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Theatre in the Trumpian Moment

A little over a week ago, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. As various parts of the nation have been celebrating and mourning the outcome of the election, I feel the call as a theatremaker to react to the forthcoming shift in representation and policy incredibly potently. Yet at a time when so much is uncertain, I find that call quite debilitating. What is the function of a live performative event, especially in an age where our sages of wisdom or comedians and late night talk show hosts, whose platforms are infinitely more accessible and immediate?

I’m a week late on this post. Reeling from the outcome of last Tuesday and too scattered to write about anything else, I decided to give myself an extra week to soak things in. After that time, I’m still not quite sure where we stand.

This past week, Howlround posted an article titled Making Theatre in the Season of Trump. In the article, Marshall Botvinick outlines actions theatre makers can take to engage with the changing political world. From conscious programming to a focus on new work to increased efforts of audience engagement, there are many steps theatre companies can take to engage with the contemporary moment.

But there are some problems that theatre can’t fix, and I think this is one of them. What we need is an increase of quality and accessibility of education, we need to reach people outside of multicultural urban areas (where the vast majority of professional theatres are located), people who aren’t often exposed to perspectives differing from their own.

The power of theatre in this hurting world lies less in the production and more in the way theatre artists engage with people who don’t share their views. In this sense, a dramaturgical process becomes an incredibly useful tool for communication. The ability to cultivate removed objectivity when discussing sensitive issues is essential to productive discourse. Working to heal this world is less about the theatrical event and more about the vessels of theatre, those who can bring radical empathy to all parties involved while maintaining a strong moral compass. As an artist responding to current events, that’s the solace I find in a dark time.

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