Sitting down with Abel Tomlinson | Street Jazz

Sitting down with Abel Tomlinson



While editing a show I did last week with Abel Tomlinson, I was struck by how differently most people have come come to view the one-time congressional candidate. Since his arrest earlier this year, he has become the butt of many jokes, and the cause of much head-shaking - especially after his decision to protest is arrest by sitting in a tree outside the Washington County Courthouse.

It’s easy to fall from grace, and so often in the twinkling of an eye to have folks say, “I used to respect Abel Tomlinson but now . . .”

I guess Abel is just lucky that he isn’t a player on the national stage; just imagine the fun that Jay Leno or David Letterman could have had with him by now.

True, he didn’t help himself by climbing the tree, or his subsequent behavior in the tree after a time, when he began removing part of his clothing, or yelling at those passing by.

One might well wait in vain for a newspaper profile on Tomlinson, to hear his views. Certainly he won’t be well-served well by TV sound-bites and a young generation of TV reporters who may have no intellectual concept of what he is trying to say.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I invited Abel Tomlinson to be a guest on my show a few weeks ago. Those familiar with my writings over the years will no doubt expect me launch into my patented line about how public access is the only place a conversation like this can take place, etc., etc.

Consider it done.

Editing the show yesterday, while I don’t agree with everything Abel said (or his approach to his current problems) in the interview he reveals  himself every bit as much the spirited, passionate and intelligent young man people have known for years.  He explained his actions, and what led up to them.

He also reveals a vulnerability not often seen, I think, as we discussed what may face him in the future.

I think that audiences crave real conversation, and not sound-bites. They’d rather see more from people in the community, and less of smarmy TV personalities. They despise pretension, and bloated egos, preferring an honest  exchange of views.

Well, you’ll get a lot of honesty in the Abel Tomlinson interview, I believe.

The interview will run on Fayetteville’s Community Access Television sometime in May, which means it also also can be seen on that magical invention known as the Internet. Stay tuned to this space - and Facebook, of course - for information on when it will run.


Quote of the Day

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. - Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers


Theatre for Living

“Community exists when a group of people share geography, values, experiences, expectations or beliefs. Their connection may be voluntary or involuntary. Sometimes we are simply born into a community. A person can be a member of many different communities.” David Diamond.

Those of us who have been involved with public access think about community a lot, and how to define it, and how to describe to others. I think the above description is as close to perfect as any I have yet encountered.

In Theatre for Living: The art and science of community-based dialogue, David Diamond writes about a different sort of Theatre, one which isn’t static, or traditional. It truly is a sort of “living” Theatre, designed to help people and communities tell their stories both to each other and to others.

Inspired by Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Diamond created Headlines Theatre in 1981. 

Imagine, if you will, a Theatre workshop created by the people in the community, dealing with issues that a community either is facing, or has faced in the past. In many cases, you may be dealing with open psychic wounds that have long lain under the surface of pretty streets and shiny stores.

I suspect that Northwest Arkansas is long overdue for something like this. Dealing with issues such as issues such as violence and suicide prevention, drug addiction, racism, youth empowerment, poverty and building stronger communities, the Headlines Theatre create what might best be described as “interactive” plays, in which members of the cast and the audience/community create the story, which deal with issues in that community.

It’s pretty radical stuff; a Canadian Theatre director once informed Diamond that Headlines Theatre shouldn’t be around, because “ordinary people cannot make Theatre that is art.”

Yeah, we’ve all run into those folks in our lives, haven’t we?

But Diamond and his cohorts more than prove her wrong. What they are doing is living art, which springs from the hearts and souls of a community, and doesn’t need a committee to pass judgment on it. It can be as emotionally  searing as it is honest and uplifting.

What it isn’t is pretentious.

I suspect all most, if not all, communities, are similar to the communities that Diamond has held theatre workshops in; there are lies and resentments buried under the surface that must be dealt with. Part living theatre and part group therapy, this community-based dialogue may be one of the most healing processes a community can go through.

I also suspect it won’t be long before some enterprising soul puts these ideas into practice in this part of the country. I wonder if we’ll be able to stand the honesty?

Those seeking more information about Headlines Theatre can visit their website at:

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