2 Comments

Theatre of the People who are Fucking Angry

In between my five hours of Shakespeare class on Wednesday, I sat at a local market eating my usual sandwich with a friend, Sarah. Close by, a wall-mounted television showed a news anchor cataloging research about current and future effects of the government shutdown. Sarah and I listened for a bit, eating our lunches in silence. Then, she turned to me, and said (something along the lines of), “When did government shutdowns become a thing? Why is that such a casual, easy thing to happen? Shouldn’t that be harder or like, more upsetting to us?”

Shakespeare lives in life-or-death stakes. The characters have no inner dialogue; the totality of their behaviour and thoughts and feelings are all on the written line – they defend in fear, they embrace with joy, they curse with grief, and they thrash with anger. But in modern America, this natural expression is restricted – social ideas of “appropriate” dampen our organic human behaviour, technology locks us into ourselves rather than connect us to each other, and our economic and politic systems groom us to be anxiously competitive. Overall, we allow ourselves to live limited existences.

This lack of personal humanity extends to how we function in our local, national, and global communities, and subsequently how we behave as a collective society. Sarah observed this as she questioned the largely nonchalant government shutdown. Along with a lack of cultivated humanity in our daily lives, we have become generally apathetic about our government. We see a lack of importance and effectiveness in a broken system that has shifted its focus from the constituents to the party. So, like our government, we shut down. We block ourselves from our communities, from each other, and from ourselves.

We need to reinvigorate our sense of self to be as expressive as we naturally are – to swear as ferociously, to wail as deeply, to woo as passionately, and to fight as courageously as Shakespeare’s characters do. Not only will this improve our personal lives, but this inner fire can make change, change that we are responsible to make. Given the amount of people effected by this shut down, we should be screaming. I think of Antonia Lassar’s poem Get Angry….

It’s time to get fucking angry. Theatre artists must become ringing alarm clocks. We must wake people up from their day-to-day slumber of dampened and inward, individual focus. “We deny slaughters because the Food Network has brighter colors; Iron Chef is more relevant.” We have the power to give a voice to those unheard in order to ignite people’s empathy and action. And that responsibility is not reserved for social action theatre, but all theatre. We can no longer produce safe productions that reduce theatre’s importance in a fearful attempt to sell tickets. The power of stories shared between people in the same place and same time must break the silence to alert people. “As long as we keep shouting in the world’s ear, it’ll stop playing dead.”

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2 comments on “Theatre of the People who are Fucking Angry

  1. Jake, I think you have a really good idea here. But people can’t operate the way you want them to. Theater is in many ways a refraction of real life, not real life itself. Think about how you feel after a really long (but productive) rehearsal. You are happy with your work but you’re exhausted. If you lived that way all the time you would burn out. It is important to live with passion, but I would not like to live a life whose stakes are as high as art.

  2. I think a thing I would caution against is embracing anger as a lifestyle, and allowing unrestrained passion to rule one’s worldview. A Roman theorist, Longinus, once warned against the artist’s unrestrained passion, noting that “our appetites, if let loose without restraint like beasts from a cage, would set the world on fire with deeds of evil.” I think Shakespeare would agree completely. Though his characters are beautifully, romantically passionate in anger, and love, and idealism, there is a reason his most passionate characters often don’t make it to Act VI. Unrestrained passion, anger or love for example, unchecked by reason leads only to ruin.

    That said, you can’t numb yourself to the world. You should occasionally be angry, and recently it seems like we should be angry more and more often. However, that doesn’t mean you should let yourself be consumed by passion, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should immediately act on your passions without at first thinking about the consequences (which is how half of Shakespeare’s tragedies go from bad to worse). We as dramatists can and should be angry. I think Social Justice theatre is the most important theatre being made currently, but I don’t think it should be made out of anger. If you’re just angry, and even if you get the audience angry… what now? What is that anger doing? Has that anger led to a solution? One of the best things about social justice theatre is that you need to find something that angers you, and then let it simmer, cool, and develop into a proposal for change.

    Overall, being angry is an important part of the process, but it can’t be the end of the process. You note that “as long as we keep shouting in the world’s ear, it’ll stop playing dead.” I would counter that the best way to deafen your audience is to yell too loudly into their ears without pause. Sometimes you need only to whisper and let it spread. As more and more mouths whisper in unison it rises to a roar that no one voice yelling from the stage can equal.

    Excellent article though, I loved the read!

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