Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Songs of Story Men - Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis

Vaneshran Arumugam (left) and Emmanuel Castis (right)

ON Saturday, 28 September we held the fourth Moral Sense Colloquium, which focused on cross cultural morality, human and animal. As part of the program, two seasoned actors and musicians from South Africa, Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis performed their work, SONGS OF STORY MEN. We witnessed a moving, multicultural feast that weaved a story of two men and one shared love in New York. There was tension, conflict, and yet above all brotherhood. Everything was told through a medley of crisp song and sprightly movement, a sharing of tones through the textures of a steel-string guitar and a nylon-string guitar. Every moment of the performance was well orchestrated to achieve maximum effect. There was Indian chanting and yoga-like rhythms along with light shared from one man to another. Words consisted of texts from Shakespeare to popular songs. The audience was engaged in part of the performance, and everyone I spoke to afterward confirmed having a deeply satisfying experience. I know I did. The lighting and sound engineer was Guy de Lancey.

Among the many guiding questions of the Colloquium, here are a few that would have been addressed by Songs of Story Men: What is cross-cultural morality? What principles and standards of behavior are shared among cultures? How do values, beliefs, and practices differ among cultures? And as Charles Darwin says, in The Descent of Man, “The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable – namely, that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.” Today we’d say “humankind” and not “man,” but the point is that Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis, through their artistry of words, music, and song, epitomize the type of universal moral sense, evident even among animal species, Darwin alludes to.

IN their own words, here’s a bit of what Arumugam and Castis say, put together especially for the event program by their colleague and manager, Jacqueline Acres, of Sixface Creatives: “Songs of Story Men is an experiential meditation on cultural relationships and story. It aims to incite the imagination and evoke the emotions of the audience into drawing together different musical, literary and performance styles and techniques into a cohesive “narrative.” The piece aims to present a thinking, feeling platform for experiencing one’s own reflections and glimmers of memory... The creation and curation of content is evolving and arises from and in response to the actual life experience of the performers, as men, as children of immigrants, as Africans... and as storytellers.”

About The Performers.

Vaneshran Arumugam is a veteran of the South African and International independent film scene, and a film maker in his own right with the independent offbeat hit, “Actorholic.” On stage, he has played the part of parts – Hamlet – for the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, while in South Africa he has become the very image of Othello gracing the cover of the Oxford University press edition of the play. Vaneshran graduated with a Master’s degree in Consciousness in Performance as a Ford Fellow in 2008, which first brought him to New York where he studied at Columbia University under Kristin Linklater. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at St. Francis College in 2013, teaching and performing. Vaneshran and his wife Jacqueline have been selected as a winner in the competitive global social innovation challenge 2019 (Civil Society Academy) in recognition of their innovative vision for the arts in social design, Living University.

Emmanuel Castis became a household name through his character Steve in the popular South African drama, Isidingo. Since then he has been on film sets and stages all around the world. Having played a role in major soaps/dramas in South Africa (Sevende Laan, Erfsondes, Scandal) and the United States (General Hospital, Days of our Lives), Emmanuel is a well-known star of the screen. Emmanuel started his theatre career in Bloemfontein on the Sandt Du Plesis stage playing Rocky in the Rocky Horror show (1999). He has gone on to star in a host of musical and live theatre productions, including, Jersey Boys and Grease. His other claim to fame is beating Trevor Noah in strictly come dancing season 4, 2008, proving that white men can dance! Emmanuel released an album in 2008 called South of Nowhere. He now gigs regularly with his band, Dalliance.