I was wrong

  • December 12, 2016 11:56 am

As Michelangelo said during a time of explosive human evolution: “I am still learning.” That is what I am doing.

I’ve been wrong about my definition of my work. I have to be wrong because the times we live in are demanding that I am not only wrong but dangerously so.

Creative Campus Student Tash Nouri

I have always thought that The Global Theatre Project does not do political theatre. I was against that idea. I stood on the premise that we do social-awareness theatre – theatre that woke people up to our world reality and encouraged personal responsibility and action. I believed that politics were for the politicians. About that last sentence, I was wrong.

In this moment of human history we are our politics. We have created forms of government tied just closely enough to the will of the people that our responsibility is to ensure those ties are never severed but made stronger. However, if they are not made stronger by a conscious empathetic citizenry, if they are ties of fear and ignorance, then what our politicians and governments will become is a direct result of our lack of human development both individually and collectively.

The imperative is two-fold: 1) that we, as artists, now guide our communities toward a sense of inter-connectivity, creative and intellectual celebration and communal harmony. This is the necessary political action, protest if you will, that The Global Theatre Project is focused on. 2) that, as a US Not-for-profit cultural organization we recognize that cultural export is politics. And that it affects our lives back in our small towns and large cities because it effects our international relationships.

In 2009 I sat in the office of the Consul General of Tuscany with a project to connect US students and artists with the local community as a counter to the alcohol-binged evenings many of our young people participated in. She wasn’t interested in supporting this work. There was a time, prior to Ronald Reagan, when the United States had cultural centers around the world sharing our art and artists, our intellectual inquiries and discoveries with the hopes of demonstrating the value of a functioning democracy on the international community. Since Reagan those centers have been closed. And yet we still export our culture – through studio film, network television, corporate dominance and warfare. This perspective of our culture is not complete. And it is a danger to us.

We can not necessarily stop the political power machines around us from doing what they are doing…. because they are controlled by people who have lost their sense of connectivity to the planet and to other human beings. But we can, as political protest and necessity, strengthen our tools and our intention and become the social-political artist-activists that are desperately needed right now. We need to . . . , as my mentor and partner in The GTP Institute, Mack McCarter, says: “we need to grow healthy human beings.”

So here I want to say clearly that I was wrong. The Global Theatre Project does do political theatre. In fact, we are building an army to act on this political stage…. Creative Corps. Our first line of attack is the demonization of refugees and those in forced immigration with the project An Explorer’s Desire. Fear and hatred will never solve this issue. Our efforts to work in our communities and to export this project world-wide will hopefully demonstrate that.

Please join us #WeRCreativeCorps #ExplorersDesire

Who Do We Want To Be?

  • June 12, 2016 10:19 pm

I am proud to be a member of the theatre community. On broadway last night we celebrated not only the work of great artists reaching to the height of their creative capacity but we celebrated the expansion of the capacity of humanity to live and create and explore on this planet in peaceful community, respect and celebration of our immense and beautiful diversity.

James Corden

It is not ironic but sadly, in the times in which we live, horrifically appropriate that the Tony’s this particular year with the particular productions of the season occurred the very night of the terrorist shooting in Orlando. Because what it does is juxtapose the choice we have to make.

As Frank Langella quoted in his acceptance speech, when things such as this occur it either defines us, defeats us or makes us stronger. However, it is impossible to become stronger if we do not know who we want to be. And the arts allow us to see deeply into that question. To bravely and courageously open doors that in other avenues of life we may not be encouraged to open. And once we step into those rooms we find ourselves facing ‘the other’ armed with the capacity to know that they are us. Because they are human beings with stories to tell, hearts to open, eyes to see and ears to listen. And this is what a life engaged, or touched by the arts gives us. The tools for empathy. The tools for sanity. The tools for peacefully abiding together. The tools for knowing who we want to be.

We must be strong. And we must acknowledge that we are at a crux of human history where we have a choice to make. We now must consciously work to counter all the violence, all the hatred, all the inhumanity, all the cruelty, all the waste that is occurring in this world. That is our job. We have no other.

