Episode 28: Shakespeare, Education, and Tolerance

In our first episode of the 2018-19 academic year, we sit down with Michael Bahr, the Director of Education Programs at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. How do the messages of the plays, that are hundreds of years old, play into our current world? Why do we need the arts in our lives?

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hello again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University, in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined in-studio today by Scott. President, it's great to see you.

Scott Wyatt: Well it's great to see you and it's a terrific day to be here.

Meredith: If Cedar City is known for anything aside from the red rock around us and the National Parks and a rather consistent wind, it would probably be the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Wyatt: Utah's only Tony Award winning theater.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Which is a pretty remarkable commendation for a little, rural southern Utah town.

Wyatt: [Laughs] That's right. And it's part of Southern Utah University, so we get to be involved in it which makes it all the better for us.

Meredith: And we're going to talk about the Utah Shakespeare Festival and their summer season that's currently underway, but, within the framework as we always do, is a solution for higher education—the framework of tolerance. So, would you introduce our guest?

Wyatt: Yes, we have Michael Bahr. Michael, welcome.

Michael Bahr: Hey, how are you?

Wyatt: Terrific. So, Michael is the Director of Education Programs, the education director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Bahr: Correct.

Wyatt: Which means that you spend your life educating people.

Bahr: I do. I love, as you know, playing in the classroom, playing basically on the stages, playing everywhere. In fact, I have an acronym—play—performance learning for active youth. It's the best way to us to learn is through play. That's how we learned as babies and that's how we learn now, and I actually think in regards to Shakespeare, it's how we learn as well. The plays teach us things.

Wyatt: Playing and watching people play.

Bahr: That's correct, yep.

Wyatt: It's a great way to learn.

Bahr: Yeah. Hamlett, when he's trying to catch the conscience of the king when he's trying to see whether or not his uncle is guilty or not, he says "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." But he also talks about holding the mirror up to nature so that we can actually see ourselves. And that, for me, is what…I mean, that's the definition of theater. We're seeing ourselves upon the stage and seeing us created there. So how wonderful that we get to have this conversation, not only about the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but about…

Wyatt: About some of the themes for the year.

Bahr: Yeah, yeah.

Wyatt: So, this is an interesting way to look at it—that a play holds a mirror up to us.

Bahr: Mhmm.

Wyatt: If it didn't, it wouldn't seem as relevant.

Bahr: Correct.

Wyatt: And if it didn't, it wouldn't last hundreds of years.

Bahr: We're looking at plays that are 400 years old and are still relevant today. And that's why we weep, it's why we laugh, and we could just jump right into the plays that we're doing this…I mean, this season in particular was intentionally designed to talk about tolerance, to talk about civility, how we relate to one another. I like to use the term, and we just had a scholar's conference where this was the theme, and we called it, "Shakespeare and the Other." How do we look at those that are different? Or when we are excluded within a group, and every single play—including our non-Shakespeare plays—had to do with that same type of theme.

Wyatt: It's the same topic. And when we talk about tolerance, it's more than just tolerating.

Bahr: [Laughs] Yeah.

Wyatt: And we use the word tolerance because it's so much a part of our language.

Bahr: But I'm not sure that…do you like the word "tolerance"? Because it's like rather than realizing that…let me use a play. So, you've got Merry Wives of Windsor, right? If you tolerate someone, they're just kind of sitting there, as opposed to including…

Wyatt: Including.

Bahr: And you becoming bigger and better because of this person being in the room with you.

Wyatt: Yeah, and I've…these are not my words and they're not the right words, but they're close. I'm paraphrasing, of course. "Tolerance is like inviting somebody to the party,"

Bahr: Right.

Wyatt: "…and inclusion is asking them to dance."

Bahr: [Laughs] That's right.

Wyatt: So, the fact that we're going to tolerate somebody isn't as good as including them.

Bahr: Exactly.

Wyatt: But, nevertheless, tolerance is a word that we associate with. We need to have more tolerance, and we need to be less intolerant.

Bahr: So, for me…correct. The act of including actually makes the art better. When you set up a rehearsal room and you invite somebody into the rehearsal process that is a voice you haven't necessarily heard before, the work that goes on stage is going to be better because the ideas are going to be greater. Does that make sense?

