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Politics, Poems and Charm in Two London Monologues

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LONDON — Inua Ellams’s plays have been such an enlivening presence on the London stage in recent years that it comes as a particular treat to make contact with the man himself.

An Evening With an Immigrant,” a solo play written and performed by Ellams, a London-based Nigerian author, allows us 90 minutes in his compassionate and impassioned company as he chronicles the distance he has traveled both physically and psychically from his native West Africa, first to England and then Ireland and back to England, gathering acclaim as a poet, performer and playwright along the way.

The production by Ellams — author of the much-traveled “Barber Shop Chronicles” as well as an insightful take on “Three Sisters,” with Chekhov’s play relocated to Nigeria during the country’s Biafran war — shares a stage with monologues from Alan Bennett and David Hare at the Bridge Theater here. And while those English dramatists represent a long-established senior generation, Ellams and other fast-rising Black artists, several of whom are included in the Bridge repertory season, point to invigorating theatrical prospects ahead.

One of four children born into a Muslim-Christian household — he has three sisters, aptly enough, given his interest in Chekhov’s play — Ellams identifies as “naturally nomadic” and describes a continuing quest “to find people to tell stories to.” (So it flows naturally that the key props in his show are a notepad and a suitcase.)

At some point, though, we all want to feel that we belong, and Ellams gains enormous emotional and politically incisive capital from the difficulties he faces as an immigrant wishing to be accepted by his adopted country.

One especially surreal passage in the play, staged at a reconfigured Bridge Theater for an extended run through Nov. 7, describes him accepting an invitation to Buckingham Palace after public recognition of his work, only to find himself without a proper ID and, he says, in danger of deportation. His applications for residency and then British citizenship have also cost thousands of pounds, and only that first effort has so far been successful.

Credit…Marc Brenner

Ellams turned to poetry after his early thoughts of being a painter were scuppered, he tells us, because he couldn’t afford the paint. Having published his first book of poems at age 20 in 2005, he punctuates his story with some lushly evocative verse that is accompanied more often than not by a gently infectious laugh.

He also tears up here and there, as anyone might in frustration at the various humiliations that have beset him and his family as they try to become one with Britain, the country that young Inua first moved to at age 12. Highlighting displacement as one of the few commonplaces in the world just now, Ellams guides what often feels like a funky fireside chat toward an angrier place, informed at every turn by the plight of migrants around the globe. You exit the show incredibly happy that Ellams exists among British society, and more than ready to join in his fight.

Yolanda Mercy also has personality and charm in abundance, which is useful given that her contribution to the same season of monologues is pretty slight. Like Ellams’s piece, Mercy’s self-penned “Quarter Life Crisis” — which is running in repertory through Saturday — was first seen in 2017 and has now been granted a further platform at a premier theatrical address.

How nice it might have been if the entirely engaging Mercy had used the opportunity to go deeper with her tale of Alicia Adewale, a South Londoner of Nigerian origin who is hurtling somewhat uneasily toward the ripe young age of 26 — hence the quarter-life crisis that gives the 50-minute show its title.

As it is, the evening is sweet but doesn’t really take us anywhere new. As Alicia navigates dating apps and rejects pesky calls from her father, the lovelorn figure in a bathrobe at the show’s start feels like the latest in an array of similarly questing women like Bridget Jones. And given the sexually graphic remark or two peppered in “Quarter Life Crisis,” the erotically minded Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s stage and TV persona, would no doubt warm to a kindred spirit in Alicia, who charts her life in terms of chicken wings and vodka Red Bulls.

Credit…Helen Murray

At a point of millennial limbo, Alicia resorts to — you guessed it! — Siri for reassurance and comes up short there, too. When she turns to her cellphone to ask whether she is grown up, Siri replies without hesitation, “I’d rather not say.”

A death in the family momentarily lowers a mood that for the most part is kept buoyant under Jade Lewis’s direction. Yet the current Bridge, with evident gaps where seats once were, doesn’t lend itself well to the breaking of the fourth wall that this performer returns to more than once, presumably to lend spontaneity to the event.

At a press performance, Mercy brought to his feet one spectator who, as luck might have it, was a psychotherapist able to lend Alicia support. (The two shared an air hug.) When she asked another audience member, “What makes you a grown-up?,” she was met with the reply “I’m very old.”

