Oh, The Academic and the Artist Can Be Friends

Or can they?

On Monday I had an interesting interaction with a Professor from Stanford.

I’ve recently begun moving forward on my latest musical project, Joe Schmoe Saves the World.  Part of the story in the show takes place in Iran, just prior to the 2011 “Day of Rage” protest.

Researching this aspect of the story has been difficult at the beginning because, frankly, I just have no clue where to look, where my focus ought to lie. There’s a LOT of complexity to the situation in Iran and there’s a lot to take in.

This lead me to want to speak to a person, a human being.  Personal interaction allows for shortcuts, tangents, anecdotes – things that BBC articles don’t have.

I was put in touch with a Professor at Stanford who totally fit the bill for who I was looking to talk to. He was Iranian, had been jailed in Iran for teaching Marxist theory through metaphor, had written about Iran’s modernity.  A perfect guy to get some answers from.

But I forgot one thing – he was an academic.

Now – I may not have “represented” myself well.  Meaning – I may have looked young, and sounded naive, asking him my questions.  Needless to say, I don’t think he took me very seriously.  Particularly when he began to lecture me on how difficult it was to get theatre produced these days.

Um.  Ya think?

Anyway.  He began most answers to my questions with “well, there’s no short answer to this question.”  I would ask him, for example, if there one piece of material in particular that he found useful in research on the aesthetics of dissent, and he would say, “I mean, there are hundreds of books written on this topic.”  Which made me feel like Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin about which newspapers she reads.  “If you could name just one.

I did get some useful information out of him, such as how they recently implemented a law forbidding the sale of neckties in Iran.  But most of his interaction with me felt like condescension.  How could I possibly know what I was doing, let alone know how to do it well?

Here was a man who was used to being the center of his own bubble.  He was used to there being a right and a wrong answer, something that is more or less antithetical to a creative process – a process the requires remaining open to all possibilities.

At the end of the meeting, he ushered me out in order to prepare for his next appointment – he was being skyped into a meeting in Iran.  He slipped a tie on as we walked out.  He looked at me, finally allowing himself to be a person and not an educator.  “I have to wear a tie.  Just to spite the fuckers.”

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Actor / Writer / Idealist I believe a good story has the power to change the way people feel, think, and act. I'm a storyteller with a passion for changing the world and leaving it better than I found it.

One thought on “Oh, The Academic and the Artist Can Be Friends”

  1. I keep typing things like, “Oh, how interesting!” or “Thanks for sharing this story!” but it all sounds like something a spammy commenter would say. But, uh, thanks for sharing this story, because it was really interesting.

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