(Redcat is located on the third parking floor of the Disney Center in Los Angeles)
Dear friends: I have been invited to participate in the collective reading of Palabras Ajenas [The Words of Others], of León Ferrari,at REDCAT at the Disney Center in Los Angeles after they interviewed me. They sought activists in the LA area in a letter sent to Vietnam Vets Against War (VVAW) that I have been a member of since 1968 and volunteer to respond to letters to them asking for interviews with members. I will read the words taken down in history of LBJ collected by these remarkable people. The group of readers will comprise, apart from some VVAW members, art professors, journalists, artists, students, and activists from Los Angeles community as well.
(Another view of the Disney Center)
They thanked me for sending my bio that revealed my civil rights background as a lawyer for 34 years after leaving the Navy. Human and civil rights were also at the center of Ferrari's career, a position that got accentuated when the military government murdered his son during the dictatorship in Argentina.
(Christ on a jet bomber artistic rendition [Westerns and Christian Civilization (1065) by Leon Ferrari)
Published in 1967, Palabras Ajenas [The Words of Others] was a direct response to news and images of the Vietnam War and the violent expansion of Western culture during the years of the Cold War. It was composed from quotations of the Bible, speeches from the President Lyndon Johnson, Pope Paul VI, and Nazi leaders, as well as reports from the Vietnam War taken from various newspapers and news outlets.
(Author of Palabras Ajenas (Words of Others) 1967)
This project is curated and directed by Ruth Estévez, Miguel López and Agustín Díez Fischer, and Carmen Amengual as Associate researcher. The script of this reading has been translated into English by Antena (Jen Hofer with Tupac Cruz and Román Luján) after two years of work, looking into the original sources, and it has been adapted for the reading by Jose Antonio Sánchez, a Spanish scholar that has been writing extensively about political theater and Juan Ernesto Díaz, from Mapa Teatro (Mexico).
PALABRAS AJENAS/THE WORDS OF OTHERS Performance/Public Reading Author: León Ferrari Directors and curators: Agustín Diez Fischer, Ruth Estévez and Miguel López Script adaptation: José Antonio Sánchez Sound design: Juan Ernesto Díaz Research Associate: Carmen Amengual Staging: Juan Ernesto Díaz, José Antonio Sánchez and Ruth Estévez. Translation: Antena, published in 1967, is a literary collage composed by the Argentine artist León Ferrari as an extensive dialogue between real and fictional characters. President Lyndon Johnson, Hitler, Pope Paul VI, and God, among others, enter into conversation through quotations selected by the artist from history books, literature, the Bible, newspapers and magazines.
By means of a cut-and-paste exercise, the artist correlates the atrocities of the Vietnam War, the horrors of Nazism, and the representations of redemption and punishment in Christian doctrine. The piece was composed during the Vietnam War, at a moment when the Cold War was used as a justification for the intervention in foreign countries by the American military, and the establishment of the cruelest dictatorships in Latin America, with the support of the CIA. The news from Vietnam, and specially the photographic documentation of torture on the field, mobilized the artist who began collecting and combining a huge amount of clippings. The result is an enormous oratorium conceived to be read in public. Through it, Ferrari raises his voice against the war using the words of others.