Those roped into conversation get a (sanitized) gift by way of thanks, which in context feels like a cop-out if the intention is to highlight the human need for connection. More surely could be done with a heritage rooted in the same Nigerian diaspora that Ellams embodies, but the scattershot feeling of Mercy’s piece works against a cumulative impact.

At the same time, it’s nearly impossible not to share Alicia’s insistence on hope while she lobs various questions across the footlights. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” she asks, posing an existential concern to which not even Siri can hazard a reply.

The Bridge season of monologues continues through Nov. 7. bridgetheatre.co.uk

Source:new-york-times

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UNBC Alumni dipping their toes in politics atop Parliament Hill – CKPGToday.ca

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Hughes graduated UNBC earlier this year with a joint major in Global and International Studies and Political Science.

“The jobs that I held as a research assistant, student assistant, and journal assistant at UNBC were invaluable for the development of critical research and writing skills necessary for a parliamentary intern.”—Hanna Hughes, UNBC Alumni

Hughes says that she applied for the internship in part to gain non-partisan experience to prepare her for a potential career in government.

For her, her most memorable moment, two months into the internship, was when she was able to Zoom with former Prime Minister Paul Martin where she was able to “ask questions about the formation of the G20, his role as Finance Minister, and how to operate in a minority government,” said Hughes.

Lukac is grateful for his time at UNBC and says that it prepared him with writing and analysis skills which he says have been crucial for him professionally, “and perhaps more importantly, nurtured my passion for politics and political philosophy,” he adds.

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Two Religion Reporters Cover Where Faith and Politics Meet – The New York Times

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Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

The discourse surrounding the background of the Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the support of white evangelicals for President Trump has deepened political divisions in the country, and the conversations are two examples of why it’s important to understand conservative Christians and their impact. For our religion reporters, Ruth Graham and Elizabeth Dias, covering more political stories as the election draws nearer has become inevitable. We asked them a few questions about digging into the facts on the faith beat.

What challenges do you face covering religion in the United States?

RUTH GRAHAM One challenge in this particular moment is that the pandemic has made reporting so much harder. That’s true on every beat, of course, but religious observance in particular has so many sensory elements that really have to be experienced in person: music, prayers, food, décor, incense, emotion. Calling people up on the phone and asking direct questions about their beliefs will never capture it all.

ELIZABETH DIAS The polarized political climate has made reporters’ jobs harder all around. I’ve found conservatives are increasingly wary of talking with us no matter what the story is, from sexual abuse in evangelical churches to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. That means these important stories often take longer to do because access to accurate information is harder to get.

Religion and politics seem inseparable these days. Has that always been the case, or has something shifted?

GRAHAM I think they seem inseparable partly because it’s election season, and as journalists we tend to view things through that lens ourselves. For ordinary believers, the connection is not always so clear. Some people clearly draw a connection between their faith and their views on national politics; others definitely don’t. I try to keep that in mind as a reporter and not force every story into a political frame.

DIAS Religion and politics both reflect shared, larger questions. They are both about power. They are both about people. They are both about how people structure life together. For centuries religion was politics, and it still is today in many parts of the world — the Vatican is a city state. Each generation works out its own relationship to these bigger questions and to history, and the election is just one way we are seeing that play out now in the United States.

Credit…Rozette Rago/The New York Times

How is covering religion during the 2020 election different than in 2016?

DIAS So much was revealed in 2016: the political influence of prosperity gospel preachers, who connect faith with financial wealth; the complete marriage of white evangelicals to President Trump; the depth of the racial divides within Christianity. Four years later these themes are all present, but that does not necessarily mean the election outcome will be the same. When the votes are tallied we will learn how the president’s religious coalition has and hasn’t changed after four years.

Would QAnon ever cross into your beat? What would that look like?

GRAHAM Yes, I’m actually starting to work on a Q-adjacent story right now. It’s a movement that has really taken off among Christian conservatives, and some have argued that QAnon itself is best understood as a homegrown religious movement. So there’s a lot of natural overlap on the religion beat.

What considerations do you take when reporting on religious groups that feel distrust toward the media?

