The Celts are my ancestors, but I have known little of this heritage as my familial bonds were severed in childhood. My surname is Preston, which means “priest town.” In Scotland, there was (and still is) a town named Preston, run by priests in the 12th century. Researching the culture of the Celts, I have arrived at a new awareness. Raised as a “ward of the state,” where African American, Native American, and Irish American children were my “brothers and sisters,” I have discovered hidden treasure in life as an orphan: considering people from all walks of life to be my “kin” at an early age has led to a world-view that is inclusive of all life.
For much of my youth, I felt like an outsider within American mainstream culture. Interestingly, the name “Celt” comes from the Greek word “Celtoi” meaning “stranger” or “outsider.” Then, I found a home in the theater. Traveling across America , performing plays, I was maintaining an ancient oral tradition that I had no idea I was part of. As I was not in a position to learn any of this cultural behavior from family, I have surmised that these gifts can only have been passed down through the ages from the original Bard by means of genetics, or possibly, Jung’s collective unconscious. Contrary to popular belief, the term “Bard” is of Celtic origin, not English, and Shakespeare was not the first. In ancient times, the Bard would perform his poetry during feasts, satirizing or glorifying his warrior tribesmen. What appeals to me most about this character, the Bard, is that although he had a formidable intellect, and was an exquisite performer and public speaker, the real magic of his “critiques” lay within the intimate connection he had with each member of his tribe. That kind of kinship, steeped in history and tradition, is something I have envied all my life. Now, research reveals that my ancestors were the fathers of Europe, and I am more connected than I ever realized. This connection illuminates “ways of thinking” that I had thought were unique to me, but are actually unique to the Celts. Celtic art forms were inspired by the land and sea they loved so well. Their art, like their lifestyle, was about freedom of movement: open-ended curves and beautiful swells. Celtic art and music reflects a philosophy of freedom. This is what my whole life has been about — seeking freedom on all levels.
Theater has taught me that human beings are capable of creating an alternative reality to the status-quo, especially when they work together with like-minded people who hold a common vision in their hearts. I dream of a world where the noblest traits of the soul are unleashed from the collective mental slavery of the status-quo. It is my intent to travel to Scotland and Ireland in 2007 to research my grandmother, Kate O’Shaughnessy’s life. By sharing our story through the arts, I hope to advance the Celtic legacy: to bring freedom of thought and new ways of being into the present moment in the interest of global unity; and to create my life as the highest form of art in order to honor my ancestors’ struggle.
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