I have a confession to make.
I watch reality TV.
I binge-watch reality TV.
Like “Little People, Big World” and “Project Runway” and “Long Island Medium”.
Have you seen that one?
Here’s a link to a clip of the Long Island Medium in action.
Each episode features Theresa Caputo, the “Long Island Medium”, meeting with clients and giving emotional readings with messages from the other side — intercut with clips of her trying to live her daily life, which is regularly interrupted as she is compelled to deliver messages wherever she goes – the deli, at the gym or the supermarket. She is a live-wire conduit and Spirit cannot be denied.
No doubt it makes for good TV.
And for good theatre.
Throughout the ages, living folks have been fascinated by “the other side”.
Are our loved ones are happy? Are they still aware of what is happening in our lives? And can we have evidence to confirm that in some way? Is it possible to communicate beyond the veil…
Enter “the medium”. Dictionary.com defines a medium as “a person claiming to be in contact with the spirits of the dead and to communicate between the dead and the living.”
Methods of communication are varied; seances, trances, ouija boards, lights flickering, channeling, apparitions, materializations, disembodied voices…the list of possibilities goes on and on.
In the US, we have been fascinated by the likes of The Fox Sisters,
whose connection to the spirit world began in 1848 when they were children contacting spirits in their bedroom, which later led to the sisters holding sessions “inviting as many as thirty attendees to gather around a large table at the hours of 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., taking an occasional private meeting in between. Admission was one dollar, and visitors included preeminent members of New York Society: Horace Greeley, the iconoclastic and influential editor of the New York Tribune; James Fenimore Cooper; editor and poet William Cullen Bryant, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who witnessed a session in which the spirits rapped in time to a popular song and spelled out a message: “Spiritualism will work miracles in the cause of reform.”
I am compelled by the idea of a ‘rapping ghost’ in 1848 delivering messages about ending slavery. Actually, Spiritualism has connections to early Women’s Movements as well.
“Primarily, most spiritualists were women. Their role as medium offers an escape from the persistent indignities of domestic life. Spiritualism gave women a platform, one that came with certain degrees of power, freedom and equality absent in contemporary society. The practice also cultivated and air of mystery around the medium, which in turn drew the attention of both men and other women in ways seemingly impossible in other professions. It conferred wealth and fame. In looking at the early years of the feminist movement, you could justifiably point to the seance table as a symbol of equality.
The names of female Victorian era spiritualists remain synonymous with the profession: Emma Hardinge Britten, Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President, with Fredrick Douglass on the ticket, no less!), Leah Fox Fish and Cora L. V. Richmond — a woman whose exquisite features personified the Victorian male definition of virginal beauty.
All of these women would test the boundaries of feminism before women’s suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stantonor Lucy Stone came along. In fact, many female spiritualists would ultimately abandon the profession to directly empower the feminist movement without the obfuscation of the paranormal.” http://www.thecontrarianmedia.
(It does bear noting that I am referring here to the white feminist movement, as women of color were not given a thought by most of our early feminist movement leaders — just as we still have a steep learning curve on understanding what intersectionality really is and how the feminist movement has and does exclude women and voices of color even today.)
Madame Arcati is probably the most famous “medium” in the theatre. And Noel Coward drew from his own real-life relationship with Radclyffe Hall to craft this character. Hall, who identified herself as a lesbian and ‘congenital invert’, was known for dressing and living as a man, as a groundbreaking writer of lesbian literature and as a student and practitioner of the physic realms. She was even a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research, whom Madame Arcati refers to in the text of the play.
In our world of Blithe Spirit, we are playing with an idea of Madame Arcati that gives a nod to all of these contexts.
Also in our world of Blithe Spirit, it seems that the living are not very keen on communicating with each other even while they ARE occupying the same realm of existence — and that the more honest relationships may only happen with those who have passed over and come back to haunt the living — happily or unhappily.
And of course, there is always push back. Skeptics. Doubters. From religious institutions who find meddling with the dead and ideas of the afterlife sacrilegious to those who think it is all a con.
Is Madame Arcati ‘for real’? Do those who have passed over have any more knowledge or wisdom that those of us in the land of the living? And even if they do, would we be able to hear and believe it?
That, you will have to decide for yourself…
Oh, and if you feel compelled…you can always set up your own reading with the Long Island Medium…just be prepared to wait a lifetime…she’s a little booked up these days.