A Nov.1 New York Times article praised Gordon alumna Karin Coonrod's direction of the Shakespeare play Love's Labors Lost. Coonrod, who graduated in 1976 as an English major, is an international theater artist whose work has been hailed by the Times as “prodigiously inventive” and by The New York Observer for “clear-eyed imaginative intelligence.”
She is founding artistic director of Compagnia de’ Colombari, an international collaborative of performing artists based in Orvieto, Italy, and New York City, dedicated to new and old works from diverse—sometimes clashing—traditions and cultures. Among other college and university teaching gigs, she has taught at the Gordon IN Orvieto program. In this essay, "Strangers and Other Angels," Coonrod discusses what it is like to re-stage a medieval mystery play in the streets of Orvieto:
Tables covered with flying white cloths and laden with food appear out of nowhere for a crowd of several hundred in a piazza at the edge of the cliff, in the oldest part of this old city. Strings of dazzling lights stretch across the square as a dove flies up and the bells of the 1,000-year-old church of San Giovenale clamor in the black night. Actors in white linens shower the crowd with tiny flower petals. This night’s itinerant theatre performance has transformed into a banquet in which actors and audience are no longer separated, the barriers gone. On these ancient stones is laid out a banquet of laughter, food and wine, and all are invited.This is the culmination of our journey through the streets of Orvieto, our revivification of medieval city theatre.
Coonrod was also honored as Gordon's Alumnus of the Year for 2010. Though she graduated long before the current theatre arts major began, Coonrod's love of theater was deepened during her time at Gordon, when she, John Skillen '76 and other Gordon students frequently went into Boston to see plays.
This is is is an excerpt from her address delivered at the "Great Scots" awards ceremony during Homecoming Weekend in 2010, in which she reflected on her vocation as a theater artist:
The joy is seeing how people are hungry to believe. (Help my unbelief, said the father of the child with the dumb spirit.) And those few times we dare to believe—how astonishing it is what we begin to know. How slowly or quickly that grows into something larger than what is seen: the stuff of the eternal.
So for me, positioned in this profession, so volatile a profession, concerned with injustice and served by it, what I bring you is unrealized dreams and unfinished theatrical symphonies. Like Dante, I’m just in the middle of what I hope to do—and who knows what the time will bring.
Meanwhile altars, stages and tables overlap. Pages of text overlap. Words are more than words. The invisible comes to the surface through an oral palimpsest; and time is festive. It is in the theater—that wild child of the arts, demanding so much of its people—that we can celebrate the time together, bringing forth stunning, shocking presence.
A tiny but powerful book, written by Abraham Joshua Heschel—introduced to me—yes!—by Professor Marvin Wilson, long ago when I was nineteen—is called The Sabbath. Here’s a quote:
Everyone of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space that my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time; we own space.
Through my ownership of space I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time I am a contemporary of all other beings. Moments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never pass away.
My work as a theater artist is holy. We are who we are—and we are connected to the I Am. And what we do builds either who we are or what we have.
Since my mother died—and very recently my father, too—more and more I look up at the sky so promising in the vastness. There I see the most stunning painting, more amazing than Tiepolo. And I see the most thrilling movie—even better than Gus van Sant. The most constant, swirling philosophy—ahead of Hamlet. The very act of creation in front of us, like the Book of Genesis swirling ever over our heads, ever voluptuous in its changes.
As my dad said to me less than a year ago, in a time of discouragement: “Well, honey, just have to keep a-goin.”
With all the strangers and all the angels, may we make the time holy.
Watch the entire 2010 Alumni Awards ceremony on Gordon’s YouTube channel (Karin's talk begins at about 5 min 30 sec.) .