(Artistic rendition by Leon Ferrari)
(Many Cal Arts Students participate in The World of Others)
The Words of Others is not a theater piece written to be represented, but a conceptual art piece, consisting of words to be transformed into voices, but not into characters. Even if it might resemble documentary theater or certain political theater from the sixties, it doesn’t require a theatrical treatment, but only the consideration of a political art. Consequently, the participants are invited to read focusing on the rhythms and the words editing rather than on the identity of the characters, even when some of them are very well known: Hitler, Johnson, Goebbels, Christ, Paul VI or God. The intention is not to construct a character, nor even to propose a fixed identity. Therefore, different speakers will read the same characters along the performance. The group of speakers/readers will consist, approximately, of thirty people. Distributed in successive shifts of eight to sixteen speakers at a time, they will give voice, along approximately eight hours, to the words of almost two hundred characters, both real or figured. In order to make the task of the speakers as easy as possible, we are preparing a very detailed script that will allow minimizing the time of rehearsal: in some cases, just one session previous to the performance will be enough. The goal of the rehearsal will be to explain the rhythm, tone and position codes used in the script, to make clear the identity of the voices, and to clarify some contents and intentions of the author, when necessary. The reading will be supported by a soundtrack, which will create some atmospheres. Providing tones or rhythmic keys, the soundtrack will reinforce the critical intention of the text, bringing the historical words to the present and helping to identify the voices. In some cases, a historical recording will be used instead of the live voice: for instance, Pope's Paul VI speech at the UN assembly in 1965. Since that speech was pronounced in French, we will project English subtitles. The same will happen in other specific moments in which the text will be read in original Spanish. The speakers will sit around ten tables (two to four speakers per table), distributed all over the space: one/two table(s) for the Press (max. 4 voices), two for the Historian, the historical Press and the Bible (including God, Christ and St. John), one for L. Johnson and A. Hitler, one for the Pope, Paul VI, one for the Nazis (Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, etc.), one for the US Administration (State Secretaries, advisors, senators, generals, etc.), one for the Priest and the Missal, and one extra table for other different voices. Some voices will be identified through small plastic elements (tiny figures, books, models….);
some others will be identified through projections on the lateral walls (it will be the case of US, Germany and Vietnam Administration members, Generals and Priests). The audience will receive a map of the space, with a brief description of the reading device. They may sit at the tables very close to the speakers, circulate around them or sit down on different chairs distributed all over the room. Eventually, a spectator could read some lines. On the tables we will dispose plenty of documentary material: copies of the original newspapers, magazines or books pages where the words were found, contextual documents, documents of León Ferrari work as well as some other documents that bring the performance to the present: current conflicts, economic neocolonialism, criminalization of migrants, practice and acceptance of torture. Spectators are not expected to stay in the reading for a long time, although they may. In any case, they don’t need to keep their attention on the reading as if they were attending a theater performance; they will instead inhabit the space as long as they consider. Even if the text was conceived by Ferrari as a continuum it is possible to recognize in it different rhythms and intensities.
(Artistic rendition in Spanish by Leon Ferrari)
The last section is without a doubt the most lively: more voices intervene and more speakers will be needed. In order to make easier the preparation and rehearsals, we have divided the script in 8 acts and 43 scenes. Each act lasts around one hour. Scenes will allow a more effective distribution of the rehearsals and will make easier to organize the shifts. This division will not affect the final reading which will be continuous as Ferrari conceived it. This public reading of Palabras Ajenas constitutes a big challenge: it will be the first time that the piece will be read from the beginning to the end, without cutting it. Previous readings, realized by Maler in London and Asquini in Buenos Aires, used shortened versions. Our current political situation offers unfortunate parallelisms with Ferrari’s context during the preparation of Palabras Ajenas. For that reason, we consider that the realization of this piece and the participation in the reading should work not only as a way of recalling the artistic and political work of León Ferrari, paying homage to him as an artist, a citizen and a person, but also as a gesture in defense of culture, democracy and civil rights. Public Reading: September 16th, 2017.
(Artistic rendition by Leon Ferrari)
From 12 to 8 pm. Rehearsal: September 11th. From 10 to 2 pm (TBD) LOCATION: REDCAT THEATER Contact: Ruth Estévez: firstname.lastname@example.org Carmen Amengual: email@example.com Collections of clippings from the 1960´s containing quotes that León Ferrari used in Palabras Ajenas/ The Words of the Others. Courtesy Pablo Ferrari. PALABRAS AJENAS (1967)
The Light Where Shadows End : A Book Review by Daniel C. Lavery for VVAW, A War Hero’s Inspirational Journey Through Death, Recovery, and a World Without Home by r.g. cantalupo (He uses no capitals in his name on the cover: New World Publishers, paper, 2015, 171 pages) A member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the author took part in the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigations where he confessed to committing crimes and atrocities. A Radio-Telephone Operator (RTO) with the 25th Infantry Division in 1968-69, Cantalupo (a nickname, actually H. H. Gregory), served in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star with a Combat V and three Purple Hearts. He describes himself as a war criminal who fired white phosphorus mortars and called in napalm bombs on civilians using weapons banned by the Geneva Convention. He returns to the scene of his action in 2015 “to survive my looming suicide… to Trang Bang where Nick Ut photographed the ‘Napalm Girl’. That was also where he ordered villagers to lie down while they destroyed their village and where Lonny, Baby, San, Devil and I lay dying not for God, or flag, or country, but simply because we were “the chosen”, draftees offered up from poor black, brown, or white families by an upper-middle-class draft board that didn’t want to take sons from their own.
