MONTHLY UPDATE

Progress Report

January 31, 2021

 

Wow! What a whirlwind the last two months have been. As of November 16th, 2020, I have officially quit nicotine (vaping, specifically); I'm on Day 19 of my second-ever Whole 30; I have successfully directed a Zoom reading of a premiere play that I have adapted myself; and I've officially registered my new Syracuse-based theatre company with NYS and the IRS. 

In short, I am taking no prisoners this year, and I plan to accomplish at *least* ten more goals, whether for my personal health or professional aspirations. In fact, I have yet another theatrical project currently underway (a fundraiser that will formally launch my new company), and between it, The Vagina Monologues, and my Zoom reading last week, I will have worked with 40 different artists on only three different projects — and of those 40 artists, 20 are either Black or of color. 

As for my Zoom reading: it was a stage adaptation of Khalil Gibran's 1928 underrated epic, Jesus, the Son of Man. Originally, it is a book of 79 monologues that I have cut down to 45 or 46, and I've placed it through the lens of Mother Mary, a la The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (which I hope to pair with my newly titled, Jesus, Son of Man, as a two-part venture).  

And once live theatre is up and running again, this endeavor will be one of my first two productions — whether outside on-location, or in a theatre with lights and sound. Either way, I cannot wait until that chance arises. 

For now, however, here is a link to the JSM Zoom reading, with a full, time-stamped cast list available in the description of the video for your convenience. Please enjoy it, and let me know what you think :-)

 

The Fight is Just Beginning

November 11, 2020

 

While I realize that I’m exceedingly tardy in making this latest entry – so much so that this is more of a monthly update than it is a weekly – I promise it’s not for a lack of effort or desire. In the weeks leading up to this historic presidential election, I was riddled with what to write about as little else seemed important.

 

That’s not to say that I haven’t been hard at work on other projects – I most certainly have. But as all three are still in preliminary stages, I’m not quite ready yet to dish. 

 

In the meantime, I’m left to ponder the results of this election. I know, I know, not everything is fully tallied – but it should have been a landslide; it shouldn’t have been so close! Yes, it’s incredible that Biden received more votes than any candidate ever, that we won MI, WI, PA, AZ and most especially GA (thanks almost entirely to Stacey Abrams, Tamieka Atkins, Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot and Deborah Scott) – but one of the most important takeaways is that Trump is going nowhere; even if he goes quietly, the fervor behind him will not. He too set a record here: he received the most votes of any incumbent president ever, surpassing even Obama in 2012. Thus it should come as no surprise that his foul, belligerent stain will continue to soak the Republican party for many cycles to come. 

 

And now that we’re in power, as Democrats, it is our onus to both expound that stain, as well circumvent it from succeeding in the future.

 

We do not do that, however, by lambasting those left of center, also known – in America – as the “radical far left”. For one thing, Biden wouldn't have won without us. Full stop. For another, we have a label issue which has long pervaded this country. It’s not that we have an overabundance of political monikers, but rather that we have a discrepancy in connotations compared with the rest of the world. Bernie Sanders, for example, is not “far left” on any global metric; he’s actually considered moderate, just left of center – which shouldn't be a shock, as every other First World nation already has universal healthcare. President-elect Joe Biden, on the other hand (along with the majority of Democrats), is really a true conservative, distinctly right of what is considered to be the "center" – but not so far gone as to be deemed "extreme". Such a title is reserved for anyone right of Romney.

 

But ignoring that component, and circling back to “the left”: the DNC cannot afford to continue its carelessness, like allowing such balatrons as Claire McCaskill, Ana Navarro, John Kasich and Abigail Spanberger to speak on behalf of the party, espousing disparaging, false messaging regarding its progressive wing. Progressives are not the reason some Democrats lost in key races, nor why others only prevailed by razor thin margins. In fact, Donna Shalala, Kendra Horn, Abby Finkenauer, Collin Peterson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Joe Cunningham, and Xochitl Torres Small were all incumbent Democrats who just lost their reelections, and all of them were opponents of Medicare For All and Defunding the Police – two core tenants of Progressivism.

 

Furthermore, we just saw every Democratic candidate who supports M4A win their reelection; we've seen progressive Representative-elects Jamal Bowman and Cori Bush best Eliot Engel and Lacey Clay, respectively; and back in April, Newsweek released a poll that said 69% of Americans support Medicare for All – including 46% of Republicans. What’s more, according to Fox exit polls – and yes, I said Fox – as of this election, 72% of Americans support a government run health care plan.

 

In short: the writing is on the wall. We cannot continue to ignore the giant progressive elephant wincing in the room – nor why most establishment Democrats seem so eager to dismiss it. One of the cornerstones of the average Trump voter is not being able to tell the difference, ethically, between his record and those of establishment Dems. And honestly, I understand that. We can celebrate Joe Biden and the historic Kamala Harris, but we cannot pretend that we haven’t forgiven them for ghastly, sinful deeds – the same way Trump’s base has forgiven him for…well, everything. Joe and Kamala may have more decorum, but Trump voters don’t care. They see that decorum as pompous affectation, and would rather the jamoke who “calls it like he sees it”. Even if he stumbles all along the way, and even if he lies more than any politician ever – they appreciate his candor and faux-populist agenda.