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Bahr: So, particularly in this year, I'm going to talk about Merchant in Venice. Merchant in Venice is a play that was very, very popular, it was one of the first plays produced actually in America long ago, 1600s, and then, as we as a country became more conscious about what's happening within that play—you've got a character, Shylock, who Shakespeare wrote with a brushstroke of humanity. Christopher Marlowe also wrote a play about a Jewish character in a very negative light. Shylock, you can see the shades of humanity in him which allows him to say, "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands? And feelings?" So, you've got this Jewish character whose abused through it and, as we perform it today, it's sometimes uncomfortable for our audiences to see what happens at the end of that play. I mean, he's forced to convert, they say, "We'll give you half of your money back, but you'll have to convert and become a Christian." And we kind of rankle as a modern audience, "How do they deal with that?" So, it's opened up really beautiful conversations in our seminar groves and post-show, our Thunder Bard program where we invite a lot of our new, incoming freshman to see it, a lot of the classes want to see that play so that they can open up and talk about that.

Wyatt: So, let's make sure that we know what we're talking about. What you're saying is, is that we have this play, Merry Wives, prior to the play…

Bahr: Merry Wives or Merchant of Venice, what did I say?

Wyatt: Oh, Merchant of Venice, right.

Bahr: But we're doing Merry Wives too, which also deals with an "other" in a different way, yeah.

Wyatt: That's why I said it wrong. So, prior to the play, there's a seminar. It's kind of an introductory…not really a seminar, but an introduction.

Bahr: An orientation.

Wyatt: Orientation. And then the next morning after it's done, then there's a seminar.

Bahr: Correct.

Wyatt: Which goes for about an hour, doesn't it?

Bahr: Mhmm, yep.

Wyatt: Where everybody gets to sit around and talk about what happened in the paly.

Bahr: Right.

Wyatt: That's one of the things that makes the Utah Shakespeare Festival so spectacular, why we have people coming here from Washington, D.C. and Florida and all over. It's because if you go see a play somewhere else, they don't have this orientation and then the next morning they don't have this seminar.

Bahr: Can I tell you, this literally happened this morning. I was running the seminar this morning, and this couple came up to me and they said, "WE loved that show last night, but we were so disturbed that we couldn't go to bed. We kept talking about it and we are so glad we were about to come this morning and talk to other people about what this play made us think about. And that this specific issues—this play is closing—but the specific issue they talked about is, Melinda Pfundstein, our director, the play in Shakespeare's day ends with this kind of wonderful, comic ending where Bassanio is able to marry who he wants to marry, Gratiano is able to marry who he's supposed to marry, and they just kind of laugh and dance and it's a fun little ending. They exchange rings and…it's a comedy. And at the same time, literally happening simultaneously while these jokes are being told, up on the balcony, you see these two people of the law come out and start to do a forced conversion for Shylock while that is going on simultaneously. And you're laughing and then you look up and you see what's happening up there, and you go, "Oh, that is happening at the expense of this. This would not be happening if this forced conversion wasn't happening." And the patrons were just abuzz talking about, "This is like the crusades." "This is like wow, how does that make us feel?" "What about the daughter, Jessica?" Now I'm getting into the more intricate parts of it, but it was just thrilling watching the audience just pop about what…hearing a line in Shakespeare's play, see if this line sounds familiar where the Christian characters are saying, "We don't like Shylock, but we like Jessica because she's pretty and it looks like she can be a Christian, so we'll let her be a Christian. Again, heavy, heavy things, and this was written 400 years ago. I mean, Shakespeare is writing this 400 years ago and kind of putting those issues out there. I don't think it matters, the play means nothing, unless you talk about it and start to process it and see how that kind of makes you feel and rankle. One of the patrons also said this morning that at the end of the show, they wanted to clap because that was the appropriate thing to do but they felt like weeping because of what they saw there on stage. And these are humans. Again, holding the mirror up to nature.

Wyatt: So, this play was written about 400 years ago.

Bahr: Mhmm.

Wyatt: It looks to me like we've pretty much solved the intolerance issues.

Bahr: Oh, it's done. We've solved it. Isn't that nice?

[All laugh]

Meredith: One of the things I do every year is I…

Wyatt: Not a concern anymore.

Meredith:...I go to Los Angeles and conduct music for services at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, and have done so for…this is my 32nd year now, and one of the most moving moments of the Yom Kippur service is when the congregants engage in a prayer that essentially says, "Any vows that we were forced to take during the year, we are released from."

Bahr: Wow, wow.

