Top Of Your Pyramid Is The Bottom Of Someone Else’s

Hat tip to Vu Le at NonProfitAF for posting a link on social media to an essay on Medium comparing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need to the Blackfeet Nation’s similar concept.  Maslow had lived among the Blackfeet in Alberta, Canada for six weeks when he was developing his theories. If you read the article the question of whether he appropriated the concept without crediting the Blackfeet is a complicated one.

What immediately appealed to me was the point that while Maslow’s hierarchy ends with self-actualization, that is where the Blackfeet model begins.  To a great degree it is the difference between an individually focused society and a communal one. The assumption seems to be that the community will provide the food, shelter, clothing and safety needs that provide the base of Maslow’s model and therefore you start life working on the self-actualization part and then one moves on to contributing to the welfare and perpetuity of the culture.

The Blackfoot model describes the inverse of Maslow’s Hierarchy:

1. Self-actualization. Where Maslow’s hierarchy ends with self-actualization, the Blackfoot model begins here. In their view, we are each born into the world as a spark of divinity, with a great purpose embedded in us. That means that we arrive on earth self-actualized.

4. Community Actualization. In tending to our basic needs and safety, the tribe equips us to manifest our sacred purpose, designing a model of education that supports us in expressing our gifts. Community actualization describes the Blackfoot goal that each member of the tribe manifest their purpose and have their basic needs met.
5. Cultural Perpetuity. Each member of the tribe will one day be gone. So passing on their knowledge of how to achieve community actualization and harmony with the land and other peoples gives rise to an endurance of the Blackfoot way of life, or cultural perpetuity.

The big reason this appealed to me is that it aligns with a post I wrote last May, Creativity Is Not The Last Thing People Need

As I wrote then:

It should be noted that despite the popularity of this model, there is no scientific data to back it and studies have found that different cultures prioritize needs differently.

I mention these criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy because it is easy to look at this pyramid and get the impression that creativity has to wait until all these other needs are met. This reinforces the idea that arts and culture are a luxury that should yield before all the necessities have been addressed. I think we all know there will always be something else that needs to be solved if you subscribe to that thinking.

When I wrote that post, I had linked to the Wikipedia article on Maslow’s hierarchy which notes the Blackfeet influence but I didn’t know enough about it at the time to understand the differences in world view to apply it.  I certainly can’t make any definitive statements about how expressions of creativity might be viewed and valued in a Blackfeet society, but from the little bit that discussed in the Medium article it seems it would be viewed as more integral to everyone’s basic identity and capacity vs. a gift bestowed/possessed by a chosen few.

Where Are All The Cool Masks?

You know, we talk about the ability the arts have to bring solutions to societal problems. There is one area in which I thought I would see a bigger contribution in the past year but didn’t and that is facemasks.

There is so much obvious potential there, but I haven’t really seen a lot of interesting or clever use of the space. Even if an artist’s purpose isn’t to solve a reluctance to wear masks, there is a motivation to sell masks by designing something people want to show off.

Now granted, the whole point of the last year has been not to come in contact with other people so not only might my experience be limited by the size of the population in my geographic location, but by the need to avoid other people.

However, I am also the person who has been doing temperature checks at the front door of a performing arts venue since July so it has been my business to pay attention to what people are or are not wearing.

I have seen some cool designs that let people show off their personality, but for the most part people show up wearing a monochromatic mask. Sometimes there is a corporate or university logo.

I have seen artistic masks for sale, but haven’t really seen many being worn.

On Hyperalleric, Francesca Magnani, showed off some of the 600 images of New Yorkers wearing masks she has taken and there is some interesting variety among those depicted. I guess I assumed it would become more of a fashion statement than it has.

In my own experience, for Christmas my nephews gave me a mask with a cat face and one with a dog face (though co-workers say it is a bear). What’s fun is that my mouth aligns with the mouth on the mask so it looks like I am speaking with a cat or dog mouth.