GRAHAM The rising distrust of the media among a lot of conservative religious people is a major challenge, and one that is not going away. My starting assumption these days is always that I will have to work to convince conservative believers to talk with me. I do my best to acknowledge their wariness and explain why I want to include their voice in the story. All I can do is try to build trust by continuing to produce work that takes religion and faith seriously.

DIAS Trust grows over time, so I try to build long-term relationships with people I interview and to think of the body of work I’m building, versus only one specific story. Deep listening happens slowly, and requires appropriate empathy. I also spend a lot of time talking with people off the record, even though it means I may need to do more interviews, because I want to learn from them however I can.

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To Do Politics or Not Do Politics? Tech Start-Ups Are Divided – The New York Times

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Rob Rhinehart, a co-founder of nutritional drink start-up Soylent, declared in a blog post last week that he was supporting Kanye West for president.

“I am so sick of politics,” Mr. Rhinehart wrote. “Politics are suddenly everywhere. I cannot avoid them.”

David Barrett, the chief executive of Expensify, a business software start-up, went in another direction. In an email to his company’s 10 million customers last week, he implored them to embrace politics by choosing the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy,” Mr. Barrett proclaimed.

With days to go before the election on Tuesday, Mr. Rhinehart and Mr. Barrett represent the twin poles of a start-up culture war that has openly erupted in Silicon Valley. Start-ups such as the cryptocurrency company Coinbase and the audio app Clubhouse have become embroiled in a debate over how much politics should be part of the workplace. And venture capitalists and other tech executives have weighed in on social media with their own views.

“I have never seen another instance like this in my career,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political consultant. “There’s no real separation anymore, in the current political climate, between politics and everything else. It has permeated absolutely everything.”

Silicon Valley tech workers have long been regarded as liberal but not politically overactive. After President Trump’s victory in 2016, however, workers at large tech companies such as Google and Amazon began agitating more on issues like the ethics of artificial intelligence, immigration and climate change.

Now many start-up workers, who have been sold on a mission of changing the world, expect their employers to support their social and political causes, entrepreneurs and investors said. This summer’s protests against police violence prompted many tech companies to re-examine their own issues with race. And the pressure to make political moves before the election has only intensified.

The shift has grown partly out of a realization that no tech platform is completely neutral, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, who invests in start-ups through her venture capital firm, Moxxie Ventures. Founders who build companies with millions of users “really have an obligation to have a point of view and make sure their products are being used for good,” Ms. Stanton said.

“It’s disingenuous and it’s also the luxury of the privileged to say, ‘We don’t have a point of view,’” she added.

But others said they feared becoming a lightning rod or inflaming tensions at a hypersensitive moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Some worried that their companies could be sued by employees who might say they were discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Others said any move could be attacked by those who found the actions inauthentic or not enough.

Those tensions exploded in public last month when Brian Armstrong, the chief executive of Coinbase, penned a 2,000-word blog post to “clarify” his company’s culture. Mr. Armstrong wrote that he wanted Coinbase to generally avoid engaging with broader social issues and workplace conversations about politics. He said it was a way to minimize distraction and focus on the start-up’s mission of creating “an open financial system for the world.”

Credit…Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Two months earlier, dozens of Coinbase employees had staged a walkout after executives were slow to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters and minority employees, several workers said. In his post, Mr. Armstrong said employees who disagreed with his “no politics” stance could leave.

His position immediately created waves across Silicon Valley. Some praised the move, with one Coinbase investor comparing Mr. Armstrong to Michael “Jordan in his prime.” Others said opting out of politics was itself a political statement.

Dick Costolo, a former chief executive of Twitter, tweeted that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business” would be shot in “the revolution.” He deleted the post after, he said, it set off violent threats and harassment.

In an interview, Mr. Costolo said it was impossible for companies to separate their mission from their impact on the world. “If you try to separate the social contract from the economic contract, don’t be surprised when there’s an uprising, because they’re linked,” he said.