Wyatt: So, it dates back to that time of the Crusades and other times of forced conversion where folks who were forced, against their will, under threat of death to convert to something else or they were threatened to say something or threatened that they had to do something or be killed, could still maintain good status in the rule and law of Judaism. That's always one of the most moving parts of that ceremony and I'm always reminded of that with the Shylock character.

Bahr: Within this show.

Meredith: Yeah.

Bahr: It's an interesting show, too, because it's not just the Jewish/Christian relationship that's discussed, but as Portia is trying to find a husband, her husband has to be a rich man and has to be a wealthy man and deserve her. And her father, before he passes away, he sets up this test and he said, "Before you are married, you have to come, and they have to select the right box" essentially. They call it a casket in the show, but the right box. So, there's a gold, a sliver, and a lead, and we see this test of these suitors that come in. And the first suitor you see is a suitor from Morocco. Now, way back in 1982 or 1983, I saw Benjamin Bratt, the actor, Benjamin Bratt, perform that scene—he's a Hispanic actor—he came in, and it's generally, even back in Shakespeare's day, performed in a quite comic fashion. He comes in quite full of himself and he chooses gold to get there, swings a scimitar around and whatever Shakespeare thought of the Moroccans, let's say it that way. And then you have the Prince of Arragon who comes in and he's also full of himself, and then Bassanio comes in. So that's the trope, that's the story. This year, as I was watching, I went, "Oh, wow. They've cast, Jamil, a man of Arabic descent, to play the Prince of Morocco." And I thought, "Wow, how does that feel?" And he said, "Oh, it's not the first time. I've been cast as the Prince or Morocco before." And then when he plays it, it was not comic. It was not "schtick-y" I thought, "Ah, how interesting that would have been to be in the rehearsal room where you actually have…" And I said, "Why did you choose not to do this comically, but instead, seriously." And the said, "Because the text says that he's a fine, upstanding man. Why do we have to play this in this comic…" And I think that's a perfect example of how inclusion within the room suddenly…you know, it's easy for me as a Caucasian of Scottish and German descent, to say, "Hey, I want this comic Moroccan." But for a man of Saudi-Arabian descent to walk in and say, "This is a noble man who really wants the hand of Portia. And these lines he's saying, he really wants this and I'm going to play that." Then that allowed me to see, "Wow, I never thought of that." And you saw how he informed—again, not tolerance, inclusion—allowing an Arab to come in and play that role suddenly gives us a different and informs the work in a different way.

Wyatt: Yeah. Just having more people in the room when we're doing the conversation.

Bahr: Yep.

Wyatt: Or putting together the play and stuff.

Bahr: Yeah, putting together the ensemble and ensuring that every voice in the room should have that…and an audience is the same way. People have very different reactions. Merchant of Venice when the tables are turned on Shylock, because he is also, at times, he's painted as a villain because, you know, "My daughter, my XXX (15:51)" and "Where is all my money? Where is all my money?" The term "Shylock", the term, "Jew" has been associated with, because of the strength and the negative stereotypes that come out of this show. So within the trial, when all of the sudden the tables are turned on him and Gratiano starts yelling things, audiences will start to laugh when they see him being put back in his place, because that's the way that Shakespeare designed it, but I've found that modern audiences laugh in uncomfortableness but begin to think a little more about what's happening on stage because of modern influences. Again, it's telling, I think.

Wyatt: Well, this is one view of this and one of the plays in the season of which there are many.

Bahr: We also have Othello which is fairly obvious. When you think of it, we go, "Oh, Othello, that's the show with the black guy in it." But there's a lot more going on in that show than meets the eye. We also have the show, Merry Wives of Windsor, about a small town with Fallstaff. Fallstaff is a large, rotund, comic character who wants to bed two married women, but within this town, we also have Doctor Caius, who is a Frenchman, we also have a Welshman their always making jokes about cheese and apples and those type of jokes. We're also doing within this season Big River which is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the great music by Roger Miller and that's very obvious…Huck going down…

Wyatt: Oh, yeah.

Bahr: With Jim. We also have a less obvious but every bit of powerful The Foreigner which as written back in 1983 but also has all sorts of resonance in regards to, "What do we do when someone who's not like us comes into a room and then we all either choose to accept or not accept." So, again, I don't think plays preach to us, I think they teach us. WE hold them up, and then it's our responsibility to look and say, "OK, well what did we…is that how we feel? Is that not how we feel?"