Somehow in the last few months I have become identified with those masks. I get more people on the street and in restaurants where I pick-up lunch asking me where the masks are when I am not wearing them than I get compliments on the masks when I am wearing them. People ask my co-workers about the dang masks.

I mean, as you can see, they are kinda fun and the dog one works with my beard even better than the cat one shown below. (I am not a cat, by the way.) But if this is the pinnacle of interesting masks out there, there is a lot more work that can be done.

Two Shows, Three Trucks

I was talking with an agent for some Broadway show tours this week in order to get a sense of what things might look like for productions in Fall 2021/Spring 2022.  I was intrigued to learn that they were considering sending out two shows in repertory.

What that means is the same cast and crew rehearse so they are capable of mounting two different shows. This was once a common practice in theatre, and is still not terribly uncommon, especially among Shakespeare festivals.

I have seen some smaller touring productions offer this option, but never heard of it on the scale of a Broadway touring show. Given that you can do so much with projections these days, they can cut down on built set pieces to allow the tour to go out with the same number of trucks a Broadway tour of a single show would.

I am not sure if this is the right solution, but this is the first group I have spoken with that seems to acknowledged that times have changed and touring productions need to adopt new approaches.

This offers an opportunity to be more responsive when it comes to routing a show. Usually the tour of Show A will have one schedule and tour of Show B will have another schedule. It doesn’t help either me or the production company if Show A is touring near me but I want to see Show B.  The repertory approach means they can send one tour out and perform one show 150 miles away and then another show in my venue.  Since they are only sending one tour out with one set of cast and crew, there is a potential to save money vs. sending the two shows out separately.

If they were particularly well-organized and a venue had the space to shift and store things, they could feasibly do one show one night and the other show the next night and have the labor costs involved in doing so be economical for the venue.

How this might impact the quality of the show and the production values people expect, I don’t know. It is absolutely possible to execute a high quality experience with the investment of enough attention.

I suspect the first year or so of post-Covid touring will be an environment that will see even tours of single productions stumbling to find their footing and how well they handle that will be the biggest factor in the success and quality of their product.

So Would That Be A Plaque of Plays?

On occasion I have conversations with co-workers and colleagues about how Covid-19 may change the general aesthetics of live performance in the future.

For example: Will lingering concerns about physical contact result in staging and blocking which places people at even greater distances from each other on stage? Will dance choreography change based on the limited visual scope of web cameras? (e.g. movement doesn’t range too far to the left or right) or under the influence of TikTok choreography which is dominated by upper torso movement?

We figured many movie and play scripts and performances in general would contain themes of estrangement and isolation or space, manifested in emotional, mental, physical and spiritual terms.

What hasn’t been mentioned, though it has sort of lurked unspoken at the fringes, is the likelihood of some pretty didactic works about the experience of Covid-19.

Fortunately, the satire site The Beaverton, feels no compunction about addressing this topic in their “story” titled “Health Canada warns of inevitable “spring wave” of terrible COVID-inspired Fringe plays.” (Apologies to whomever tweeted the story. I hadn’t made note of your identity.)

Apparently there is the potential for a pandemic just as virulent as the Covid virus itself:

Case modelling indicates that various poorly-written scripts and “workshop drafts” are currently incubating all across the country. Health Canada warned of asymptomatic carriers who may seem healthy, despite currently using their Notes app to brainstorm ideas for a painfully unfunny sketch comedy revue with premises like “Speed Dating on Zoom” and “rap song about CERB?”.

“These terrible Fringe plays will no doubt ravage the bodies and minds of previously-healthy Canadians,” explained Dr. Tam gravely. “The kind of outbreaks we face might include: amateur actors who just can’t project loud enough while wearing PPE masks; some kind of weird clown thing where they dress up as the coronavirus and force audience members to join them onstage; or even pathetically-misguided attempts to thematically suggest that the real virus all along was ‘social media’.”

Submitted for your amusement (and potentially inspiration for your own Covid-themed show)

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