Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States 9780813537580

An eclectic mix of art, theatre, dance, politics, experimentation, and ritual,community-based performance has become an

159 81 2MB

English Pages 232 [221] Year 2005

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD PDF FILE

Recommend Papers

Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States
 9780813537580

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

Local Acts

Rutgers Series on the Public Life of the Arts A series edited by Ruth Ann Stewart Margaret J. Wyszomirski Joni M. Cherbo Joni M. Cherbo and Margaret J. Wyszomirski, eds., The Public Life of the Arts in America Lawrence Rothfield, ed., Unsettling “Sensation”: Arts Policy Lessons from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy

Local Acts

( Community-Base d Pe rformance in the Unite d State s

Jan Cohe n-Cruz

Rutge r s Unive r sity Pre ss New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Cohen-Cruz, Jan, 1950– Local acts : community-based performance in the United States / Jan Cohen-Cruz. p. cm. — (Rutgers series on the public life of the arts) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-8135-3549-2 (hardcover : alk. paper)—ISBN 0-8135-3550-6 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Community theater—United States. 2. Theater and society—United States. I. Title. II. Series. PN2267.C66 2005 792.02⬘0973—dc22 2004016354 A British Cataloging-in-Publication record is available for this book from the British Library Copyright © 2005 by Jan Cohen-Cruz All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Please contact Rutgers University Press, 100 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, NJ 08854–8099. The only exception to this prohibition is “fair use” as defined by U.S. copyright law. The publication program of Rutgers University is supported by the Board of Governors of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Manufactured in the United States of America

To the community-based performance participants who became my teachers, expanding and challenging me through the range of their experiences and perceptions. And to the students who became my collaborators, through commitment to the idea that becoming an artist does not happen strictly within the walls of a studio, and thus facilitating arts-based projects with me in myriad settings.

Conte nts List of Illustrations Acknowledgments Introduction

Part I

ix xi 1

Legacie s

1

Early Antecedents

17

2

Motion of the Ocean

35

3

Establishing the Field

60

Part II

Principle s

4

Between Ritual and Art

5

Criticism

Part III

81 105

Methodolog ie s

6

Storytelling

129

7

Performance Structures

153

Closing: Boundary Jumping

181

Notes Bibliography Index

191 195 205

vii

List of Illustrations 1.

Robert Gard and farm family

29

2.

Whisper the Waves, the Wind

47

3.

Red Fox, Second Hangin’

54

4.

I Don’t Know but I Been Told If You Keep on Dancin’ You Never Grow Old

68

5.

Corn Mountain/Pine Mountain

74

6.

Code 33

76

7.

Common green/common ground

131

8.

Peggy Pettitt

150

9.

Wild Card

156

10.

El Apagon

161

11.

Promise of a Love Song

163

12.

Steelbound

166

13.

USA

169

14.

Swan Lake

174

15.

Shehechianu

177

16.

You Can’t Take It with You: An American Muslim Remix

187

ix

Acknowle dgme nts

Writing this book has catapulted me into deeper exchange with a number of practitioners and scholars I have long admired. They include Arlene Goldbard, Bill Rauch, Bruce McConachie, Caron Atlas, Dave Firney, Donna Porterfield, Ferdinand Lewis, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Joan Schirle, John Borstel, John O’Neal, Kathie deNobriga, Lisa Mount, Liz Lerman, Mark McKenna, Mark Valdez, Maryo Ewell, Michael Keck, Nayo Watkins, Peggy Pettitt, Peter Howard, Rosalba Rolon, Shishir Kurup, Sonja Kuftinec, Steve Kent, Suzanne Lacy, and Theresa Holden, among others. I am indebted to all the ensembles and artists I write about for performances and projects that have expanded my understanding of the field. I appreciate the generosity of Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon for inviting me to many an Animating Democracy Initiative Learning Exchange, where learn and exchange I emphatically did. Special thanks to Linda Burnham for reading this manuscript sooner rather than later and, along with her partner, Steve Durland, for providing the field with first High Performance and now the Community Arts Network. Conversations with Dudley Cocke have greatly enhanced my work on this book and have inspired future plans. Interaction with Bob Leonard and Ann Kilkelly, especially around Performing Communities:The Grassroots Ensemble Theater Research Project, has been most rewarding. My ongoing exchange with Mady Schutzman has been an indirect, but no less important, influence on this project. I am grateful to Julie Salverson for sharing her work on testimony with me. Andrea Assaf offered a sharp perspective on several of these chapters. I am grateful to Lucy Winner for making time to read this manuscript in an exceptionally busy schedule. I thank Lucy Lippard for years of inspiration through her own terrific writing and for her generosity in reading the first draft of this book. “Guerrilla moments” with Susan Ingalls energized me at moments when the writing was particularly demanding. Thanks to Vicky Chapman, who got me out of the house for morning walks, shared general insights about writing, and printed out manuscript drafts. David Schechter once again came up with a title. I am beholden to Deborah Mutnick, who has been my writing partner, sounding board, and friend throughout the period of developing this manuscript. xi

xii

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to New York University’s Research Challenge Fund, which supported numerous trips to community-based practitioners and performances. I am also fortunate to have supportive colleagues at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Drama, particularly former chair Una Chaudhuri, current chair Kevin Kuhlke, and collaborators Awam Amkpa, Steve Wangh, Amma Ghartey-Tagoe, and Rosemary Quinn. Thanks to Ted Ziter for our discussion about theater history, to Daniel Banks for sources and insights about the construction of race, to Shiri Bar-On for transferring the images into usable formats, and to Emily Chan for her marvelous grasp of bibliographic form. Elsewhere at Tisch School of the Arts I am grateful to Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell, Associate Deans Randy Martin, Elliot Dee, and Adrienne Hines, and Director of Student and Academic Services David Stirk. And what would I do without Lorie Novak, my partner in so many community/university collaborations? Within my family, I thank my mother, Irma Cohen, for so thoroughly supporting my love of theater as a child. My brother, Randy Cohen, graciously allowed me to edit and reprint our e-mail exchange in chapter 5. My husband, Dionisio Cruz, has been consistently cheerful and encouraging, from the concrete reading and discussing of several of these chapters to the more effable way that his appreciation of people for who they are has been so grounding in our many years together. I am grateful to my son, Daniel Cohen-Cruz, for cooking with me throughout this project and keeping some levity in my life. I am fortunate to have experienced the two-way pleasure of intergenerational transmission with my daughter, Rosa Cohen-Cruz. When she was twelve, I took her to a community arts festival in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. When she was seventeen, she brought me to Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia, to help gather stories for the Peace Playground Project. Finally, in those immortal words found on many an acknowledgment page, the blame for any inadvertent inaccuracies or omissions are all my own.

Local Acts

Introduction

This book is an effort to capture the spirit and materiality of community-based performance in the United States with some markers of the past, articulation of principles and purposes in the present, and description of aesthetic diversity, primarily of that generation of practitioners who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Community-based art is a field in which artists, collaborating with people whose lives directly inform the subject matter, express collective meaning. It has a history and theoretical underpinnings and takes a range of aesthetic forms. Its immediate roots are in the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s, when nationwide questioning of the status quo led to significant expansion of art vis-à-vis potential creators, sites, subjects, audiences, and funding policies. In the years since, what critic Lucy Lippard calls “the lure of the local” has grown into a veritable movement; at the turn of the twenty-first century, it is establishing itself as a field. But this is an unwieldy field, seemingly contradictory. It spans performances committed to social change along with those whose purpose is the conservation of local cultures, sometimes both at once. Its practices range from grassroots oral storytelling to formal techniques created by professional artists. Its theories build not only on ideas about art but also on concepts from education, therapy, sociology, anthropology, the emerging field of dialogue studies, and community organizing. Clearly, such a project is both a multifaceted and highly interpretive endeavor. Moreover, because it is a collective practice, I bring in multiple voices, and because it is a field grounded in story, this text includes personal narratives along with more conventional critical writing. Let me begin by sketching out the territory of community-based performance. I use the term performance rather than theater to include not only dance and music but also a much larger category of heightened behavior intended for public viewing. Sociologist Erving Goffman famously wrote, “All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify” (1959, 72). In this field, public protests, skits at union halls, storytelling gatherings, ritual, dance, music making, and theater are all ways that people make and enact group meaning. Performance theorist Richard 1

2

Introduction

Schechner writes, “Performances mark identities, bend and remake time, adorn and reshape the body, tell stories, and allow people to play with behavior that is ‘twice-behaved,’ not-for-the-first-time, rehearsed, cooked, prepared” (1998, 361). Seminal to this understanding of performance is a boundary-jumping quality: is it art or ritual, therapy or politics? Roadside Theater administrative associate Tamara Coffey could be speaking about the field generally when she describes that company’s work as “connected to where we are and what we know as individuals even separate from theater. It’s a part of who we are as people in the community . . . most people who come to see us don’t think of us as a theater. They just come to hear stories and music” (Fields 2002a). A community-based production is usually a response to a collectively significant issue or circumstance. It is a collaboration between an artist or ensemble and a “community” in that the latter is a primary source of the text, possibly of performers as well, and definitely a goodly portion of the audience. That is, at the source of community-based performance is not the singular artist but a “community” constituted by virtue of a shared primary identity based in place, ethnicity, class, race, sexual preference, profession, circumstances, or political orientation. Indeed, the community-based art movement of the past thirty years is often a cultural expression of identity politics, referring to groups of people who connect on the basis of shared identities fundamental to their sense of themselves. Community-based performance scholar-practitioner Richard Owen Geer described the field as “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (1993). “Of the people”—the work’s content and form, that is, subject and how it is shaped, come from the makers’ cultural context. “By the people”— rather than the creation of an individual, such performance is made collectively by people who are part of the community from whence the work comes. “For the people”—the intended audience is akin to and as important as those by whom it is shaped; destination and source are joined at the hip. Gere’s phrase was a useful touchstone when it first circulated in the 1980s. It also resonated nicely with another way of framing the field, cultural democracy, “a philosophy or policy emphasizing pluralism, participation, and equity within and between cultures” forwarded by cultural policy consultants Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard (2001, 108). But Geer’s definition raises many questions. As a self-identified communitybased artist who is professionally trained, he obviously sees a place for artists/ facilitators that his own definition does not encompass. Turning, then, to Goldbard, “community art practice is based on the belief that cultural meaning, expressions and creativity reside within a community, that the community artist’s task is to assist people in freeing their imaginations and giving form to their creativity” (1993, 23). Community-based performance relies on artists

Introduction

3

guiding the creation of original work or material adapted to, and with, people with a primary relationship to the content, not necessarily to the craft. Many individuals and ensembles that are part of this field are also part of other artistic communities, such as professional ensemble theaters, international touring troupes, dance companies, popular theaters, or traditional performance groups. And just who are “the people” that Geer asserts such performance is “by, of, and for?” Must they be connected racially, ethnically, or culturally? A dangerous undertaking; many identity categories that are treated like fixed, biologically determined entities are, in fact, cultural. Race, for example, is in fact a biologically insignificant issue of skin pigmentation and physiognomy (see, for example, Gilroy 2000 and Jackson and Penrose 1993).Yet because of race’s political role in history, it must be contended with and is quite significant in people’s lives. Do we do ourselves a disservice by reinforcing fixed categories of community? Certainly many people self-identify proudly according to one identity marker or another that has profoundly shaped their experience. Alternate ROOTS, the Regional Organization of Theaters South, negotiates this issue by defining community more fluidly as shared place, tradition, or spirit (deNobriga 1993, 13). Identities are so complex and multiple that it may not be obvious who is of “the community.” Who makes such determinations? If professional artists are moved by the same subject matter as people with a material bond, do they become part of “the community”? When community is grounded in geography, for how long must someone have lived there? Cultural development planner Ferdinand Lewis warns, “The principle trap to avoid in identity politics is the assumption that any particularized identity is inherently good. Particular identities have become a necessary source of resistance—‘We are gay/women/Puerto Rican, et cetera, and therefore deserve to be heard’—but the ultimate goal of identity politics is overcoming the need for particularized identities” (2003b). My own view is that we are part of many communities. I do not advocate giving up a meaningful identification but rather being open to membership in a number of communities based on multiple identity markers. Over time, community-based performance has become less about homogenous communities and more about different participants exploring a common concern together. That negotiating difference has become a primary practice in such performance is evidenced in the Animating Democracy Initiative (ADI), a project of Americans for the Arts that focuses on arts-based civic dialogue. In its first four-year phase (1999–2003), ADI supported thirtytwo art projects that engendered communication around issues that are “complex or multi-dimensional; cross-cutting, that is, of concern to multiple segments of a community; and contested by various stakeholders, eliciting

4

Introduction

multiple and often conflicting perspectives on the issue” (http://www. AmericansForTheArts.org). The support took the form of both money and Learning Exchanges. By the last Learning Exchange, the call to coalition building, with sensitivity to equal representation of people of color, women, and emerging leaders under the age of thirty, was a dominant theme. Keynote speaker Grace Boggs, an eighty-eight-year-old activist, set the tone. She urged a move away from 1960s-style activism based on protest to an emphasis on positive action. She asserted that change begins with each of us, quoting Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” While recognizing that personal transformation alone will not change social conditions, she emphasized doing what is in our control as a necessary prerequisite to larger efforts. Where identity politics is opening up to coalition building, community is being conceived in broader ways, such as Cornerstone Theater’s playful community celebration for people sharing the company’s June 30th birthday. Community-based performance has become both about building and reflecting community in recognition of the fluidity and multiplicity of identities. Scholar Alan Filewod defines coalition theater as that which “identifies not with particularized communities but, rather, with emergent coalitions of resistance, communities activated by the political moment” (2001, 101–102). While political action is not necessarily a goal of community-based performance, the notion of coalition is an important amendment to that of community. Nevertheless for some practitioners, progressive politics is this field’s primary reason for being. Artist-activist John O’Neal, for example, is only interested in art that serves social justice, which he describes as “work that can reasonably be expected to lead to a net gain in the circumstances of the people whose interests we aim to serve,” his primary constituency being poor people of color in the South (2002). On the other end of what I see as a spectrum of community-based art purposes are artists who adhere to a loosely democratic ideology—”those who believe creativity is an essential part of being human and a necessity for everyone” (Burnham 2001b). Practitioners fall somewhere between these two poles. I remain open to the entire scale, depending on the particular project. While also in favor of a full range, Ferdinand Lewis, in contrast to O’Neal, believes that all community-based art ought not be left-of-center, explaining, “this country has plenty of conservative, often religion-based theaters, for instance, that have ‘communitybuilding’ as their goal” (2003b). Most important for Lewis and for me, community-based art must be oriented toward “community development.” We both esteem a model of artmaking situated right alongside the community clinic and the school, integrated in and accessible to local life. However, the term community development has a multitude of meanings and takes many forms, not all of which I support.

