A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
~ Joseph Stalin ~
I just came home from a wonderful weekend, leading some truly amazing students at the New Jersey state Thespian Festival, held at Kean University. What was wonderful about it was seeing teenagers so truly invested and passionate about Theater Arts: Actors/Actresses, Singers, Dancers, Tech Theater, Directors/Stage Managers, Clowns, Storytellers and more. The teachers and parents I met, and the many workshop presenters, are just as committed to the enrichment that these students are embracing. Kids they may be in age (especially to us older folk) but I saw a lot of brilliant young adults emerging.
So..why the quote? I go to my home page, and that quote was waiting for me, one of many randomly generated quotes I’m met with daily. I found this same quote when I was doing research for my play, “everywhere I look…”. The play, about my father’s few stories of before and after being in Auschwitz, a Nazi Concentration Camp (with even fewer ones from his three years inside the camp), was a jumping off point for deeper research into the too numerous genocides and atrocities and oppression that have afflicted us over the last 100 years, and are still growing strong.
So..the quote. (You will notice, if you’ve read me enough, for some reason I like the words So and Now…and I love ellipses, as you can see). The quote stopped me dead in my tracks because Theater has been used throughout theater history not just as an entertainment, not just in educational entertainment (naysayers begone), but also as a political tool, a rallying cry for justice. We saw a tremendous amount of political theater grow in the ’60s, we have the work of Augusto Boal and his work with breaking symbols of oppression and giving voices to the oppressed, and there are other examples.
And I realized: looking through the program, maybe ONE of our workshops (I was one of the workshop presenters) even came close to approaching anything in that vein. Yes, there was a tremendous amount of critical and creative thinking, honing talents for both on and behind the stage, a sense of Yes You Can and striving for personal success, building confidence, finding and making connections to real life situations, and more more more.
Should the more “serious” side that theater can present, of creating thought, exploring other Points of Views, more ground shaking work exist at a Theater Festival for High School students? Is there enough time to shake them up in a one hour, maybe one and a half hour workshop, with only a weekend to grab the students and observe them “getting” it? If there is, and if we should…why aren’t we?
Japan’s earthquake just happened (and, before I got home to the quote, I listened to the news). Darfur is still happening. Libya has been designated as going through a full civil war. We are going through our own “uncivil” war of ideologies and needs and wants for the people of this county.
One person’s story, with name, photo and such, becomes something we can all recognize and empathize with. Hundreds if not thousands dead, thousands of people wondering how they will be able to survive (in earthquake destruction, genocide annihilation, or fascist underpinnings of democracy) … what are we responsible for in making things just statistics?
I had one director tell me, when I brought this item up in my play, that he/she can not be concerned about empathizing about others like I was asking in the script. Obviously, we had two very different opinions on this subject.
For me, I know I’ll be proposing in the future to run more then a character development or Shakespeare workshop. Global issues are important, and it’s so easy to forget them when you are having such an amazing time, in an amazing atmosphere. I just kinda feel we also need to challenge more then we do.
OK..done. What do you feel?