As I was scrolling through the Internet the other day, looking for something interesting to write about, I stumbled upon a blog post on 2amtheatre.com, written by playwrights (amongst other things) Karen Jeyens. She addresses the ongoing conversation about women playwrights in the world today. How do women playwrights of every racial, economical, and social level in society gain a voice in a global context? Intriguing. Good points. Food for conversation, I thought.
After having read the entire post and mulling it over for a bit, I keep returning to the same thought. Jeyens speaks of access, of inclusion. She reminds us that we (I’m speaking to everyone reading this post) are the privileged few, with access to the Internet, the most convenient way in our fast-paced world to share our ideas. Jeyens begs us to consider, “What of those women playwrights who are free to write, but lack resources? Many of my colleagues write with pen and paper, or falling-apart equipment. Those who write by sunlight, because electricity is so expensive. Those who write on the backs of scrap paper.” How do these women, whose words are no less valid, share themselves with a larger audience? How can we, as the ones with the resources, use our privilege to be an amplifier for the unheard?
Asking myself these questions, I remembered a panel I attended last year, Artists for Social Change. Alumni from the Boston University College of Fine Arts who are actively engaged in the fusion of their art and social change discussed what they are currently doing in the world. Specifically, I remembered Katy Rubin, who founded Theatre of the Oppressed, NYC (TONYC). Theatre of the Oppressed is a movement beginning with Augusto Boal in Brazil, to stimulate social and political change and give a voice to those who had something to say, but because of their status in society lacked the resources to. TONYC works with oppressed communities, bringing them “popular theatre,” or “interactive theatre created by communities facing oppression.” TONYC uses the tool of “forum theatre,” which asks the audience to participate in solving the problems being addressed onstage.
The original idea of Theatre of the Oppressed has been a springboard for similar movements around the world, such as Invisible Theatre in Argentina that worked the same way street art or a political demonstration might—to ignite thought, conversation, and action towards a social or political cause. Like Theatre of the Oppressed, Invisible Theatre tries to get audience members (in this case, random bystanders) to participate in the action, discovering how people might react to certain issues or situations. Perhaps these ideas differ from what Karen Jeyens addresses regarding women playwrights, but to me, they share a core principle. They ask us how we can share our resources with those who want and need them. I’m not saying that just because we are fortunate enough to live in comfort, drooling over the Internet with a smartphone in one hand and a grande overpriced coffee beverage in the other, that we must drop what we are doing and take immediate action. Like Karen Jeyens says in her blog post, “We all need to pay the rent and put food on the table. It’s natural to put ourselves first.” However, if we cannot jump to action right now, I think a certain level of mindfulness around these topics is crucial as artists, and as human beings.
I’m well aware that this is all easy enough for me to say as one of the fortunate ones, living comfortably off of my father’s salary (for the time being at least). But, what I believe to be fundamentally true is that as a human, I must work towards something bigger than myself that includes my global community—as a theatre artist, it is my job to tell stories, and to bring certain ideas into awareness. Therefore, it only seems natural to not just ask myself how, but to do and discover ways I may use my resources to give a voice to those that society doesn’t always allow to be heard.