All posts by Anisa George

JANUARY 26TH 2021: Don’t Knock Survival

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DON’T KNOCK SURVIVAL: When I was a freshman in college, on the verge of dropping out, a professor trying to spur me on said, “Don’t worry, you’ll survive the year.”

“I don’t want to survive. I want to succeed.” I retorted earnestly, and he laughed. He was one of those old-school anthropologists who had spent a lot of time in Africa studying initiation ceremonies and I could tell he was pretty unimpressed by my freshman-level trials.

“Don’t knock survival,” he said, and thus concluded our office visit. This year these three words have been a kind of mantra for me. How about you? What’s kept you steady?

Mostly, I’ve been taking care of the two sweetums pictured up above; two real-world Looney Tunes that always have some mischief to attend to. I have to give a shout out to my intrepid co-parents Dan Rothenberg and Whitney Peeling who have accompanied me in dealing with the daily transition-wars and endless appeals for more candy while holding down full-time jobs. Only because of their next-level parenting skills have I managed to carve away a little space for some new creative endeavors I’d like to share with you now.

WRITING: I’ve been hammering away at some creative non-fiction and a few renegade poems. A couple of publications have been kind enough to even print a few pieces. I miss collaborative ensemble theater awfully some days, but I gotta say, writing in solitude has got some perks. Two of the three pieces are not online, but if you’re willing to invest in ye old printed word you can find them through these links…

The American Poetry Review: Vol 49 #5
The Iowa Review
Hopper Magazine

TEACHING: I’m offering a short course in The Ecological Theater through the School of Embodied Poetics: MARCH 24th-April 14th. The course will survey a broad range of artists from various artistic backgrounds who put the non-human world at the center of their practice.

I also continue to do Forest Therapy walks throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. At the moment walks are virtual, but we are hoping to return to ones that are in-person in the spring.

If you’ve made it this far here’s a song by the unsurpassable Bengsons to keep you going.

-Anisa

April 24th, 2020: Being Together & Apart

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  – John Muir

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Hello Friends. How are you doing out there? Are you finding ways to stay steady and healthy? Are there practices, rituals, or tactics you’ve developed to feel a sense of abundance over scarcity; freedom within your confinement; joy alongside fear and anxiety?

I thought when physical distancing became enforced that my social sojourns in the woods would have to come to an end, and, like the rest of the world, went virtual, in what I thought would be a piss poor version of the real forest therapy deal. The initial virtual versions of my forest therapy walks were an attempt to follow through on some pre-pandemic commitments, but to my great surprise my first online experience was one of the most memorable nature connections I’ve ever had. It included six walkers who called in from Mexico, England, Germany, Sweden, and the United States. They spent two hours breathing with me and gazing out at the greater world. It was wild to hear Mexican ocean waves and Scandinavian winds in the same soundscape, to simultaneous wander by the refugee camps of Berlin and the cherry blossoms on the National Mall. For the first time, I felt a sense of the planet as a single organism, expressing itself in innumerable, immutable iteration. My own species, the narrator, was no longer on the God mic, but now quiet, one step removed, as if observing from the wings, as the beauty of spring awakening took center stage. This is all a very difficult thing to express in words, and is much easier felt through the senses, so I’ve decided to keep hosting these walks online as long as physical distancing continues. I’d love to invite you to join me and to add your chapter of the world, along with your insights. Perhaps we might all begin to understand together a little something about what it means to be alive in this moment.

Hope to see some of you soon. With much love! – Anisa

August 6th, 2019: Forest Therapy

“To the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself.” – William Blake 

Hello Friends,

         It’s been awhile since I sent out a newsletter like this, and it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. Perhaps with my name, which comes from “The Hidden Words” of Baha’u’llah. “The Tree of Anisa” (شجره انیسا) is a metaphorical tree from Baha’i literature which stretches between earth and heaven, as well as the title of a play my parents created the year I was born. That’s my dad on the left being the tree. (Nice extension dad).

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Like the words C. G. Jung wrote on his tombstone, “First, man of the earth, terrestrial. Second, man of the sky celestial” – the tree of Anisa bridges the animal and spiritual dimensions of human nature, creating an integrated habitat within which we can thrive. In many ways, trees have always been a part of my story. Some of you planted over six hundred saplings with me at Little Pond this past spring. And those of you who know my theater work, will be familiar with my habit of dragging problematic amounts of organic material indoors. Throughout a number of plays I wove furniture out of wild vines, built walls with firewood, and embroidered costumes with leaves and fur. Perhaps it’s inevitable then, that I should eventually locate my work to the forest, where trees abound and do not require interacting with UHAUL or gallons of Rosco Flamex spray.

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       Last year I discovered a Japanese-based practice called Shin-rin-yoku (often translated as Forest Bathing) and am currently in training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide through the Association of Forest and Nature Therapy (ANFT). At its most basic level, forest therapy is a method of bringing people into forest environments so that they can form their own restorative relationship with the environment in which humans evolved. The guide helps individuals to slow down and to access the essential resources available to them within the environment. But to be honest, a lot of the benefits I have personally received from this practice go beyond pharmaceutical effects. A forest therapy walk has to be directly experienced to be understood. I hope you will join me for a taste.

