The Conversation of Resistance
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.
In early February, a room full of playwrights gathered in scattered chairs for Winter Writers' Retreat orientation at The Lark. As we introduced ourselves and our goals for the week ahead, an unmistakable thread emerged—nearly all of us expressed both our difficulties writing in the face of the exhausting, unending turmoil of the age of Trump, as well as the immense pressure to make something important.
One writer expressed that in light of all the fake and false coursing through the veins of our media and government, the best way he can resist is by “being as truthful as possible in his work.” In the midst of the onslaught, this beautiful sentiment has stuck with me. Resistance has always been at the core of what theatre is—theatre is about banding together to tell stories, to speak truth. In my mind, the resistance is as much in the truth as in the coming together.
The theatre that most people don’t see is the conversations in these rooms. Dialogue that sparks lifelong friendships, triggers activism, and pushes the most powerful words and performances onto stages. These exchanges may seem small, but in fact are monumentally important. After all, every movement, every piece of theatre begins as a conversation between two people.
It’s not a new sentiment, of course—“art-making is a political act.” Google the phrase and you will find about a thousand versions quoted by makers across background and genre. And yet, so often we, as artists, discount ourselves and our work as “less important.” I myself am terribly guilty of this! Well, it’s just theatre, not brain surgery—no one is going to die! But what if we began to value our work on the scale of what it is truly worth?
Recently, in a circle of queer artists, one painter and activist expressed that during the height of the AIDS crisis, she felt absolutely hopeless in her making, however, in today’s political mess, she feels certain that art truly matters and that it is making a difference.
In her Oscars acceptance speech, Viola Davis said than an artist is “the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” I would argue further that making work for performance is the only profession that celebrates human connection. The truth is, our mere existence as makers in a country dominated by capitalism is a feat. We work in a system that is set up to de-value us for our choice of passion over profit. What we value and what our society tells us to value may be at odds, but its significance is undeniable. Our work teaches us empathy, and in an ever-complicated world, we must work harder than ever to understand each other.
And so, we resist by declaring that every voice has value. We resist by refusing to be silenced. We resist by plunging headfirst into difficult terrain. We resist by bridging communities. We resist in the unrelenting honesty of our work. We do this together—and we don’t stop.