Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why work in theatre? Why work in theatre now?


Contributed by Saviana Stanescu

"We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it."

- Excerpt from the US Message by Augusto Boal (World Theatre Day 2009)

"Theatre is a place where we can collectively share our laughter, shed our tears and loudly demonstrate our joy or frustration. Theatre has the incredible capacity to be soul healing; it allows both the audience and artist to purge toxins and exorcise collective demons.

I challenge all of us to sustain the complexity of our world; to invite a multitude of diverse voices onto the stage. We must open the doors and windows of our theatres to let the world in. It is our responsibility; it is our burden and our gift.

We are fabulators… we are cultural watchdogs."

- Excerpt from the US Message by Lynn Nottage (World Theatre Day 2010)

"Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it."

- Bertolt Brecht

"Theatre is not a reflecting mirror, it is a magnifying glass."

- Vladimir Mayakovsky

From world-renowned cultural leaders to emerging/aspiring/struggling artists from each corner of the global village, the (mostly rhetorical) question is bound to pop up in our consciousness at some point: WHY am I doing this? Why didn’t I listen to my parents and become a lawyer, a doctor, an IT person? Why didn’t I invent something amazing and useful like… the washing machine, the bulb, relativity theory, Radio, TV, the aspirin, the bra, the toilet, the bike, the lipstick, the sandwich, the cell phone, Coca Cola, the frying pan, the batteries, the bed, the refrigerator, the car, the telescope, the zipper, the microprocessor… why didn’t I create Facebook?

Why didn’t I become a billionaire and buy a heavenly island where I could share the everyday bliss with my love and my kids? OK, maybe the in-laws too, once in a while. Not very often though…

Well, for people living in the so-called “third world”, in places torn by ethnic, religious, military conflicts those funny questions above don’t really apply, they’re too abstract and surreal when the on-going practical not existential dilemma is: will I survive, how can I survive?

As the unfolding uprisings in the Arab world prove – in a similar (yet different) way than the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, including the messy revolution and overthrow of Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime in my native country Romania – arts can play a major role in places where the public discourse is not civil or democratic yet, where countries are still playgrounds for ruthless or “benevolent” dictators.

Writers, poets, theatre people can make a clear and loud difference in those parts of our interconnected world, they can help social and personal truths, freedom and democracy invade the “gated community” of a political and economical elite immersed in its own self-sufficient and self-nurtured Power.

And there’s no reason to believe that theatre/arts can’t still make a strong difference in well-tested democracies too, as long as there still is injustice, inequality, discrimination, pain, individual suffering, betrayal, love, jealousy, family dysfunction, desire, ambition, competition, greed, passion… as long as we still have emotions, feelings, needs and wants. As long as we are still human. And even robots and cyborgs will have their range of e-motions, I’m sure, so there’s no way to get around dramatic conflict here, on this planet.

And for us, theatre people, it means that – yes, we might be underpaid and misunderstood sometimes – but we will never go out of business. It’s our job to explore and expose the human flaws and qualities, the power gaps, the mistreatments, the deep frustrations, the ignored traumas, the needs to build awareness on a social issue, the happy endings and the bitter beginnings, the personal yet political roller-coasters of emotions and thoughts…

C’mon, forget the WHY! We, theatre folks, are playing a necessary role in this world (and hopefully even in the next, more theatrical one). Period. No, exclamation point!


Saviana Stanescu is an award-winning Romanian-born playwright based in New York. Her plays include Waxing West (2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Script) and Aliens With Extraordinary Skills (with the Spanish version Inmigrantes con Habilidades Extraordinarias running these months at Teatro La Capilla in Mexico City). She teaches part-time at NYU and ESPA - Primary Stages.