Introduction

5

Which community is being developed, at whose expense, and for whose benefit? Is gentrification community development? And who decides—the people already in the community being developed or people coming in? Similar to ambiguities surrounding “development,” the idea of community frequently masks real problems. Scholar Sonja Kuftinec quotes a cast member from a Cornerstone Theater production to that effect: “The endings of our shows were going more and more toward a sort of resolution . . . And I wasn’t seeing it happen in the lives around me. . . . It seemed false to end as we did a lot of our shows, you know, glibly, I say, with a group hug” (2003, 69). The impulse to represent resolution in community-based performance is a function of its unique position between ritual and art. Anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff (1978) posits the display of unity where discord reigns as one of ritual’s regular functions. Ritual is a complex topic that I broach more fully in chapter 4. The term itself is defined in a multitude of ways. Coming of age in the late 1960s, I was entranced by theater companies that explored the overlap between ritual and theater because, like many young artists of my generation, I was looking for more community and less commercialism. According to Schechner (1977, 75), categorization as ritual or theater depends on “the degree to which the performance tends toward efficacy or entertainment.” In ritual, Schechner explains, the performer is possessed and the audience participates and believes; in theater, the performer “knows what he’s doing” and the audience watches and appreciates. In ritual, criticism is forbidden and creativity is collective. In theater, criticism is encouraged and creativity is individual. The pull toward ritual is the attraction to performance that does something in the context of a group of people with shared values. It is a pull toward art that is not all about the artist but about the artist in relationship to people who co-shape the creative experience to some degree. And it is about an expanded notion of what art can do in the world. Community-based performance is also in a hyphenated relationship with other human endeavors, frequently education (transmission of cultural values and knowledge) or politics (such as local organizing). Choreographer Liz Lerman has been asked to prioritize one aspect of artmaking over another at every stage of her career: in the 1970s between subject and form; in the 1980s between activism and art; and, more recently, between personal transformation and art. She disputes the need to make a choice in each case, believing the better the art, the more fully all of these values will be achieved (2003b). People who gravitate toward community-based performance are seeking a life that includes artmaking but does not leave out other equally strong commitments. Anthropologist Victor Turner captures a sense of what performance contributes to any number of contexts: “Through the performance process itself, what is normally sealed up, inaccessible to everyday observation and reasoning . . . is drawn forth . . . Meaning is squeezed out of an event” (1982, 13). Turner refers

6

Introduction

to performance’s capacity to not just interpret the past but to try out possible futures, calling it “the exploring antennae by which we move forward” (1985, 10). Given the field’s capacity to respond to various arenas of human endeavor, it is not surprising that every practitioner I have talked with considers community-based performance not a career but a way of life. However, performance that situates itself in more than one discipline is not necessarily community-based. Bertolt Brecht was as committed to educating and politically activating his spectators as he was to entertaining them, but most of his plays are (officially) single-authored and geared to any thinking spectator. The only exception is his lehrstucke, or “learning plays,” written for particular actors and audiences, often with amateur participation, in order to strengthen their resistance to the encroaching tide of Nazism and offer communism as a viable option. These plays lean toward the communitybased. Likewise, multidisciplinary theatrical practices grounded in education or therapy are community-based performance’s cousins, not siblings. Whereas community-based playmakers determine their goals themselves, theater-ineducation is subject-centered with the art as a means to that end. Similarly, psychodrama uses theater techniques as a means to a therapeutic end, not a collectively decided goal. Both psychodrama and theater-in-education are meaningful activities offering participants varying degrees of agency but less open-ended than community-based performance and with the built-in authority of teacher or therapist, not artist/facilitator. Thus neither are within the parameters of this study. While staying within the aesthetic frame would be reductionist given this field’s goals, expansion beyond it carries certain risks. Community-based artists often depend on partnerships with institutions, organizations, and individuals in other fields to position the work as socially efficacious. One danger is co-option by the “partner.” What is the line between institutionally-based and community-based art? Were medieval cycle plays, as church-supported productions involving whole towns in the performance of the history of the world from the fall of man through the final judgment, community-based? My instinct is to say no, that the impetus has to come from a group of people determining their own agenda. But what if a group of Christians wanted to do the same play without the church’s participation? Is that communitybased? Or have they internalized the church’s agenda, so that either way it is church-based? For me, community-based performance is necessarily expressive of more than a monolithic belief system, a freer space than any institution provides its adherents, opened up by the partnership with artists. So while medieval cycle plays are not themselves community-based theater, they are a historic precursor in their integration of whole villages as actors and spectators and their embrace of material that is meaningful to the populace. They are theater by, for, and of the people, but they are not community-based.

Introduction

7

Linda Burnham and Steven Durland—coeditors of High Performance, a journal that, until its demise in 1997, featured alternative art including community-based—define the field thusly: “Community art distinguishes itself from more conventional Western approaches. . . . Instead of being viewed as an isolated individual genius, the artist (or artists) serves as a cultural catalyst, an integral part of a larger process of social intervention and transformation” (http://www.communityarts.net). Here, “community” suggests a link to spirituality and therapy via that word transformation to the social world of the makers’ collective lives, and often to their political situation as well. Not everyone embraces the term community-based. Dudley Cocke, Harry Newman, and Janet Salmons-Rue, in their 1993 articulation of the field, found the word community too vague and noncommittal; one can speak of a community of just about anything. They favored the term grassroots theater, characterizing it as “commitment to place . . . [and] grounded in the local and specific. . . . The traditional and indigenous are . . . valued for their ability to help us maintain continuity with the past, respond to the present, and prepare for the future. . . . [P]resentation of the work is made in partnership with community organizations. . . . [It is] linked to the struggles for cultural, social, economic, and political equity for all people” (81). As rich a concept as they describe, I find the term grassroots too redolent of rural models without clearly embracing urban ones as well. The term also suggests that what is common to the group is at the source of their identity, thus seeming to leave out, for example, Alternate ROOTS’s notion of community of spirit. Moreover, a number of art modes that originated on the local level, like hip-hop, now have a global presence that the term grassroots does not encompass. One point of clarification: community-based performance is not the same as community theater, despite their ultrasimilar names. Growing up in the small town of Reading, Pennsylvania, I performed in community theater— amateur productions, typically of plays that had thrived on Broadway at least a decade earlier. This is not to denigrate community theater, which is often amateur in the best sense, the love of doing it. In my own experience, community theater was an emotional oasis, a place to express feelings in a small, somewhat repressed town. But in contrast to community-based performance, community theater is enacted by people who neither generate the material, shape it, work with professional guidance, nor apply it beyond an entertainment frame. There need not be any particular resonance between the play and that place and those people, and there is rarely a goal beyond the simple pleasure of “Let’s put on a play.” Here is the quintessence of my community theater experience: playing the younger daughter, Millie, in William Inge’s Picnic, I would hear the sound cue, a train whistle, and I would say, “Some day I’m going to get on that train

8

Introduction

and go to New York.” It was about being special, different, not just Millie but me, the girl who would get away, to New York, where they do real theater. Whereas community-based performance values what is right there. While people who shine gain special recognition in both, the light focused on actors in community-based performance spills onto the community as well. When, for example, local participant Wanda Daniels gave a beautiful performance in Three Sisters from West Virginia (Cornerstone Theater’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters), she also reflected a community that was not, contrary to popular opinion, composed of hillbillies. And although the pleasure of performing and familiarity between actors and spectators are shared by both community and community-based theater, the latter could only be made by a particular group of performers for a particular community context. In contrast, our production of Picnic could have been exchanged with one in Any Town, USA, and, other than friends and family missing seeing their loved ones, would not have been that different. Book Ove rview The artists and ensembles featured in this book are by and large from the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. There is an incredible younger generation of practitioners of this work, but that would be another book. Within this generational context, and while not comprehensive, I focus on nine case studies that provide a view of established work in the community-based performance landscape. In part 1, I concentrate on John O’Neal, Dudley Cocke and Roadside Theater, and Suzanne Lacy. For over forty years, O’Neal has spearheaded some of the most vibrant performance-based efforts to dismantle racism. Since 1976, Cocke and Roadside Theater have exemplified community-based performance grounded in tradition and place. Suzanne Lacy epitomizes the debt this field owes the avant-garde. All three are deep thinkers and tireless practitioners whose work has affected the entire field. The case study in chapter 6 comes from my own experience producing a community-based performance, common green/common ground, and thus is significant as a first-voice account. I especially feature the work of Peggy Pettitt on that project. In chapter 7 I look at two contrasting examples of community-based performance grounded in traditional structures, Pregones Theater and Dell’Arte Players; two contrasting examples of text adaptations, from children’s literature in the case of Susan Ingalls and from classical scripts in the case of Cornerstone Theater; and a focus on work shaped by an artist’s own particular techniques, with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange as my example. Each of these artists and ensembles is well established and all are artists whose work I have followed long enough to discuss with authority. On the level of content, the book is structured to help strengthen the dis-

Introduction

9

cipline of community-based performance. In part 1, “Legacies,” I do so first by identifying historical antecedents from 1900 to 1960; second by describing the development of the actual field of community-based performance, centering on the turbulent 1960s–1970s; and third by describing how such work coalesced into a movement. I recognize three major thrusts in the historical legacies that interweave in contemporary community-based performance: activist performance as vigorous support for or opposition to sociopolitical circumstances; grassroots performance to retain and express collective identity grounded in tradition or place; and experimentation characterized by art blurred with life, whose everydayness welcomes broader participation and shapes and expands aesthetic impulses. Tracing historical sources is a proven strategy of field building, a way of demonstrating that more than a practice, a particular approach, content, and philosophy has established itself over time and merits the sturdier category of a discipline. Evidence of precursors to community-based performance establish it as a field with a rich past, providing models, variations, and legitimation. Community-based art in this country extends back to Native American forms that expressed and preserved the collective identity of the original inhabitants of this land. As other cultural groups came, by force or by choice, each brought traditions that they continued to practice, often with innovations, in the “new world.” At some relatively recent point—writer/director John Reed and designer Robert Edmond Jones’s collaboration with 1,500 immigrant workers on the Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913 comes to mind (see Nochlin 1985)—professional artists began working with collectively identified groups, providing craft and receiving, in turn, meaning-rich performance content. The intended audiences were primarily of the same community as the performers. Part 2, “Principles,” examines both the core principles and means of assessment in the field of community-based performance. In chapter 4 I situate community-based performance in the tradition of popular culture, which I frame as rooted in ritual, continuing through folk art, moving into popular performance, and more recently manifesting itself not only as communitybased performance but also as art-based civic dialogue and cultural democracy. Here I articulate the core principles underlying the practice of communitybased performance. In chapter 5 I explore the challenges of assessing this field. I begin with misconceptions that obstruct a larger appreciation and understanding of community-based performance, and then lay out what I see as an appropriate set of critical tools. For example, situating this work between ritual and art means it does something as well as represents something done, which calls for multiple methods of evaluation. Ritual, political, and therapeutic analyses become pertinent, valuing participation more than observation, the doing as much as the “how it’s done,” the context more communal than

10

Introduction

commercial, and goals as much efficacy as entertainment. The relationship between critic and artist that I propose is more ally than adversary. In part 3, “Methodologies,” I provide a sense of how this generation of U.S. community-based performers has created such work over the past twenty-five years. In chapter 6 I focus on story-based methods, the most pervasive community-based approach, grounded in oral rather than written tradition. I also look at the central role of personal story in related fields such as oral history, trauma studies, and popular education. In chapter 7 I counter the stereotype of the field as aesthetically flat by describing the integration of community content into three different artistic containers: popular forms, dramatic literature, and original compositions. I end the book on a cautionary but expansive note, reflecting on the somewhat precarious future of the field, yet deriving hope from its capacity to jump conventional boundaries between, for example, the local and global, traditional and experimental, individual and collective, and the old limits of “community” and “art” themselves. Po sitioning Myse lf vis-à-vis Community-Base d Pe rformance Like many practitioners of my generation, I first witnessed a performance at the intersection of politics in the context of the civil rights struggle. I was perhaps six years old; it was the late 1950s, and I was jumping on my parents’ bed. Their room was on the third floor of our suburban Pennsylvania house. The bed was adjacent to a large window. Through the window I saw flames. I cried out, “The Salettes’ yard is on fire! A cross is burning on their front yard!” Later I learned that the day before, Mr. Salette had taken part in a sit-in to desegregate the lunch counter at the five-and-ten store. This was in Reading, Pennsylvania; this was the North. Presumably, a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to dramatize for us Northerners how serious they were about maintaining the racial status quo. I once heard on National Public Radio that everyone in the 1950s knew that the “s” in suburbs also stood for segregation. From a very young age I wanted to be an actress. Growing up in a small town, the opportunity to perform in community theater arose once or twice a year. I also organized my cousins into plays at our biannual family gatherings. Once a year, my mother would bring me to New York, usually to see a musical. I cherished the opportunity to express a greater range of emotions than seemed allowed in everyday life, to enact imaginative worlds with my cousins, and to be swept away by the spectacles of the Broadway stage. I loved what theater provided. By the age of fifteen, I wanted to be a rabbi. I sought a life involved with a community of people of all ages, united around a search for meaning and grounded in ritual, symbolic acts that engaged the senses and the intellect. My rabbi told me that Jews show their relationship to g-d by their relationship to

