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The Struggle With Hope

Stages of Resistance

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 articles and reflections in this series!

On November 8, 2016 at about 9pm, I was in search of an avocado under $3 on Franklin Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn – a neighborhood that has driven out its mostly working class Afro-Caribbean and African-American residents for upwardly mobile, younger, whiter (including people of color) technocrats. I stopped at yet another corner store, one in which the man behind the cash register (Yemeni?) was listening to election results on the radio. As soon as I walked in he pushed out, “This is scary! This is scary!” In my denial, the only response I could come up with was a weak, “Keep hoping…”

I struggle with hope – have been struggling with the idea, the practice, the commodity of hope- for a few years now. It allows for easily marketable, neo-liberal, bordering on denial answers to real questions about survival and quality of life.

In one poster, HOPE was the slogan beneath then presidential candidate Obama’s image. With Democrats in the White House for the last eight years, we experienced: the continued neocolonial policies that saw drone wars from Syria to Pakistan; U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s atrocities against Yemen; U.S. backed “regime change” in Colombia, El Salvador, Libya, etc, etc, etc.; the deportation of thousands and thousands of immigrants; the repeal of the Voter Rights Act; and the too late halt to the DAPL. DOMA was repealed, and the weakened ACA became law, while Single Payer health care was put down. I question whether Hope is the currency for compromise.

I recently saw The Matrix Reloaded and repeated Morpheus’ line, “It’s not a matter of hope. It’s a matter of time.” I’m not sure this sentiment, in practice, is any different than hope, itself, but for the time being, it’s given me something to chew on other than the spiritual, emotional, and political commodity of hope.

“Hope, like greed, fuels capitalism.” When I read this Ronald Wright quote in Chris Hedges’ post, it confirmed what I’ve been slowly coming to accept. My “hope” of getting the next residency, fellowship, grant, role, production, workshop, etc. is part of the greed that fuels the capitalism of the theater industry. I don’t hope I will finish writing a play – I am in front of the computer day after day and I finish writing the play. I don’t hope I will facilitate a thoughtful, creative workshop – I tune in to students and facilitate a thoughtful, creative workshop. The things I hope for, compete for, depend on luck, meritocracy, resources, networks, social/political capital, market value, etc. – all instruments of capitalism. How do I make my work (especially in New York City) and not be dependent on this system – the theater industry – for opportunities and value? Is that even possible?

I left beloved Albuquerque, New Mexico for NYC in hopes of bigger, better, shinier opportunities. I arrived in a city where, what I once considered communities of audiences, are deemed markets and subscription holders. What is on the stage often reflects what CNN, The New York Times, and other corporate media outlets force feed us day after day as the most important and relevant issues and people. Is it possible to have anything else given, that it’s a market driven industry, supported by elites who are the institutional patrons? Yet, I’m a beneficiary of this institutional support and continue to hope I get more. My hope, like greed, fuels…

How much does the hope, in theater today, reflect the “state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion,” Hedges refers to – “the momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment.” I would like to think more of my work and that of my colleagues and what is possible in theater. I’ve invested so much time, energy, resources, and hope into my success (yes – success by capitalist standards). To survive I have to participate at some level – it’s almost impossible not to. Is my work really about finding a way to continue making theater while being less emotionally dependent on the market driven industry for value? Does it start with divesting hope?