VANCOUVER, Wash. – A black comedy titled “Thirty Days on a Silent Buddhist Retreat, or How I Learned to Breathe Through the Apocalypse,” written by Washington State University Vancouver Professor of English Desiree Hellegers, will air on five dates starting this week on the Portland-based cable TV station Open Signal, which reaches some 400,000 metro-area households. The broadcast is the first segment of a planned multipart production.
To watch, go to watch.opensignalpdx.org/cable. The broadcast schedule follows:
Channel 11: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16
Channel 22: 5 p.m. Sept. 18
Channel 22: 8 p.m. Sept. 22
Channel 23: 7 p.m. Sept. 24
Channel 23: Noon Sept. 26
The play is set in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and in the wake of disclosures of torture at U.S.-run prison camps at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram in Afghanistan. It is based on Hellegers’ real life experience in 2005 of a Buddhist retreat at a Lutheran Church camp with bad plumbing in the woods of British Columbia.
Calling the play “at times slapstick,” Hellegers portrays the mind of a character who tries to fight off panic attacks that go back to childhood memories watching villages burn in Vietnam on the television news between episodes of “Gunsmoke” and “The Brady Bunch.” “As the story unfolds, she increasingly recognizes parallels between her authoritarian, privileged, white Catholic upbringing and commodified white American Buddhism,” Hellegers said.
The daughter of a child refugee of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Hellegers acknowledged that climate collapse, authoritarianism, war and fascism hardly sound like the stuff of comedy. But, she added, “at moments of political crisis and extreme social stress, comedy is uniquely suited to open up the breathing space we need to address the growing threats of climate collapse and fascism in the U.S.”
The play is a collaboration between Hellegers and Derya Ruggles, a graduate of WSU Vancouver. Ruggles, who also co-directed, co-produced and co-edited the play, is an actor and playwright. Their YouTube channel is Desi & Derya Productions at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZFSfUsJzms, where “Thirty Days” may also be viewed.
Initial funding for the play was provided by a two-year WSU English Department fellowship endowed by Lewis E. and Stella G. Buchanan.
About WSU Vancouver
As one of six campuses of the WSU system, WSU Vancouver offers big-school resources in a small-school environment. The university provides affordable, high-quality baccalaureate- and graduate-level education to benefit the people and communities it serves. As the only four-year research university in Southwest Washington, WSU Vancouver helps drive economic growth through relationships with local businesses and industries, schools and nonprofit organizations.
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