love and romantic angst put him at odds with many people he encounters while traveling with his college friend, Arkady Kirsanov. Bazarov looks down on those like Pavel Petrovich, who allows a failed love affair to set the tone for a forlorn, lonely life, and even Arkady, whose pursuit of a female friend distracts him from his duties as a restrained, methodical nihilist. Bazarov sees the world in black and white, right and wrong – and refuses to accept that reason and emotion can exist in harmony. And there lies Bazarov’s central conflict: how can he, a passionless, idealistic nihilist who sees no value in love for its own sake, make sense of his feelings for the lovely and enigmatic Anna Odintsova?

The central theme of Fathers and Sons is the timeless push and pull of the generation gap. As the younger generation strives for change and modernization, the older generation holds tightly to tradition and a fondness for a world more familiar. To a young nihilist of the period, love existed as a relic of a time that was no longer culturally significant or relevant. For context: in the mid-1800s, Russia was perceived by the rest of Europe as being socially and culturally backwards; a once-great nation in decline (feudalism, a political and economic system that had been ended throughout Europe in previous centuries, was only abolished in Russia the year before Ivan Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons.) To bring Russia into the future, nihilists believed that meaningless nostalgia and sentimentality for “the way things used to be,” only served to get in the way of progress. How could one hold onto unnecessary feelings when there was so much work to be done?

To lift Russia out of the dust, Bazarov felt, its people needed to place their gaze on the future and ignore any thoughts or feelings that could distract from necessary change. Love had no place in a revolution, so a true nihilist could not waste any time with silly, unproductive feelings. However, what was a progress-minded young man to do when he could no longer ignore his own human nature? Bazarov’s emotional struggle serves as a fascinating parallel for a country fighting itself for much-needed change and a desire for stability, as well as posing the question, is it really possible — or even desirable — to fight individual human nature in favor of the greater good? 

To form your own opinion, come see the show.

Costume Obsession

If you’re the kind of person who bases their Must See TV on “which shows have the best wardrobe” (All you Downton Abbey fans, don’t even pretend to look the other way)…well, you are in luck: Fathers & Sons, which is based on the classic novel by the same name, and will open on the Paramount Mainstage in a little over two weeks.

The place is Russia, and the year is 1859. For those of you who need a little historical brush-up, this is smack-dab-mid-Victorian era (which, due to Queen V’s overabundance of children and the span of the British Empire, had significantly greater impact on international culture & fashion than previous eras). Victoria’s rule spanned more than 60 years, during which, fashion changes were basically represented by ever-widening skirts and greater use of embellishments (both of which were used to indicate social status and wealth). Also: we’re in Russia, where they build things like this.

You guys. Do you realize what this means? It’s like costume porn. (Can I use that word on an educational blog?) (But really. It totally is.)

I was going to share some of costume designer Sarie Gessner’s renderings today, but then I went down to the costume shop to see if I could get some photos of the actual fabric, and guess what I found?

Katya-dress-1-web

Why share renderings when you can look at the real thing?

Actually, this is why:

8.Katya

It blows my mind that just a few short months ago, costume designer Sarie Gessner and director Benny Sato Ambush started talking about the world of Fathers and Sons: who were these people? How did they present themselves to the world around them? How could they best use the costumes of the play to communicate a character’s personality and internal life to the audience?

With answers to those ideas in mind, Sarie sat down and sketched the dress above. And about 10 weeks later, we’ve got the real thing, ready to wear.

Well.

Katya-detail-sleeve---webNearly ready.

(Also: note that the trim on Katya’s sleeve, shown here, has been pinned into shape (and will, assumedly, be sewn down soon). And then extrapolate it to this:

Katya-waist-detail-2-web

…and this:
Katya-dress-1---web

…and imagine how much work this single dress represents for our costume shop. And there are 13 characters in the play!

One of whom, we were lucky enough to catch in the act of getting fitted.

Blazko renderig

James-Blazko-lr

(Introducing: James Blazko as Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. Sarie Gessner tying his cravat)

Just two weeks to go until you get to see the rest of them on the Paramount Mainstage! Performances at 8pm on Feb 6, 7 and 8, and 2pm on Feb 8 and 9. (Tickets at any Emerson box office, or here.)