APTOPIX Nightclub Shooting Florida

If you sat still enough – even while watching the screen of the television – to feel the energy, the joy and yes Love present in the Beacon Theatre last night; if you listened to the testimonies given to community, to faith, to acceptance, to respect, to partnership, to collaboration, to individual growth, to compassion, leadership, responsibility — then  you would know those are the elements due to all of us. In the Beacon Theatre existed a model for our future. Just as at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando existed another type of model.

The choice is laid out. But the question remains. Who do we want to be? Those who join the community of the Beacon Theatre and expand in numbers so great that no physical space could hold us or those who live in fear as victims and perpetrators in an ongoing cycle of violence and hatred horrifically lived out at the Pulse? In Syria. In Israel. In Somalia. In Libya. In Afghanistan. . .

There will be a call to arms in these days. It has, of course, already begun. I have written before about the bravery required by us in these moments. I believe that the values of theatre assist in confronting the human condition. What I saw tonight on the Tony’s is an army with the true weaponry to save humanity.

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Did you?

 

 

Beginning The Conversation

  • December 30, 2015 11:01 am

Rare Steaks“An Explorer’s Desire” which we did in 2013 in Los Angeles and Florence, Italy was originally conceived to demonstrate that immigration is not a ‘local problem’ but a common issue filled with one deeply specific human story after another. There is no ‘wave’ of immigrants, but there are drops of individuals who are either forced or choose to migrate from their home and each carries with them every human emotion, every care, every fear regardless of their skin color, their language, sexuality or religion. When we see them as a wave we forget this. But when we listen and feel their individual journey’s we can see our own. This is what we wanted to demonstrate in 2013. This and the fact that the exploration of the world is a glorious thing — that meeting each other on the stage of this planet is a rare gift.

Now, in 2015, we have come to a point, yet again, in our history where immigration and the immigrant is demonized. And because of this I could not stand by silently. It seemed to me — a second generation American — that some of us were forgetting our history, and that others were allowing the manipulation of words to shortcut logical exploration and discourse.

So, clearly the right thing to do was to re-examine “An Explorer’s Desire” in order to respond to fear and hatred which are rising both in the United States and Europe as many of our neighbors from various and troubled lands seek shelter and kindness – seek a new home where they are safe.

I have always said, and I will again say it here, that The Global Theatre Project does not do political theatre – we do social theatre. We look at social issues and seek processes and approaches which help our artists, students and community members to celebrate the inter-connectivity of humanity.  To find the way to guide others toward remembering we are one human family. That the world as well as our very neighborhood streets function better when we engage on this level. However, I am pointedly choosing to explore this issue during an election year because many of our politicians are using immigration as a tool and this is threatening a social fabric I feel we, as a free people, can not forget. The tapestry of our history.

Throughout the coming months I will share the process with you: What we learn, what challenges we face, what individuals and groups we engage and what art and conversation is created.

Please stay in touch. At some point we will want to include you. Your story is important, your history, your journey — all of it is intertwined through the centuries to this very moment.

Happy New Year,

Bari

Because That’s What You Should Do Y’all

  • November 23, 2015 2:01 pm

For years I have been looking for a mentor for my work.  I always knew and believed that those who have gone ahead of us — walked the path, fought the dragons, built their armor, found their heart — were wanting to assist those of us who were still further behind them on our own journeys, eyeing their footprints while shaping our own. If we could just catch up enough to lightly tap them on the back, maybe they would know we were here in need, only strides behind them.

In September I was sitting at Yom Kippur services in Shreveport, Louisiana next to the man who is the mentor I’ve been seeking. I had been visiting to more deeply understand the work he laid down there twenty years ago which became Community Renewal International.  CRI is an organization which has been transforming communities through identifying and addressing a simple illness — the lack of caring for each other. An illness which leads to every issue we deal with in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, national and international communities.

We were sitting in the synagogue because – in my Northeast culturalization –  I thought it would be truly amazing to hear all the prayers in a southern drawl.  But as it turned out, after days of my ‘full immersion’ into the bible belt of the country – into wonderful homes and classrooms, and community rooms, meetings, gatherings and meals with amazing people – more than hearing a sound, I needed to feel the smallest bit of where I came from as a tiny respite. My ear was pleased for the southern drawls of the congregants wishing me ‘L’shanah Tova,” with that melodic regionalism but, ironically the prayers were said by their rabbi – a Northerner – who sounded exactly like me.