He describes his boot camp training droning into him like a mantra: “They are gooks, dinks, commies, savages, nothing resembling us, nothing close to human. And, it worked-when I was shooting at a cardboard man, when I was stabbing a dummy to death with a bayonet, when I was on the edge of terror--it was the only voice I heard. But four months in Vietnam had changed me. The kids along Highway 1 chanting “G. I. Numba One” as they begged chocolate bar or cokes looked no different than the kids from my tenement—Asian versus black, or Puerto Rican or Pollock or Jew—hungrier maybe, more desperation in their eyes, but under the grime and stink, they were no different than the kids I grew up with carrying hopes and fears and dream. And so I heard a different voice—my own… How long does it take to kill a man-- from inside? …How long before I was no longer a man but a rifle. A bullet, and I inside a soulless body?
After his good friend Lonny is killed when he makes eye contact with an enemy soldier who is badly wounded and groaning in the Elephant grass, Cantalpo raises his rifle: "I put his head in the crosshairs, held my breath, and put my finger on the trigger guard. I didn’t squeeze the trigger. I couldn’t. Not anymore. Lonny was dead. Nothing I could do would bring him back. Not killing this soldier. Not killing the whole fucking North Vietnamese Army. Lonny was dead. Shot in the throat and chest by his own men. Friendly fire. Friendly. As if killing was somehow friendlier if done by your own men. And who was to blame? The soldiers on the perimeter who opened fire from fear of being overrun? The C.O. who sent us out? General Westmoreland? Nixon? Kissinger? The Pentagon? The Army? The rich? The whole fucking US of A? My mother? My war-hero father? Yes, everyone was to blame. Everyone carried Lonny’s blood on their hands. I lowered my rifle. I was done. I was done with killing, done with death, done with war. For a long moment, the wounded soldier held my eyes, then he turned and slowly crawled away."
He recounts his horrendous injuries from a mortar exploding a few feet away that hurled his body into the dark sky and then crashed down leaving him covered in warm blood and a nurse nicknamed “Peaches” helped him through hours, days and weeks of care with whom he says he seriously fell in love. “And then I rose. Above my body. Above my life. Is this my soul parting from my flesh, my spirit rising toward eternity, flying through the tunnel of white light toward people I loved? I rose in darkness, in shadow, the body below me—my body—graying to a shade, the medic slowly dimming to a hazy silhouette. I rose, but my wounds did not fly away on angel’s wings, nor did I see my mortal life bleeding into light as if I were eternal. I merely slipped in and out of a world filled with fire and burning pain—“
A film crew from Vietnam TV International recorded his anguish following his journey toward reconciliation meeting with former members of The People’s Army against whom he fought. They share the truth of where the People’s Army hid in tunnels awaiting to attack and use a map to describe each of their locations in battles. After awkward embraces and they shake hands and say goodbye through the pain such a meeting engendered. The war’s legacy in Vietnam, Cantalupo says, includes “leaving hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs to kill more children,” as well as “fourth generation birth defects and genetic mutations caused by our massive spraying of Agent Orange.” That situation “will not allow for my reconciliation. This was the most profoundly moving memoir I have read on Vietnam showing how a man changed from a war criminal to a sensitive human being aware he was lucky to have survived and gained an inspiration and an awakening that changed his life.
BIO: Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, turned peace activist and became a civil rights attorney for Cesar Chavez's UFW and the ACLU. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn to an advocate crusading for justice. HTTP://www.danielclavery.com(Author website)