Introduction

11

each other, that social justice is the great lesson Jews must learn from their history. So that summer I went to Chicago and tutored African American kids on the Southside. The kids learned best when I tape recorded them reading texts they wrote themselves. The pleasure they got hearing their own words, in their own voices—”Just like the radio,” they exclaimed—was all the impetus they needed. I now see what we were doing as community-based theater, a hyphenated genre, in this case combining performance, education, and social justice. And I thought it was just tutoring. My attraction to hyphenation is also apparent in my name. I am a Jew (the Cohen part) who married what we used to call a Nuyorican (the Cruz part), someone of Puerto Rican parents born and raised in New York City. By my late teens, I was again drawn to theater because I believed it offered a life that, in order to embody the conditions of our times, would put me in touch with people in a vast range of circumstances. This seemed a logical expectation; direct contact with—or at least close observation of—diverse people has been an element of actor training since at least Stanislavski. Surely I would also work on my craft in formal lessons and in practice, and develop my imagination, but not without the experience of varied human contact on which to draw. How wrong I was. My early acquaintances in the profession spent their time outside the classroom and rehearsal hall with other theater colleagues. Though doubtlessly theater people have friends in other fields, they do by virtue of their individuality, not because of the accepted ethos of the profession. In June 1968, I went to Paris and found myself in the midst of the aftermath of the so-called Events of May. Students and workers had formed a coalition to protest a range of social problems, and normal life was interrupted by widespread strikes and walkouts. I had come to study mime with Etienne Decroux but was inspired by rough-and-ready performances happening in the streets and other public venues.1 One of Decroux’s former students, Jean Louis Barrault, artistic director of the National Theatre, responded to the information blackout by sending his actors around the city to gather local news, which they performed in the theater, free of charge, every day at lunchtime. I wanted to emulate these actors, for whom the impact of the times, the social and communal context, was the driving force of the performances they created. Back in the United States in 1971, I joined the NYC Street Theater– Jonah Project. Upon our return from a cross-country tour, we recentered our activities on workshops with men in a maximum-security prison rather than on our own performances. This was in tune with the growing insight that the process of making performances may be more personally and politically efficacious than watching the product of other people’s discoveries. Again, I did not know I was doing community-based performance, but there it was— emphasizing process as much as product and doing so not just with trained

12

Introduction

actors but with a group of people bound together by circumstance. Getting to know the participants through the deep language of art was nothing short of a revelation. I realized that I had preconceptions about people in prison that were ridiculously stereotyped. But I had never known anyone in prison. Few of the inmates in the workshop had ever known a white Jewish middle-class female. Their preconceptions were challenged, too. Similarly, the art we made depended on cross-pollination. Cofacilitator Richard Levy and I were astounded and moved by the stories the guys told, and they were energized by the artistic forms we provided to transform the stories into performance. This reciprocity, the mutual benefit and heartfelt exchange between artists and community participants, is another mainstay of community-based performance. The work in the prison led me away from theater altogether. I thought I should be working against injustice full time, that theater was just a luxury. Despite the fact that theater was what had connected me to the guys in the first place, I still had this dichotomized idea that I either had to do theater or do social justice, do theater or do ritual (that is, become a rabbi). Though I did not know it at the time, there was a field that would turn the “or” into an “and”: community-based performance. What brought me back was an invitation by Susan Ingalls to play the nurse in a production of Romeo and Juliet that she was directing at the Loft, her community arts center in Westchester County, New York. Performed largely by local teenagers, this was an example of active culture, of experiencing one’s values, belief system, hopes, fears, and aspirations through participating in an expressive act. The production focused on the dangers that ensue when young people and their parents do not communicate, a situation with which that community very much identified. Now I knew there was a genre of performance dedicated to the combination of aesthetic and social purposes that drew me, in which I could make a professional home. My autobiographical account is most significant for what is common, not unusual, about it. Little did I know at the time that hundreds of people of my generation had a similarly ambivalent attraction to artmaking. We wanted to be involved in creativity, but not at the cost of separating ourselves from society or being in touch only with people from the same class and profession, not at the cost of abandoning the other things we cared about in the world. My experiences, in fact, demonstrate principles of community-based performance—collective context, reciprocity, hyphenation, process, and active culture—brought together through artmaking. These principles articulate a genre that belongs at the center, not the margins, of society. I close this introduction with a story about Majora Carter, a collaborator on common green/common ground, my case study in chapter 7. Majora, like the character of Millie I played in Picnic, wanted to leave her neighborhood, and did so, but then she came back:

Introduction

13

Majora lived just a few blocks from the Bronx River but she had never seen it. She saw buildings and smoke stacks, mounds of garbage, a waste treatment facility, and scrap metal lots. She knew there must be a river behind all that but she couldn’t see it. Time passed and she grew up and all she wanted was to leave Hunt’s Point. She went to college. She wanted to be an actress. She started making films. And then . . . she came back. One day she was walking her dog past the chain link fences and the dumps, and he led her down an alley and around some buildings. . . . And she saw the river. She found it. The Bronx River. Majora decided that everyone in the neighborhood should see the river; that they should clean it up and make a park with a boathouse, an ecology center, maybe even a little café. A place where they could go canoeing, put on plays, see the sunset, and catch fish. Majora got a grant, and lots of help from her friends. They hauled out hundreds of tires, acres of dry wall, yards of fences. They pulled things out of that river I couldn’t even describe, and they created a riverside park, on a little strip of an abandoned street, in Hunt’s Point. Part of the new South Bronx. And that’s the story of how Majora Carter found the Bronx River (Peck et al. 2001). In the context of common green/common ground, Majora’s local act of reclaiming the waterfront became a performative act, documented and celebrated. Community-based performance is thus a local act in two senses: a social doing in one’s particular corner of the world and an artistic framing of that doing for others to appreciate. This book is about just such joint social and aesthetic acts.

Chapte r 1

Early Antecedents

Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, writes about his education in history with insights that resonate with my education in theater: “There were themes of profound importance to me that I found missing in the orthodox history that dominated American culture. The consequence of those omissions has been not simply to give a distorted view of the past but, more important, to mislead us all about the present” (1980, 658). Recognizing the power of history to legitimate present practices, I offer a handful of compelling performance models that point to a tradition of community-based performance. This is not a cause-and-effect history; one model does not lead progressively to the next. Rather, it is a genealogy, a “family” line of performances that create, reinforce, and broadcast collective identities for purposes including and exceeding the aesthetic. Pageantry: Pe rforming History, Shaping Collective Ide ntitie s Structured around a series of tableaux or moving pictures, early-twentiethcentury pageants in the United States represented the history of a town using verse and prose embellished by choruses, songs, dances, and marches at a beautiful site, cast with local citizens. The pageant, wrote Professor George Pierce Baker at that time, “teaches, though not abstractly, by stimulating local pride for that in the past which makes the best incentive to future civic endeavor and accomplishment. . . . [I]t has quickened patriotism, strengthened civic pride and stimulated or revealed latent art powers” (Bates 1925, 2). A form stretching back at least to the European Middle Ages,1 pageants are a source of community-based performance by being built on a theme, not a plot, necessitating broad-based participation, emphasizing place, and engendering civic engagement. In 1912, Percy MacKaye coined the term civic theater to imply “the conscious awakening of a people to self-government in the activities of its leisure,” grounded in “participation rather than spectatorship . . . leadership by means of a permanent staff of artists (not merchants in art), elimination of private profit by endowment and public support, dedication in service to the 17

18

L o ca l Ac t s

whole community” (15). Calling pageantry “an art of communal expression” (94), MacKaye saw it as part of civic theater and as a new expression of democracy. Pageantry was radical for its time, an attempt to democratize the uses of performance, along with such initiatives as the Chautauqua Institute.2 Yet MacKaye’s thinking was contradictory: while calling for democratic participation, he, like most pageant masters, exerted tight control, welcoming collective input only in the enactment and not in the design. For example, immigrants in the early twentieth century were frequently invited to participate in pageants as an introduction to American history that was not dependent on fluency in English. Such pageants often began with immigrants in traditional garb doing traditional dances and culminated in spectacles of allAmericana pilgrims and pioneers. An artistic expression of “melting pot” philosophy, these performances provided no sense of what immigrants had left behind, the values they carried with them, or the conditions of their relocation to the United States. There was only a hasty effort to make them appreciate this place and its history. Historian Linda Nochlin sees in the early-twentieth-century popular pageantry idea of “civic uplift” not only a wish to do good for the newcomers to our shores but also an unspoken fear (1985, 92). This fear factor operates in the dramaturgy of monolithic Americanization enacted in the pageants. Esther Willard Bates in 1912 described the pageant’s function vis-à-vis recent immigrants as “to possess a constructive influence on the people . . . stimulate pride in town, state, and nation . . . to make real the great deeds of the fathers and quicken the aspirations of the sons for right living and for devotion to country. In this last appeal the need of our immigrant population will be kept fully in mind” (1925, 18). Immigrants were the object, not the subject, the agents, of these performances, which sought to mold them into seemingly uncritical citizens. Assimilation was also a goal of MacKaye’s 1915 pageant to accompany naturalization ceremonies. Undertaken on a massive scale—a St. Louis pageant was performed by a cast of 7,500 before an audience of a half million— patriotic songs and dances helped transform foreigners into American citizens. My critique is not the celebration of Americana, a totally appropriate focus at a naturalization ceremony, but the implicit message that one could not have dual allegiances to one’s place of birth and one’s new home. Pageants are problematic in their unequal power dynamic and the overly simplified message they often projected concerning “Who is ‘us’?” Pageants manifest the capacity of performance to form and reinforce images of “the other.” MacKaye’s aesthetic process illustrates how. He called for synchronicity between speech, imagery, lighting, music, architecture, and painting reminiscent of Wagner’s gesamptkunstwerk, or total artwork (MacKaye 1912, 97). How the resulting performance works on participants and specta-

Early Antecedents

19

tors has been explained by neurological ritual theory. If the right and left poles of the brain are stimulated at once—that is, the intellectual side through reason, logic, words, and ideas, and the sensory side through the sounds, sights, and smells of performance—“a neurological overload” occurs, resulting in deep learning (d’Aquili, Laughlin, and McManus 1979). Such performance is useful for relatively benign educational purposes such as impressing a group’s cultural codes on neophytes, as well as for malign goals like brainwashing. The Nazi Nuremberg Party Rallies of the 1930s featured pageantesque, geometric rows of healthy blond, blue-eyed soldiers in sparkling uniforms. As participatory, visual accompaniment to Nazi political speeches, the rallies set up an equation of order = good, disorder = bad, which (within the context of Nazi ideology and politics) contributed to the deadly equation of filthy, malnourished, ill people equaling social parasites to exterminate for the civic good. My concern with “total artwork” is the noncritical effect of such sensory overload, the unconscious way it reinforces ideas that ride the brain waves along with it. While early U.S. pageantry was not consciously tethered to evil purposes, its sanitized images of easily adaptable immigrants kept the reality of many other struggling newcomers conveniently out of sight. Pageantry has also supported movements critical of the status quo and has been a tool accessible to people with little other access to power. According to feminist historians Cynthia Patterson and Bari J. Watkins, pageants have been a strategy of “women reformers, church groups, and schoolteachers to present dramatically social ideals and female solidarity” since the early nineteenth century, and “to promote and publicize their political commitment toward the attainment of various rights for women in American society” (29). Women fighting for equal rights employed the power of collective imagery, if not always exactly pageantry, to further their goals. Nearly five thousand women participated in a suffrage parade in 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Generating a great deal of media attention, the parade helped resuscitate the movement for a constitutional suffrage amendment, which had not been debated in Congress since 1887 (Cooney and Michalowski 1987, 56–57). In the same vein, women staged a silent vigil in front of the Wilson White House through the winter of 1917, featuring such actions as burning quotations of promises President Wilson had not kept. Arrested for these actions, many women continued their theatrics in prison, garnering publicity and support for their refusal to work and for staging a hunger strike (58). Like pageants, these actions relied on broad participation, heightened, simplified action, and highly public “stages” for efficacy. The National Women’s Party of the 1920s staged three pageants, each of which combined entertainment and education in depicting important moments in the movement to attain equal rights for women. The first marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where

20

L o ca l Ac t s

the U.S. women’s rights movement officially began. A second pageant, in Colorado, honored the accomplishments of women pioneers in the western United States. The third depicted the struggle for women’s equal rights since ancient Greece. All three pageants depended on the pleasure of participation—“a chance to take part in a ‘big show,’ done on a large scale, with color and beauty—a chance in short to have a good time” (Patterson and Watkins 1981, 32). Organizer Mabel Mackaye asserted that by participating in an emotionally engaging event, people quickly became committed to the cause and could not have been reached as effectively any other way. Equally important was the role of the pageants for the women organizers, who thus found a way to move their cause forward. The instance of early-twentieth-century pageantry that I find most promising is the Paterson Pageant of 1913. Both a memorial service to workers who had lost their lives and a spectacle of support to those still on strike in the Paterson, New Jersey, silk mills, the Paterson pageant juxtaposed the mass action of the striker-performers against passionate speeches redelivered by the original speakers. It presented the contributions of immigrant workers as much more than picturesque, yet readily disposable, costumes and food traditions. Performed in Madison Square Garden, it portrayed the battle between labor and the forces of capital with a cast of 1,500 workers at the same time as ritually helping to deal with grief over slain comrades. The Paterson Pageant is located between theater and ritual, the absence of audience per se signaling the latter: everyone had stakes in the event, heightening its impact. This pageant was as much about accomplishing something—mourning the dead and strengthening the resolve of the living—as about entertaining. Equally important, the Paterson Strike Pageant was a collaboration between professionals—notably writer John Reed, best known for his book about the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, and the renowned theatrical designer Robert Edmond Jones—and people who lacked theatrical training but were compelling because they had experienced first hand what they were now performing. It’s quite possible that Reed was influenced by the extraordinary public spectacles he would have seen in Russia in the years leading up to the Revolution. The combination of artists and people with a tale to tell is the sine qua non of this field. The Paterson Strike Pageant gained aesthetic power from its professional dramaturgy, its meaningfulness through its connection to the participants’ lives, its activist potential by its timing—that is, immediately after the tragic deaths of coworkers but still in the midst of the struggle—and its use of spectacle to garner media attention. Though few national news reporters had trekked to Paterson, New Jersey, to report on the strike itself, many reporters were drawn to its reenactment in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, particularly given the participation of luminaries of its day like Reed and Jones.