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My mentor is that melodic southern regionalism. He is all that it contains. I am a willing disciple of Mack McCarter…. who is among many things a former paster in Texas, a high school football player, a civil rights activist of the first order, and not at any point in his experience an artist.  If any one of us looks back at how we come to meet another, the road is filled with stories of madness and mayhem. So the question of how did I meet him of course is a long one which came from a thoughtful suggestion in an email and then a phone call, a meeting and then – as Mack likes to say – “Hammathahammata!”

He says it enough that I thought I would see if it actually meant anything. I assume that it must because Mack is an educated and self-educated man. He is someone who has studied societal and communal systems thoughtfully, his pastoral education and experience has made him mindful and sensitive to individuals and relationships, he is a powerful speaker and a champion for humanity.

Apparently Hamma or Hammath is Hebrew for ‘hot spring’ and in one particular case was related to those found near Tiberias (a city established in the first century CE). These particular springs were famous since antiquity for being curative. Near the springs was built a Synagogue from 286 to 337 CE. At the excavation sites one of the images found was a mosaic of Helios the sun god. And now I understand. “Hammathahammata!” is a called from the deep spring of healing to shine a light on our humanity.

That is what Mack does. That is his call to me through our work together. Both in our partnership, which will be shared in more detail as time goes by, and the mentorship I receive through his friendship and generosity of self.

When we sat together at B’nai Zion in Shreveport I felt a bit more at home with the rituals, the prayers and the northern sound. But Mack, who was so excited to join me, knew the people. Practically all of them. Because when the Ku Klux Klanner David Duke was running for governor of Louisiana in 1991 there was fear in the Jewish community of what would happen if Duke won office. Mack crossed the border of his deep Christian roots and went there every Saturday to sit with them during Shabbat services in solidarity and community. A shining sun drawing a cool long drink from the deep spring of humanity. One smiling hand clasp or greeting at a time.

Because that’s what you should do Y’all.

Not Able to be Re-educated

  • December 8, 2011 9:57 pm

Playwright Stefano Massini

“Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet.”

Stefano Massini, playwright of Act 1: A Stubborn Woman: a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovksaya sat down with Actress Carolina Gamini in Florence. Since the video is in Italian, Carolina & Bari translated it. For our Italian speakers, we’ll get you the video soon!

 

Q: What compelled you to write A Stubborn Woman?
SM: Simply, when I found out about her death, of which I knew absolutely nothing, the thing that struck me the most was that someone had decided to eliminated this
journalist’s voice so that nobody would hear about what she committed her life to
reporting. I thought, in my small way with my profession, that I would be able to
go against this plan by writing a theatrical piece that would increase the number
of people hearing the story and get to know the story of Anna Politkovskaya. As a
consequence I wrote this text to go against the plan of those that decided to silence and muffle her voice.

Q: Can you tell us something about some of your other works?
SM: Currently I am writing a text that is the story of a trio of women who are interpreted by the same actress and who changes her the role she is playing according to the light shifts. It is the story of three women: a Palestinian, an Israeli and a female soldier who find themselves living in the same situation, the same moment and who talk about one another. Other texts that have been on stage: an adaptation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the story of Van Gough when he was in the mental asylum, IL TRITTICO DELLE GABBIE which that takes place in a closed space allowing the audience to experience the internal life of three different inmates.

 

Florence performance last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Q: How did you become involved with The Global Theatre Project?
SM: I became involved when I was a part of the organization of Festival della Creatività in Florence and was put in touch with Bari Hochwald, the Artistic Director, through a mutual friend. After a long exchange of emails with her, I sent her the text on Anna Politkovskaya which she read the text and was moved by. So much so that she decided to work on it. I had an experience of working with the students from the Theatre Immersion Project with Bari here in Florence and from this, the possibility to stage the play in Los Angeles arose.

