When I sat down to talk with Chris recently, he had suggested that we meet at Grand Central Station which I thought was a perfect suggestion. In his own way because of the work that he has done with Medicine Show and the well traveled life and myriad adventures he's had, Chris is someone who I would consider an iconic presence, and so to meet with him in a place so full of history that is itself an icon of New York City's presence in the world and in the history of travel made a sort of wonderful sense. We met first under the clock in the Great Hall, and then made our way to the Campbell Apartment which is a favorite hideaway meeting place of mine that I have written about in these pages before. Itself full of history, the Campbell Apartment has a wonderfully comfortable feel to it, a quiet luxury and classic beauty that is also very relaxed. As we sat in our leather backed chairs and banquette and spoke over our craft spirits and cocktails, Chris began to tell me his story, and it was so varied and extensive in information and history that I had to ask him to send me some words of his own to back up the story that I would write. I have a very good memory, but there was so much information and I wanted to make sure that my sharing of it was as accurate as possible because in its own way his history is quite incredible.
Beginning in the fall of 1969, while he was in Freiburg, Germany for his third year of graduate work in medieval comparative literature at the University of Freiburg, he took a month long trip to Florence, Italy to visit friends. Although his friends warned him not to get involved in the demonstrations and marches, in his own words, "it was too exhilarating a temptation not to." In the brief history he sent me that he plans to continue writing for a book, he goes on to describe, "Besides, these masses of people were marching for the same causes I'd been demonstrating for back in the States - peace and justice, an end to police states and old-white-male domination of the world, freedom from misery and to explore the opportunities of the new spirit." At the suggestion of E.F. Schumacher, who he had met through a friend of his mother's, he describes how he "went to a meeting of a group that was planning a demonstration on the relations of third world economic woes to German well-being," and that when an announcement was made that "anyone interested in street theatre should go to to the auditorium" he joined that discussion. In the story he shared with me, he relates that "I told two anecdotes I'd heard from Schumacher a few weeks earlier. Schumacher's stories were eerie and funny, told dead-pan from the point of view of a well-informed, commonsensical traveler astounded at the stupidity and social contortion that attach to money and ideology." His ideas were immediately accepted, again in his words, "the stories were a hit," and the demonstration created by the group in the guise of street theater was a success.
Having been immersed in this kind of street theater experience, when he arrived back in the United States and discovered Medicine Show, the rest as they say is history. Continuing his education at Sarah Lawrence College through a Shubert Playwriting Fellowship and gaining a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre with an emphasis on dramatic writing in 1972, he went on to teach and perform and encourage students and actors and writers through a variety of programs and initiatives to be socially and politically aware and to use their voices for peace and justice and the common good. In addition to his work in theater and as a teacher and mentor, he is among other things a carpenter and furniture designer and builder, a Master cabinet maker, a translator of Cuban poetry, and a widely published poet, essayist, translator and contributor to bi-lingual editions of the works of Latin American writers.
There is so much to the story of who Chris Brandt is that I would need the space and breadth of a book to write about him fully. Now that I've had the opportunity to sit down and speak with him and to read some of what he has written about his history, I'm looking forward to reading his book when he finishes it, and to continuing the conversation we began at our first meeting. It's a rare person who has such an amazing story to tell who can tell it in such an entertaining way while still remaining humble. As an artist who uses his craft for the betterment of the world, his voice is a voice for the people.
At The Campbell Apartment
Grand Central Station
New York City