Early Antecedents

21

Nochlin emphasizes the power of the pageant as a “reenactment” in which “the ‘actors’ remain themselves yet at the same time play their roles as symbols of broader issues . . . [It is] a weapon in forging a sense of communal identity for hitherto inarticulate and unself-conscious lower classes” (1985, 90–91). Like ritual, the pageant’s effect on performers was as important as its effect on those watching. Through the pageant, performers and spectators were able to grasp what they’d actually been through by distilling the lived events into compact, graspable episodes: the walkout, the martyrdom, the funeral of the martyr, the May Day parade, the sending away of the children, the strike vote. Nochlin goes further: “In participating in the pageant, they became conscious of their experience as a meaningful force in history and of themselves as self-determining members of a class that shaped history” (91). The pageant is a vivid reminder that one aesthetic form can reflect numerous ideologies. The Paterson Strike Pageant “turned the patriotic rhetoric, the well-meaning melting pot psychology of the do-gooder civic theater leaders, back upon itself, revealing its idealistic vision of the immigrant workers in their new land as sentimental, spectacular rationalizations of the status quo, filling the workers with false promises and false consciousness at the same time” (Nochlin 1985, 93). In contrast to representing new immigrants as contributing only their songs, dances, costumes, foods, and folk traditions to the new world, this pageant evidenced that “they were being forced to contribute their health, their hopes, their honor and their children and to live lives of wretchedness and squalor so that WASP capitalist society might flourish” (93). Harlem Re naissance: Cultural Se lfRe pre se ntation and Social Recognition The Harlem Renaissance (1917–35) was an artistic movement created by a critical mass of African American artists with a social consciousness who moved to this uptown New York City neighborhood as part of the great migration of people of color around World War I. Historian David Levering Lewis describes it as “a cultural nationalism of the parlor, institutionally encouraged and directed by leaders of the national civil rights establishment for the paramount purpose of improving race relations in a time of extreme national backlash, caused in large part by economic gains won by Afro-Americans during the Great War” (1994, xv). One of the leading intellectuals of the time, African American W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote that “until the art of the black folk compels recognition they will not be rated as human” (xvi). This model exemplifies a ground-up use of performance to improve how a socially marginalized group is perceived. The first phase of the Harlem Renaissance, from 1917 to 1923, was deeply influenced by a variety of white artists and activists fascinated with Harlem life and culture. According to Lewis, Bohemians and Revolutionaries’

22

L o ca l Ac t s

“discovery of Harlem followed both logically and, more compellingly, psychologically, for if the factory, campus, office, and corporation were dehumanizing, stultifying, or predatory, the African American, largely excluded because of race from all of the above, was a perfect symbol of cultural innocence and regeneration” (xx). The second phase of the Harlem Renaissance epitomizes the balancing act of arts and activism familiar in community-based performance. This period was dominated by the two major civil rights organizations, the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League, ideologically committed to civil rights “through the creation and mobilization of an artistic-literary movement” (xxxi). African American artists sought to balance professional cultural expression with political goals intended to overcome racism. In theater, for example, exploration took place around two very different models of scripted texts to serve an antiracist agenda. The one espoused by Du Bois was of realistic plays depicting positive images of African Americans. One of the plays he championed was Angelina Grimke’s Rachel (1916), which bridged racial differences by appealing to gender similarities, using the theme of motherhood so that white women would empathize with morally upstanding black mothers. Du Bois, who founded the Krigwa Theater in Harlem, also asserted ideas about the general context for black theater: “the plays of a Negro theater must be: 1. About us. . . . 2. By us. . . . 3. For us. . . . 4. Near us” (Schroeder 1996, 109). In contrast to Du Bois’s realism, Alain Locke and the Howard Players adhered to artistically rich portrayals of black folk culture without an overt political agenda. Locke spoke for individual creativity and against propaganda as “monotonous” and still dependent on the status quo by trying to please it. He advocated for the folk play: “a drama of free expression and imaginative release . . . with no objective but to express beautifully and colorfully race folk life” (Schroeder 1996, 111). Scholar Patricia Schroeder points out that such plays focused on a range of everyday black life, not only comic, and integrated customs, traditions, beliefs, and language of everyday people, unlike Du Bois’s emphasis on “the talented tenth.” Du Bois critiqued the black folk play out of concern that such characters would appear to reinforce outsiders’ simplistic stereotypes. Zora Neale Hurston was a practitioner of the folk approach, both in her stories and in Mule Bone, the play she coauthored with Langston Hughes. Hurston and Hughes are precursors of community-based performance in developing a theatrical (that is, not purely ritualistic) aesthetic of celebrating their own culture. Hurston’s training was also ahead of its time in conjoining anthropological and artistic skill development. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all-black town governed by her preacher father. Majoring in anthropology at Barnard, she did an ethnography of Eatonville, beautifully

Early Antecedents

23

capturing the poetry of vernacular black language. She drew on her interviews in the creation of characters, a now-common approach used by not only community-based but also other artists including Anna Deavere Smith, Moises Kaufman, and Eve Ensler. The third phase of the Harlem Renaissance was marked by rebellion against this same civil rights establishment. Langston Hughes wrote an essay that signaled the rupture of the arts-and-letters party line. In response to a critique in The Nation that black artists were essentially no different than white, Hughes stated that he and his fellow artists intended to express their “individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. . . . If black people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either” (Lewis 1994, xxxii). Theater during the Harlem Renaissance was poignantly prophetic of the community-based theater movement of fifty years later. Du Bois articulated the all-important issue of self-representation: “Suppose the only Negro who survived some centuries hence was the Negro painted by white Americans in the novels and essays they have written. What would people in a hundred years say of black Americans?” (1994, 101–102). It was another massive war, World War II, that once again raised expectations of people of color and contributed to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. And again, the great movements for social justice formed a context for the art produced. At the same time, theater of the Harlem Renaissance was conventional professional theater, created by trained artists, in theater buildings, and presented at times unconnected to culturally important dates, for the entertainment and edification of the audience. In contrast, workers theater, my next model, manifests more community-based performance characteristics: mass participation, performances attuned to larger cultural activities vis-à-vis time (such as a response to a strike) and place (perhaps a union hall), celebration of working-class identity, with people sometimes portraying themselves, and emphasis on the importance of theatricality for participants as much as for audiences. These two models evidence a variety of theatrical forms of serving activist goals. They also have features in common—addressing particular audiences in particular places, supporting particular ideology, and playing an active role in the life of their times both through and beyond aesthetics. Working-Class Theate r : Building Collective Re solve Theater by, for, and about workers, which flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, organized and affirmed the working class. Earlier in the twentieth century, immigrant workers performed, but either sporadically or in order to bring “high culture” to other workers. Or, leftwing artists performed for workers. Arlene Goldbard describes the problematic theories supporting that

24

L o ca l Ac t s

practice: “the old-Left idea that socially-conscious artists ‘speak for’ the people who are incapable of speaking for themselves . . . [and the] trickle-down theory in which chamber musicians would play for factory workers who’d then follow suit, and duplicate high culture” (1993, 23). Whether performed by artists or workers, according to scholar Daniel Friedman, “The ideological assumption at work . . . was that universal culture transcends social class,” an assumption that “came to an abrupt end with the stock market crash of 1929.” The subsequent embrace of class-based rather than universal culture, asserts Friedman, “presupposed that the conflicting economic and political interests between workers and their employers necessitated a different cultural expression by the conflicting classes” (1985, 112). This link between socioeconomic position, ideological viewpoint, and cultural expression is crucial in the development of community-based art. In the early 1930s, spurred on by Soviet amateur theatrics on the one hand and the dire material conditions of the depression on the other,3 workers increasingly performed their own, self-generated work—short skits in presentational, politically pointed style. Friedman sees the main purposes of this theater as allowing participants to express their anger, envision an alternative social structure, and continue their radical politics by reflecting conditions and inspiring other workers. The aesthetics of the workers theater movement reflect its goals—accessibility to a large number of participants and audiences and commitment to both efficacy and entertainment. Mass recitation was the most popular form, which usually “pitted a chorus of workers against a capitalist or a representative of the capitalist class, such as a foreman or policeman” (Friedman 1985, 116). Plays were frequently in verse with choreography, archetypal characters, a presentational acting style, and a minimal, mobile set. Such plays sometimes succeeded as agitprop, riling up the audience (agitating) while expressing strong partisan views (propagandizing). Others served as communal rituals for the already converted, or educated, workers in the struggle. The link between theater and life was always foregrounded. Friedman describes a workers’ dramatic group that was doing an eviction play but, hearing of a family who was in the process of actually being evicted, stopped the play and helped them first (116). Both theater of the Harlem Renaissance and that of the workers movement embrace democratization of art, but they interpret this idea differently. Theater in the Harlem Renaissance was created by professional artists. Workers theater was by nonprofessionals because of the emphasis on participation. In both cases, the need for a theater that responds to the particulars of a group’s life challenges the notion that there is one model of Great Theater for everyone. This “universal” model privileges artists who share the ideological position and experiential base of dominant critics and funders and handicaps

Early Antecedents

25

those who do not. The political nature of all theater and not just that which has an overtly political subject becomes apparent. Who and what are represented, who does the representing (what playwrights, directors, actors, designers), how they depict their subjects, and which people have access to receive the performances are all political decisions. Theater in the Harlem Renaissance and workers theater stretched the possible responses to such questions. Both theaters thus played important counterhegemonic roles; that is, they served as critical tools to raise questions about the status quo. They did not merely reflect large social, political, and economic realities; they also challenged them. Little Theate r Moveme nt: Localizing Pe rformance Participation The Little Theater Movement was a critical mass of amateur theatrics that spotlighted local acting and directing talent in towns all across the United States. It thus established a basis for theater in community, although it relied on pre-scripted plays. Historian Kenneth MacGowan sees in this practice a deep desire for live theater, which towns must and can provide for themselves and which are financially viable if people do not have to be paid. He cites popular theater theorist Romain Rolland: “If art is not opened to the people, it is doomed to disappear; and if the people do not discover the pathway of art, humanity abdicates its destinies” (MacGowan 1929, 6). The rise in amateur theater in the early twentieth century is rooted in industrialization, bringing people together in one place with more leisure time, and the demise of “the road,” a network of touring companies of Broadway hits put out of business by rising transportation costs and the movies. Theater with nonprofessionals has a long history of making the most out of limitations. In 1915, a theater in Ypsilanti, Michigan, featured local people in parts that drew on their real experience; for example, a seamstress played a seamstress (interesting for 1915 but ultimately limited as typecasting). A Texas drama critic summed up little theaters’ contributions: “opportunities of expression to the dramatic talent of the town . . . common cause for many citizens, thus contributing to civic friendliness, cooperation, sociability, good feeling . . . [and] a good advertisement for the town” (MacGowan, 19–20). Settlement houses, established in poor neighborhoods to provide social, intellectual, and cultural services largely to immigrants arriving in the United States during the early twentieth century, were another home to amateur acting clubs. Some were squarely grounded in the specific ethnic traditions from whence their constituents came. Others integrated the various ethnicities into one drama club. According to cultural theorists Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard, early settlement houses were not aware of threatening immigrant traditions, but rather saw “pulling immigrants into a dominant culture as a wholly

26

L o ca l Ac t s

good thing, simply a matter of equity” (2001, 42). Such activities sometimes became professionalized over time. While MacGowan sees professionalization as inevitable and eventually replacing all successful little theaters, I do not, because of the distinction between little theaters and community-based performance. The basic unit of the latter is the people who contribute to it through their stories or their cocreation as performers, people who are intimately connected to the theme of a given production via lived experience, which is facilitated but not replaced by professionals. Community-based performance will always offer a first-voice account of a situation that most professional art does not. It’s true that professional theaters have frequently arisen where little theaters once stood; indeed, the regional theater movement is a case in point. But there’s still a place for theater that engages local people more actively than either as spectators or, as with little theater, as actors and directors of scripts created elsewhere. Little theater became the infrastructure for the post–World War II professional regional theater movement. Interestingly, Cornerstone Theater, a seminal community-based ensemble created in 1985, has mounted a number of community productions at regional theaters. While community-based and regional theater partnerships are not without problems—many arising from different views of what constitutes professionalism—such experiments are part of an impulse for regional theaters to be more expressive of their particular place and time. That is, what began as local self-expression in the little theater movement in contrast to national tours of generic road shows risks becoming so homogenized that regional theaters could produce virtually the same plays regardless of where they are located and what’s happening in their own hometowns. Community-based practices like creating plays out of local experience and local controversy, even if written and performed by professionals, bring some of the local flavor that may be missing in these venues. It’s an “and” rather than an “either/or” proposition to produce both canonical and locally particular plays. Fe de ral Theatre Project (FTP): Expanding Audie nce s, Ve nue s, Purpo se s Created during the Great Depression to put theater professionals back to work, the Federal Theatre Project (1935–39) was a government program employing 7,900 actors, directors, designers, choreographers, producers, technicians, dancers, puppeteers, and musicians. It conjoined professional theater making with a decentralized, profoundly democratic grassroots effort valuing cultural diversity nationwide, with projects in twenty states coast to coast. Hallie Flanagan directed the project from Washington, D.C., assisted by directors in regions across the United States. The Federal Theatre Project was the closest the United States ever got to a truly national theater, with an incredi-

Early Antecedents

27

ble diversity of artists, audiences, performance genres, and spaces involved over the experiment’s brief four-year history. Because the Federal Theatre Project was created to employ professionals and not bring in revenue itself, 65 percent of its productions were free for people who could not afford to pay. These included “children in orphan asylums and hospitals . . . the aged in institutions . . . the unfortunate in insane asylums and prisons, where the work was appreciated as not only aesthetic but also therapeutic and educational” (Malpede 1972, 161). Project performances also took place in fully outfitted theaters. The federal government paid salaries, as it was doing to get people back to work in other professions; the project charged modest ticket fees when possible so as to cover nonlabor costs—scenery, costumes, lights, props, theater rentals, royalties, transportation, and advertising. In total, the Federal Theatre Project created 1,200 productions in all shapes and sizes: classical, religious, Americana, living newspaper, vaudeville, circus, musicals, pageants, and marionettes. In order to reach broad audiences, project employees made stages on trucks and showboats, and in parks, schools, playgrounds, tents, and abandoned theaters. One of the goals of the Federal Theater Project was the engagement of a mass audience, to be accomplished not only by the diversity of work produced and its accessible price, but also through experiments in combining popular forms with political content. Most notably to that end, the living newspaper was developed. Its content responded to people’s hunger for the news given the national economic crisis and international tensions with fascistic governments. It was also expansive aesthetically, featuring certain character types (such as “the buffoon who conquers”), large casts, spectacular effects, and music (Malpede 1972, 146). Given the goal of employing as many people as possible, the living newspaper drew on unemployed professionals from theater and journalism to create productions based on contemporary news. For example, Triple A Plowed Under was about farm relief, 1935 was a review of that year’s news, Power advocated for public ownership of utilities, and One Third of a Nation told the history of slum housing and land speculation. The Federal Theatre Project was community-based in supporting regional projects and artists, addressing local audiences, and combining the goal of entertainment with other purposes such as education, cultural celebration, and political advocacy. In addition to performing in theaters across the United States, it had begun to expand to additional performance contexts. In Buffalo, the Board of Health paid a local Federal Theater marionette troupe’s labor costs and provided them with a work space so they could continue teaching children about health through theater. In Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and New York, the Boards of Education had already picked up the tab for transportation costs so companies could perform in schools (Malpede 1972, 166). Had the project continued, it would presumably have been made available to an