Wyatt: "Is this the way I behave?"

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: Or, "How different is my behavior than this behavior?"

Bahr: Correct, yeah.

Wyatt: You know, these two plays, The Foreigner and Big River are interesting ones. Big River is a fascinating play because, particularly in reading the book carefully, you see that Jim is the most upright, moral person in the entire story.

Bahr: Mhmm.

Wyatt: It's pretty hard to find somebody…

Bahr: 1884/1855 too. Pretty amazing that this character, this African American, this black character, is painted this way. But if you look at Duke or you look at the king, even Huck himself admits to his malleable-ness …he…we have an anti-hero who is kind of the protagonist in Huck, but Jim, stalwart, one dream: I've got to find my family, I'm going out to find my family.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's such a…and the language of the play is hard for some.

Bahr: Mhmm. And I think intentionally, many, many "n" words within the text itself obviously minimized and then selective "n" words that are chosen which have had interesting reactions to people in our audience. When you see some amazing, opera trained actor, Ezekiel, who is playing Jim who sings "Free at Last" and sings that and then the next scene, you hear that "n" word juxtaposed right opposite there, there's a visceral reaction in the audience.

Wyatt: So, I think that when Mark Twain wrote this, the "n" word was already going out of fashion. He intentionally created the…this feeling that the word used to describe Jim was debasing.

Bahr; Right.

Wyatt: But painted him as the best person in the story.

Bahr: Right.

Wyatt: It's an interesting…

Bahr: Juxtaposition.

Wyatt: Yeah, it really is interesting.

Bahr: In the play and the book, I mean, the key question Huck says, "Should I go to hell and help him? Or should I do the right thing and sell this piece of property back so that I'm in line with my morals?" And we know at the beginning how he feels about Widow Douglas. You know, "Read your bible, Huck" and "Do all this stuff" and "Ah, I don't want any of this civilization thing" Or, "Should I be a dirty Abolitionist?" So, framed in the Christianity kind of turned on its head, so he does what we would call now, the "Christian thing" and assist, but…so the question is, "What would you go to hell for?"

Wyatt: Yeah, right. And the conflicts that a person feels in a culture where it's a hard thing for Huck Finn to try to figure out what voice he's supposed to listen to.

Bahr: Yeah. Can I tell you another moment I love that I've never thought of…I've been with this show for a long time. I knew about it when it first came out, being a theater guy, I've been involved in productions of it, and the last scene—it's a very funny scene—where Tom Sawyer, because he loves a wild adventure, complicates the process and finally makes it possible for him to get out, and then tells Jim that he was doing all of these things. And Jim says, "You know, I wish that I had known that I was free ahead of time. Why did you do this?" And he said, "Oh, you had no idea about my plans. Our adventure would have gone on and on and on and on and we could have saved it for our children to let you out." And that line has never hit me in the same way—it was just a comic line in the past. And I go, "Well, wait until our children can let you free." And I went, "Oh, man." And I don't know if William Hoffman, the guy who wrote this script, or I don't know what they meant by that, but what I took away when I heard that, I went, "Ah, have we done the same thing?" Are we kind of kicking that can down the road? Are we pushing that down the road?"

Wyatt: Yeah, "Somebody else is going to solve this."

Bahr: "Somebody else will solve this. Somebody else will solve this." Or is that just one of those muse things where, you know, a Twain and this really great musical put together, you go…and then he sings, actually, "Free at Last" right after that. And I had never—even though I was introduced to the show 20+ years ago—I'd never seen that juxtaposition. He says, "You had no idea what I had planned. I was gonna wait and our children could let you out." And then we've got that "Free at Last" song after that, we go, "Wow. Huh. Have we kicked the can down the road?"

Wyatt: Yeah. The time is always right now.

Bahr: Yep, yep.

Wyatt; The Foreigner is a fun play to watch.

Bahr: Yep, comedy.

Wyatt: And it might be the funniest play I think I've seen in a while. And it's done so incredibly well here. But wow, it is kind of shocking to watch the KKK walk onto the stage.

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: I mean, this is a fun, happy, goof-off sort of play…

Bahr: Nice comedy with the KKK that shows up, right?

Wyatt: Yeah, it's a great comedy, and then all the sudden it starts getting dark. [Both laugh] And then the KKK's walking around the stage.

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: I'm thinking, "Oh, wow."

