CONTAINS: Swears, Unreasonable expectations of empathy
(Best to read from the beginning if you haven’t already.)
I love theatre with something to say, which makes me think, gives me new ideas or ways of viewing the world. For example, last year, Rash Dash’s Two Man Show changed how I thought about gender (see it if you can!) However, I’m not in favour of hectoring an audience so I don’t think I would ever want the following piece staged! But as a companion piece to the previous four it throws up some interesting things for me. I’ll see you on the other side.
LEAST I COULD DO
Half a tube carriage. Half full. Specifically UZMA, LAURA and AMINA are sat on three consecutive seats. AMINA is reading a book, LAURA is on her phone.
UZMA starts to cry.
LAURA notices but goes back to playing on her phone.
UZMA completely breaks down.
LAURA looks at UZMA and then looks around – no one else has noticed.
LAURA tries to go back to her phone.
LAURA gives up, rummages in her bag and tentatively offers UZMA a tissue.
UZMA takes it with a nod but carries on sobbing.
LAURA wavers then goes back to her phone.
LAURA looks up again and opens her mouth to speak – but then goes back to her phone.
AMINA suddenly looks up and says to us:
AMINA: So, you’re probably expecting that this young woman on my right will, eventually ask this other woman, the crying one, what’s up with her. Because this is a play, right? It’s the inciting incident. There’ll be a heart to heart exchange. Possibly a great, emotional speech for the crying woman which will show of the playwright’s talents and tug at your heart strings.
AMINA goes back to her book.
LAURA plays with her phone.
This carries on for a good thirty seconds.
AMINA: (Suddenly looking up again.) Yeah, she won’t. The phone woman won’t. Ask the crying woman what’s up. So, there you go.
I know this because this happened on the tube yesterday and I’m just showing what happened. Phone girl does nothing for like seven stops. Then she gets off.
This isn’t on phone girl either. Like, nobody else does anything. So it’s not just her.
Reads a bit.
Fuck it, I mean I was there and I didn’t do anything either.
Would you have?
I heard a great phrase the other day. ‘We all just need a good listening to.’
It’s good isn’t it? Like ‘seeing to’?
I liked it, a) because it’s smutty but b) because it’s true. Most of the time, we don’t want people to give us the answers. We just want them to be with us. Not try to fix, or solve, or advise, but to just sit us in our pain, and let them know that if we want to talk, they’ll listen.
Fuck it. Let’s try it now.
Steps out of the train carriage, which is plunged into darkness. Lights up on the audience.
Right, find someone near you you don’t know.
No, seriously, get on with it.
Right, quieten down. Now label yourselves A and B.
Good, now A I want you to tell B a dream you’ve got. One item on your bucket list, something you’d love to do or achieve before you shuffle off. Yours is the easy job.
B your job is to listen. And maybe, if A starts to dry up, ask some good, open questions. But remember, mainly, your job is to listen. You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason, as the philosophers say. No advice, no thoughts of yours, just listening and questions.
You’ve got three minutes.
Great. Now swap over.
Now, go back to the first way around; A – what are you going to have to change to achieve that dream. Like, in your life, maybe your circumstances, but better still in you. What do you have to change about you to achieve that goal. And Bs, no judgement, no advice. Just good questions and some warm nodding. Maybe even repeat what A has said to check you’ve understood.
I reckon to change the world we need three things. Courage, wisdom, compassion. And I reckon compassion might be the easiest. But if we care about other people, like the nice girl with the phone earlier did care about crying woman, what good is it if you’ve not got the courage to take any action towards it? I mean, then you need the wisdom to take action in the best way, but that’s the subject of another play. This one’s about compassion and courage.
So, yeah, I didn’t have the courage yesterday. But I’m going to try harder tomorrow. And you’ve just spoken to a stranger now, so how hard can it be, right?
Wanders back to the tube, which lights up, sits.
LAURA turns to UZMA.
LAURA: Hey. Are you okay? Sorry, I mean, you’re obviously not okay. I just. . . if you want to, you can talk to me about it.
For the record, I still wear massive head phones on public transport and avoid talking to anyone.
Hope has been very much on my mind of late; I was asked by SGI-UK to be Artistic Director of Generaton Hope, an event aimed at inspiring young people with hope in their ability to change the world (you’d be welcome to attend!)
It’s based on this remarkable poem by Daisaku Ikeda:
This is your age
The future rests in your hands
I hope you will make the twenty-first century truly wonderful
Please make it a century in which the life of each individual is cherished and respected to the utmost.
A century without discrimination, without bullying, war or murder.
A century in which no child cries with hunger, in which no mothers or children take their own lives in despair.
A century without environmental destruction.
A century free from academic elitism, greed and materialism.
A century in which human rights are upheld as the most precious treasure.
A century of true democracy, in which the people hold corrupt political leaders to account.
A century in which the people exercise sound judgement and pay no heed to the lies of the mass media.
I hope you will make it a century in which each of your precious dreams come true and your unique individuality blossoms to the fullest.
To realise these goals, it is vital that you achieve victory, that each of you
grow into people of philosophy and compassion, into people who possess
both real ability and the sincerity to understand the hearts of others.
Your victory will be the victory of the twenty-first century.
You are our only hope.
It’s an unprecedented event; thousands of guests meeting simultaneously in Manchester, Bristol and London. It’s the biggest, more bonkers project I’ve ever worked on, either as a Buddhist or a director. In order to make it, everyone working on it has had to dig deeper than ever before to really believe in the potential of the next generation to be able to stand up and clear up the messes of the previous generations. I’ve noticed that many of us have been confronted by the doubts and fears we hold in our hearts in the process of making it; we’ve been shown the things we don’t believe we can change in our own lives and the world. And sometimes, when those things are getting me down I read this poem and it’s terrifying; living up to it’s expectation feels like an impossible responsibility.
But then I dig deeper than I ever have before, and strive to believe in the infinite potential of myself and every other living being, and I become more confident than ever that we can make the world a better place, that there is still hope if we are prepared to change and grow ourselves, and take action based on that spiritual growth. Then we can have a human revolution.
Thank you for reading Five Short Plays About Hope! Normal fortnightly service will now resume.