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Thought Into Action: Theater Can Save the World

Stages of Resistance

Pia Wilson 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 articles and reflections in this series!

"I hope it wasn't the writer's intention to make us think," said this woman at a talkback. It was the writer's intention. Because that writer was me. I told the woman she will never come to a play of mine and never have to think. I'm a political writer: my goal is always to make people think and feel and think some more.

Not that I'm interested in lecturing anyone. I don't think that didactic theater moves people to action. I like to entertain and inform and inspire. Theater designed to spark conversation has the power to change minds and hearts and thus the world.

I forget which book I was reading, but I was struck by this idea: the chair you’re sitting in, the phone you use every day, your house or apartment … these things were ideas first. They were sketches or a series of thoughts or a pastiche of brainpower, education, history, inspiration, and imagination.  Our world is created and recreated every day by thinking and then taking action. So, yes, I want you to think – before, during, and after my plays.

The best political theater (any art, really) transforms. It catches you while your soul is open to wonderment and tells you the story of the other. It makes you question your place in the world; it makes you see things in a different light.  It makes you want to seek out that other in the “real” world.  The best theater tugs at your elbow and helps you ask “why.” Why are people living on a dollar a day? What causes racial panic, and how do I experience it, and how can I make it better? Why am I afraid of a person because of their religion?

The way the world is turning on its axis these days … there’s a lot of fear these days. There are so many manifestations of violence out there, physical and verbal. These manifestations of violence were violent thoughts first. I think it is my duty-honor-challenge as a theater practitioner to help my audience process their own violent thoughts, to help them voice that secret aggression that they may be feeling. Why? So that in the safe space of the theater, this anger will have found a way into existence.

It is also my obligation to continue to tell the stories of the oppressed. There are famines in this world. Human beings are trafficked into all kinds of slavery. There are open wounds of racism and sexism festering on the Body America. We must attend to them.

Do I think that theater is a cure-all? No. Do I think I’m magical? Maybe. But that’s another story. All of this to say that good, entertaining theater crafted with the intention of helping others can change the world for the better. I’m telling you that evil can fall in the face of art because art can move people to make profound change. It’s been done before. It is being done now. It will be done in the future.

Let us all think a better world into existence.