Friday, September 11, 2009
“It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good” - A Greek Proverb
I used to hate it in elementary school when teachers assigned us to do a project on our family heritage. The Italian kids would come in with some amazing pasta dish, the Chinese kids with their kimonos, the Russian kids with those nesting dolls that fit into each other. And then there was me, about 1/4 Irish, and then 1/8 of each German, Scottish, French Canadian, Austrian, Native American, and English, with not a clue of what to bring to school. It seemed everyone had a cool culture that they were a part of with souvenirs to show, songs to sing, and food to eat. The coolest cultural thing my family did was wear green on St. Patrick's Day.
To curb this feeling of not belonging to a particular heritage, I went to Fairfield University, in Connecticut, also known as a “small, rich, Catholic school,” or “J.Crew U.,” or quite bluntly, a school for “white kids only.”
But then, I moved to NYC. All my friends were suddenly very different from me and very proud of their heritage. Again, I felt that uncoolness I experienced as a second grader. I felt average for being straight-up plain American. And now I'm miraculously included in this theatre company whose mission is to diversify casts and blend cultures. There's Larissa from Brazil, Nick from Hong Kong, Leo whose parents are straight off the boat from Greece, Lauren from St. Louis, who is pretty much my first black friend, Renee with her inherited Latino feistiness, Sergio who speaks Spanish at home with his family. And then there's me...who wears green on St. Patrick's Day.
But I've since grown out of those feelings. If an elementary school teacher asked me to do a project on my family heritage now – I'd tell her to go check out Plutus. My new family and my new home is here in New York, and my new culture is a blend of my life as a working actor in the most diverse city. Because here I’ve found that I’m not just average. I’m not just defined as a white girl. I am actually the manifestation of what our city - and our company - represents. I am a melting pot of many cultures. I am diverse.
Just as each actor and crew member brings a different culture to the table, I am bringing those seven different cultures from my ancestors, and my newfound New York City culture. In embracing that, I can really go to the extremes with cultural references in our adaptation of Plutus. It has been so much fun to make Greek references in Astoria Park. They loved it when I mispronounced “mousaka” (yes, on purpose, only because I honestly, truly, cannot pronounce the word), and told a character “Voulusette,” which means “Put a sock in it!” And the predominately Latino audience in Inwood Park roared with laughter when Sergio’s guitar-playing character breaks twice to complain in Spanish.
Curious Frog is a company that accurately represents New York City – the company is a melting pot of cultures, comprised of a cast and crew who represent ideas from all over the world traveling to all corners of the city. How fitting for a NYC theatre company to represent the dynamic of its city's population and history. We are able to take risks with our work, to expose people to cultures other than their own, and to truly embrace collaboration in its most diverse potential.
The awesome thing about our summer "traveling troupe" is that we perform in the different boroughs of the city - playing to audiences of different races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. Every park has its own unique culture, and here we are an ensemble of many different cultures, working together. I can only hope that every park recognizes this collaboration - and maybe they too will branch out into a new park as we have done.
I have been feeling so truly, uniquely American lately that I might not wear green this St. Patrick's Day...
- Jodie Pfau plays Cario in Curious Frog's summer family show, Plutus, which closes Saturday, September 19th at Queensbridge Park in Queens. www.curiousfrog.org for details.