Some Coinbase workers disagreed with Mr. Armstrong. “I’m just so mystified by the apparent lack of awareness in the blog post,” Ryan King, a Coinbase engineer, wrote on the company’s internal Slack messaging system. The message was reviewed by The New York Times. “A declaration that we’re not going to touch ‘broader societal issues’ fails to acknowledge that we’re a part of society,”

About 60 Coinbase employees, or 5 percent of the work force, have resigned, the company said. A spokeswoman declined further comment.

Fred Wilson, an investor at Union Square Ventures and a Coinbase board member, said in an interview that there were no easy answers for start-up leaders. “Many, many C.E.O.s have told me privately that they would like to have done what Brian did but don’t want to take the heat that he has taken,” he said.

On Monday, Mr. Wilson wrote a blog post about removing start-up chief executives who have “failed to manage numerous important challenges.” The post prompted speculation that he was referring to Mr. Armstrong, but Mr. Wilson said it was a metaphor for President Trump.

The political debates among Silicon Valley start-ups have ramped up since the Coinbase episode. Last week, Soylent’s Mr. Rhinehart published his post supporting Mr. West’s presidential bid. Mr. Rhinehart, who is on the board but not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, also attacked the political system and the media, writing that “politics has always been based on jokes.”

Demir Vangelov, Soylent’s chief executive, said Mr. Rhinehart’s post did not represent the company. Soylent’s focus is on bringing “the best complete nutrition to everyone,” he said, and it does not take political stances.

At Expensify, based in Portland, Ore., Mr. Barrett took a different position. After spending more than a decade in Silicon Valley, where he found a “uniform view” that politics was not good for business, he moved to Portland four years ago. Now, he said, “choosing not to participate is also a choice — it’s a choice to defend the status quo.”

So when Expensify employees drafted an email to tell customers to vote for Mr. Biden, after concluding in an internal discussion that re-electing Mr. Trump would be a threat to democracy, Mr. Barrett favored sending it out. While roughly a third of Expensify’s top management opposed sending the email because it could alienate customers, the majority ruled, Mr. Barrett said.

Last Thursday, Expensify blasted its message to its 10 million users. “Not many expense reports get filed during a civil war,” Mr. Barrett wrote.

The email instantly drew criticism and praise on social media. Job applications, web traffic and customer sign-ups have since spiked, Mr. Barrett said. But he also received death threats, prompting him to hire private security. No customers have quit, potentially because Expensify’s system takes months to switch out of, he said.

Tayo Oviosu, chief executive of Paga, a payments start-up in Lagos, Nigeria, said Expensify’s email had crossed a line. Mr. Oviosu isn’t opposed to companies’ speaking up on social justice issues, “but that is very different than leveraging the fact that you used my personal information to tell me I have to vote in a certain way,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Mr. Oviosu, who was using a trial version of Expensify and was considering adopting the paid version, said he now planned to look at alternatives. “I think they lost me completely on this,” he said.

The start-up culture wars are also evident on Clubhouse, where people join rooms and chat with one another. The app has been a popular place for investors such as Marc Andreessen and other techies to hang out in the pandemic. (Mr. Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Clubhouse, Coinbase and Soylent.)

On Oct. 6, Mr. Andreessen started a Clubhouse room called “Holding Space for Karens,” which describes having empathy for “Karens,” a slang term for a pushy privileged woman. Another group, “Holding Space for Marc Andreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessen,” soon popped up. There, people discussed their disappointment with the Karen discussion and other instances when, they said, Clubhouse was hostile to people of color.

Mr. Andreessen and others later started a Clubhouse room called “Silence,” where no one spoke. Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment.

At a “town hall” inside the app on Sunday, Clubhouse’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, were asked about Coinbase’s and Expensify’s political statements and where Clubhouse stood. They said the company was still deciding how Clubhouse would publicly back social causes and felt the platform should allow for multiple points of view, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.

Yet even those wishing to stay out of politics are finding it hard to avoid. On Saturday, Mr. Armstrong shared Mr. Rhinehart’s blog post endorsing Mr. West on Twitter. “Epic,” tweeted Mr. Armstrong.

Several users pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Armstrong’s sharing something political after telling employees to abstain. One of his employees, Jesse Pollak, wrote that Mr. Armstrong had shared something with “a large number of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and misplaced assumptions.”

Soon after, Mr. Pollak and Mr. Armstrong deleted their tweets.

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