Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Theatre as Citizenry


Contributed by Victor Maog

Photo by R. Finkelstein

Through my experiences I have discovered the power of theatre to: challenge complacency; revitalize the imagination; nurture the unexpected; galvanize and give voice to a people. Despite disparate cultural experiences from Sierra Leone, to Cambodia, to our own Blue Ridges, what emerges is the Campbellian Monomyth - the story that connects us all.

Admittedly, I came out of no literary or theatrical tradition at all but rather a strip mall malaise. Such a thing is never a clean absolute stride away from the ruins; fragments of suburban tradition, bits of Catholic school history cling to the bottom of one’s shoes. Nevertheless, I did pluck lessons from my respective seat in front of the television (the high drama and spectacle of professional wrestling) and in the pews of innumerable churches (ritual, pageantry, and sometimes conflicting morality) and from outside my car window (journeys to Hoople, ND and beyond). In my travels I have always been transfixed on a community’s identity and the view of its place in the greater context. My curiosity was grounded in how each empty space could transform into a public campfire. This excavation - through the guise of theatre – has been my attempt to examine: societal codes I could never break; actions that never fulfilled commitments; and abandoned dreams. I no longer wanted the cultural, geographical, or philosophical distance to obscure my connection to people or places.

I came to California when I was six and half, the experience was jarring—I didn’t have the language to communicate. I was born and raised in the Philippines during a period of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. Martial law with military rule, an arrested media, and an abandoned national constitution initially brought stability and an economic turnaround but with the costs of reduced social freedoms and increasing corruption. The Filipinos’ first experience of television under this “new society” began with a blank screen, punctuated only by appearances of President Marcos and his press secretary reading edict after edict. It was a portent of much more chilling realities to come. Socialized to be mute, I learned from an early age the difficulty in expressing ideas and connecting with others—both through language and culture.

But as a young adult, I decided to devote myself to expressing my ideas in front of others. I no longer wanted to be invisible. I wanted to explore the truths of humanity – how histories reveal futures. As a theatre artist, I want to explore the duality between language and character, thought and action. I seek to find ways to express a multiplicity of voices through the complexities of contemporary world culture.

Today, I want to celebrate who we are: people who struggle and aren’t articulate and don’t do the right thing, can’t save the world, feel oppressed and then oppress others – and that I find incredibly moving because that is what the human condition is all about, this kind of struggle. I aspire to be a world-class artist learning from and working with the masters who shape and expand theatre’s boundaries. More, I want to be a decent human being and not walk around with my eyes sewn shut and mouth stapled. As my childhood demonstrates, and the state of the warring world continues to prove: there are injustices in this life. There are questions that must be asked. Theatre allows me the guts to be a citizen of the world. In make-believe, metaphor, or gesture I can say something.


Victor Maog is a freelance director and educator whose work has reached over half the continental United States. He was one of six directors in the nation to receive the 2004-06 NEA/TCG Career Development Award, Cornerstone’s Altvater Fellowship, Second Stage’s Van Lier Directing Fellowship, and the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Presidential Award. He was a U.S. delegate to the 31st International Theatre Institute/UNESCO World Congress in Manila and is in his fourth years as Director of Theatre for the 98 year-old Perry-Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, CO. www.victormaog.com