Does a mask only hide us, or can it actually allow us to reveal who we truly are? This was a question that arose for me as we discussed a poem titled “Life While-You-Wait” by Wislawa Szymborska. The poem starts with:
Performance without rehearsal.
As a musician, my initial interpretation was that of a musical performance. But as I continued to read the lines:
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play is all about.
Of course, I connected it to Shakespeare’s famous lines “All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This idea of life as an improvised play that we are all playing a role in, is something I’ve connected to since I was young. As a musician who prefers an improvisational performance over one that is rehearsed, I realized it’s much easier to improvise with music than in a play. This was brought to life for us by our guest speaker who joined us today, the well known French comic book artist and animator Jul. Among many other things, Jul is currently writing and creating an enormously successful and popular animated series here in France called Lucky Luke, which was known by most of the non-westerners here at Culturistan. Jul also had worked many years at Charlie Hebdo and many other projects.
He shared his unique approach to humor where no subject or topic is off limits. He felt comedy is the best tool to neutralize issues that would be considered taboo to most. Hearing about his process of creating his work was inspiring as well as absolutely hilarious. It was such a nice respite from our deep philosophical and introspective discussions we’ve been engaging in here.
One of our readings in preparation for Culturistan was the Greek tragedy Antigone. Not something anyone would consider having any comic overtones. But Jul showed us differently. We were broken up into groups of two or three and given about thirty minutes to create a skit as a contemporary comedy. Jul gave us each theme that was, of course, hilarious and sent us on our way to write and then ultimately perform it for the rest of the group. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be pursuing any acting gigs anytime soon! But it was nice getting out of my comfort zone and to be reminded not to take it all too seriously. And as the last stanza of the poem states:
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premier.
And whatever I do will be forever what I’ve done.