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Banned In China

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Threepenny Opera

I have become obsessed with The Threepenny Opera by Brecht and Weill.

I had actually first seen it when it was put on by the Antioch Theater department back before I went to law school when I worked at Antioch, during the Infamous Payless Paydays. That is how everyone who worked there at the time has always refereed to them. Possibly the first time that Antioch completely ran out of money and was unable to make the payroll. This was back in the late 70s. And long before the school shut down last year.

The people who "ran" the "University" (and scare quotes are absolutely correct for both ran and university) had run it into the ground. The university's trust fund which was not supposed to be able to be touched was being used as security on various loans. The interest on the loans were by this time taking 100% or perhaps a little more of the interest being earned by the trust. This was because the Antioch located in Yellow Springs, Ohio was a college not a university. The university was a bunch of store fronts all around the United States that the were to be an alternative educational system for the poor and minorities. They were started in the late 60s. They were to provide some very esoteric education: Marxist analysis of the causes of the student's poverty and various creative educational options.

Unfortunately, the Marxist analysis wasn't applied to the situation at hand. There was nothing wrong with the concept of trying to set this kind of thing up. But the timing was particularly bad. Those quite radical ideas were being repudiated by Nixon's and then Reagan's American.

The problem was that there was not enough money to bank roll it in Antioch's coffers. That in itself would not have been a problem, if the people who were running the whole thing would have had the sense to see what was happening. That is if they had the inclination or the ability to read a balance sheet.

For the most part the poor and minorities preferred to go to local community colleges and to get an education that would help them to get a job, rather than to Antioch to learn about the exploitation of the poor by the ruling class (something they knew first hand) and about the best way to analyse this through dialectical materialism.

The store fronts lost tons of money. The college in Antioch made a little money, but most of that money was spent on the store fronts (a lot of maintenance was not performed at the Yellow Springs campus because of that). In addition a few years before that there had been a disastrous student strike at the Yellow Springs campus and about two-thirds of the student body withdrew en-mass and never returned. There was no attempt to fix this either.

So the "University" board and president and all the other people with great titles and prestige continued to have these meetings and continued to run a nationwide university with campuses, well gee just everywhere (of course each of these campuses was a couple of rooms with about 30 to 50 students each).

And the pile of money kept getting smaller and smaller until:

Along with the others I went to work at my job as administrative assistant to the assistant dean of students (we got good titles instead of good money). All of us (secretaries, professors, maintenance workers, etc.), well we came to work to pick up our paychecks and there were no paychecks. No money don't you know.

What happened next was probably unique. The Yellow Springs campus had a coherence, community, and a solidarity that I think probably does not exist any where else (not there any more since it doesn't exist now, but that is another story).

The college made a deal with the state and we were allowed to collect unemployment benefits as long as we worked for Antioch. We could collect them and look for work, or we could continue to work at Antioch and not look for other work and still collect. Almost everyone stayed and worked at what amounted to no more than half pay to permit the school to get back on it's feet and that year's class to graduate.

Well anyway to get back to The Threepenny Opera. The drama class needed to put on a play to finish up their year. They did it I learned later for under $250.00 and on an out door stage. It was wonderful. (I guess Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland weren't always wrong.)

The play, of course deals with corruption, murder, theft, prostitution and a completely (purposely) silly tacked on happy ending. Perfect to the time.

Anyway I was reintroduced to the play by way of the movie Cradle Will Rock which was about the play The Cradle Will Rock (a wonderful movie about the only time in American history that soldiers closed up a play). That play was written by Marc Blitzstein who was a character in the movie. His character in the movie had two muses. One was his deceased wife and the other was Bertol Brecht (not dead at the time of the movie). Brecht of course wrote Threepenny Opera along with Kurt Weill. About two decades after the incidents in the movie Blitzstein adapted Threepenny Opera for the off Broadway stage (and from that adaption Bobby Daren got his hit). The movie and both plays just fascinate me, and that is how I got around to obsessing on Threepenny Opera and now have two cast recordings and a book.

Oh what happened at Antioch? Well, Mr. Mead of Mead Paper who was a graduate, stepped in and forced major changes in the way the place was run in exchange for bailing the place out. The administration was forced to get rid of all most all of the "university" except those making money. He paid the piper and they danced to his tune. Then later there were more attempts to cut workers, cut salary, a strike, and further proof that those who have the money and run things don't really ever learn. They think that it is all just money changing hands, that we did it just for the money and who knows maybe we did. Certainly I did, I left for law school and what I thought would be more money and a better job.

The point of both plays (Threepenny Opera and The Cradle Will Rock) is that we are all prostitutes, and we usually get screwed by the rich and powerful (even if they aren't as rich and powerful as they think they are, it only matters if they are richer and more powerful than the rest of us).

And oh yeah, those happy endings are always unbelievable and just tacked on.

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