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A Political Animal

Stages of Resistance
Liza Ann Acosta headshot

This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called Stages of Resistance. The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon 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!

The black and white image of Sophie Scholl, one of the core members of the White Rose resistance movement against Nazi Germany, was running through my Facebook timeline for about a week. It was one of those historical pieces I knew but could not remember, especially as I am more dominated by the images of The French Resistance in my consumption of WW2 movies. Sophie, her brother, and their friends were students at the University of Munich who dedicated themselves to write pamphlets and distribute them in open defiance of the authorities. They were tired of Nazi propaganda and the indoctrination perpetrated by the same institutions that had taught so many how to think for themselves. They had nothing else--their minds, their words, their courage. They met at a bookstore. They attended lectures. They went to concerts. They went to the theater.

Their intellectual lives did not stop with a repressive, anti-intellectual regime. Their intellectual lives were fed by scientific knowledge, philosophy, and the arts.

Right now we face a potential massive defunding of the arts and the sciences. I worry about what I hear some in my vicinity (too close, if you ask me) say about artists who speak their minds about our reality: “stick to entertaining us; you have no business with politics.”

The Arts have everything to do with politics.

Theater-making has been an act of resistance under violent military dictatorships (Gambaro, Guevara, Lago, Bortnik, Hist). Watching, reading, listening were crimes punished severely. Plays that seem pretty “harmless” today were the cause of riots in various cities (Ibsen, Synge). Plays can contain subjects of controversy and heated conversation (Coval/Goodwin, Churchill) and even banning (Hellman). Theater can be revolutionary (Boal). Theater can be healing (making it happen, seeing it happen).

In all its forms, theater is a political animal--it can maintain the status quo or fight to dismantle it. What first drew me to study theater was that power to resist powers that may seem impossible to defeat. It was an epiphany that inspired me to continue working in academia, not only to recover works by people of color long neglected or not yet written about. Getting to participate in a project of women fighting for representation of our bodies and our issues in theater was for me a dream come true. A photo of those women, fists in the air, jeans and hoodies was iconic. Then, they were resisting stereotypes. What are we fighting to dismantle? What are we resisting now?

Everything that is wrong in the world, it feels.

It is easy to get complacent today with so many comforts making our lives efficiently passive. What seeing Sophie Scholl, and the many images of women around the world resisting oppression and injustice then and now, has reminded me, is that we have power if only we are willing to wield it.