Craven: Young Men’s Worlds

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(HOST) As a filmmaker and Marlboro College professor, commentator Jay Craven is usually pretty busy, but he was glad to find time over the holidays to spend with his sons – and to reflect on the complex worlds young men inhabit.

(CRAVEN) I love how the holidays prompt us to "find time."  To me, this is the most cherished gift of the season, especially when it brings me together with my two sons.  Seventeen year-old Jasper’s still at home, though I’m lucky to ever catch him on the fly.  His brother, Sascha, travels up from his job in New York and his visits help me tempt the younger one into moments we can share.

Recently, I’ve been working on a screenplay that has me thinking about "boy culture" and how it plays out in our individual and collective lives.  As I explore this theme, I look for it in other artists’ work too. So I was pleased to find two upcoming performances to share with my sons-that reflect aspects of boys’ experience.

The all-male Brazilian dance troupe, Grupo Rua, performs at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center on January 7th and 8th.  The troupe blends hip-hop, street dance, and contemporary choreography to create something pretty cool. It’s rooted in break dance but otherwise seems entirely original.  Artistic director Bruno Beltrao started the company when he was just 16 and his dazzling young dancers lunge, spin, and run furiously backward. In one moment, they create a spectacle of stray birds taking flight.  In another, two guys seeking dominance test each other in an edgy rite of passage. It’ll be interesting to see what my boys think of it.  

My son Jasper brought his passion for current events into our holiday discussions this year-advocating for the notion of "just war," articulated by President Obama in his recent Nobel Peace Prize speech.  When I challenged him to think carefully about this, given the unparalleled suffering caused by war, he countered, "What about World War II?"

"You’re right," I said.  "We needed to stop fascism – and again we’re challenged today. But I can’t think about World War II without thinking about World War I – which did so much to de-stabilize Europe, that World War II became inevitable."

"I don’t know, Dad," he said.

I don’t know either-but I’m planning a second trip to Hopkins Center when the Dutch Theater Company Hotel Modern presents "The Great War" – on January 15th and 16th.

Using puppets, film, object theater, sound effects, and World War I oral history, "The Great War" takes audiences into another reality – part film set, part Western Front battlefield where tiny uniformed action figures inhabit perfect scale models of planked trenches and muddy hillsides.  The snap of gunfire is played on a tin can, a grenade burst sprays dirt, then fingers enter the frame and playfully flick a toy soldier off-screen.

It’s a haunting, poetic, and sometimes humorous spectacle that gets us thinking, about children’s war games and real-world combat zones where young soldiers are only a few years older.    "We do not wish to be sentimental, but sensitive," say the artists. "Richly decorated, but unmasked; simultaneously philosophical and confrontational."

… Should stimulate more good conversation with my sons!

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