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Teach Your Children Well: Resistance Theatre is for Kids, Too

Stages of Resistance
Lojo Simon stands, in a yellow hat, to the left of a black white and red poster that reads "Break the Chains! Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!"

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 throughout March and April 2017!

I began a dialogue with Johamy Morales, the Education Director for Creede Repertory Theatre, during the election. She had commissioned me to write the 2017 Young Audience Outreach Tour, which brings theatre to more than 24,000 children in underserved communities in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. We spoke about how angry we were feeling about the blatantly racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that characterized the election, and now the Administration. Johamy is first generation Mexican-American, and although my grandparents came here three generations ago, both of us acknowledged how much immigration has shaped us as artists.

Many of the students who are served by Creede Rep’s Young Audience Outreach Tour also are immigrants or children of immigrants, some of whom are in the United States illegally. For these children, the powerlessness that Johamy and I were talking about is all too real. These kids see the news – they know about “the wall.” They hear Mexicans being called “bad hombres.” Parents of Dream Act kids fear the police and immigration authorities. They are afraid of being deported. Hate has trickled down to these innocent lives, and kids who are tan or brown or speak a language other than English are being threatened and bullied and told to go back to where they came from. We wanted to reach out to these populations with a message of resistance and hope.

We also wanted to reach the many Native American students who live in the Four Corners area with the same message: Be proud of your heritage. Resist labels and stereotypes and bullying. Instead, stand up for yourselves and your neighbors. Honor your differences. Extend a hand. Embrace each other. All people are equally valuable and important.

The result is Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador), a multilingual musical that honors the history, culture and diversity of the Four Corners area. When he falls into a kiva, Albert journeys back in time to learn about the people and cultures that shaped the place he lives in Delores, Colorado. His journey starts with the Ancient Ones, America’s true natives, who are considered by the Pueblo tribes to be their ancestral people. Along the way, he encounters other Native Americans as well as European immigrants and learns his own family’s history with the bracero program that recruited Mexicans to work on American farms during and for 20 years after World War II. Albert realizes that his land is filled with rich stories of diverse people who lived there before him, and that we are all connected.

As the creative team begins its journey in making Albert Porter a reality this fall, we’re beginning to imagine ways in which our production choices also can break down barriers and challenge dominant normative paradigms in the children’s theatre. For example, rather than define a border between actors and students, we intend to present Albert Porter in the round to reinforce the notion of oneness in the storytelling circle and create a more inclusive environment for everyone participating in the process. Actors will transform between characters not behind a curtain but as part of the performative experience. When Albert’s abuela shares the story of her family history, she will do so in the space occupied by the students and invite them to participate by playing various family members. As these abuelas, abuelos, madres and padres travel long distances for work and come together by crossing borders, students will move around and really feel the ebb and flow of migration in time and space.

A poster hangs near my writing desk that I have had since I was in college in the early 1980s. It’s a woodcut print of women of various ethnicities with their arms raised in defiance. The words read: “Break the Chains! Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!” Writing for children’s theatre is a quiet act of resistance compared to overt sociopolitical protest, but the seed of resistance is the same. For me that is the seed of fury, and I hear it in voices of the oppressed – including children – that must not be silenced.

Children are not simply small adults – they have different needs, interests, and levels of sophistication and understanding – but they shouldn’t be excluded from the sociopolitical dialogue that shapes their future. On the contrary, it is imperative that we include children in stories of resistance. What better way to teach them to find their own voices?