Bahr: Yeah. Which is interesting, because when it came out in 1984, Matthew Broderick on Broadway starred in it and there's beautiful reviews that talk about his comedy and silences and how—he played the character of Charlie. Quick context in case anybody hasn't seen it, and it is playing all the way through the fall, so you can come back and see it. We also did this show in the early 2000s, but it didn't have the resonance that it has today which I find interesting. And I tell our crowds that, "Isn't it interesting that this play which is about 34 years old has this resonance now?" And that's because of the baggage that we're all brining in. When we picked this show two years ago, a year and a half ago, what a great kind of light comedy that we can pull in to talk about inclusion and to talk about, "Isn't it great to work and be happy with those that are different than us?" And we've had patrons who say, "Did you write that play?" [All laugh] "Did you add those lines?" There are lines that certain characters say within it that sound very much like dark forces that we might be hearing today, that again, back in the 80s, KKK was a bit of a punch line. So why is it that now, this comedy has this resonance? And I actually think it's evidence of a really great play. A good play is universal. A good play lasts for that long period of time. Like Shakespeare, you know, we're still doing it. There are still things that we can find in this production.

Wyatt: Michael, when this play came out in the 80s, The Foreigner, the reviews, and all the…was there, in the reviews, a discussion about, "This is a great play about inclusion and avoiding intolerance" and all that kind of stuff?

Bahr: No, the describe, and you can actually get online and look at The New York Times' review for Matthew Broderick, and it talks about…now we're kind of talking around the show so I feel like patrons who are listening need to know what it's about. It's about an awkwardly shy British man who is brought by his friend to the woods of Georgia to kind of get away from his hard life that he's having. And he doesn't want to talk to anybody, and so his friend says, "I'll tell you what, I'll tell them that you're a foreigner, and then you don't have to talk to them."

Wyatt: "They'll just assume you can't speak English."

Bahr: Yeah. We'll just say that you can't speak English. And so Betty, who is…she's the proprietor of this kind of hunting lodge up in the sticks of Georgia, she just loves the fact that a foreigner is with her and it means that he gets to listen to a lot of conversations that he probably shouldn't be listening to and he hears about that, and then he has a choice, "Do I help this? Or do I not help that?" And then every single…it's not just Charlie who's the foreigner. Ellard, the awkward—in the 80s, we would have called a halfwit—but he's not a halfwit, he learns differently. And our director chose…our director actually taught for about seven years in a public high school, and he said, "I'd like you to see what if he were a kind of a different learner? What if he were on the spectrum?"

Wyatt: Someone that had a learning disability.

Bahr: Yeah, had a learning disability or a learning "dif-ability."

Wyatt: Dif-ability.

Bahr: Yeah. So that…what if he learns and does that…and so that's why you see through the play with him playing with those gadgets. And then they come together to solve this problem when people who don't know what to do with someone who's foreign—hence the KKK coming on stage—it's light-hearted, it's funny. I think it's funny because it's true. I think comedy like this is really difficult because it has to…Owen, who is the guy who doesn't like the outsiders there, he has to ring a chord too. We have to say, "I've heard this before." So, when it comes out, they describe the plot. They describe that, but it was a little bit more of a punch line. It was less about inclusion, but it's interesting that those same ideas kind of stay with us, right?

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Bahr: I mean, we're talking about in the 80s, talked about in the early 2000s and we're still talking about that too.

Wyatt: We're still talking about it today. But the play seems to be far more relevant today than when it was written.

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: That's what's so interesting about it.

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: And perhaps some of these Shakespeare plays, they seem more relevant today than when they were written.

Bahr: Yeah, so why is that? Why do you think that is? Well…

Wyatt: I think that…oh, go ahead.

Bahr: Well, I was going to say, I want to ask you the question…I think we've had audiences that have been touched by it because of what they're going through personally. So, we go to the temple of the theater to try to get right with ourselves and to try to get right with God, right? And with the collective humanity. I like comparing theaters to temples but it's a real active and alive temple. But it's there to make you ask questions, and a lot of times when you're done with a play, you don't get the answers at the end of the play. You get more questions, which tells you that the play probably did what it was supposed to, right?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Bahr: So, firing that question at you, "Why is it more relevant? Why does that relevance come??

Wyatt: Well, if we follow your metaphor that a play is like holding up a mirror to the outside audience...if the audience is not quite as focused on inclusion, then you're not going to see that as well.