Q: Can you tell us something about the experience from last summer?
SM: It was a very particular experience for me, as it always is every time this text is approached. Usually theatrical texts have written characters. But this text, on the other hand was written as a very open text with no characters. There are just a flow of words that can be interpreted either as a monologue by an individual actor or by a chorus. For example I remember that also here in Italy it was staged by two actors, a male and a female, directed by me and they shared the role of Anna Politkovksaya and at the same time there was also a great actress, Ottavia Piccolo, who did the performance as a monologue. She continues to perform it this way. In Brussels an additional performance has been done with 5 actors. In Bavaria there were two actors. In Teatre d’Europe it was represented with 25 actors. So there are various ways of staging this text. I was also intrigued to see the way that The Global Theatre Project approached it last summer using both singular and choral voices.

Q: Did you like this approach?
SM: It was very successful and interesting for me to see how it worked in English. Because English is a very theatrical language and was very interesting to hear how it sounded in the English language. And the actors were very good.

Q: Why did you leave the text open in this way for interpretation?
SM: I didn’t want to limit it but wanted it to be open and free for any theatre artist to perform and interpret. This text is different from my other work. With this play, I have never controlled the environment of the presentation or given the rights to some people and not to others to perform the show. I want this text to be presented in any way possible so that Anna’s voice can be heard and appreciated by everyone.

Q: What struck you the most about Anna’s story?
SM: Simply her courage. We live in a period where each one of us, due to our extreme individualism, look toward ourselves too much of the time. And we completely forget the situations outside ourselves. We have just come out of an era where it is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. With that event ideologies have also fallen…. both the communist and anti-communist ideologies. Now we have entered into a moment with the collapse of the capitalist economy. It is very strong to see these people protesting in front of Wall Street. It is the collapse and breakdown of everything that had animated the 20th century ideologies. Ideologies that looked to taking care of what was not only individualist but collective. Including the working class, capitalism, economic growth, political and religious motivations and so on. Today we are witnessing a phenomenon which is completely opposite. We are witnessing the collapse of group ideologies and the rebirth of individual instinct. It is a selfish era that we are living in now.

While Anna Politkovskaya is exactly the opposite of all this. She lives for her cause in a post Soviet, post ideological

Florence last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Russia. In a Russia that no longer has an ideology that unites it. But where the most anarchic, diverse tendencies are enacted (so much so that a war is needed for uniting the country). And her life demonstrates the value of living for a cause greater than herself. I find this something which is totally against the norm and holds great value in the sharing of it.

Q: Do you think that art has a power in the world?
SM: Yes, the strongest power that exists. In the sense that the human being differentiates itself from other animals because he is capable of creating art. Which doesn’t mean that the magnificent dams built by beavers and the beehives of bees aren’t extraordinarily artistic, but the Sistine Chapel or the Pergola Theatre, where we are now, are testimonies of the genius of man. Art doesn’t only have the possibility of communicating. Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet. It is not politics, it is not economy, it is art that makes the difference.

I would like to also say something, which is that I have always been surprised by the translation of A Stubborn Woman, with the use of the word ‘stubborn’. The title is not exactly translated correctly. Because the title in Italian literally means ‘A woman not able to be re-educated’. But that doesn’t sound very good. That is what the title actually means, however.

Supporter Spotlight: The Italian Cultural Institute (IIC)

  • December 5, 2011 2:00 pm
Florentine Playwright Stefano Massini's play premieres this Sunday

Our supporters and partners are invaluable to the work of The Global Theatre Project and beyond. If we had a nickel for every wonderful deed or talent donated, there would be no need to fund-raise! From the very beginning, The Italian Cultural Institute offered their assistance, and we are grateful for the exposure to their…

Still Giving Thanks: Volunteers

  • November 30, 2011 5:23 pm
Lynzie Grey

At last count, we have 39 total volunteers for our Dec 11 event Especially Now: Create the World Together. One such amazing person is Lynzie Grey, who honors us with her photography on this project.  Lynzie already contributed an album from the first gathering of our ensemble, and soon you can view her latest production…

Our Team Gives Thanks

  • November 23, 2011 7:50 pm
A-picture-of-journalist-A-002

Often working on a show and involving yourself in other people’s stories causes artists to view their own life differently. I asked our team if they are thankful for anything specific after spending time on our rehearsals for the bilingual performance portion of Especially Now: Create the World Together. The replies are beyond inspiring.   -Cindy Marie…

