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How to do Theatre in the Age of Fear and Anxiety

Stages of Resistance

A headshot of Marcy Arlin, who looks into the camera with her chin turned slightly up and to the left. Behind her, a splash of yellow.
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.

Theatre should sometimes reflect the feelings and emotions of the audience; sometimes it should give us something to think about.

Theater should aspire to changing the world; sometimes it should be for a good laugh or cry.

Theatre should tell a good, clear story; or, it could be a cacophony of bizarre images that leave one totally confused.

Theatre should examine the moral and social issues of its day; but sometimes a peek at the old ways helps us appreciate the new.

Theatre should carefully avoid stereotypes and categorization of people by gender, ethnicity, sexual persuasion, nationality, religion, appearance, and ability. Those people who belong to a particular category, by their own definition, should have the right to make fun of themselves.

Theatre should expose the whims and cruelties of the world. It can be whimsical, but shouldn’t be cruel.

Everyone should have a chance to do theatre. But skill makes great theatre, as in any art or craft.

It would be better if more people could make a living doing theatre and their work was considered valid by the whole society. But the times in human society when only the government sponsored theatre or was used as propaganda for a totalitarian system, theatre became fearful and artists sometimes became apathetic or lazy (of course not everyone!).

For the next 20 years (if we live that long), it will become increasingly difficult for people to be able to think for themselves without extreme anxiety.

Theatre people are, generally, by nature, rule breakers within the context of a society. They are permitted, to some extent, to speak up, to shock, awaken and penetrate a society’s complacency and self-satisfaction. They are permitted, in some places clandestinely, to think of the bizarre, amoral, nonconformist, surreal, abstract, and merciful way to live life.

We must not let that permission be rescinded, by anyone, anything, any time, any where.

We may have to risk our lives (it’s happened: Meyerhold, Havel, Boal, etc.) and our sanity. But we shouldn’t ask anyone, including ourselves, to unnecessarily risk themselves.

We may have to give up fame, fortune, recognition, access to audiences - such as it is. We may have to go to all the non-theatre people who live in our country and world, and do theatre with them, in a garage or yard, or basement.

We just have to keep going.

Be creative, be funny, be tragic, be brave.