Interview with Fringe Arts

Anisa George Plumbs the Darker Side of Super-fandom

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Anisa George – Founder and Artistic Director of the Philadelphia-based company George & Co – is no stranger to the power of art.  She grew up performing with her parents’ theater company, Touchstone Theater, and her short films and plays have traveled the world.  In Holden, coming to FringeArts October 8-17, she explores the darker side of artistic impact.  Salinger’s obsessed super-fans have taken up residence in his writing bunker, dead-set on convincing him to publish again.  As the play unfolds and violent impulses are revealed, their mission spirals into a bonfire of longing and delusion.  We caught up with Anisa earlier this year, before Holden premiered in New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival in New York City, to ask her what inspired her to create this dark and extraordinary play.

FA:  Why is the title Holden? Where were you when you thought of it?

AG: Holden comes from Holden Caulfield, as in the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. Not that the play is so much about Holden, as it is about a number of people who were obsessed with him, and believed that they were him. Starting with Salinger himself, who said that if Catcher was ever adapted into a play or film he’d have to play Holden himself, but he’d never do that because he feared “that would make Holden unhappy”. I don’t know where exactly I was when I thought of it, but it’s been called that since the very beginning of the piece’s development. We’ve never wavered.

FA: What’s the world of the piece? Both literally (as in the set/setting) and the “world” the characters inhabit mentally.

AG: Well those two things go hand in hand, because the world of the piece is very much a mental space and not a literal space. I mean, on one level you could say it takes place in Salinger’s writing bunker, which he built for himself in Cornish, NH – but our bunker is very much a bunker of the mind.

FA: How much are you playing off the book, and how so?

AG: We’re not quoting the book at all, nor are we playing characters from the book. That would be highly illegal, and a sure way of insuring that our play had no future. The book basically changed the lives of many of our characters, and that gave us a point-of-view when we were creating them. It was like a dowsing rod in sourcing the wellspring of their rages and their obsessions.

Holden_Jaime Maseda _photo by plate3.com IMG_7912

FA: What led you to be interested in the obsessed fan, particularly the literary obsessed, who seem to be their own brand of weird?

AG:  Yeah, it’s a very specific brand of weird, but I think as an artist they appeal to me because their lives testify to the power of art, even if it’s a negative, corrosive kind of power. We’re much busier in our culture talking about the transformative power of art in a positive sense, but transformation can look destructive as well, and I’ve always been interested in people’s shifting relationship to authoring art with that kind of negative potential. Like the fact that Jonathan Demme didn’t want to direct the sequel to The Silence of The Lambs after he had kids. It’s very inspiring to me that acts of fiction can feel so consequential – that art is not just for inspiring dinner conversations, but can bound into the world like a slobbering beast.

FA: What are you (or what do you think you will be) fine-tuning in the latter parts of putting the show together?

AG: Well, we’re making changes all day every day right now. Changes that feel both big and small. I think the basic world of the piece, and the constellation of characters that exist within it, will remain the same – but because it’s such an unconventional world – that dwells within this impossible time and place that is both real and psychological – clarifying the logic of the words and actions of our characters is very complex. Most of what they do and say needs to mean two or three things simultaneously. We’re anchored to real history, but we’re not making a historical drama. We spend a lot of time sifting through possible layers of interpretation, and every time we show the piece to some new people more layers emerge and have to be integrated.

Thank you Anisa!  Can’t wait!

Directing My Dad

Dad, rehearsal

Back in July of 2014, I started working on a new piece I was calling HOLDEN. At that point it was going to be about three major assassinations of the 1980’s that were linked to the novel The Catcher in the Rye. As I was gathering together a group of collaborators and co-conspirators to join me in the workshop, my father – a theater artist himself – started getting curious. Curious in the way where it was obvious he wanted in. He loves Catcher more than most people I know. He told me once that there was a time in his twenties when he was pretty set on killing himself, and that Catcher was one of the novels that kept him from the brink.  One day he even said, “You know what I think your play needs? An older Holden.” And of course, my first reaction, was “No. No. No. Absolutely not.”

My dad is one of the founding members of Touchstone Theatre, an ensemble theater company based in Bethlehem, PA, and both my brother and I spent the majority of our childhood watching him work or working with him. The thought of us working together always propels me back to some dark touring days and an awkward adolescence I never wish to relive. But somehow the thought of “an older Holden” took root in me. Maybe this older Holden was the original creator of Holden himself – the hermetic, and inimitable J.D. Salinger.

That first July we worked on the project, I invited my dad to come down for one rehearsal, and right away there felt like there was something important in the space – a kind of dramatic backbone we could build the piece around. By the time we had reached the second workshop in March, 2015 I had written a draft and it looked like some kind of incarnation of an older Holden was going to play a pretty integral part.

Today, in regards to the question, “How’s HOLDEN going?”, or “How’s HOLDEN different?”,  or even “How are you?” –  the answer “I’M DIRECTING MY DAD!” has been right there ready to leap out at anybody who asked. At some point it occurred to me that, before this show was done, it would be good to corral us both into an audio booth and squeeze a good hour long confession out of both of us. But if that was the case, I was probably going to have to hogtie the dialogue myself. And so I did. Here it goes – 75 minutes between my dad and I in a South Philly closet (it was the quietest place we could find).