A few months ago, a young aspiring actress and director by the name of Pilar Gonzalez was standing in line (as many of us Manhattanites are very used to) waiting to get through security in a building where she was about to begin her work shift for the day. As she moved slowly towards the door, she found herself focusing on the security guard, who was nodding to the people as they passed by, subconsciously robotic in his movements. Pilar remembers the moment clearly: “As I watched the man do his job, I found myself wondering what he must think about all day, what his life was like outside of this job, did he have a family, did he wish that he were doing something else? That last question propelled me to think about how normal it is to work away at an unfulfilling job, especially in a city like New York where there is so much talent and potential, but where there is also a terrible need for money. Being that I am a person in a creative field, I understand that many people do not understand why we do what we do. Many people do not understand why we take acting jobs with no pay, why we do things for food, or why we don’t just quit that soul-sucking job in retail.”
And that lack of understanding was the initial force that led Pilar to write, produce, and direct a show called “I Celebrate Myself: A Conversation With Walt Whitman.” Combining spoken word, poetry, and body movement, this short play showcases the reality of living life as an artist of any kind, whether it be an actor, singer, writer, painter, dancer, etc. Pilar takes the poetic words of Walt Whitman and intertwines them with her own writing, which describes the modern-day struggle of those who pursue a creative, artistic life.
Although Pilar wrote a great deal of the play herself, she knew she wanted to incorporate poetry. “It is one of the most divine modes of self-expression,” she says, “it has the ability to perfectly capture any moment, and any feeling no matter how small. Poetry comes from inside and has the ability to convey that which cannot always be seen through our bodies.”
Since Walt Whitman’s words resonate as ones that encompass not only self-acceptance, but self-celebration, he seemed like the obvious choice for the piece’s title poet. Pilar juxtaposes Whitman’s inspirational, encouraging lyrical thoughts next to the spoken word form of prose conveyed by the people in the show who are still learning how to live a fulfilling life. And by doing just that, it becomes a conversation.
Interestingly enough, hip-hop dancing and music is laced throughout the show, with modern choreography in between every 19th-century line. Pilar explains that she chose to do this in order to keep the piece relatable, since Whitman was writing down his lines long before anyone knew about the bass and treble of this type of music. She says, “The sounds and instrumentation of hip-hop connect with the spoken word, which adds to the desperation of the poetry that comes out of each speaker’s mouth.”
The greatest thing about this show is that you don’t necessarily have to be someone working in a creative field in order to relate to it. “A Conversation With Walt Whitman” is more about learning to love yourself and love what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing isn’t exactly what you want to be doing forever. Pilar sums this up perfectly: “Once you accept the job that you are only doing for a weekly or biweekly paycheck, you begin to see the beauty in it. That is not to say that we have to put our dreams aside and force ourselves to fall in love with these jobs. What I mean is that once you change your attitude towards folding clothes for five hours or standing in a doorway in the cold, you begin to realize how that job can actually help you get closer to your dream. A perfect example is that if I hadn’t accepted my catering job, I would have never had the chance to observe the security guard that led to my epiphany for creating the piece that I am now producing.”
“I Celebrate Myself: A Conversation With Walt Whitman” will be held at the Davenport Theater, on west 45th Street, on Wednesday February 3rd at 7 PM, Thursday February 4th at 7 PM, and Friday February 5th at 3 PM. Tickets are available here.
Also, you can keep up with any of Pilar’s latest projects by checking out her Facebook page or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twisted Talk: What are your thoughts about this upcoming show? Will you be buying tickets? Discuss below!