28

L o ca l Ac t s

ever broader public, expanding to every state in the union in a diversity of forms. The intensely democratic ideology of its founders gave the Federal Theatre Project multiple goals: not just to get professionals back to work but also to address social issues (such as the living newspaper), educate audiences, and make space for more diverse cultural expressions (such as its Negro Unit). Its ideology also brought about its demise. A conservative block of congressmen was distrustful of the number of project leaders who’d been active in left-leaning workers theater. Fearing, too, that a national free theater might provide unfair competition to the commercial theater, the government squelched the Federal Theatre Project. Place-Base d Art Conjoining Highe r Education and Local Communitie s The federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914 supported rural quality-of-life programs, including arts development along with recreation, homemaking, and community beautification. A number of university-based visionaries created collaborations between their universities and extension programs. Although more known for their aloofness from rather than engagement with local communities, universities are logical bases for place-based artistic exploration. In the early twentieth century at Harvard University, George Pierce Baker urged his students to create a body of American dramatic literature based on the principle of “write what you know” (Ewell 1999, xx). Thanks to the Extension Program, two of Baker’s students, Alexander Drummond and Frederick Koch, expanded such work not only to the students they later taught but also to people in communities surrounding their universities. Several universities already sent student companies into country towns from time to time as well as taught farmers to make pageants and festivals. Koch continued this practice in North Carolina, training his students to do outreach in rural communities. He focused his playwriting students on the drama in life with which they were most familiar. Both Koch and Drummond aspired to a vision of the United States with local playwrights and producers in every community, addressing local hopes and aspirations. Alfred Arvold taught at the North Dakota Agricultural College, and was head of the Department of Public Discussion and Social Service.4 In 1910, initially in response to a schoolteacher who wrote him requesting dramatic materials, he developed a “package library” with a theatrical slant that included “briefs upon subjects relating to country life, copies of festivals, pageants, plays, readings, dialogs, pictures of floats, parades, processions, exhibit arrangements, costume designs, character portrayals, plans of stages, auditoriums, open-air theaters, community buildings, constitutions of all kinds of organizations, catalogs of book publishers” (MacGowan 1929, 158). His interest was less in artistic merit than in encouraging broadly based cultural engagement.

Early Antecedents

29

1. Robert Gard and farm family. Photo from University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, mid-1950s.

Robert Gard was a student of Drummond’s at Cornell. He helped develop the idea of a theater representing New York State, drawing in local people to write plays or send in ideas about the state and embracing a philosophy of grassroots theater. He called for the gathering of traditional materials of the region and encouraged the participation of regional writers: “The people of the region must be let in on what the project is trying to do and a friendly public attitude toward the project must be established. The university should take the role of leadership in the theater arts not only on the campus but throughout the region” (Gard 1999, 45). Gard believed that theater belongs in the realm of the everyday. Drummond taught him to translate people’s feeling for their home place into an indigenous theater. Gard continued his work at the University of Wisconsin through the Wisconsin Idea. One of the most evolved programs in grassroots arts in the early twentieth century, the program recognized a relationship between political and cultural democracy. Believing that “popular self-government without indigenous art forms is incapable of civilized expression,” the Wisconsin Idea sought to “extend political democracy” by “extending the educational and cultural opportunities of the University to all the people of the state” (89–90). The program supported expression of current and past life and themes of the region through the development of local talent. This would both raise “general dramatic standards . . . [and] make the drama a living factor in people’s lives . . . [with the] roots of the work in the people” (111–112). Gard believed that such a project needed a research component and a magazine to express ideas and offer instruction.

30

L o ca l Ac t s

The interdisciplinary nature of community-based performance is already apparent in the Wisconsin Idea. Trained in drama, Gard was heavily influenced by rural sociologist John Kolb’s contention that the arts must be meaningful in community life: “He saw in group expression through drama the emergence of values rooted deeply in the cultures of peoples and expressing the native traditions of many nationalities” (120–121). The role of such theater went beyond the aesthetic frame to include community-building. For example, in 1950, Gard was a facilitator at a farmers’ meeting. The first part dealt with an economic problem facing them; the second part was to be Gard talking about building community through theater. But the first part was so heated that Gard used his time to dramatize their conflict, featuring comic, exaggerated arguments from both sides. He considered the spontaneous experiment a success: “Somehow feelings seemed cleansed, purposes made clear” (131). Gard saw the value of the Wisconsin Idea both for rural people—“to educate stereotypes and superficiality (and indeed, the mediocre) out of regional playwriting in Wisconsin”—and also for theater itself, which would be revived and refreshed via new voices (163). He made a series of half-hour radio programs, telling many of the great state stories. He also created a theater for producing new plays at the University of Wisconsin, believing that playwright residencies needed to do more than provide time for the playwright to write in solitude: “There is no education at present to teach the aspiring playwright that he must grow with a community, that community roots must become his roots, and that only through such merging will he have any value to that place and consequently to other places as an individual and as an artist” (177). Gard was recognized in his own time and, after a period of relative obscurity, his work received new attention in the late 1990s. Humanities Vice President at Rockefeller Foundation David Stevens praised Gard for a vision of American culture built on “giv[ing] our people easy access to their own cultural traditions” (Gard xxiii). Originally published in 1954, Gard’s major text, Grassroots Theater, was reissued in 1999. It has nourished a new generation of people who care about “regionalism’s possibilities not as parochial, xenophobic, regressive philosophy, but as a positive way of thinking about the future of life in particular places with their peculiar and individual histories and their specific needs” (Lerner 1994, xv). The Twe ntieth-Ce ntury Avant-Garde: Expe rime ntation and Social Re sponse The avant-garde was a series of multimedia movements, such as futurism, Dada, and surrealism, which emerged in Europe in the first half of the twen-

Early Antecedents

31

tieth century. Each wave of the avant-garde was distinct from every other, but all were created by artists of different media who banded together in “a rejection of archaic conceptions of aesthetic form as well as the barriers that traditionally separated one art from another” (Kostelanetz 1980, 11). Each was part of a larger philosophy and way of seeing the world. While avant-garde artists have frequently kept their distance from society, their free-thinking quality and propensity for combining separate disciplines is continued in communitybased performance; so is the practice of inserting art into everyday life contexts, with participation of people not trained as artists and the use of performance spaces open to the ebb and flow of everyday life. The avant-garde favors surprising combinations of art materials, performers coming from different backgrounds, and everyday occurrences framed as art. Though the avant-garde is described as fundamentally individualistic, Adams and Goldbard (1990, 50) hypothesize that such a characterization “is specific to a historical moment. . . . That a more accurate description of the role of an avant-garde in the arts might be that it seeks to change the idea and function of art itself, to posit a new relationship between the artist and the institutions of society. These suppositions may lead us to see that an avantgarde does indeed flourish at this moment” as community-based art. The direct expression of life as art is evident in Filippo Marinetti’s first manifesto of futurism, in 1909, expressing excitement with machines and motion and calling for the destruction of the past by any means. Denouncing a theater that focuses on psychology and inner life, Marinetti advocated a frenzy of sensations celebrating “action, heroism, life in the open air, dexterity, the authority of instinct and intuition” (Carlson 1993, 340). In the hands of the Russian Vsevolod Meyerhold, futurism took a more popular turn. Along with his colleague Vladimir Mayakovsky, Meyerhold, enamored of the future, envisioned a theater that was attractive to a broader range of people and that turned its back on a past as repressive aesthetically as it was politically. In contrast, Italian futurism developed along fascistic lines; rather than the radical inclusion of the people fervently desired by Meyerhold and Russian futurists, the Italians moved in a more totalitarian direction, eager to harness the energy of the mob for its own ends. Dadaism, while emphasizing different values in different countries, is an example of art responding directly to large social upheaval. In neutral Zurich, Dada rejected logic in favor of chance, in the face of the devastation produced by a logical civilization in World War I. Tristan Tzara heralded Dada’s artistic autonomy instead of accepting art as an imitation of life. This principle of artistic autonomy moves art from an imitation of what already exists to a vision of what could be and positions performance as a place to imagine something else, so necessary in community-based performance.

32

L o ca l Ac t s

Surrealism, through such practices as automatic writing and drawing, was a search for the truly real, not in appearances but in the subconscious. Freeing art from verisimilitude, artists were also free to use any medium to express their vision. The surrealist ballet Parade (1917) by Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Erik Satie “translated reality into a coherent ensemble of painting, dance, mime, and plastic art” (Carlson 1993, 343). In the hands of community-based performers, this freedom to choose one’s media has extended into educational, therapeutic, and political processes integrated into the art project. A new generation of artists rejected inherited disciplinary boundaries in the mid-twentieth century. Composer John Cage, for example, considered all sound, intentional or not, as music, and all activities as theater, stating, “I think daily life is excellent and that art introduces us to it and its excellence the more it begins to be like it” (Kostelanetz 1980, 34). Choreographer Merce Cunningham, a frequent collaborator of Cage, likewise considered the potential of all movement as dance. Expansion of the definition of art and its blurring with the everyday also took place in painting, sculpture, film, and architecture. Critic Richard Kostelanetz characterizes such art as inclusive, “exploiting everything it can potentially encompass, rather than putting down some feasible possibilities as below its dignity” (27). It follows that such artists would be as interested in so-called low or popular culture as in high art, because what matters is perception and meaning, not an a priori set of art rules. In the late 1950s, artist Allan Kaprow developed happenings, sets of activities that “allow unexpected events to occur in an unpredictable succession. . . . A pure happening insists upon an unfettered exploration of space and time—both are open rather than closed” (4–5). Process is as important as product; such performances are interactions by participants carrying out a set of tasks rather than a carefully controlled work by a master artist only performable by people with special training. Kostelanetz describes a range of happenings, from the process of dancer Ann Halprin and her architect husband, Lawrence, bringing a group of people to a beach to build driftwood shelters to any “massive gathering of people, a ‘Be-In’—whose author is not individual but collective” (5). Performance art emerged from happenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kaprow distinguished happenings from regular theater in: (1) context— that is, rather than taking place in theater buildings, they occurred in “old lofts, basements, vacant stores, natural surroundings and the street, where very small audiences, or groups of visitors, are commingled in some way with the event” (1993, 17); (2) structure—replacing plot, character, and narrative with activities, people interacting, and chance, improvisations set in motion by ideas or scores; (3) text—a happening is driven not by words but by spontaneity and chance; a happening artist cannot control art “quality” so puts

Early Antecedents

33

faith in the interaction with participants as more important; and (4) impermanence, irreproducibility—happenings are made of perishable materials and unrepeatable interactions; like community-based performance, happenings are broadly participatory, with the artist creating a structure for the event. Significantly, Kaprow was reading John Dewey’s Art as Experience in 1949 while conceptualizing happenings. Dewey states, “Objects that were in the past valid and significant because of their place in the life of a community now function in isolation from the conditions of their origin” (1934, 9). More than the production of artwork, the tradition of art/life experimentation strives to heighten observation of, engagement with, and interpretation of the processes of living. Kaprow expressed a related, contextual notion of art communication as not one way, artist to audience, but a “reciprocal flow. . . . Though the artist sets up the equation, the participant provides its terms, and the system remains open to participation . . . engag[ing] both our minds and bodies in actions that transform art into experience and esthetics into meaning” (xvii–xviii). Dewey saw everyday life as a source of aesthetics, equally evident in Kaprow’s work. Kaprow defined experience as participation and developed an art form in which artists and others have much to gain from each other. Kaprow notes that the avant-garde movements “all focused in one way or another on the primacy of the irrational and/or the unconscious . . . the idea of art as an act rather than aesthetics was implicit by 1909 and explicit by 1946” (Sandford 1995, 219). The notion of “an act rather than aesthetics” brings us again to ritual that is a doing rather than a representation of a doing, a characteristic of much contemporary community-based performance that seeks to accomplish something as well as entertain people. The avant-garde has traditionally taken critical stances that encourage independent thinking and reject classical hierarchies. Like community-based performance today, the avant-garde depended on participation of nonartists, expanded the venues where art took place, put more attention on imagery than on words, and conceptualized a philosophical as well as aesthetic role for art in society. While not all avant-garde movements were popular in the sense of attracting other than an arts-related crowd, some of their discoveries have influenced seminal community-based artists over the past twenty five years. Kaprow’s idea of framing everyday life has been central to performance artist Suzanne Lacy, just as the notion of surprising assemblages has inspired choreographer Liz Lerman. Steven Durland articulates the profound shift from traditional avant-garde artists, who were often alienated from society, to community-based artists, who “have chosen to invest themselves directly in the public in such a way that they are no longer viewing the public from the outside, but rather are an integral part of that public. In such a context, the art that develops is a direct

34

L o ca l Ac t s

reflection of the particular culture in which it is created. This creates an entirely different relationship between the artist and the public, because where the artist is invested in the public, the public is invested in art. The art need be no less innovative or experimental when the public views the work as developing from a common experience” (Durland 1998, xxiii). The avant-garde is a formidable influence that has enlivened community-based performance and sustained a place within it for experimentation.

