wounded attachments

  1. 01. wounded attachments

    In May 2016, brave actors and students protested Trinity Rep’s production of Oklahoma! based on its representations and casting of people of color in the production. I wrote the following post in response to the interpersonal aggression directed at the protestors and actors that inadvertently distracted the conversation away from the real issue at hand: why is American theater attached to these draconian and one dimensional representations of women and POC?

    “This is so much bigger than the personal one-to-one relationships panning out on this [Facebook event] page. Trinity, as an institution, is vulnerable to how theater, as an institution, has been made in this country. The theater is magic but it is not impervious to racism, settler-colonialism, sexism, and all of the ways in which these social and legal practices coincide. In fact, it has been known to facilitate in allowing audiences to feel as though none of these atrocities have been going on outside its dark halls.

    A radical production of Oklahoma! would first actively acknowledge its real author: Cherokee playwright Lynn Riggs. The plot is essentially the same as his play “Green Grows the Lilacs” as this event descriptions mentions. Second, Riggs explicitly made this production about white and non-white SETTLER life on Indian Territory.

    Hear that? Settler life on Indian Territory.

    So any seemingly “edgy” or “new” production of this piece would take seriously the active and blatant erasure of Native authorship (Lynn Riggs), the triviality of settler life (white settlers and forced settlers) in the face of harrowing violence against Native tribes (such as this fanciful plot of the play in the backdrop of continued genocide and terrestrial theft), and the devastating policies happening in this country at the turn of the 20th century, which ostensibly eliminated sovereign Native lands in service to checkerboard allotments. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I recommend reading “1491,” and “Playing Indian,” among other texts.

    More insidious though, is what we are not asking. Why is american theater, Trinity included, and theater-goers alike, in love with portrayals of late 19th century and mid 20th century trivial narratives that are written in the safe and quiet rooms that block out the brutal violence against people of color happening at the same time? Why do we keep returning to the stories that have actively erased us in service to stages that sing about, celebrate, and dance vivaciously to the tune of white, middle class enjoyment and pleasure? It is precisely this pleasure that I believe the theater is afraid of letting go. We need the theater to break up with its oppressive history.

    What if we were to actively acknowledge that some of the most iconic theatrical productions that many theater goers hold “dear to their hearts” are in fact made to 1. make sure white folks don’t feel too bad but have just enough exposure (to kill a mockingbird) and 2. going to the theater does not absolve us from living in a country with a violent history that all of us participate in? The theater, of all places, is the site in which we can precisely push back against anti-black racism, settler colonialism, sexism, police brutality, and the like. We need more works that ask of us to not let go of what we see in our daily lives, in our histories, when we enter the theater, and to take that theater with us when we leave. Quickly we see there is no difference between the real and the pretend.

    I will never forget working with the summer youth program at Trinity, which is a space that lets all the weirdo kids be themselves. I am that weirdo kid, I love those weirdo kids. I watched (and directed my own group of students) in the end of summer showing, where I saw the final production of another class. A joyous ensemble of singing adolescents enthusiastically sang “Populism, Yea Yea” from the Public’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson– a rock musical that celebrates the life of one of the most brutal presidents whose Indian Removal Act continues to be one of the most, if not the most, genocidal policies of this country.

    People celebrate this production because it was a “critique of populism” or an “entertaining satire of an angsty president.” No, folks. Its a celebration of settler colonialism, once again. And do we know that these 12 year olds understand this history as they sing “take our land back from the Indians”? As they spin and twist and turn to their synchronized choreography? As they feel unique, connected, and part of a community? As they feel special?

    No, they don’t know they are celebrating settler-colonialism because the adults administrating them don’t know how to address, think or talk about this. This is what we teach our youth: the theater makes you feel special, and anyone who tells you that the theater can also be otherwise is wrong.

    Ask yourself: what pleasure are you afraid of giving up? Who is this pleasurable for, and why? What will happen if we let these old, antiquated stories go?

    Why wouldn’t you ever go out with me in school?
    You always went out with those guys
    Who thought they were so cool.
    And I was just nobody to you,
    Nobody to you, nobody to you.

    But it’s the early 19th century
    And we’re gonna take this country back
    From people like us who don’t just think about things
    People who make things happen.
    Sometimes with guns
    Sometimes with speeches too.
    And also other things.

    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea

    This is the age of
    This is the age of,
    This is the age of Jackson

    Take a stand against the elite [Sigh]
    They don’t care anything for us
    And we will eat sweet democracy
    And let them eat our dust,
    Eat our dust, eat our dust

    Cause it’s the early 19th century
    We’ll take the land back from the indians
    We’ll take the land back from the French and Spanish
    And other people in other European countries
    And other countries too
    And also other places
    I’m pretty sure it’s our land anyway

    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea
    Populism, Yea Yea

    This is the age of Jackson
    This is the age of Jackson
    This is the age of Jackson
    This is the age of Jackson

    This is the age of,
    This is the age of Jackson”

  2. 02. Teaching Patience

    I teach about performances and about art objects, and sometimes these two seemingly discrete categories blur. I found that the need for patience emphasized here by Jennifer Roberts is a great take-away for all teachers!

    “I want to focus today on the slow end of this tempo spectrum, on creating opportunities for students to engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention. I would argue that these are the kind of practices that now most need to be actively engineered by faculty, because they simply are no longer available “in nature,” as it were. Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.”

© 2015 Anthe theme by Alaja