Siddhartha, the Bright Path, The Marsh Youth Theater production about the life of Buddha, which serves as a kind of alternative holiday show on several levels, opening this Saturday and playing through Jan. 6 at The Marsh in San Francisco’s Mission District, is the result of a collaboration set into motion by Berkeley’s Emily Klion, the creative roots of which trace back years ago to Mills College.
Siddhartha tells the story of the young Indian prince “who had everything and gave it up, in order to find out what made people suffer,” said Klion. “He found it was through attachment to things. That’s a good message for the holiday season. We work at The Marsh Youth Theater with kids from diverse backgrounds, and all somehow feel if they have the newest iPod, the newest sneaker, they’d be content. What Siddhartha discovers is having things doesn’t relieve suffering, but increases it.”
Told through acting, song and dance with a young cast of 24, ranging in age from 11 to 16 (including veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Vishnu Balunsat in the title role, Jenna Huxley and Misha Brooks from Berkeley and Audrey Eileo from Oakland), the show incorporates Indian dance and Bollywood-style hip hop from three different choreographers (kathak dancer Joanna Meinl, Antonia Minnecola—wife of tabla drummer Zakir Hussein—for the more theatrical numbers, and Russell Wright of Berkeley’s Walden School for hip hop), and three composers (Klion, Lisa Quoresimo and Klion’s husband, jazz musician George Brooks.)
Siddhartha was written by Klion, Quoresimo and longtime Bay Area trouper Danny Duncan, directed by Quoresimo with costumes and videography by another Berkeley resident, Susana Aragon.
Klion spoke of it all going back to her days studying music at Mills with Terry Riley, Pandit Pran Nath and Lou Harrison.
“I travelled with Lou’s gamelan and puppet show,” Klion recalled, laughing. “Dick Whittington and His Cats—I think I played a cat part! He first showed me how to put on a show, to use music to get something across. Then I went to India for a year on a Watson grant and saw how they used theater, comic books, all kinds of ways to teach their children Indian mythology. I decided I wanted to tell the myths of the world to children, who would enact them. I’ve worked at the Mills Children’s School, the S.F. Day School, Center Stage—and now direct The Marsh Children’s Theater. We started out seven years ago with 10 neighborhood kids, and now have over 250 citywide.”
Siddhartha was first performed last May with a cast of 40.
“The houses were overflowing with families and friends,” Klion said. “This time, we wanted to reach out to the community at large, to the general public, so held auditions for the first time. There are so many skilled kids, all with some sort of stage experience, a few from the S.F. School of the Arts. Many have the desire to become artists, and through this can look forward to the time when they’ll appear at The Marsh asadults. We’re a full-service theater place, from two year-olds doing creative movement, on up. We accept everyone, from whatever background and financial situation.”
The story parallels that of the young Buddha with a Bay Area girl, Chandra, surrounded by gifts at her birthday, “who becomes aware of the suffering on the street around her, and gives away everything—gives up too much, in fact, and realizes, as Siddhartha did, that too much deprivation, like too much attachment, makes you unhappy. She sits down under a tree, which turns out to be the Bodhi tree, under which Buddha was tempted. It’s the one place she and Siddhartha meet. The temptations are shown in a video dance piece. We asked the kids, ‘What tempts you?’—and they all said, Money, computers ... lots of temptations out there to resist.”
The show moves between “two feelings, Indian dance and Broadway showtunes and video, just as the music itself draws on ancient Indian as well as jazz and gospel. It shifts between two worlds. My husband, George Brooks, also studied with Pandit Pran Nath and Terry Riley, and went to India with me. He’s been involved in jazz fusion with Indian music. He cowrote some of the score, and also sprinkled in some of his own music throughout.”
Being asked about harnessing the energies of all her collaborators, plus 24 kids “and their parents!” took Klion back to her days at Mills.
“Learning pipe organ, playing a four-part Bach fugue with all your arms and legs taught me to think on many levels at once,” she said. “It’s been very rewarding work, with a good message for the holiday season—that, whatever your path, each one can change the world through enlightenment. A message of light.”
SIDDHARTHA: the bright path
Through Jan. 6, with matinees between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco. Tickets: 800-838-3006, information 415-826-5750.
Opening Night Benefit on Saturday, Dec. 15: $50-$100 sliding scale.
Doors open at 6:00 p.m. for Indian hors d'ouvres and Silent Auction. Show begins at 7:30 p.m., followed by wine reception.
Image: Contributed photo
A scene from Siddhartha, the Bright Path at the Marsh in San Francisco.