Bahr: Right, so…

Wyatt: But today, we're becoming so much more interested in inclusion. In the 1980s, nobody used the word
"inclusion." It was "tolerance."

Bahr: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, "We can tolerate you, you be yourself and I'll be myself and we're OK." At least that's the way that I kind of see it, but today, if you…

Bahr: Or the other word that they used or at least the one that I was raised with as I was beginning to teach was "diversity." So, "Are you diverse? Is your campus diverse?" And I think those were well intentioned academics trying to use those terms, but I think the term diversity still implies separation as opposed to, "What's it like to sit in a room with someone that I don't know anything about and is not like me and I'm going to learn from you and become a better person and community as a whole" right?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Bahr: So, I think it took society a while to come around to, "My job is not just to tolerate, my job is not just to be diverse, but my job is to include."

Wyatt: Yeah, is to suggest that we're all different. Is to suggest that we all can remain in a state of not understanding one another and accept that.

Bahr: Right.

Wyatt: But to suggest that diversity has a point, and the point is to help us become more inclusive people, and then the task is totally different. It's not, "Oh, that's really nice, we've got one of you and one of you and one of you here." It's, "Wow, my life is more fulfilled because I have you as a friend and you as a friend and you as a friend."

Bahr: Correct.

Wyatt: "And I understand things so much better today."

Bahr: I think that's what we need to take away from this podcast. Because that's…my life and my children's lives…for whatever reason, we moved around a lot. And consequently, my children were exposed to many different kinds of cultures and I'm really, really grateful that they had that opportunity to be not just different, but best friends because that makes us all kind of better, right?

Wyatt: Yeah. So, the mirror that was held up to the audience in the 1980s reflects something different that the mirror that's held up to an audience in the 2018 summer season in Cedar City, Utah's Shakespeare Festival.

Bahr: Isn't it interesting in The Foreigner that at the end, they vanquish the problem when a very, varied and different group come together. When Catherine, the debutant, and Ellard, the guy who learns differently, and Betty Meeks who's never been out of her house before but really enjoys these different…when they all rallied, and Charlie, who's never been out, he—how does he start the show? He doesn't think he has a personality and then discovers that he has a personality—when they all come together, they vanquish the threat in different and unique ways. And again, I give credit to Larry Shue, who was able to provide that for us so that that many years from now, we can kind of look at that? It's why I like working for Utah Shakespeare Festival, because the season that we select, the shows that we select, are just…our job is to educate, enrich, and entertain, but we're going to challenge you, too. We want you to have a good time, but we want to challenge and hopefully send you out thinking so that tomorrow is another day.

Wyatt: The good time is the honey that draws in the fly.

Bahr: Yes, yeah.

Wyatt: And then our job once we get there is to try to learn something. Steve, you made a really interesting comment a while ago when I was present.

Meredith: That strikes me as unusual that I would…

Bahr: I thought you were only brilliant when he wasn't around.

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: You've obviously made lots of interesting comments, but the one that I'm thinking about relevant to our conversation today is that…I hope you remember this.

Bahr: [Laughs] If not, we'll believe you.

Wyatt: [Laughs] No, I think that you're going to remember. We were having this discussion in our conference room and someone said, "I really want to develop empathy for others. I'm trying to develop empathy" and you had a quick response. And your response was, "Spend a little less time watching sports and a little more time with the arts."

Bahr: [Laughs]

Meredith: Well, I actually do remember that.

Wyatt: And I know you love sports.

Meredith: I do.

Wyatt: So that's not a statement, and anti-sports statement, but I think that was interesting. Why don't you build on that?

Meredith: Well, it dove tails in what Michael was saying about the universality of art. Something that is funny in the 80s and is still funny today, but is funny in a different way…it's just a gem that has so many different facets and it's the same reason that we continue to look at Shakespeare and it's the same reason that we continue to listen to Beethoven and it doesn't matter what light you hold it up in, there's something to say to the audience of that time, regardless of what's happening politically or what's happening economically or in the world around them. And so the same thing that a Renaissance audience seeing in this in rags might have seen in a play compared to our extremely rich and separated from each other by our cell phones culture, the fact that we are still getting something out of these plays is a remarkable testament to not just the beauty of the language or all of the other things that we point at with Shakespeare, but the universality of human experience. That's what I think is the true hallmark of the greatest art.