Chapte r 2

Motion of the Ocean It’s not the size of the ship that makes the waves, it’s the motion of the ocean. —John O’Neal, quoting a prose poem by Charlie Cobb, paraphrasing an Atlanta deejay

Was [community-based performance,] which grew directly out of both the social change and alternative art movements of the 1960s and the 70s, wholly unique, or was it simply the contemporary manifestation of a recurring cultural ideal of an art relegated not to culture palaces, but relevant to daily life, an art whose home is in the streets, in schools, church basements, city parks, and other institutions dear to community life? —Ruby Lerner

By the end of World War II and McCarthy-era suppression of radical activism and leftist artistic expression in the 1950s, the conditions that led to the coalescing of community-based performance into a movement began to surface. The civil rights movement was well under way. People of color who had been ready to die for the United States in a world war also wanted to live, equally, in it. More and more middle-class whites were becoming aware of the constraints and contradictions of the American Dream despite U.S. rhetoric of equal opportunity. For a critical mass of baby boomers, postwar prosperity was a trap, spiritually empty and even abhorrent given the extremes of poverty and inequality existing alongside it. The alienation that a range of people in different circumstances felt from mainstream U.S. society laid the groundwork for engagement in cultural forms that shared a progressive political activism. The aesthetics of activist performance in the 1960s and early 1970s, in contrast to modernism, which distanced art from social flux, shared progressive politics’ commitment to participatory democracy.1 Democratic rhetoric of “by the people” was taken literally; progressive political and cultural organizations urged people to get involved in mass-based initiatives like 35

36

L o ca l Ac t s

demonstrations and rallies. Street and guerrilla theater thrived, frequently covered by the media, thus keeping an oppositional perspective in the public view. At the same time, a significant number of theater makers organized themselves into companies instead of artists for hire. Many created plays with primary input from the actors, a process known as “collective creation.” Both the less hierarchical nature of that process and the personal nature of the content were profound breaks with convention. In professional Euro-American theater before the 1960s, “personal material was expected to be contributed only by the author, and even he was expected to disguise the material as fiction” (Schechner 1973, 21). The lines between company members’ personal beliefs, experiences, and artistic expression were increasingly blurred. One of the seminal experimental theaters that practiced collective creation was the Open Theater. I saw their production of America, Hurrah in the East Village in 1965. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. It lashed out at U.S. materialism and complacency and explored the gap between what people really feel and what they say and do. Hurrah, indeed. The Open Theater was part of my journey to community-based art by virtue of the full collaboration of all the artists, an ongoing relationship to devoted spectators who related to the Open as an expresser of their worldview, and its seriousness of purpose, imagining a role for theater engaged with the life of its times. Significantly, Open Theater founder Joe Chaikin had previously been part of the Living Theater, the very name of which communicates the company’s intention to make art an expression of their lives and real world concerns. Playing the role of Galy Gay in the Living Theater’s production of Brecht’s A Man’s a Man, Chaikin had the epiphany that led to the Open Theater. He had taken the part in order to be seen by agents and make a place for himself in commercial theater. But repeating his lines night after night began to change him: “There is a time when [Galy Gay] turns to the audience and says, ‘Who am I? If they cut off my arm and my head would the arm recognize the head?’ It was particularly the responsibility of coming out to the audience and talking directly to them—something I had never had to do before—knowing that what I said to the audience I didn’t believe, and then coming to believe what I was saying” (Chaikin 1972, 51). Chaikin also attributes his change to Living Theater founders Judith Malina and Julian Beck, for whom art and politics were utterly linked. The Open Theater was part of a spontaneous movement in the 1960s and early 1970s whereby challenging artistic form went hand in hand with challenging artistic content and concerns; all were vastly expanded. Artistic experimentation more overtly at the service of specific political agendas also flourished. In 1959, allied with the free speech movement, the San Francisco Mime Troupe was created, performing free, commedia-based shows in city parks (Shank 1982, 60; see also Orenstein 1998). The Bread and

Motion of the Ocean

37

Puppet Theatre, founded by Peter Schumann in 1963 and featuring extraordinary puppets and masks, reached national attention in the late 1960s as the centerpiece of nearly every major anti–Vietnam War march in the Northeast (S. Brecht 1988). In 1965 Luis Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino, presenting archetypal characters in short, contemporary skits supporting the Chicano farm workers’ struggle (Huerta 1982, 1). The Free Southern Theater, created in 1963 by John O’Neal, Doris Derby, and Gil Moses as a cultural wing of the civil rights movement, sought a “theatrical form and style as unique as blues, jazz and gospel” (Dent, Schechner, and Moses 1969, 12). I turn now to a number of immediate precursors to community-based performance and the political waves that activated their work. The Fre e Southe rn Theate r and the Civil Rights Moveme nt John O’Neal’s efforts to balance being an artist and activist set an example for many future community-based art practitioners. Graduating from Southern Illinois University in 1962, O’Neal intended to become a playwright. He took to heart Richard Burton’s avowal that it takes at least twenty years to become a decent, “not even a good,” actor.2 Aspiring to be an actor and playwright, O’Neal reasoned that he would need at least twenty-five years. But he was consumed by dramatic developments in the civil rights movement. He believed that what was happening in the South was the most important thing in the world at that time, yet he had devised a twenty-five year plan that began in New York. O’Neal, who had also studied theology, placed this dilemma within a religious context. Defining sin as “the divergence between your ideas and your actions,” he was compelled to close the gap and thus headed south to work with the movement. Settling in Mississippi, O’Neal became a field director for the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC). He soon understood that the fight for civil rights was not going to be quickly resolved and that he would not be able to resume his career as originally conceived: “I realized that this was not a problem of the South, though it had a particular vulnerability there, but of the whole system. This is a lifetime of work. So am I going to give up my ambition to write? Is there a coherent solution to the problem of being an artist and part of a movement for social change?” In 1963 O’Neal met Doris Derby, a painter who was also a field director for SNCC, and Gil Moses, a writer for the Mississippi Free Press. Together they founded the Free Southern Theater. Moses sent a copy of the theater’s prospectus to Richard Schechner, then a drama professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, beginning a conversation that led to Schechner becoming codirector in 1964.3 Schechner (2000) more recently articulated the theater’s utter interdependence with the movement:

38

L o ca l Ac t s

SNCC was part and parcel of the theater. That’s how we got our contacts and venues, knew where to go when we came into a town, who to see to help us get established. This was not like a conventional touring show; we needed to be immediately welcomed into the community. We needed safe places, especially since we were blacks and whites, men and women, traveling together. Without the movement we wouldn’t have had the physical wherewithal. And then ideologically, the movement gave us a goal, a way of choosing our repertory. Schechner’s description of the Free Southern Theater suggests characteristics of civil rights performances generally, including sit-ins and freedom rides—public acts contextualized by a high-profile political movement, coordination by a political organization, direction at audiences already invested in the subject, infusion with pointedly ideological subject matter, performability far and wide, and necessitation of a certain degree of risk. Regularly following performances of plays relevant to the struggle with discussion, the Free Southern Theater created the circumstances for the collective exchange of ideas as befits a democratic society. The Free Southern Theater and actions like the sit-ins share membership in what Schechner calls “make-belief ” performances, intentionally blurring the boundary between the world of the performance and everyday reality that “make-believe” performances maintain (2002, 35). “Make believe” performances rely on suspension of disbelief and take place in a realm apart from the rest of the world. “Make belief ” performances try to influence audiences about real-world events. They build on a porousness between the real and imaginary by occurring in spaces identified as real (such as churches) rather than symbolic (such as theater buildings) and engaging people enacting their real beliefs with real consequences. Like civil rights activists, the Free Southern Theater actors needed a degree of commitment beyond the job, a willingness to suffer the humiliation of racially separate eating and sleeping places on the road, poor pay necessitating communal living and long working hours, and largely moral and spiritual, not material, rewards. Free Southern Theater productions nonetheless differed from overt performances of civil rights. Both sit-ins and freedom rides enacted a legislative theater, challenging laws that restricted who could inhabit public space and testing the enforceability of laws supporting integration. For example, in December 1960 the Supreme Court extended its 1947 decision that segregation was unconstitutional on interstate transport to include bus and train station restrooms, waiting rooms, and lunchrooms. An integrated group of freedom riders acted on this ruling and, consequently, was beaten by angry mobs and in some cases arrested. Such actions led the federal government to demand that southern states comply with the law (Cooney and Michalowski

Motion of the Ocean

39

1987, 163–65). Free Southern Theater plays served more open-ended goals than advocacy for particular laws. The actors were professionals trained to enact characters other than themselves and situations that were instructive but not intended as blueprints for action. Free Southern Theater plays relied on aesthetic distance—the creation of compelling scenarios that, seen in the removed arena of the theatrical frame, provided a space of reflection encouraged by frequent postplay discussions. Like theater in the Harlem Renaissance (interestingly, Langston Hughes gave the Free Southern Theater its first monetary contribution), the company emulated a professional theater model and produced scripted texts. The first play they produced, in 1964, was white playwright Martin Duberman’s In White America, a docudrama recounting the history of African Americans in the United States since slavery. The production was barebones—“a few lights and one platform.” But most important was the relationship with intended audiences. Director Moses wrote Schechner at the time, “What we are doing now is an extremely important step in the larger idea of the Free Southern Theater for us . . . to present plays this summer for freedom schools and communities” (Dent, Schechner, and Moses 1969, 17). Scholar Annemarie Bean (forthcoming) describes the play: In White America begins with a preface by the playwright that states clearly, “My starting point was the wish to describe what it has been like to be a Negro in this country (to the extent that a white man can describe it).” In the tradition of the white-majority participation in the abolitionist and anti-lynching campaigns (having to do with a larger percentage of whites having leisure time, more than anything else), In White America sought to “document” the atrocities against blacks in America. . . . The format of the play is somewhat like a Living Newspaper. In fact, the first scene opens with a white man reading a current newspaper and stating, “If God had intended for the races to mix, he would have mixed them himself. He put each color in a different place.” The play requires three white actors and three black, along with a guitarist, to tell 400 years’ worth of stories of black-white relations in America. The narrator role was shared by the actors. Its Living Newspaper format was redolent of the work of Federal Theatre Project. The next year the Free Southern Theater produced Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1965 they remounted In White America and produced Bertolt Brecht’s The Rifles of Senora Carrar. They prepared, but due to scant funds never performed, Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. These plays are by an African American, an Irishman, a white North American, a German Marxist, and an Irish leftist respectively. They demonstrate that the struggle for civil rights goes beyond race. All deal

40

L o ca l Ac t s

with power relationships and all are sympathetic to the underdog. Nonetheless, the Free Southern was a black theater, at the helm of which were its two African American leaders, O’Neal and Moses. As O’Neal explains, just as African Americans attending mainstream universities do not make those institutions integrated as long as they are controlled by white people, so a few white actors in the Free Southern did not make it any less a black theater. A major shift in the ensemble took place in 1966, when the company moved to the New Orleans ghetto of Desire. Company members describe the increasing polarization between black nationalists and integrationists. The ensuing season reflects the pull to work by African Americans: An Evening of African and Afro-American Poetry, compiled by the company; Moses’s Roots; William Plomer’s I Speak of Africa; and, although he is white, Brecht’s classic parable of oppressed/oppressor relationships, A Man’s a Man? Bean provides a useful description of their production of Roots: Roots is the closest the FST came to a play that reflected both their commitment to theatre arts and community activism. Roots’ premise is not dependent on presenting authentic “blackness” through representations of historical injustices against African Americans, as is In White America. Roots is based squarely in the absurd. The characters of Dot and Ray, described by Moses as “an old Negro couple, to be played by young actors,” are dressed in a gas-mask and adorned with a giant cotton bag, respectively. The entire one act play is staged in their kitchen. Repetition fuels their lives. Dot asks Ray to wash up, Ray picks cotton everyday, even out of season, because that is what he does. Moses brilliantly constructs African Americans who are defined through their ability to be constant, loyal, and silently present. At the end of the play, Ray uncharacteristically shouts, “I have questions, Lord,” after which he slips on preserves and into a rat trap. Dot murmurs, “Do you think all old Negro men are like you?” Meaning, do you think all black men can do nothing, just like you? And, to the audience, don’t you think all black men can do nothing, just like Ray? Ray’s weaknesses expose the audience’s desire to see him fail. There is no triumph over adversity in Roots as there is in In White America (Bean, forthcoming). The civil rights movement splintered in the 1970s as leaders died violently and different factions pursued different agendas. The Free Southern’s concomitant demise says as much about the profound shift in the political climate as it does about a theater company’s perennial struggle to survive, with insufficient funds always threatening. Internal tensions also tore the group apart: which managerial and aesthetic style(s) to embrace, whether to job in professional actors or develop local amateurs, and whether to adapt a model of integration or of black nationalism. With a keen sense that the civil rights

Motion of the Ocean

41

movement had been the Free Southern’s historical reason for being, and after several years of keeping it alive on a shoestring, O’Neal orchestrated a funeral for the company. This extraordinary symbolic gesture marked the end of one era of cultural politics and the beginning of another. I will continue that story in the next chapter. Susan Ingalls and the Vietnam War The war in Vietnam was another political lightning rod of the 1960s and early 1970s that profoundly shaped artists’ personal histories. Susan Ingalls’s community-based work with young people took a decidedly activist turn because of that war. Though the particulars of Ingalls’s story are unique, they capture the zeitgeist of a time that propelled many performers to socially engaged artmaking. As a student at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, in the mid-1960s, the last thing Ingalls expected to do was community arts. She was taught that Broadway was worth pursuing for the money and Off-Off Broadway for its daring and political engagement. Her mentor, Wilford Leach, believed that Ingalls was talented enough to assist a Broadway director, but, given the competition and the fact that she was a female, she’d never get such a job. Another professor took Ingalls’s class Off-Off Broadway to Bread & Puppet, the Open Theater, and Judson Poets Church. Ingalls came from a conservative Republican background and could not imagine herself in the Off-Off world: “Who would I connect with in a basement on Avenue D and how would I have anything to say?”4 It was 1967 and she was a woman director in search of a job. Then she saw a sign above the local Bronxville movie theater, “Loft for Rent,” about which she comments: “I don’t know what my career would have been if I hadn’t seen that sign. It sounds random but that’s what I think it was, particularly for women. My political consciousness came after I had signed the lease on that space.” Ingalls had run a children’s theater workshop in a large studio in Brendan Gill’s home in Bronxville while she was still a student. (The theater critic for the New Yorker, Gill actually had a tiny theater in his house for the amusement of his children and their friends.) Ingalls called up a mother and community leader she’d met there, Louise Ransom, and asked for her help. Ingalls admits, “Now I know that when you do community arts you need a local partner but at the time I didn’t think of that consciously; I just did it.” With Ransom’s local network, she and Ingalls opened the Loft Film and Theater Center in September 1967 with about twenty-four largely elementary school-aged students. Ingalls’s only goals were “to teach the classes and survive.” Soon Ingalls met and fell in love with Ransom’s eldest son, Mike. Mike had dropped out of college and, fearing that he would be drafted, he volunteered for Officer’s Candidate School and, as a second lieutenant, was sent to

