Making Theatre Now
This piece is part of a new Lark blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called
"Stages of Resistance." This salon welcomes reflections and articles on issues and themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor and/or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this blog series hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and early April 2017.
Don't assume that it's all going to work out. Don't assume.
Don't assume that everyone is on the same page - in the audience, in the green room, on the stage.
Don't assume that everyone has the same politics, the same religion, the same concepts, the same "end result." Don't assume.
Don't assume that I am right and they are wrong or that you are wrong and they are left. Don't assume that someday they will understand, or appreciate, or walk away with a change - don't assume you will educate anyone at all.
Don't assume that it's going to get better, that we will all survive this climate, this change.
Don't assume that you'll get that residency, that grant, that fellowship, that honor, that room of her own, that publication, that award, that acceptance letter, or that once-and-for-all "I've finally made it" production.
Don't assume that the sky won't fall or an agent will call, or that your theatre will make them finally understand. Don't assume.
Don't assume that it will be easier when the funding is there.
Don't assume that anyone will know that you spent countless hours finding meaning and real truth in everyday stories, staging metaphors, designing spaces, and crafting beautiful characters for them to love.
Don't assume that a conversation will stir or that art will be saved.
Don't assume that you can freely express and that we can all just "be at peace" for a moment. For real, don't assume.
Don't assume that everyone will love what you have to say, or even give a shit about it the next day.
Don't assume that 75 percent of the art you create, or the service you do for the cause won't be for free.
Don't assume that someone doesn't want you to fail.
Don't assume you will ever get an applause.
Don't assume that theatre is always a safe place.
Do it anyway.
Currently, I feel like I have been in some sort of operational training or combat mode. But if I am to resist, to fear the coming days, I want to be prepared. In times of political and social unrest, there is no better way to resist than to just put the head down (or up) and make the art. Theatre is not a place, it's an action.
The "don't assumes" are how I get through each day as a playwright. I'm working on a grant funded project as a playwright to devise a piece of theatre with Latinx youth in Springdale, Arkansas. A high school group named "Stitches" has a mission to provide a voice for a conscious development within the youth through service projects and all mediums of art. They have been in the process of writing poetry with a local Latinx poet, which has all been transcribed - next steps...make a script for them (along with other actors) to perform in our community. It will be showcased in four different venues, including the renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
When I am scripting their words like an anthropologist, I can’t begin assuming this will be anything more than a service to them and my community. I can’t assume anything other than the art itself will be seen and heard. If my head is filled with assumptions, I cannot fully understand the characters. I can’t fully understand the fear felt while gripping the steering wheel every night on the drive home from work. I can’t fully understand what it’s like to be called “the brown people” at school. I can’t fully understand the trauma of fleeing their homes in Mexico and reliving the memory every time they close their eyes.
If I assume anything, I can’t feel the compassion. I am so honored they trust me to create a piece of theatre with their stories, their expressions, and their poetry. With this type of trust, I can’t assume.
In the book Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands, Maria Lugones writes “I have spent most of my life thinking up close to and in the middle of people, people to people.” After reading this text in deep research, I looked up from the book and dove into this project with loving zeal. For the first time, I understood my job as a playwright. In the truest Latin sense of the word.
Playwright = someone who crafts plays.
Craft = skill in planning, creating, executing.
Skill = to make a difference.
So there it is. The change will come in through the skill, the difference will come from the craft, the art. The voices will finally be heard by lifting above the political storm, by putting them in the art. A story breathed to a live audience can never die.
We will not understand people by just eating their food, drinking their drinks, or by simply being entertained by them. We will understand them when we finally hear their stories, pain, and humanity. Only then can we “make a difference.” We make a difference by giving the voices a framework and an action, so that a safe space can be created.
Don’t assume that you know the person in front of you until you hear and see their story play out.
That is how I am making theatre now.