Bahr: Yep. And Shakespeare too. And lest people thing—because we're all sports people around here, right?

Meredith: Yeah.

Bahr: My son is a soccer player, loves soccer, you know his favorite teams to play is when he played international players, and Jamil—who I mentioned, this wonderful, he's from Jordan but he speaks Arabic who plays the Prince of Morocco who I was referring to—I said, "Have you hiked a canyon?" And he goes, "And I love it, but Sunday I really have to go out and play soccer." So he goes and he meets with students from our university and he plays with them, and my son talks about playing against a Hispanic team, playing against an Anglo team, a German team, a French team, Japanese team, every one of those players play a little differently and like that facet, like that art gem that you were talking about, it improved his game when he was able to develop skills playing against and with and included with different players. Does that make sense?

Meredith: It does.

Bahr: And I think it's exactly the same thing we're talking about here.

Wyatt: He gets confronted with people that are from a different culture who have just a slightly different take on the sport and have grown up doing it just slightly different.

Bahr: Mhmm. And his, I mean his goal was always to find other players that he had not played with so that he could improve his game that way, and I think if we looked at business, I think if we looked at art, I think if we looked at, you know, all humanity, isn't our game to…we want to improve our game, right? The way you improve your game is by exposing yourself to different ways and different tactics to improve that game.

Wyatt: Different ideas.

Bahr: Mhmm.

Wyatt: Yeah, and there are a lot of ways to do that, and art—the arts—are certainly one of the more successfully ways.

Bahr: Yep. We didn't talk about The Liar either which is also in the fall. A great French comedy and it's about a master, if you will, who only lies and a servant who can only tell the truth. A really, really funny comedy that comes here, but there's also this same inclusion thing that's tied into there as those two choices kind of feed off of each other. And there's The Iliad which is the one man show that talks about—did I say The Iliad? It's actually An Iliad—which talks about war, bloodshed, you know, throughout history and time, and we were talking about that show this morning because we've all heard of the Iliad, we all know of that great Greek, Homer, the poet, the show opens with him talking about where these warriors are from and he mentions Cedar City and he mentions Kansas and he mentions all of these different places. There's a list of hundreds of wars that are listed in the production, and you personalize…and there was a woman in the grove this morning, we do a lot of stuff in that grove, who started to weep and she said, "That story where he talked about the soldier who had a scholarship but wasn't able to accept it because he died—is that a true story?" And she's weeping as she's telling it, and I said, "I'm not sure if the playwright, when they wrote this play based on Homer's The Iliad had that…the fact that you're crying now tells me that the story's probably true. There were people who went to war and died and were not able to accept their scholarships." And whether the playwright actually based this in someone personally, we all know. So, it's the personal that connects us with the art. Coming full circle to why the arts do what they do.

Wyatt: Yeah. I have the chance to travel to China at least once a year, and on one of those occasions, visited a partner school of ours and they took me through their art building. I saw dance, painting, calligraphy, music, and it's too long to explain in this podcast, but I understood more about Chinese culture after spending two hours there than I had in all of the rest of my time. It's just so interesting how seeing the arts helps us put…it's just been, it was such a fascinating experience.

Bahr: It's what Steve just said, it's, again, it's the humanity. It's that expression. It's humanity. I think this ties in…can I tie…have you talked on this podcast about what happened during Thunder U when all those incoming freshmen walked in the pouring rain? [All laugh]

Meredith: No, we haven't.

Wyatt: No, we haven't.

Bahr: So, they've got a memory, man. They were literally baptized into that downpour. So, for those of you that know Cedar City, it didn't dump, it hailed, and it rained, and it just came down and they were giddy running away…

Wyatt: So, SUU has an interesting tradition, and the tradition is, like everyone else, when you have commencement, we get in our robes and we march, but at SUU, we have the other end of the bookshelf which is when the freshman start, they do the same march in reverse.

Bahr: In red shirts.

Wyatt: Red shirts…

Bahr: Marching up…I'm not sure how…

Wyatt: We're all in our robes, but they haven't graduated yet, so they're wearing…

Bahr: So, it's 1000+…

Wyatt: We have over 2000 freshman.

Bahr: Oh, wow.

Wyatt: Yeah, 2000.

Bahr: Anyway, they're all marching up, and it thunder clouds [Imitates thunder]—the arts analogy is coming shortly—I mean, thunder, thunder, thunder.

Wyatt: Hailstones that are biblical in proportion.

Bahr: Oh, biblical, yeah.

Wyatt: I'm just waiting for the locusts to come out. [Laughs]

Bahr: It was…[Imitates thunder]

[All laugh]

Bahr: It was huge.

Wyatt: Well, and our mascot is the Thunder Bird, so every time you heard a thunder clap, you'd hear this, "Yeah!" All these cheers through the students as they jumped in the water and cheered the thunder. [All laugh]

Bahr; And I'm sitting here thinking, "You know ,we're pretty high up here. Please, no one get hit here." And it's just thundering and lighting and all this stuff, and right off to the side—not even to the side, just packed in the middle—is a drum core that is [Imitates drums] and they played through the whole thing. And there's video footage of them just [Drum noised] and there's water flying off of the…

Wyatt: And hail stones.

Bahr: And hail stones that are coming off too, and I thought, "Look at the music that's binding here. Both that the Gods are throwing down at us and that the music here." And I do think, and there's plenty of research—I'm looking at Steve right now—that talks about how…they say that all art first started with man trying to connect with the divine. So, there are dances that take place, you know, within temple rituals, theater in temple rituals, music and song temple ritual, telling story around the fire, etc. And as I saw that celebration of the elements and students coming in and then [Imitates drums] I said, "Even here, the arts are present and alive and pounding."

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Meredith: Yeah.

Bahr: So yeah.

Meredith: Pretty amazing.

Wyatt: Well, so our struggle is to continually improve as a humanity and to find means with which we can help facilitate those improvements, and there's a lot of ways to do that. And certainly, one is the arts, and that's something that we've made a real focus on this year, and it's been fun to watch your plays where everyone has a slightly different take on inclusion. And where we see face-to-face the evils of…

Bahr: Non-inclusion.

Wyatt: Non-inclusion, intolerance. And the difficulties that…I remember once going on a trip somewhere and taking with me the Oxford Short History of the World, I think that was the name of the book, and I got a third of the way through it and I thought, "This book is kind of like every chapter is one civilization kills another one, and then you move on to the next chapter, and one civilization kills another one." It was the most depressing book.

Bahr: Have you seen The Iliad yet?

Wyatt: Not yet.

Bahr: Yeah, so it's not fair for me to…but you've got plenty of time to see it.

Wyatt: I am going to see it.

Bahr: It will—I know you will, because you see everything and it's early on in its run—but I had patrons come up to me and say, "I bought a ticket to there's this one man show with Brian Vaughn in it and I have tickets to Merry Wives and they were talking and raving about how they were touched and moved and in tears about this and it talks about that very same thing. About, "We had this war and then we had this war and then we had this war" and the wars don't stop. And one of the patrons said, "Yeah, but as he was making that list to wars, this war's OK, and this war…"

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Bahr: Yes, those words came out of his mouth. And I understood what he was saying, he was saying, "It seems like there's…I get that there's kind of an anti-war agenda, that we shouldn't be fighting, but this war is OK." And I countered with, "So, what wars are OK and what wars are not OK?" And it's like this Oxford History of the World, when do we learn?

Wyatt: When do we learn? I got a third of the way through this book and I thought, "I'm sick of this story." [Laughs]

Bahr: Yeah, you'll want…I want to talk to you—we don't have to do it on mic—but I want to talk to you after you get done seeing the show because of the kind of personal connection that comes through. And, again, I've always been grateful I'm a product of Southern Utah University, went to school here, left, taught school, have returned again, and I'm grateful for the embryonic connection that the Festival has with SUU because I think we serve as catalysts to each other. Institution of higher learning and the theater is also an institution of higher learning and we are both there learning together. I can't imagine working for a theater company that wouldn't have this type of post-show discussion.

Wyatt: There has to be a purpose behind what you do.

Bahr: Yeah. Otherwise, why are we doing it? And so, consequently, we select shows that, as you know, you see the budgets, "Wow. Hmm"

Wyatt: Thanks for reminding me. [All laugh]

Bahr: We know why we're doing this one, I sure hope it makes a little more money, and then there's another one here, but that higher purpose of, "The purpose of this is to educate. The purpose of this is to help us get where we have to go."

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the President of Southern Utah University. We've had as our in-studio guest, Michael Bahr, the Director of Education for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Thanks for joining us Michael, and thanks to all of you for listening. We'll be back again soon, bye bye.