“This is the power of art” -Amnesty International

  • November 18, 2011 12:21 pm

Bari Hochwald, President & Artistic Director 

When the opportunity arose, in the support of the Belarus Free Theatre, for us to take our model of theatrical international engagement and apply it to essential issues such as human rights and free speech, I knew that I wanted to expand the experience by involving an organization that I have respected for years. I am thankful that they immediately understood and embraced what we were doing back in February.  And now, with our upcoming project, we have the opportunity to deepen and expand that relationship in a variety of ways all in one evening.  I am deeply grateful for this and feel sure that, as time goes forward, we will be creating innovative and exciting events together that are creatively, intellectually and spiritually provocative and that engage not only our artists but our audience into a participatory experience such as we will be doing in Association with Amnesty International on December 11th.
 
We asked Amnesty International Representative Jessica Farley to share why she’s involved with The GTP.
 
Amnesty International

JF: Amnesty International (AI) was founded 50 years ago to speak on behalf of prisoners of conscience, those who have spoken out and been detained, tortured or killed for their political or personal beliefs. Anna Politkovskaya was a heroic human rights defender and a prisoner of conscience. Her courageous investigative journalism in Russia and Chechnya did what AI activists all hope to do, be a voice for the voiceless and hold people accountable for human rights abuses. It is for this reason she won the 2001 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. The Global Theatre Project uses artistic expression to draw awareness to human rights issues around the world, now on behalf of Anna Politkovskaya, and those of us at AI supports this important work on behalf of human rights and are excited about our relationship with The Global Theatre Project. 

Amnesty has maintained a strong relationship with artists because it is easy to make the link between creative expression and freedom of expression. I grew up studying theatre and became a member of AI when I was 14 years old. I am an artist and a human rights activist. So, I know theatre has the potential to create an experience that provides us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and live in the world. I love that The Global Theatre Project urges us to understand not only some of the darker human experiences that we must not forget, but also offers us the opportunity to be touched by the lives of incredibly courageous people.  

Q: How is Amnesty and The GTP’s work similar and how is it different?

JF: Amnesty and The GTP share underlying values. AI has over 3 million members in 150 countries. I believe most of our members consider themselves to be world citizens. Part of The GTP’s mission is to build and promote creative cross-cultural relationships. AI and The GTP advocate for human rights and global understanding with the participation of an international community. AI members and staff may spend more time writing letters and issuing reports whereas The GTP is primarily an artistic organization, but activism can take many different forms, though our vision for a more humane world is the same.

Q: Why is Anna Politkovskaya’s voice important to be heard?

JF: Amnesty International’s emblem is a glowing candle encased in barbed wire. This symbol represents those that shine a light for others in the darkness. Anna Politkovskaya was, and remains, a light for those in Russia and Chechnya. She sought the truth in the midst of a terrible war and then shared this truth with the world, knowingly risking her life. Human rights abuses are often justified by those who commit them, but Anna Politkovskaya reminds us that such abuses are never justifiable and should never be hidden. Her work is a stand for human dignity and reminds us to have the courage to speak out, even when governments or society would have us stay silent. Her voice reminds us that we are all responsible for each other and have a say in the kind of world we share.

Q: How did you feel after the first read-through of the script?

a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya by Stefano Massini

JF: I felt both excited to be part of this project and saddened by the reality exposed. I have heard many stories about human rights abuses, often first-hand. It is never easy. The script is moving and evocative. It gives us a glimpse of what Anna Politkovskaya’s life was like, what she discovered and the challenges she faced. This is the power of art. It brings things to life. The script brings Anna Politkovskaya to life along with those who were victims in the war between Russia and Chechnya; this is difficult to experience, but I feel it makes us better people.

Q: What about the panel interests you the most?

JF: We live in strange times. Amnesty has worked on many human rights abuses in the USA and abroad. However, we have the freedom to host a panel on human rights, and not everyone does. I am interested in the expert voices on the panel and the diverse perspectives they will bring to this discussion about freedom. I am interested to hear the questions from the audience because I imagine everyone attending will be part of a community interested in expression and humanity. 

Q: Can you please describe an Amnesty Action?