42

L o ca l Ac t s

Vietnam. Six weeks later he was dead. Ingalls states grimly, “Then I had a purpose for the Loft.” Ingalls already thought the war “wasn’t a good idea” and had protested against it, but “in a toe-in-the-water sort of way.” The moment she got word of Mike’s death, on May 11, 1968, her feeling about the war being wrong was no longer vague: “I saw the whole way we had thought about Mike: somehow he wouldn’t die. So long as it didn’t happen to him. . . . But when it did, what a waste I thought it was. Then I felt that it must not happen to anyone else, not American, not Vietnamese.” Ingalls became a pacifist activist; as her first act, she directed John Dos Passos’s antiwar play, USA, with teenage performers. That summer Louise Ransom joined the antiwar movement. She was among the first Gold Star mothers to return the medals given to a Vietnam vet posthumously. A picture of her protesting the war at an induction center while handcuffed to a draft resister was on the front page of the second section of the New York Times. Given Ransom’s upper-middle-class clothes and bouffant hairdo, the photograph powerfully communicated that the antiwar movement consisted of more than a “fringe” element. Much of Bronxville reacted vehemently against Ransom’s act of civil disobedience, dropping garbage on her lawn and isolating themselves from her family. The town became divided. The Loft was a product of this division; it became an arts-based antiwar center. Thirty-six new high school kids joined “because it was cool” and because they were against the war. Conservatives were loath to send their children to a “hot bed of radicalism.” Progressives who had supported Sarah Lawrence’s stand against McCarthyism in the 1950s became the backbone of the Loft. While it would be ten years before the Loft also drew support from the conservative faction of town and became community-based in the geographic sense of the term, its identity as an art center for youth of the politically progressive community was established. Suzanne Lacy and the Women’s Movement Feminism, too, had an enormous influence on many of us who went on to create community-based art. In the early 1970s, the second wave of the women’s movement swelled up from the grassroots.5 (The first wave had coalesced around the suffragists early in the century.) One of the early forms the movement took was a kind of storytelling in consciousness-raising (CR) groups. In my own experience, circa 1973, our group of six or seven women would meet every week or two, sit in the kitchen at one of our apartments, and talk about what concerned us in our everyday lives, each with an equal allotted time. We told personal stories to unearth their political implications. We’d hesitate; it seemed so petty to talk about our little relationships, but like women telling such stories in kitchens all across the country, we were discov-

Motion of the Ocean

43

ering that many of our personal peeves were in fact socially structured to keep women in their place. As writer Lucy Lippard emphasizes, feminist art is not “a style or a movement”; feminism is “an ideology, a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life” (1984, 149–150). Lippard cites several early second-wave feminist artists about their work’s purpose: “Feminist art raises consciousness, invites dialogue, transforms culture”; it “reflects a political consciousness of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal culture”; it is a “a political position, a set of ideas about the future of the world, which includes information about the history of women and our struggles and recognition of women as a class. It is also developing new forms and a new sense of audience” (150–151).Very soon, we were talking about feminisms, plural, not singular, to express the range of positions that people identified with feminism in fact embraced. Feminist artist Suzanne Lacy operates from a very eclectic set of sources and from an interdisciplinarity from both within and beyond the art world. Lacy came of age in the 1960s and 1970s and was particularly influenced by experimental art, feminist politics, and the activist energy of the times. She trained as an Alinsky-style community organizer when she worked with VISTA. She studied zoology and premed. Aspiring to be a psychiatrist, Lacy went to graduate school in psychology and also studied race relations. Focusing on anti-Freudian models, she started a women’s psychology group. Medicine and biology were ongoing influences, evinced in her body work in the 1970s: “As a woman artist, you reach the social corpus by way of the body. Rape is an extreme of physical coercion, but oppressive themes are also played out on women’s bodies in media and advertising.”6 Lacy recounts that in the early days of the women’s movement, there were so few books available with a feminist perspective that one had to read everything, deconstructing and reconstructing ideas of women’s identity and social situation. This contributed to her broad-reaching self-education. She was always interested in social justice, which, she says, “is too bad, because if I didn’t have that particular passion I could just do art. The art world is very influenced by the market and advertising standards, and social justice is a tough sell as art.” In 1969, compelled by the vitality of the feminist movement, Lacy, by then a graduate student in psychology at California State University in Fresno, began studying with Judy Chicago, who founded the first feminist art program. Chicago met with her students off-campus, “outside the framework of male-dominated culture . . . to raise each other’s consciousness and then to use those experiences as a source to make art” (Kelley 1995, 222). Lacy’s activism within the context of the women’s movement developed hand in hand with her evolution as a performance artist. Chicago, more a painter than a performer, had a notion of theater that, while not evolved formally, was groundbreaking in terms of content. Under Chicago’s tutelage, “Performance

44

L o ca l Ac t s

allowed women to encounter their perspective on reality and express it in a graphic, theatrical manner, rewriting their own personal history and inventing the future at the same time” (Lacy 1980, 6). In 1970, Lacy studied with Chicago and graphic designer Sheila de Bretteville at the California Institute of the Arts and worked with de Bretteville in founding the Women’s Design Program. In 1973, Chicago, de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven established the Woman’s Building, a space in Los Angeles that became a national women’s cultural central. Lacy was hired to form and direct the performance program at the Feminist Studio Workshop, an activity that included teaching feminist art along with international networking of women performance artists through conferences, exhibitions, and personal exchanges. Lippard describes the Women’s Building as “a fertile center of support and collaboration” for a range of feminist artists, where the quintessential insight of early feminism—the personal is the political—was translated into art: “The revelation of personal material through art continued to be an important political as well as esthetic expression. Sharing experience was a way to expand self-boundaries through empathy with others and build the sense of community” (Lacy 1980, 6). Lacy’s work is situated in the visual and performance arts worlds rather than in theater and dance per se. In the tradition of the avant-garde, the ideas that Lacy encountered while a student at California Institute of the Arts from 1970 to 1972 shaped her work more than the materiality of any artistic medium. Among her influences, Lacy emphasizes the new consciousness of media in the 1950s to the 1970s and of media theorists such as Marshal MacLuhan and George Gerbner. She cites the work of sociologist Erving Goffman, whose influential The Behavior of Self in Everyday Life relied on an extended metaphor of everyday life as performance. This way of looking at human activity eliminates any limits on what can be theatrical; Goffman views all behavior as performance. Her precedents in visual arts were the artists and theorists of the happenings, Fluxus, and Conceptual Art movements, from 1950 to 1975, particularly through the work of her teacher, Allan Kaprow. Kaprow’s notion of timebased performance that can last for days and even weeks on end, his exhortation that art should take place anywhere but a gallery or museum, and his practice of framing everyday life to reconstitute it as performance were particularly relevant to Lacy’s developing schema. She explains: “Kaprow gave me aesthetic tools to go beyond the skit. Although the visual matters, the shape of the concept is more important”—emphasizing everyday actions such as brushing one’s teeth as art and the ideas of contingency, intentionality, and framing. Kaprow calls art a “meaning-making activity.” Lacy created a relationship between happenings and politically engaged art by taking Kaprow’s theories—of the body, of life, of daily activities—into

Motion of the Ocean

45

the community: “I was drawn to the way the happenings came off the canvas and directly engaged spectators in participation. Happenings were radical in their conceptualizing of art. While they referred to political and cultural themes, they were not activist. Although they were populist in concept, happenings were still primarily for an initiated audience.” For Kaprow, happenings were about changing the practice of visual artmaking, not accomplishing social goals. Lacy insisted her art do both. Her work used both strategies, Kaprow plus political efficacy, and drew on theatrical as well as visual arts practices. The work she was drawn to do, such as a series of pieces to render older women more visible and another series on violence against women, contained both art and political mandates and introduced a new level of political activism to performance art. In 1976, for example, she created Inevitable Associations for an American Theater Association national conference, in response to a newspaper article, “There’s Still Some Life in the Old Girl,” about the renovation of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. As critic Jeff Kelley explains, the article was not “mean-spirited” but rather was “merely repeating an old stereotype [that] . . . for generations . . . women have been associated with ships, trains, planes, and automobiles—that is, with objects of possession in a male-dominated culture” (222). Lacy used the occasion to raise public consciousness around issues of women and aging. Made up to appear to be in her seventies or eighties, Lacy and ten older women “occupied” the Biltmore Hotel lobby to concretize the invisibility of elderly women by wearing black and sitting in the dimly lit lobby. Some of the women objected to the black clothes, given their association with funerals. So in a second part of the performance, three of the women sat in red chairs and engaged in public dialogues about their lives with small groups of younger people. Lacy’s first large public sector artwork, Three Weeks in May (1977), was a series of events and performances in response to the rapidly rising occurrence of violence against women in Los Angeles. It occupied both real time—three weeks, not just the concentrated several hours of any one performance—and real public spaces, such as parks where women could learn self-defense. The central image was a twenty-five-foot map of Los Angeles posted publicly at City Hall and marked daily with rape reports from the police department. This map indicated each report by a red stenciled word “RAPE” stamped where it occurred. Around this Lacy stamped the word nine more times, fainter, to indicate the estimated number of unreported incidents. A second map provided information on rape victim services. The city was the frame of the performance; its acts were multiple actions of life simultaneously or sequentially arranged over the three weeks: “Artists joined forces with politicians and feminists activists to create the schedule of more than thirty events. City politicians called press conferences and attended

46

L o ca l Ac t s

opening and closing ceremonies. A rape speak out, self defense demonstrations, and several lectures called attention to rape, violence in advertising, and sexual abuse of children. Artists created a poster and several performance pieces that took place throughout the city—in galleries, private studios, and in the City Mall itself ” (Lacy 1980, 22). Lacy’s aesthetic concerns in Three Weeks—can the city serve as a stage and how do multiple activities simultaneously work as action and as art—challenged the traditional division between the art product and educational components that elucidated it. Rather, Lacy conceptualized workshops, media campaigns, political contexts, and other artists’ productions as part of the art. Having framed the piece by time—three weeks—whether one was watching a piece of performance art or participating in a women’s self-defense class, one was interacting with the art. Given the emphasis on activities rather than on character-based scripts, anyone can perform in Lacy’s work, reflecting the democratic impetus of feminist art, the participatory nature and quotidian aesthetic of happenings, and the larger community-based performance field. Lacy’s large-scale art in the 1980s reflecting her commitment to women’s histories and communities was clearly manifested in the Whisper Projects, built around a central image of older women, first in California and then in Minnesota. The Whisper Projects began with an intensive organizing period, one and two years in length, respectively, during which women of diverse ethnicities and ranging in age from sixty to ninety-eight, met in groups inspired by women’s consciousness-raising sessions and produced activities, exhibitions, and media campaigns on older women’s leadership. While inspired by an article on the turn-of-the-century pageant movement, Lacy integrated a performing and community organizing experience. That is, her participants also had a hand in shaping the content of these events, which were conceived as stepping stones to further leadership roles, not as ends in themselves. A hundred and fifty women agreed to be in the first Whisper Project performance in San Diego, California. Dressed in white, they sat at tables on a Californian beach while an audiotape mix of their conversations (designed by Susan Stone) played for the one thousand spectators overlooking the performance from the cliffs. The piece urged recognition of older women’s engagement in the public sphere and encouraged its participants to continue their public roles. For Lacy, it was a model featuring these criteria: (1) the experience should be as good for the participants as for the audience, in contrast to the commercial norm according to which performers can go through hell so long as the final production is considered a success by the critics; (2) the process should be replicable for other issues and in other circumstances; (3) the processes set in motion by the performance should extend the life of the project in meaningful ways. That is, the performance is not the end of the

Motion of the Ocean

47

2. Whisper the Waves, the Wind. Conceived and directed by Suzanne Lacy. Photo by Margaret Frye, 1984.

project (Roth 1988, 45). Thus Lacy’s work not only epitomizes a feminist source of community-based performance but also provides a critical model. El Teatro Campesino and the Chicano Farm Workers Struggle Scholar Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez notes the explosion of Chicano theater companies beginning in the mid-1960s, accompanying the movement to unionize Chicano workers. The first of these, El Teatro Campesino, was founded in California in 1965. Director Luis Valdez had acted briefly with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, whose aesthetic brought to mind the Mexican tradition of short, highly physical, satiric skits. El Teatro quickly emerged as “a union tool for organizing, fund-raising and politicizing” (Broyles-Gonzalez 1994, xii). Moving away from the Eurocentric “great man” theory of artistic excellence, Broyles-Gonzalez challenges the typical sourcing of El Teatro to European forms including commedia dell’arte, Brecht, and Russian agitprop. She sees a deeper foundation emanating from Mexican culture and identifies the Mexican carpa, or tent show, as one of El Teatro’s most significant sources. Since at least the eighteenth century, this popular tradition of comedy associated with the poor has been revived at periods of social upheaval and popular distress. Its eclectic structure combines music, dance, and comic sketches. Farm

48

L o ca l Ac t s

worker union organizer Cesar Chavez was aware of the power of humor to critique without being offensive. He wanted to use the carpa and other Mexican traditions as organizing tools to consolidate the farm workers politically. That’s exactly what El Teatro Campesino actors were able to provide. They knew the Mexican traditions; many ensemble members were recent immigrants to California themselves. Given the physical basis of performance grounded in oral tradition so significant in Mexican culture, El Teatro came more from the actors’ bodies than the playwright’s pen. Actor Felipe Cantu, for example, had memorized many bits that he saw performed as a boy when carpas came through his Mexican hometown. Broyles-Gonzalez underlines the centrality of memory and the body as vehicles of cultural transmission, in the form of stories, proverbs, history, prayers, dance, jokes, skits, and songs. Traditionally transmitted performance is often based on improvised scenarios rather than scripts. Indeed, much of community-based performance is written down after the performance is set, as a record, not as something that first must be memorized. Improvised performance is responsive to actual audiences, expanding or condensing scenes according to their immediate impact. This tradition is transmitted from the bottom up, through collective creation and audience input. Director Luis Valdez concurs: “We take a real situation— often something that happens on the picket line—and we improvise around it” (Broyles-Gonzalez 1994, 22). El Teatro Campesino was embraced by diverse audiences. Chicanos recognized traditional cultural forms, farm workers recognized scenes of exploitation in the field, and progressive people recognized the Chicano farm workers struggle as part of a very real desire to make the United States fulfill its promise of justice and equality for all. Broyles-Gonzalez importantly sets the record straight and takes on racism in academia by stressing Mexican popular performance values and techniques in El Teatro’s work. She recognizes the Euro-American influences as well, but rightly finds it “more compelling to investigate the question of origins in our own backyard first” (6). Theater historian Harry J. Elam Jr. theorizes the confluence of activism and indigenous forms in his work on Amiri Baraka’s Black Revolutionary Theater and El Teatro Campesino. He acknowledges the problematic essentialism of El Teatro’s identity politics, inflexibility of their cultural/nationalist dogma, sexism of their theater practice, ethnic absolutism, and racial boundaries. He points out the danger of identity politics, warning how easily the Conservative/Christian Right has appropriated that notion with appeals to “American values” and white males as an “oppressed minority,” using the latter to justify antiaffirmative action and antimulticultural politics. But, he asserts, while El Teatro’s identity politics was a “culturally naïve” approach, it was “strategically effective” (9). It provided marginalized groups with solidarity and subjectivity.

