Message from the Center: On Omar Offendum

Many years ago, in what now seems like another life, I was working on the creation of a theater piece, and it was rough going. There were times when the road was not visible, but we pressed on. On opening night, one of my collaborators gave me a hand-made memento, a mini comic strip that illustrated our journey. At the top were the words: “Work is love made visible.” I remember gasping, I had not read those words in so long, and here they were, when I needed them most. For 25 years, I’ve kept that comic strip taped above my desk.

Fast forward to just last year. I was watching a performance by Omar Offendum, and in the midst of a very complicated and fast-moving suite of lyrics, I heard those words, “Work is love made visible.” I gasped again, and hit rewind, to make sure I heard correctly. I did.

Those words are from a poem, by Kahlil Gibran, called “On Work” from his book, The Prophet. I first read this book in high school, I have no recollection how I came upon it, but I read and re-read it, all through college and beyond. At some point I stopped telling people I loved it because it had become unfashionable to like it, and my beloved copy had disappeared. But words have a way of finding you, of lighting the way, of making the murky visible.

Like Gibran, Omar Offendum is a poet. His gift with words is beyond technical. He channels the magic, he enters the zone. Anyone can speak a poem, not everyone can make it sing.

I first saw Omar perform at the Ford Theater in the fall of 2019. We were co-presenting the project My Rock Stars by Hassan Hajjaj. Omar was in the cast. The day before the official opening, we coordinated a special performance for middle and high school kids from LA’s public schools. It was a warm October morning in LA, and 1,000 kids filled the outdoor theater at the Ford, squirming, texting, laughing, waiting for the show to begin. I was standing in the back. Omar was first. He stood, decked out in a sharper-than-sharp suit, a fez on his head and a cane in his hand. He spoke for only a few seconds and as if on cue, 1,000 students sat up in unison and directed all their energy to his energy. They were immediately present. It was electric. I remember turning to my colleagues when it happened, and one of them mouthed, “Whoa.”

Work is love made visible. That is what those young people responded to – they could see. They were allowed to see, and in that exchange, they were seen. The road is not always visible, it is often foggy and uneven and pocked with holes. But we work, with love, to find the way.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives