Disbelief is too gentle a word to describe the feeling one has when an extremely talented person they know gets fired for no discernible reason. Not just because of the anger that mixes into it, but because of that sick feeling that rises up in you and makes you feel a little guilty that you feel so bad. It’s not happening to you, so what right do have to feel so upset? Your shock couldn’t possibly come close to what’s going on inside them. You’re upset, but the feelings are convoluted and the only one that’s clear is the one that says this can’t be true. Your disbelief, or denial, threatens to leave you feeling nearly as stranded as the one who was fired. But now imagine that feeling if your family is mixed up in the middle of it, too.
What if this extremely talented person was a teacher who worked with a theater company and taught your teenage sons and daughters to identify what they feel and write about it, and to look outside themselves to explore the world around them and how they fit into it, or not, teaching them much more in the process than just art? What if they learned important personal lessons along the way about commitment and working hard with others toward a common goal? These are things any good parent would want. And you’d want to see what this teacher does next. Not just be gobsmacked by how the teacher was tossed aside by those who refuse to see.
Earlier this week, I listened to Ron Bieganski tell the story of what happened after he was fired and I watched a lingering, awe radiate from him. I could see an immense, perhaps eternal, gratefulness replacing the emptiness of being fired, as he told us about the parents of students who showed up at his house afterward looking for answers, sitting in his kitchen asking, “What’s next?” And who then stayed, offering their support for the new venture being born.
Ron has been a teacher and director for over thirty-five years. He was fired from a certain theater company here in Chicago after twenty-six years with them, working as the Artistic Director of that internationally recognized company from 1995 to 2011. He’s worked hard for long hours over the years, motivating young people to embrace the inner artists they may not have known they harbored, then teaching them how to write about their self discoveries and shape the writing into performances that have the power to illuminate and transform.
Partnering with Ron in the new venture that continues to incubate at his house, are Anita Evans who worked with him for fifteen years at the other company, and others who would rather continue with him than stay where his accomplishments and their collective vision aren’t appreciated. I was in attendance last Tuesday, May tenth, when the collective unveiled breathtaking scenes from their new work in progress, and their new name, Neurokitchen.
Under Ron Bieganski’s direction, Neurokitchen is currently exploring Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’ve only recently heard about this theory, but together these young people are writing their new work out of their reflections on it. The work they do defies description, but reaches out and touches us where we live. The passionate words and music they write and shape into performance, have the power to elevate the soul. My own soul was nudged by these artists as I watched Tuesday evening’s sharing of performances, process, new mission statement, and new name.
Tuesday’s performance of pieces from the larger work in progress, was made possible for the evening by the generous donation of the beautiful space at Temple Gallery by its owners, Bob and Nadine Garrett. On the stage at that lovely space, Neurokitchen welcomed us into their “Collective Intelligence” and began with music, blending sublime vocalization with percussion. Next came a monologue that began with the line, “Go beyond your exhale,” which became a meditation on the life affirming decision to go beyond fear, and the sadness of letting fear take over. The propulsive emotion of that piece tackled issues anchored by the events surrounding a friend’s father’s heart attack. This company is committed to addressing issues that have always been as much a part of the life of teens as they have been for adults. They don’t put life up on stage and tie it up in a bow. They’re not “cute,” but they are beautiful. They make you look. Much of their current emphasis on music (working with Musical Director, Stone Damon) as well as spoken words, was new to me, and the feeling that they need to record it–that it was beautiful, compelling and worthy of repeated listenings, is with me still.
I’ve known about this group of young artists, in one incarnation or another, for about ten years beginning when my daughter began working with the previous company at age fifteen. She eventually traveled with them to Europe as they performed and taught their creative process to other theater companies there. Young people have come and gone with the varied tides of their growth, economic pressures, and higher education, some becoming adults who may have ventured away from their beginnings in theater, but who have surely taken what they’ve learned from Ron and Anita with them on their journey through life. In fact, Dorothy Jaworska, who worked with the previous company at the same time as my daughter, says that she found her passion for film while working there, and after attending film school, she has come back to film the documentary of Neurokitchen’s birth and metamorphosis. They are also writing a book about “building a theater company from scratch, in order to leave it behind–and spread it like the flu.”
Currently, Neurokitchen still meets at Ron’s home to write and rehearse. Ron told us how he loved the experience of parents and friends cooking meals for them all in his kitchen while they worked. Even so, they need dedicated studio space to work in (and they agree that it would be wonderful if there was a kitchen in the center of it.) But that takes money, which they don’t have for either that or their most pressing need–for the young people to be able to simply afford to travel to rehearsals. They very much need bus passes or the funds with which to purchase them. Our public transit system doesn’t make allowances for the travel expenses of young people with limited resources, not even those who are trying to make something of themselves and give back to their community, and to the world, perhaps more than they’ve been given.
If you are anywhere near Chicago, seek out Neurokitchen and take advantage of the chance to discover them for yourself. Whether you live nearby or not, visit and interact with them at Neurokitchen.org. If each of us does what we can, how much can we achieve together? If you have a few dollars to spare, reach out to Neurokitchen and give them. If all you have are your words, consider sending some of them out into the world for others to hear as a testament to the hope that does exist in our younger generation, and as a testament to the striking beauty and searing truth of Neurokitchen’s art.
I love what Ron said about their name. Inside Neurokitchen you’ll discover U R O K. I’ll leave you with that.