by Mike Telin

Whitman

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul? ……
—Walt Whitman

Beginning on Wednesday, June 4 at 7:00 pm at the Parma-South Public Library, WordStage presents “Walt Whitman — I Sing the Body Electric”. Directed by Tim Tavcar in collaboration with the Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Public Libraries, the production draws on excerpts from Whitman’s letters, diaries and poetical works, contemporary chroniclers and critics as well as Civil War era music and songs set to his poetry. Performances run through August 9. See below or consult our Calendar Listings page for dates, times and locations.

Originally commissioned by the Lakewood Public Library for a National Poetry Month program in 2012, I Sing the Body Electric has since become a staple of WordStage’s repertoire. Tim Tavcar describes the production as a “biological narrative into which is inserted excerpts from some of Whitman’s major works, mostly from Leaves of Grass, and is accompanied and underscored by Civil War tunes.” In addition to I Sing the Body Electric, the production also includes Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, The Wound-Dresser, Beat! Beat! Drums!, and Oh Captain! My Captain!, and concludes with excerpts from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard bloom’d.

TAVCAR-Tim

Did Tavcar find the task of researching Whitman’s life a challenge? “Actually it’s an embarrassment of riches,” he exclaimed during a recent telephone conversation. “Whitman was a newspaper person and he wrote mostly social criticism in addition to being a poet. So honestly the most difficult thing was to narrow down so much information into an hour long program.”

And what interesting facts did Tavcar’s research reveal about Whitman? “He volunteered as a nurse in the Civil War. One of his brothers was in the war and for a period of time he was lost, but later found. When Whitman went to look for his brother he saw first hand all of the casualties of the war from both sides, the North and South. Whitman’s own estimate was that he nursed between 80 and 100 thousand soldiers. I knew that he had done that, but I had no idea that it was as long as it was and extensive as it was. Another interesting things is that his poetry cost him some lower level government jobs — he was fired particularly for the frank sexuality in his poems.”

Regarding the poetry, does Tavcar have a particular favorite? “I think it has to be The Wound Dresser. It’s not only very descriptive of the horrors of the Civil War, it’s also descriptive of how one person can make a difference. I understand that doctors who were around when Whitman was visiting the wounded soldiers said that he did more to bring comfort to the patients then they could. He would also bring them candy and other little gifts even though he was not a wealthy man at that time. He really became the family they would never see again because many of them were terminal patients. There is so much humanity in all of his works, but I think this poem is the one that resonates with the strongest emotions.”

In addition to Tim Tavcar, who portrays Walt Whitman, Marci Paolucci narrates and violinist Mary Beth Ions provides musical accompaniment. “The music is great,” Tavcar adds. “There are a lot of traditional pieces like Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer and hymns like Shall We Gather at the River.” Other selections include Ashokan Farwell, When Johnny Comes Marching Home and I Wonder as I Wander.

Tim Tavcar looks forward to the opportunity to present the show in so many parts of the county. “I’m very happy because the libraries have so many programs to choose from, so I was quite surprised that seven County Libraries decided on this show. And most are in areas that will be new to us, which makes it even better.”

Schedule of performances at public libraries:

Parma-South Branch:  Wednesday, June 4 at 7:00 pm
Strongsville:  Tuesday, June 10 at 7:00 pm
Berea: Thursday, June 12 at 7:00 pm
Middleburg Heights:  Monday, June 16 at 7:00 pm
Beachwood:  Sunday, July 27 at 2:00 pm
Fairview Park:  Tuesday, July 29 at 7:00 pm
Cleveland Public Library Eastman Reading Garden: August 8 at 12:15 pm
Chagrin Falls:  Saturday, August 9 at 2:00 pm

Published on ClevelandClassical.com June 4 2014.

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