Jumah Cola Time to Drink

Arete contribution submitted by Amber Thompson

Jumah Cola Time to Drink sheds light on how war is “new modern art” through the eyes of Jumah, a Muslim-American soldier fighting in a fictional American occupation of India by America.  The play takes the idea of “the commodification of natural resources” and the question of “how two cultures treat something as basic as water” and integrates both into a contemporary Kipling-inspired drama, according to the play’s writer and director, Joel Sena.

Sena is a senior in the Honors College with plans to graduate in December.  He is majoring in Integrated Visual and Performing Arts: Practice and Theory, a major he designed himself through the Honors College; Sena wrote and produced Jumah Cola Time to Drink as his Capstone Experience/Thesis Project (CE/T).  He found inspiration in both the works and the life of Rudyard Kipling, as well as Islam and its presence in post-9/11 America.  The play explores the compassionate and monstrous aspects of the human condition simultaneously in a way that makes the audience question what good truly is.  As Sena describes in the play’s director’s note, “… even in a world that is shooting flames and seems bent against [Jumah], the offer of life to another… is always at his fingertips.”

When asked about his choice to pursue a nontraditional approach to his CE/T, Sena responded passionately, “It does no one any good on this Earth to produce something half-hearted or out of obligation or something [that ]caters to academe. This project has to be a sacrifice, a blood offering as all things in life must be.”  He urges all Honors students that are planning to pursue a CE/T to use whatever medium they are passionate about, not letting previous conventions stifle their creativity.  Sena warns, “If you simply go through the motions like a drone, everyone will smell it and IT DOESN’T SMELL GOOD. But if you are true to yourself, your project will burst into flames of cosmic transcendence and turn into ash everyone’s project that is dishonest or was made without love or conviction.”

His enthusiasm for his work will transcend the classrooms of WKU as he travels to Toronto to visit his mentor, Peter Sellars, who is currently directing Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in conjunction with video artist Bill Viola.  During this time, Sena also plans to visit graduate schools, specifically Brown, in hopes to find a new fit for his continued study.  After initial resistance toward the idea of graduate school, Sena explains that he is ready to find his future academic home asserting, “Now my foot is on the gas and my tires are screeching.”

(Source: Honors Headlines, Nov 15, 2012)

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5 Responses to Jumah Cola Time to Drink

  1. Joel Sena says:

    A great feature by Amber Thompson. Thanks to all those that came and experienced JUMAH. It has deeply touched my life and I certainly hope the lives of those in our performance group The Corporate Surrealists of America and perhaps two or three in the audience as well. We hope to be the guides to a more sophisticated dialogue of the human condition.

    The human issues we put our finger on, yes, have resonance very specifically with brutal realities we are surrounded by at this moment but our ultimate aim, as all art’s aim should be, is the deeper, more universal truths that were on the minds and consciences of people eons ago and that continue to need honest, humane discussion right now. Examining the subjects of war and water through multiple lenses has exposed very intensely emotional questions about humanity, sacrifice, and about the moral dimensions that are present in every single aspect of our lives down to the bottle of Coke we drink with lunch or the simple glass of water we drink at 2 in the morning because we cannot sleep.

    We hoped in part to shed light on the strange state of religion in our country and in our military. As science and technology continue to replace the idea of God in our corner of the globe, we are becoming more and more blind to the fact that in most of the world, religion has not been replaced. This is very dangerous with our economic and military arms bear-hugging the planet.

    Water plays a sacred role in all major religions and if we were going to look at water politically, economically, ethically, emotionally, and socially, we would of course be dealing with it spiritually and religiously. Art is the only place that can hold a subject like water in all its enormous complexity, like war in all its many emotional layers–without self-righteousness or judgment. We still have the theater so that we don’t forget that everyone is, in fact, human.

  2. Wolfgang Brauner says:

    Thanks so much for this enlightening comment. I hope more will chime in. How can art in general, and perhaps theater in particular, touch and move people in ways that other forms of communication can’t?

  3. Joel Sena says:

    Well if we talk about theater in particular (and include even opera, a form I want to work with next), we should acknowledge that it is one of the only art forms that is literally just a vessel, in that it’s an open space in which painting and sculpture and architecture and light can meet and talk with dance, poetry, storytelling, and especially music. It’s one of the few places where the artist is living and breathing with the audience. If nothing else, it’s people in the same space as other people, not divided by time, space, or screen. It’s about a shared space, as my mentor calls it. And it’s one of the few places you can cry with total strangers–and it’s amazing when this happens and it’s real and no one is ashamed. Theater is nothing other than social and emotional connection–dialogue, argument, agreement, disagreement, confrontation, truce.

    Music on its own can change a night, a year, a life. But put with poetry and visual art and dance (no real dance in JUMAH unfortunately), you keep reaching levels of cosmic richness that almost almost almost truthfully reflects what it is to be a moral agent, a human being.

    • Wolfgang Brauner says:

      Beautifully put. Your description of theater reminds me of my favorite definition of music as the communication of emotion — but doesn’t that risk that people just get swept away in the emotions of the moment, and precisely because of that, never really address the deeper social, political and economic issues?

      Regarding your second paragraph, does a totally immoral person – if there is such a being (moral idiots, generalized indifference?) – cease to be human?

      • Sarah Brazier says:

        In response to your first question Wolfgang, I have two responses.
        First, a lot of theater is concerned about exactly what you asked. It’s one of the major themes in Urinetown (recently sweeping the stage at WKU) and all throughout Metatheater. A lot of artists are afraid that we are simplifying performance into pure spectacle. But herein lies my second point, all thought, I think, is attached to emotion. The reason why we feel so strongly about certain issues within politics is because of some instinctual reaction to them that tells us “This is not right.” Without an emotional attachment, a self-interest, in said problem, we will continually fail to address the wicked problems plaguing our planet. It’s when people feel something that they open themselves up to the dialogue that Joel is talking about. The thing that made Jumah Cola wonderful was its abstractness. It forces the audience to enter into a conversation simply because of its structure. So much of Jumah was up to the audience to interpret, and the undertaking of such a task is best done through dialoguing with fellow viewers. By evoking emotions within an audience, theater reveals a table rich with conversation, all for the audience’s taking after the show. Few people, in my experience, walk out of a theater with nothing to discuss, especially when they experienced deep emotion together.
        One of the goals of theater is to create change in society. To do that, you have to get people to care. If there is an emotional investment, then conversation, and (hopefully) action, will follow.

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