Dangerous moments. When you burn… a book.

with respect to RSL and Mr Orwell

with respect to RSL and Mr Orwell

I’m standing alone on stage, in a theatre, one spotlight on me.

I’m holding open a large hardback book. I’m looking out at the crowd into the lights, and I say,

“Censorship is Un-American”

“Book Banning in Un-American”

“Being censored because of your sex and race is Un-American”

I open and “read” from the book I’m holding.

Tearing out a page and tossing it in the air for each title I read.


Kurt Vonnegut — Slaughterhouse Five


Judy Blume — Are You There God It’s Me Margaret


Maya Angelou — I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings


Harper Lee — To Kill a Mockingbird


John Steinbeck — Of Mice and Men


Alice Walker — The Color Purple


Judith Guest — Ordinary People


Aldous Huxley — Brave New World

I continue listing books and tearing pages.

I read the first page of the book.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” I hold the book up showing the cover and say…

“Banned. George Orwell — 1984"

I take the paper book cover off and drop the book in the small metal trash can I have at my feet.

I take out a lighter and light the book cover on fire. I say, “this is what it looks like to burn a book,” and hold it until I can’t and drop it into the bucket.

It makes a huge flame, and a ton of smoke. I say “this is what it feels like to watch art burn”.

Fire swells from the bucket.

In my head I think “well, this is Theater Dangerously,” (our Friday night UW cabaret theatre series) but I better get this put out.

I take the lit bucket on fire through the crowd out to the drinking fountain then outside to douse the flame. Quickly, somehow not burning myself or anyone in the process, leaving the audience with just having a live fire in a theatre and smoke that makes them cough.

In that moment I felt what oppression, mob mentality, and hate can feel like. When someone does something to you. To art. To a person’s words that they took time, effort and energy to write.

I hated it. I hated burning that cover, ripping that book. It was empowering for a moment, but it also made me sick.

On the outside steps, a few of us stood there full adrenaline, in a little bit of shock over what I had done.

My simple act of performance art could have hurt people, what if I had dropped that bucket?

Sparked a real fire. What if the sprinklers failed? What if I had hurt or killed someone? I didn’t. Thank goodness.

My friend said, “Well, Heather, that certainly was dangerous…”

Luckily the fire alarm didn’t go off.

Luckily I didn’t get arrested.

Luckily I didn’t kicked out of college, or burn down Hutchinson Hall, School of Drama at the University of Washington, Seattle.


Sometimes you have to walk in the shoes.

Understand the gravity of actions.

Live in the moment of the moment.

Even if it’s dangerous.

Our rights are too important to not do so.

My 20 year old self stood with a fist, my 40 year old self is learning from her.

Burning art, books, socks… because of hate, never a good thing. But sometimes its good to be dangerous.

A reminder of what could be, what we could be, if we let hate rule.

If you like this share it with your friends and hold that clap button down — hard.

Written by Head Maven & CEO, Heather Newman, Creative Maven

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