Recently, I’ve been reading a number of articles circulating on Howlround on the topic of the right of the storyteller/artist. I’ve read all the articles in the Howlround series, Race and Representation in American Theater.
I invite anyone reading this to click on one of the articles in the link. Any one of them. They are all thoughtful, provoking, and insightful into some of the issues surrounding topics of race in storytelling, and Howlround articles are always great. This invitation has a caveat, however. I recommend that you do not read all of the articles, as I did. I recommend that you peruse one or two to become familiar with the situation surrounding the rights of playwrights and artists, but in my opinion it’s a waste of time to read them all. Unless you plan on doing something about it.
To clarify, I don’t believe that writing a blog is doing something about it. This is not to discredit any bloggers reading this, as I believe that a great article or blog can be a great tool in the creation of new theatre. But this can only be true if someone reading it does or creates something! If we respond only in online form, is it really changing anything? It might be. Are you adding a new perspective to the conversation? Probably! But what really seems to be going on is that the issue of storytelling rights is being skewed and morphed into a digital realm, where it does not matter.
Reading this barrage of articles, I switched my personal standpoint on the issue with nearly each new point I read, as the articles are very well written and thought out! But what does any of it mean?
As my view shifted again and again, I was tempted to write a response giving my opinion about the shows, but then realized that I had not actually learned anything about the stories that were the subject of so much debate. I didn’t experience any of these stories in their manifested state, so what right do I have to tell them if they are allowed to do it or not? It’s not my story being told, what right do I have? However, never having seen the actual theatrical events, how do I truly know that these stories are completely foreign to me? How do I know whether I identify with any aspect of these stories? The right to tell stories and whose story each artist can tell is a complex issue, as is any pertaining to culture and race (especially in the theatre), but is not one that will be solved in the blogosphere.
Can I tell this story truthfully? Is it my right to tell it? No one is going to be able to answer that question for you online. There is no article or essay or book or play out there that will give you the answer to that question. We live in a country where freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to us, so there is no legal rule book for what can and can’t be done. The answer to this question varies from each situation to the next.
I implore you, read one of the articles, just to garner a greater sense of what the issues are and a bit of what’s being said about it. Then stop. Turn off your device. And make something.
Can I tell this story truthfully? Is it my right to tell it? The only way to find out is to do it. Tell the story. Find a way to make it your story, or imbue it with your experiences. Once you’ve gotten into the process of working, you’ll probably have some inkling of whether it is going to work or fail, but you won’t know for sure. Now show it to people. Maybe it will be offensive and hateful and you will have learned, “nope, that isn’t my story to tell, not with who I am and where I am currently.” Or maybe, you’ll expose some truth in your piece, and begin a greater search into this foreign story. Maybe you will find a connection that you didn’t know was there before. At the very least, you will now know more about another person’s story. This, I believe, is worth all the potential failure.
Please read articles. Write them, if you’d like! The internet is a powerful tool unique to the modern day, and we should make use of it! But at some point we need to stop blogging about art, just for a bit, and start making it.