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The People in the Picture

Originally published on, June 1, 2020

Throughout my life I have found myself wondering: What if we’re just not cut out to be tolerant? What if it’s not in our nature to get along? What if the truth is that we naturally connect to our own people, and disassociate from anyone who belongs to a different group? Isn’t that a pretty dominant tendency in the world?

Don’t most people marry within their own ethnic group, and oftentimes even socialize and work within their own ethnic groups? Don’t we often live in neighborhoods where most of the people are similar to us? Aren’t we automatically less trustful of strangers? The list can go on forever… So what if that’s just the way people are made? What if we are just fooling ourselves?

I once played in a musical called “The People in the Picture”, written by Iris Rainer Dart. We played Jews. Late 1930s. Poland.

The Holocaust.

During the second act, we had to wear those infamous badges with Jewish stars on our arms, that denoted who we were. I remember the day the costume designer walked into the dressing room and passed them out. I was staring, and every hair in my body was stiff and standing on end. I didn’t take it right away. Seriously?!? MY GREAT AUNTS AND UNCLES HAD TO WEAR THESE THINGS! JUST BEFORE THEY WERE MARCHED OUT TO THE WOODS AND SHOT! I wanted to kill the person that made me have to wear this thing, that even dared to think up the idea. I wanted to destroy, to tear, to scream, to make an end of this world before I had to put on that cursed badge. I held it and stared at it for a pretty long time. I had to figure out a way to force it on (or quit the play).

Ultimately, I knew that the circumstances were now different. Right? The year was 2018. Times have changed… Now… as a performer… Maybe I will be turning this into a message?

I learned to wear my badge in a combination of pride… acceptance… and routine. On the stage, one show followed another. I had other things to focus on. The crowd and the jokes and the work I had to do drew me away. I got used to everything. I went back to my meandering questions about whether there is ultimately no real way out of this… and maybe we are just separate and discerning in our nature. We stick to our own kind. We see “us” as “us”, and “them” as “them”. Maybe that’s just the truth.

Just as this thought passed through my mind and slowed down for a pirouette, I put down my flute and reached for my clarinet. My eyes glanced over to see what I was doing, and there it was, on my arm: The Badge. It was staring at me, and screaming. It was screaming so loud I thought the play would come to a full stop. And what it said was:

“Does this feel like the truth to you?”

The photo in this article is the original musicians from the play: Aharon Wheels Bolsta, Thomas Tomasello, Andrew Lawrence, Kymber Gillen, Don Bosco, and myself.

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