As we descended into Newark yesterday afternoon – blithely unaware that the forerunning tempests stirred by Hurricane Arthur had caused our connecting flight to be cancelled, and that we would spend the night not in Kansas City, as planned, but at the Kenilworth Inn, Kenilworth, New Jersey – our irrepressible attendant announced that we should seriously consider the benefits of the airline’s air miles scheme, the fruits of which could be enjoyed at any number of ‘redemption destinations’. Amid the white noise of corporatese, this phrase stood out. I defer to the other Paul for a full exegesis of its theological connotations, but many hours later, now airborne again, bound for Kansas (via Denver) and gazing down at the unfolding middle continent below, I find the notion of ‘redemption destinations’ curiously resonant.
It’s the Fourth of July and much could be said about the ways in which this land mass has acted (or not) as a redemption destination for millions across the centuries. But, more specifically to this project, I’m reminded of a moment in the first episode of the sitcom Parks and Recreation. A large and unsightly hole has opened up – I forget how – in a local park in Pawnee, Indiana. What some see as a headache/eyesore, civil servant Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) – sees as potential. She imagines a post-hole future for the park involving community events, the most exciting of which would be an annual Shakespeare in the Park festival. Such a change would, in her vision, re-create the space and the people who visit it, would redeem the destination. I guess the joke is partly on Knope’s aspirational Pollyanna-ism, but the moment plays out in miniature something that has happened hundreds of times in the last century – someone somewhere in North America has looked at a space, often a park, sometimes a building or an urban void, and thought that it would be better(ed) if you put Shakespeare in it.
There is a lot of space to fill down there. On these pan-American flights I’m always reminded of the Talking Heads song, ‘The Big Country’, in which a littoral liberal (sung by David Byrne) looks down with detached pity at the ‘fly-over’ states and concludes ‘I wouldn’t live there if you paid me / I wouldn’t live there, no siree’. Well, plenty of people do, and for many of them, as much as for their coastal counterparts, Shakespeare has played some part in recreating the space and improving the destination. There’s some time before we get to ours – Kansas City and the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival – but I’m itching to get out of this plane and into that park, to see a production of the ever-redemptive Winter’s Tale, and to cash in my air miles for some heart-of-American Shakespearience.
Dispatched from Denver Airport