From Gaza to Guantanamo

The Culture Project Fights Injustice With Drama

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By Simi Horwitz

Published November 28, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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Intrigued by the process of creating theater, he started producing his own events — from salon evenings to collaborative efforts with Lincoln Center’s Directors Lab — first at 91st and later in SoHo where he set up shop in 1996 and now operates on a $2 million budget (from privately contributed and earned income).

One of the defining events in Buchman’s life was the death of his daughter Chitra in 1993 at the age of 25. Throughout her troubled teens she suffered from anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and drug addiction. She was HIV positive and the huge dosage of AZT she received only accelerated her demise, Buchman said. uchman believes he should have done a lot more to help her. He says he was determined to give other young women the opportunities she lacked and forged an annual women’s festival. Indeed, her sad life and untimely death prompted Buchman to dedicate his own life to opposing injustice by using theater as his vehicle. But it was “The Exonerated” that most “crystallized my iterations to do issue-based theater,” he said.

He says he wants to do a series of pieces on drones, racism in the criminal justice system and he’s planning to bring over “The Homeless Opera,” now playing in London, featuring a cast of homeless performers. “I have a connection with the homeless because my daughter was homeless,” he said.

Along his journey, Buchman became a student of the spiritual leader Sri Chimnoy, whose vision provided him with a sense of clarity. “It’s faith rather than doubt, joy rather than fear, and if you think of your inner life as a bank and you start making deposits in your spiritual practice you will have greater joy, greater love, and a greater sense of humility,” said Buchman. Thanks to a practice that advocates meditation, celibacy, vegetarianism and a drug and alcohol free life, Buchman has been able to deal more fully with the challenges that he faces on a daily basis. For example, Buchman’s theater started out as a decaying lumber yard when he encountered it. “I measured, I paced, I chanted ‘Aum,’” he recalled. “So after walking back and forth for an hour at 4 A.M. — that’s the hour of God — I walked into the vestibule and looked at the names on the building and sure enough one of the tenants had the last name Chimnoy. I thought that’s a pretty good sign.

“I made friends with the super who was a Hindu priest,” he continued. “I knew the scriptures and that impressed him. Despite our poverty he said we were the candidates to occupy the space and helped us get it. So that’s the thread of my inner life being in dialogue with my decisions.”

As part of his conversion, Buchman unburdened himself of material possessions and some years ago deliberately left the keys to his car in its ignition, with the hope that the car would be stolen and it was. Buchman’s lifestyle is “austere,” he said. “If you have an austere setting in life, there’s not as much in the way of distraction to clarity of perception. The reason monks have austerity in life is so they can focus on God. I feel life and God are inseparable.”

Asked what he does for laughs, he quipped deadpan, “Encounter you people from the press.” He stood up stiffly, wincing just a bit, as if he’d been trapped and immobilized for a long period of time. Then, he moved slowly towards the theater door, muttering, “One has to incorporate into experience a certain amount of pain.”

Simi Horwitz writes frequently about theater for the Forward.






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