 

No, no one is perfect (nor would I ever suggest it), but on the whole, we, as a party – nay, as a nation – have to do better. We have to elect candidates who reflect the moral code we believe Trump so grossly perverted, in addition to fighting against bigotry of all kinds. Moreover, we have to be open and honest. We are in the Age of Information – it is all but impossible now to shroud blatant corruption. And unless we can be forthright in acknowledging that corruption, as it appears on both sides of the aisle (as well as in Mainstream Media), we will forever be entangled with our Republican counterparts in the “lesser of two evils” dichotomy.

 

We should never strive or even settle for that dichotomy. Every time we do, we lose moral high ground, and in turn, swaths of unaffected voters – as proven by this election.

 

How to Return Home

October 9, 2020

 

As I attempt to textualize my most despondent thoughts – like my deep-seated regret in having left Manhattan behind me, or how totally unnerved I am by the absence of live theatre  – I am reminded that these feelings are both trite and petty, at best.  While my place of employment has shut its doors for good, and my landlord showed no remorse in refusing to renew my lease, I am not one of the 213,000+ Americans who has lost their life to Covid; I am not a Black American, constantly in danger; nor am I an immigrant without federal subsidies or housing.

 

I am, of course, privileged – by almost every given metric. Thus, this won’t be me complaining or processing my emotions, but rather looking forward, to what can happen now.  

 

For me, Syracuse has long possessed a complicated past. But having been born and raised here, I can assuredly tell you this: bigotry of every kind was common when I was a kid; and bigotry of every kind still persists today. Sure, it’s getting better, and has been over time. Yet, 13 of the 19 towns here remain mostly Republican (and before 2017, it was sixteen percent higher); Anti-Choice Katko is still our incumbent for congress (go, Dana Balter!); a timeline of racist incidents recently transpired at SU; and every day, it seems, I find a newly erected Trump flag, flapping somewhere in the suburbs, proud and defiant as ever.

 

Conversely, our mayor, Ben Walsh, is an Independent (and currently suing Trump over a case surrounding “ghost guns”); for the very first time, suburban registered Democrats outnumber suburban Republicans (albeit by less than 500 people); and, as of today, the statue of Columbus will be deported, discarded from its downtown perch — (hopefully) back from whence it came. 

 

But, I fear – even now – we’re yet on the precipice of progress, especially as it relates to the theatre community in Syracuse. Over the past fourteen years, I’ve witnessed and been made aware of some truly harmful behavior, in particular towards minorities — all of it costly. Whether it's callous micro-aggressions or a lack of representation so apparent it makes your skin crawl, the issue has now been voiced and brought to the light of day, and there cannot be a pivot in any other direction. 

 

There is no room for bigotry in the Syracuse theatre community – or anywhere, anymore. There is a laundry list of people here who’ve contributed to the problem, who have either contrived toxicity or been complicit in its presence; some of whom claim now they are, in fact, “doing the work.” I sincerely hope that’s true; time will only tell, I guess – but if you want my humble opinion? Four and a half months is not nearly long enough. The work is never ending, and should be constant henceforth.

 

As for myself: I intend to keep creating. I have several ideas as to how to spend my time here: what shows I may direct, what shows I may pen – and every single one of them is centered on inclusion. This city is brimming with misemployed potential; it is rich with BIPOC artists; powerhouse women; all shapes and sizes; and a wide array of LGBTQIA talent – all of whom have stories they are fervently dying to tell, but have lacked the proper forum in order to properly do so.

 

My mission is to fix that. Change is afoot.

 

The Vagina Monologues

September 22, 2020

 

Upon arriving back in Syracuse, I was asked to direct this iconic piece of theatre as a fundraiser for two amazing organizations: ACR Health & The Paul Robeson PAC. Being that I’m a man, I was of course trepidatious – but having loved the show since college, as well as the desire to spark change, I inevitably (and ecstatically) agreed. But with two firm conditions: I needed at least one female codirector, and the cast needed to be diverse. Thankfully, with the help of the brilliant Martikah Williams, I was able to secure both.

 

We had less than three weeks of rehearsals, no tech whatsoever, and a myriad of rules to follow in accordance with the city of Syracuse: masks were worn whenever the actors were off stage and/or not speaking; hand sanitizer was readily available; our actors and  audiences were spaced six feet apart; and the actors used their own personal windscreens when using the four microphones.

 

All in all, it was both a challenge and pleasure to create live theatre amidst a global pandemic. Likewise, it was a distinctive pleasure to help share these timely, powerful stories, especially as a man – and especially in such a time of unwavering loss and uncertainty. It is my sincere hope that Ms. Ensler’s next addition to this show is a piece surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.  

For more information about the show, click here.

 

Jordan Russell Westfall © 2020

Website designed by Lauren Sageer

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