Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John Freedman Wins Internationalists' First Annual Playwriting Contest

Dancing, Not Dead is a play about the price of truth and the cost to those who seek to own it. Ellen and her mother return from Alexander’s funeral. Ellen is broken, wondering why her father has killed himself. In contrast, her mother is buoyant, recollecting memories of her favorite ballerina. Petty banter reveals a deep conflict between the two, as well as with the world they inhabit. In this family, no one backs down - they consider this "being strong." But when does strength cross the line from constructive to destructive?

Writer John Freedman is a theatrical pioneer who has always sought to further the understanding of people of different cultures, and to explore those territories where understanding is virtually impossible. His particular interest lies in the gray areas where consensus does not happen, and how, as human beings, we respond to that. As a boy who grew up during the Cold War, and an American who has resided in Russia since before the collapse of the Soviet Union, John’s unique experiences have shaped his appreciation for the difficulties that nations and individuals have in overcoming habit, instinct, prejudice and tradition.

His play, Dancing, Not Dead is a direct response to what he’s seen occur in the world political arena in the last decade – the use of lies to further one’s agenda; the refusal of people and nations to pause and reflect; the belief that shouting louder and hitting harder is enough to make a wrong right; the conviction that appearances of youth and beauty are substantive; the danger that fascism will arise almost out of nothing.

Dancing, Not Dead is also a response to what he sees happening to individuals whose fate it is to live in such times – we have become self-defensive, abusive and manipulative; we worship before the god of youth; we are slaves to our dreams, rather than masters of them; we are lacking in trust and bereft of the talent to love or be loved. Might this be another explanation for fascism? Is fascism only a political phenomenon, or is it possible that it grows out of our most intimate, personal relationships?

Whether the answer to these questions is yes, no or maybe, the one constant that affects us all at every moment is the impulse and the need for love. What role do the human emotions of forgiveness, generosity of spirit and love play in the contemporary world we inhabit? Dancing, Not Dead does not answer the questions raised here, but poses them in a series of ways. No doubt, every question raised by this play, as well as every response it might prompt, will be seen in a different light, depending upon the culture in which it is approached, and that is why, whether through the genre of essay, criticism, translation or play script, John Freedman’s work truly exemplifies The Internationalists’ spirit.


Theatre should encourage us to make discoveries. It should disturb us. Rouse us. Irritate us. Make us realize what sort of world we live in.”

- John Freedman in ‘Russia Now’; 3 June 2009

John Freedman is an American writer who has lived in Moscow for over 20 years. He was born and raised in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. In 1980, just after graduating with a B.A. degree in Russian language and literature at U.C. Irvine, John attended a production of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide at Trinity Rep, which sowed the seed for his future. He completed a master’s degree in 1983 at George Washington University, and in 1988, while conducting research for his doctorate, he travelled to Moscow. What unfolded was a love story to rival all the classics he was studying: the following year he married the Russian actress, Oksana Mysina.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard, John moved to Russia where he has been the chief theatre critic at The Moscow Times since 1992, a monthly columnist for Plays International since 1994, and has written or edited and translated nine books about Russian drama. He has translated over three dozen Russian plays that have been performed in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and England, as well as published in numerous anthologies and journals. In 2006 under the general title of “Provoking Theater” he made two documentaries for Russia Today, an English-language, international Russian television company. He has been a partner of Philip Arnoult’s Center for International Theatre Development since 2000. Since 2001, John has also unofficially served as a Jack-of-All-Trades in the founding and running of his wife’s theater, the Oksana Mysina Theatrical Brotherhood. In 2010, Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, MA., produced a play, The Firebird, that John co-wrote with Jennifer Johnson and the theatre’s cast.