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You Ask Too Many Questions

Stages of Resistance
Against a dark, forest green background, Madeline Sayet tilts her head upwards, looking slightly over her shoulder and laughing.

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!

You ask too many questions . . .

As a director, I spend a lot of time asking questions. And yet somehow, I never feel I ask enough. 

So, I made a change recently. I switched my main mode of communication on social media from statements to questions. Initially, I posted “hive mind” questions on Facebook as a way to engage my creative knowledge network in solving logistical and philosophical questions. Facebook became a tool for collaboration, an amazing generator, and I thank other artists who modeled this method.

Collective inquiry is my favorite part of directing. We get to build a world together. Until we collectively find the path, there isn’t one. It has to be a path we can all fit on, without anyone getting lost. But, not everyone gets to hang out in rehearsal rooms building fictional worlds all day.  So, although I started asking questions on Facebook that were related to my work, the habit took a detour.

As my news feed became more dominated by polarizing politics, I needed something positive to remind me that hidden underneath these passionate news feed blobs were a whole lot of people about whom I care deeply and from whom I can learn.

How do you take a digital platform that has started making you feel like screaming whenever you open it  and turn it back into something that feels like a space of connection?

For my part, I realized I could reframe everything I considered posting, as a question. Turning statements into questions means I can open a circle of dialogue and honor the fact that whatever anxieties I am feeling inside are human and, likely, shared.

Many questions began to flow. Who will you be in 2017? When you daydream where do you go? What book had the biggest impact on your ideological development growing up? What stops you from asking for help when you need it?  What do you think is the most effective way to make a difference in this world? If you could tell only one story what would it be?

People answered. Lots of people from all over the world who would never join in conversation, otherwise. They don’t know each other. But, I am lucky enough to know all of them.

Suddenly, I find myself falling in love with Facebook as a space to gather for a conversation. Any space can be a forum for dialogue, it doesn’t have to be, but it can be.

We don’t all view the same things in our news feeds. The word of the year in 2016 was post-truth. If our statements are all different – what are our questions? Each time I think about stopping the questions I get a message thanking me for posting them. People have told me that being reminded of the big and small questions has fueled them, as a way to get through the noise.

I rarely comment once I have posed a question – unless I need to facilitate the fact the cultures/people represented don’t know who they are talking to, that Native and British ideologies are suddenly facing off.

One stranger posted hateful comments on twenty questions without a single answer. I was disturbed by their rage - but my mom told me she was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. “Not everyone wants to think about all that,” she said.

The person didn’t just attack me; anyone who challenged him on any question thread received a nasty message. I blocked him – because he wasn’t actually engaging in the dialogue. His statements were all in the form of: “Hey woman, this is why everything you do is wrong,” as opposed to actually answering the questions. If you answer the actual question – no matter the answer – we all learn.

My favorite comment was an attempted insult that fell flat:

Lol you ask way too many questions for a director

The intention is not to be prescriptive. I will keep asking questions - because to do so is to learn. The more polarized things become the more questions I will ask. Yes, even on Facebook.

As a Shakespeare scholar, I spend a lot of time toying with why Shakespeare is considered political even though his plays are 400 years old and were censored at the time.

I believe it has to do with the vast amount of questions his characters ask the audience in soliloquy. No matter how much time passes the questions the characters stew on by themselves remain just as big or small. Hamlet contemplating “To be or not to be,” Angelo finding out what passion feels like: “What’s this? What’s this? Is this her fault or mine? The tempter or the tempted who sins most?” Or even the classic “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” The characters ask themselves questions, they think out loud and engage in critical thinking, constantly challenging their own minds and that of the audience.

Big questions and small questions, Shakespeare takes the best and worst characters and has them stare the audience in the eyes and ask them their opinion. An invitation to think – an invitation to question – can be the greatest form of resistance.

So if you feel isolated – in these trying times – I encourage you to remember nothing has to be a solo project. Everything can be a collaboration. You don’t have to have answers.

If we are post-truth – what are the questions that could connect us?

Did we ever share truth? What is the question you need to ask the world today?

Great lords and gentlemen, what means this silence?
Dare no man answer in case of truth?
  - (Shakespeare, Henry VI, I)