Michael Nouri on freedom versus captivity and being a citizen of the world

Hollywood actor Michael Nouri plays the English-speaking narrator alongside an Italian company in Siddhartha, The Musical. He is not surprised that this Buddhist musical was created by Mafia lifers in Italy’s toughest maximum security prison.


Michael Nouri

Michael Nouri

I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. I’m not anti-American, I’m not pro-American. I consider myself a citizen of the world. I am pro-humanity. Which is why Siddhartha, The Musical has such resonance for me.


Siddhartha is born into life of privilege. One day he sees suffering outside his palace gates. He asks his family why he’s experiencing all of this privilege when other people are suffering. He is an example of somebody who has understood that the highest level of living comes from a place of service. Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, all of the great teachers throughout history, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, all talk about serving.


So Siddhartha has to go out on his own, he has to eschew himself of everything that he was familiar with, which is, at the same time, both scary and exhilarating. Most of us do not choose this path because we gravitate towards comfort, and when it gets to the point when it feels scary, we retreat. There are defining moments in all our lives where we can decide whether or not to say, I’m willing to stand alone in order to be who I truly am. I submit that the only way that we can ever know who we truly are is to be willing to stand alone.


It’s the only way. Why? Because it is consistent with our nature: we’re born alone, we leave alone. We can’t take anything or anyone with us. Alexander the Great said that, when he died, he wanted to be buried with upturned, empty hands and an epitaph that read, “Here lies Alexander the Great, who conquered two-thirds of the known world. He came into this world empty handed and he leaves empty handed.”


The story of how Siddhartha, The Musical came about [developed by inmates taking part in a theatre workshop programme in an Italian maximum security prison] is amazing. My mom – who was someone who really understood service and how fulfilling it is – taught in prisons in New Jersey. So, when I heard about the genesis of this production, that really resonated too, but I wasn’t surprised.


It is axiomatic that inmates are so receptive to the messages in the musical. Who is free and who is captive? We, the ‘free’ people, are captive to all of the day-to-day distractions of our modern lives and comforts, while the ‘captive’ people are free of those distractions. They have nothing outside their four walls, so – and this is key to growth – they are free to focus. The one thing that is absolutely necessary for us to think and grow in anything is focus. Without it, we are a rudderless ship, at the mercy of the wind and the ocean.


Siddhartha, The Musical is at Assembly Rooms, 31 July to 25 August 2014 at 18:10 (runs 1 hour 10 minutes).

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