Next Thursday, to celebrate New York born Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday, Compagnia De' Colombari, an international collective of performing artists, will perform More Or Less I Am (MOLIA), adapted from Whitman's first major work, Song of Myself at the FDR Four Freedoms Park. Conceived and directed by Karin Coonrod with original music by Colin Jacobsen, Kyle Sanna and Eric Jacobsen, Compagnia De' Colombari has been performing MOLIA since 2008.
Whitman, an American poet, essayist, and journalist is considered among the most influential American poets. He is best known for his major work, a collection of 12 poems entitled, Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, with democracy, nature, love, sexual liberation, and friendship as major themes. Epic poem, Song of Myself, is the most widely known of the poems included in Leaves of Grass and is at its most basic, a meditation on what it is to be human. In 2011, writer and academic Jay Parini named it the greatest American poem ever written.
As such, Walt Whitman is considered America's first poet of democracy, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. Poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet,” adding, “He is America."
“We were thrilled to have the opportunity to bring the work of such a seminal poet and champion of democracy to FDR Four Freedoms State Park, a place named in honor of FDR's vision of democracy and equality,” said Madeline Grimes, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Four Freedoms Conservancy. “It seemed incredibly fitting that this piece – our inaugural public theater performance – be performed in a place representing human rights for all, 200 years after Whitman's birth.”
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, Walt Whitman from Song of Myself
Additionally, Grimes says, “There are certainly some parallels between free speech and poetry to be drawn. Whitman spoke quite candidly about subjects that were not spoken about often – sexuality and prostitution for example.” “I believe in the flesh and the appetites, Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle” he wrote in Song of Myself. In a nod to that legacy, the Walt Whitman Community School opened in Texas in 1997, becoming the first private high school to cater to LGBT youth. (The school ultimately closed in 2004)
Whitman transformed poetry around the world with his disregard for traditional rhyme and meter and his celebration of democracy and sensual pleasure. A landmark of modern poetry and world literature, Leaves of Grass is studied by an ever-expanding group of poets and politicians, set to music, translated into multiple languages and widely quoted. It is an ideal subject for Compagnia De' Colombari, known for intentionally clashing cultures, traditions and art forms to bring new interpretations.
More Or Less I Am, Barge Music 2011, by Stephen Bateman and Ben Pardo
Founded on the twin principles that the magic of great theater can happen anywhere and be made accessible to everyone, Compagnia De' Colombari brings performers and audiences together, to transform strangers into community. The hour-long performance will consist of spoken and sung passages in different languages, and will include music as well as audience participation. 15 performers of various ages, genders, and ethnicities: eight actors/singers, six instrumentalists, and one child will perform. Notably, Roosevelt Island's own Michael Rogers is a member of the cast.
“As a monument that encourages free speech and expression, inviting visitors to experience poetry and performance onsite is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us,” explained Grimes. Audience members will be seated on the steps of the memorial for this free performance. The Conservancy will offer a reserved seating area for those with mobility devices, or those needing chairs. Get free tickets here.