In 1987, while I was the artist-in-residence at the University of Rhode Island, I wrote, along with my co-composer Robert Schleeter, a musical title “The Spirit Warrior’s Dream.” It was a play about a charismatic leader (The Dreamkiller) who rose to power by taking away the people’s will to think for themselves and the music that connected them to their dreams. He was challenged by a rebel leader (The Spirit Warrior), who believed that people cannot live without the music that connects them to hopes and dreams.
In a survey I asked the students at the college two questions:
• Is America a failed idea whose time has passed or a yet-to-be-fulfilled promise?
• And, if a Spirit Warrior is anything or anyone that you trust unconditionally to protect your spirit, who or what is yours?
In 1987, even though the students expressed certain doubts about the future, they usually answered that they believed America was moving toward a more just and inclusive society.
The answers to the second question were the most surprising. God or Jesus made up about 50 percent of the answers. Grandparents and pets outnumbered parents. Sacred or secret places were high on the list. Captain Kirk got votes. Favorite songs were named.
I often wonder as I work on an updated version of the play how the same students, and their now college-age children, answer those same questions.
In 1987 I thought I was writing a post-apocalyptic political and social fantasy. I thought I was writing and staging a modern opera that explored and celebrated the power and beauty of American music and the value of freedom and democracy.
Over the years as I continued to work on the show, I began to see my exploration into science fiction begin to turn into social fact. It was the threat of our music being taken away; it was the vote. It wasn’t the will that was being suppressed; it was the truth.
An aspect of the show that has survived from 1987 until now is something the Dreamkiller says, “If you tell a lie enough times, it will become the truth.”
But I know that the truth, no matter how difficult it is to accept, is indestructible. I also know that magnificent ideas such as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and “All Men are Created Equal and Endowed With Certain Inalienable Rights,” can be crushed by lies disguised as the truth.
I am reminded as I work on the show to be ever mindful of the Dreamkillers in our midst. They are as real as climate change.
Pitts-Wiley, one of three new Breeze columnists, is co-founder with his wife Bernadet of Pawtucket-based Mixed Magic Theatre, a company that has striven to bring diverse stories and images to the stage since 2000. A university theater instructor, he is an actor, playwright, composer, and director and 2017 Pell Award recipient.