JF: Amnesty members spend a lot of time writing to oppressive governments and authorities who are able to directly make a difference for those suffering human rights abuses. We write on behalf of specific individuals or groups advocating for human rights to be upheld. It might be hard to imagine that such action would have an impact, but it does. Prisoners are often released or we receive information that their treatment has improved. We keep in touch with many former prisoners of conscience and they tell us our support gave them hope when they were alone in a cell or that their interrogators specifically mentioned calls, letters and campaigns by Amnesty International before their release. Our work shows human rights abusers that the world is watching. 

Our Amnesty action on December 11th will be for Majid Tavakkoli. Majid was studying ship building in Iran when he was imprisoned for giving a speech at his university criticizing the Iranian government in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. His charges included “participating in an illegal gathering” and “insulting officials”. He has been sentenced to serve more than eight years in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience who was jailed simply for expressing his opinion. Majid will be part of our Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon where we will join thousand of people around the world and call on the Iranian government to uphold human rights and free Majid Tavakkoli.

The Fiddler

  • November 13, 2011 10:02 am

Last night I went to see my friend’s daughter play Golda in a high school production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’   This play was first performed the year I was born.  And, of course, I have seen many incarnations of it since.  I have always loved this piece but last night there were a few things that struck me about the entire experience.

The first was the energy in the lobby when I entered.  The excitement, the joy, the sense of expectation.  These are feelings and expressions so rarely experienced in professional theatre.  It was thrilling to be within this moment just as a play was about to be shared.

But it was the play itself that really struck me.  Many of us know the story.  It takes place in a small village in Tsarist Russia where Jewish and non-Jewish Russians learn somehow to live with tolerance of one another until forces push them into positions from which they can’t return.  Traditions are threatened, lives change, major societal changes and power struggle are in the background of people simply trying to live their lives.  The Jews simply wish the world to do what it will and leave them to their peace.  But the world has other plans for them.  And they are forced to abandon their lives as they have known it for centuries and move from their home into the great unknown of a changing world.

This is likely not the way I would have explained the story when I first saw it.  I would have seen a piece about Tevye and his 5 daughters, the shifting relationships with the three eldest as they express and follow love for their future husbands, and Tevye’s faith and love of a god who he personally knows and loves in his own, humorous way.  I never would have felt so strongly, as I did last night, that this story of Fiddler on the Roof is a story about humanity, not simply Jewish identity and tradition.  And that its narrative is continual and current.  Expressed in many languages and in many cultural/religious scenarios even as I write this. 

 When I thought about a particular scene I am directing called ‘Chechnya’ from ‘A Stubborn Woman: a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya,’ which we are about to present, I was struck by the similarities, although of course presented in a musical-theatre fashion, to what ‘Chechnya’ also speaks to.  The ‘clearing of the Russian woods’ of the ‘blacks’ (as the Russians referred to the Caucasian Muslim Chechens).  A continual movement of people from land mass to land mass, or a destruction of them entirely.  There is the importance of dehumanization in order to do this.  Either dehumanization of ‘the other’ or dehumanization of one’s self as is demonstrated by the Constable’s insistence to Tevye that he has ‘no choice.’  Which led my thoughts to the Syrian military pressured to shoot into crowds of unarmed protesters or suffer death themselves at the hands of their superiors.

Although life is not a musical, Fiddler on the Roof became for me a powerful statement of how significant theatre can be in the depiction of the human evolutionary progression.  Is there any people who have no suffering in their background?  No moment of struggle for survival, or historic circumstance with which they have to defend their right to exist on this planet?

Tevye is, of course,  followed by his Fiddler…. his ‘Jewish soul’ who can not become a separate part from his suffering.  But who can withstand the test of time and cruelty of humanity.  The music continues…. even as a whisper in the background of the chaos we create against one another.  It continues as a memory and as a promise.  To us all.

I am deeply grateful I saw this production last night.  It has informed me of two things.  One, that we as professional theatre artists must continue to find ways to create theatrical events which people are as thrilled to be at as parents and friends are at a high school production.  And two, it confirmed for me that my presentation of ‘A Stubborn Woman: a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya,’ must have its own ‘Fiddler’….. its line note of hope to follow us both into the darkness and lead us out of it into the light.