Blazko-face(Crazy)

Epilogue: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

As mentioned earlier in this online journal, the cast of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy took a trip to Malaga Island, Maine, at the start of their rehearsal process — a way for the company to explore the setting of their show firsthand. The guides for that tour all attended last Saturday’s performance of Lizzie Bright, and today, guide Jim Tibensky sent director Robert Colby  a thank-you note, with a link to the below blog article (originally published here). We liked it so much, we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

 

Why CASKA and I Got Mentioned in the Program Notes of a Play in Boston OR Another of the unusual and wonderful places a kayak will take you

by Jim Tibensky

This September past I went to Maine, took the Maine Guide test, passed it, and planned a nice long kayak tour of Casco Bay. Eight times before I had done week-long kayak trips there, always as a guide for Omni Youth Services’ wilderness therapy program. This time I was going to do it with my friend Patty and no teens.

 

 

On what was supposed to be the first day of our trip, we were recruited to help lead a day trip of nine double kayaks. Alice, of Alice’s Awesome Adventures, the person who was hired to lead the trip, originally expected ten people. When the number increased to eighteen, she needed another guide. Two days after passing my exam, there I was.

The group that hired her was a theater troupe from Emerson College in Boston. They were putting on the play Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And therein lies the tale.

The play, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of a mixed-race girl, Lizzie Bright Griffin, and a white boy, Turner Buckminster III, who become friends. She lives on the island of Malaga in Maine and he lives in Phippsburg on the mainland directly across from Malaga. At the closest point, Malaga is one-tenth of a mile from the mainland. One could easily be heard when shouting to someone on the opposite shore.

I have stopped on Malaga to eat lunch every time I have been to Casco Bay. But I never knew its story. Thanks to Emerson College’s theater team, I learned it. They went to Malaga to see it – to walk on its soil, to sit on its rocks, to hear its sounds, to breathe its air, and to commune with the spirits of the people who once lived there.

Since the civil war, people lived on Malaga. There were probably never more than about fifty people there at any one time. They were independent of the mainland for the most part. They fished, they built homes, they had families, they took care of themselves. Some of them were African-American, some were white, many were mixed. No one on the mainland cared much about Malaga until rich people started putting vacation homes in Maine in the early 1900s. In 1912 the governor of Maine ordered the state police to evict everyone from Malaga, hoping that someone would buy the island and build a resort or vacation home there. The homes that were not removed before the eviction were burned down. The people who could not find another place to live were placed in the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded for the rest of their lives. The cemetery was dug up with the bodies being re-buried at that same Home for the Feeble-Minded. The five children of the Griffin family were buried in one grave. This all really happened.

No one ever lived on Malaga again. No resort was ever built there. No rich New Yorker built a vacation retreat there. Today it is a beautiful, peaceful, empty, wooded, haunted island that is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I won’t tell more. You can look it up at:

http://www.malagaislandmaine.org (watch the three minute video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkHh-Y87wBY

http://www.pressherald.com/news/a-century-of-shame_2012-05-20.html?pagenum=full.

My wife, Gail, and Patty and I all went to Boston to see the play. It was amazing. The actors talked about how much it meant to them to be able to paddle to Malaga and experience it. The actress who played Lizzie calls herself “an honorary Malagite.”

I’m telling this convoluted story, in part, to praise the benefits of kayaking. You get good exercise outdoors with some of the greatest people in the world in some really lovely places and, once in a while, you meet talented young people who, by going the extra mile themselves, take you along with them into a world you thought you knew, but didn’t. And you get your name, and CASKA’s, in a theater program in Boston.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll…

This week, we’re focusing on a few local theater friends of ours, who have provided us with discounts to share with EmStage supporters. Today’s offer comes from Stoneham Theatre. Stoneham is offering a 25% discount off regular-price tickets for their production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

 JekyllPatchDR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE

adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
from the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
directed by Caitlin Lowans

A new look at a horror classic – must close November 10!

Watch the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trailer

Is there a good and evil side to everyone? And can we always tell the difference? In this new adaptation of the classic tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll undertakes experiments aimed at separating the best parts of his personality from the worst. When the result is the disastrous creation of his alter-ego, the savage Edward Hyde, Dr. Jekyll comes face-to-face with the very nature of good and evil. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Hatcher’s adaptation of this classic “a smart, tense, and suspenseful new take.” Don’t miss it!

To order tickets, call the Stoneham Theatre Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit
http://boxoffice.printtixusa.com/stoneham/eventcalendar?v=0&i=0&g=0&g2=0&m=10&y=2013.

Use code JH25 to save 25%