Motion of the Ocean

49

In the same spirit of building communal identity as a prelude to action, ritual experiences were common among theater companies. Some people went to theater the way others went to religious services, to be reinspired, collectively, through the expression of shared beliefs. Elam coins the expression “ritual of social protest theatre” to describe companies like El Teatro, the goal of which was the transformation of spectators into active participants and their activity in the theater as indicator/precursor of revolutionary activity outside. The “higher power” that is part and parcel of ritual was, in this case, the Political Cause. Social protest theater performed a symbolic mediation between the actors, the spectators, and the Cause. The ritual nature of these performances reinforced spectators’ values and beliefs and directed spectators to take action. Social protest theater tends to the spiritual as well as the cultural and political needs of the group. It’s also a “signifying practice” that defines and authorizes social action—both conservative, reinforcing existing values/beliefs, and capable of imagining new social orders. Elam cites Mieke Bal to explain the all-encompassing nature of such work: a theater performance is usually “a representation of a happening,” while a ritual is “a happening itself ” (Elam 2001, 16). The emerging genre of community-based performance was often in between these two poles. Any given performance was both an aesthetic representation in and of itself and the manifestation of a political, cultural, educational, or therapeutic process. Transition: The Politics of the Local Much performance in the late 1960s and into the 1970s was shaped by identity politics, the organization of people around one core aspect of who they are in terms such as race or ethnicity. In 1968, for example, Larry Neal published a manifesto identifying cultural separatism as a political act: “The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates the artist from his/her community” (1968, 29). For Neal, the black artist’s task was to address the spiritual and cultural needs of black people and to create a black aesthetic. Neal stated that the focus of the work would be “to confront the contradictions arising out of Black people’s experience in the racist West” (29). He acknowledged the leadership of Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones), in the 1964 creation of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School. Although the school did not survive, black arts groups sprang up all across the United States. In part, the emphasis on identity politics was a reflection of the painful shortcomings of the previous era’s efforts to achieve equality, a delayed response of frustration with ongoing blind spots. Take women’s theater. This provocative statement, often attributed to Stokely Carmichael, a Black Power leader of the 1960s, captures the contradiction of people in one struggle for justice not recognizing another group’s issues: The only position for women

50

L o ca l Ac t s

in SNCC is prone (that is, sexually available lying flat on their backs). Groups of people who were under- or misrepresented increasingly joined together to explore and represent themselves. Early community-based theater in the United States included many professional companies grounded in a shared identity—African American, such as Carpetbag Theater; Puerto Rican, such as Pregones; women, such as Split Britches; or Jewish, such as the Traveling Jewish Theater. Identity politics played out in the full spectrum of theatrical activity, both during and beyond the 1960s and 1970s. For example, many Asian Americans and their supporters decried the choice of white British actor Jonathan Pryce in the Eurasian lead role of Miss Saigon (1981), a Broadway production. A principle issue was their belief that only an actor of Asian heritage could understand and hence authentically portray that character. The economic reality of the shortage of roles for Asian Americans was also a factor. No less germane is the history of racist portrayals of Asian Americans by white actors. One could argue that the very premise of theater is representation, the understanding that the actor takes an imaginative leap to perform any character. But like community-based performance, there are times that mainstream theater embodies more than aesthetic desire. Miss Saigon signaled a moment when many Asian Americans were hungry to see only other Asian Americans representing them. The issues were hyphenated, aesthetic and social, and thus not wholly answerable by referring to theatrical conventions. Community-based performance emerged, in force, as the national political movements of the 1960s and early 1970s waned. Artists with activist agendas sought new strategies for using their work for social purposes, and they increasingly explored ways of engaging people beyond spectatorship. One of the insights that grew out of the radical theater movement of the 1960s and 1970s is that people get more out of making art than watching it. In an unpublished article, William Alexander describes a case in point involving Susan Perlstein, cofounder of Mass Transit Street Theatre. Following a performance of Tenants-Go-Round, an older woman asked Perlstein, “Are you going to do something for us? We live on a fixed income.” Perlstein replied, “Where are you?” The woman said, “We’re at a senior center.” Soon thereafter, Perlstein started a workshop in the woman’s center, which became the seed for Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), an organization generating workshops for the aged throughout New York City. Over the years, ESTA expanded to intergenerational constituents and performances as well as workshops. They are now involved in a federal policy project to make the arts available to the elderly all over the country. Localization combined with emphasis on participation resulted in the expansion of theater workshops; place-based came to mean not just geographic but institutional. The range of sites where workshops cropped up

Motion of the Ocean

51

included prisons, unions, schools, churches, daycare centers; facilities for people with physical/emotional challenges, eating disorders, terminal illnesses, et cetera. Theater people embraced a variety of tasks. Susan Ingalls, for example, focused her theater for young people on literacy. Teenagers adapt classical texts, such as Romeo and Juliet, to their own lives, strengthening reading skills and self-knowledge at once. Activism, artistic or otherwise, relies on an agitated context—the motion of the ocean—for efficacy. Radicality cannot be willed—different historical moments offer different possibilities. As society changes, so does the nature of radical politics, and so must the role of socially conscious art. One can try to either affect the weather that affects the motion of the ocean or, as Highlander founder Myles Horton used to say, spot a wave as it is building and position oneself to ride it when it breaks (Cocke 2002). Highlander has recognized and ridden two great waves, the labor movement and civil rights. In the mid1970s, with a heightened consciousness to think globally but act locally, activist art practitioners looked to local contexts in which their work could play a role. For mass attention had shifted away from the national stage, and erstwhile national movements—the Vietnam War, civil rights—had ended, or splintered, for better or for worse. Budding community-based artists around the country— among them, the founders of Roadside Theater—were inspired by these movements to use performance around local issues in their home territory. Roadside and Grassroots Cultural Politics Before 1975, there was no professional theater in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Roadside Theater began when a few local community organizers asked themselves, “What would it be like for rural, central Appalachia to have a professional theater company and a body of original Appalachian drama?” So they called on their heritage of storytelling, folk music, church as heightened dramatic expression, and oral history, a tradition so rich and dramatic that, according to core performer/playwright/songwriter Ron Short, it explains why there was no formal drama there. From the beginning, activism was intertwined in Roadside’s place and tradition-based approach, because “when you don’t have political/economic control, even the control of your own image, then the only thing you have is your own story.” Roadside members value the telling of stories privately and publicly. A theater based on these stories “may be the only place a community controls representation of who they are, the last public forum for people without power” (Fields 2002a). Artistic director Dudley Cocke describes Roadside as part of the legacy of the civil rights movement. Cocke had participated a bit in that movement, getting more involved once it forked into poverty and antiwar initiatives. He served in VISTA for a couple of years, part of his alternative service as a

52

L o ca l Ac t s

conscientious objector. Given that his passion for social justice predates his theatrical interests—he was twenty-nine before he started his first piece of theatrical writing—he wanted to find out how the world of political activism informed that of theater. So he made contact with John O’Neal through the Highlander Center. Since 1932, Highlander has offered educational and research opportunities to workers, grassroots leaders, community organizers, educators, artists, and researchers concerning the most pressing social, environmental, and economic problems facing the South. Highlander originally took the fledgling Appalshop, Roadside’s umbrella organization, under its wing. Appalshop is a nonprofit cultural laboratory that also has programs in film, video, radio, photography, and audio recordings. It was founded in 1969 with start-up money from the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty. Today Cocke calls Highlander and Appalshop “sister organizations.” Cocke learned about the civil rights movement at Highlander and through his personal relationship with O’Neal. In contrast to media versions, O’Neal’s firsthand accounts illuminated the broad base of people who made that movement, which relied on many more people than Dr. King. Cocke was struck by the vital role of culture, especially oral history and gospel music: “Civil rights was a singing movement. Without the singing I can’t imagine it having gone forward. The singing called forth the courage to keep marching. I’m still so impressed with how the tradition was updated to the struggle, in the rewriting of the traditional hymns, an effort which Bernice Reagon, who was part of SNCC, is continuing to this day, with Sweet Honey in the Rock” (2002). Cocke explains that the “enabling spirit” of the civil rights movement came up into the Appalachian Mountains, which, interestingly, had also been part of the underground railroad, the path escaping slaves took north. According to Roadside managing director Donna Porterfield, the message of the civil rights movement, that for democracy to flourish the disenfranchised must be enfranchised, shaped Appalshop’s practice. When it began, the dominant paradox in the coalfields of the region was that of a rich land with the nation’s largest concentration of poor people. In its first decade, Appalshop’s young artists (all of whom were in their teens and twenties and from the region) focused on amplifying the voices of their working-class and poor neighbors grappling with the causes and effects of their poverty. These artists’ films, plays, print publications, and audio recordings were controversial, challenging the absentee ownership of the land and its resources by national and international energy conglomerates and exploring and deploring the resulting environmental devastation, inadequate housing, health care, education, and low personal self-esteem. In the 1980s and 1990s, Appalshop played a decisive role by joining the struggle of Appalachia to those of poor and marginalized communities across the United States, confronting problems

Motion of the Ocean

53

of incarceration; racial and class conflict; cultural, gender, and sexual bias; and immigrant rights and citizenship (Cocke 2002). Roadside audiences, asserts administrative and producing associate Tamara Coffey, think less about theatricality per se than about the meaningfulness of seeing their own stories from their own point of view (Fields 2002a). Don Baker and Dudley Cocke’s Red Fox/Second Hangin’ (1976), one of Roadside’s first productions, tells the local history of economic exploitation using the indigenous form of story. Three storytellers portray fifty-two characters as they tell the dual story of folk hero Marshall Benton Taylor, aka the Red Fox, and the exploitation of the region since the first coal boom of the 1890s. Slides filling the back wall of the stage show relevant places, persons, and documents. The play takes place at the end of the nineteenth century, which brought to Wise County, in Appalachia, its first coal boom and first hanging. It begins with stories about a way of life there one hundred years ago gathered from local people’s remembrances as well as newspapers and other documents. It is oral history, a way local audiences can learn about themselves, a part of history not likely to have been written down because the people who are at the center of this tale were not the ones with the power to decide what was official history. The actors in Red Fox talk directly to the audience. Children’s eyes grow big as the actors walk through the audience, close enough to touch them. The inclusion of three storytellers makes it possible to enact some of the story with several characters in a scene and to infuse the play with a sense that it is a collective story, not an individual’s. The stories are told, as Broyles-Gonzalez points out about oral tradition generally, with the actors’ whole bodies, for example, showing us how they worked timber in the mills or washed clothes in the creek. Context is also critical in the oral tradition; much of the audience is witnessing its own history from its own class perspective. So who was Red Fox? He was a redheaded, red-bearded lady’s man. He was a preacher and a doctor known for taking care of people whether they could pay or not. He was hired as a U.S. marshal to deal with violence motivated by leftover resentments from the Civil War and competitive greed as a result of the money to be made from the moonshine that flowed in public houses. He was the arch enemy of Bad Talt Hall and Devil John Wright, two local characters who made a lot of money and killed anyone who got in their way. When Talt murdered a sheriff, Doc Taylor put him in jail. Talt was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck. Rumor had it that Devil John and his gang were going to bust Talt out. Meanwhile, wealthy people from the North and abroad came down to Big Stone Gap wanting to make money mining the coal in those hills, necessitating first getting hold of people’s lands. Devil John Wright became a gobetween, wheedling land from people for far less than it was worth. Doc

54

L o ca l Ac t s

3. Red Fox, Second Hangin’. Roadside Theater. Left to right: Frankie Taylor, Gary Slemp, and Don Baker. Photo by Dan Carraco, 1977.

Taylor saw the situation as exchanging one bunch of rogues for another—the lawless gangs for the speculators—and, at the same time, destroying the mountains and a way of life. But as a result of a shootout with a moonshiner with powerful connections, Doc Taylor was arrested and jailed. To many people’s surprise, Devil John, who got rich buying land for the speculators, did not save Talt, who was hanged September 2, 1892. A few days later, Doc Taylor was tried. More than one hundred witnesses spoke out against Doc Taylor even though they had told friends that they had no idea who did the various killings. Doc Taylor was convicted, sentenced, and hanged. But there are rumors that Doc did not die that day. Once, when a raging fire was mysteriously put out, people said Doc Taylor must have been responsible. The spring after they hanged him, the corn crop was high and in May a snow storm covered it in white. Some people said that was judgment on the people who would hang a man like Doc. Red Fox fulfilled Roadside’s broad purpose: to make meaning and increase understanding of themselves and others. The desire to embroider upon a figure who stood up to people who were self-serving from both within and outside the culture is an example of making meaning and reasserting the value of standing up to wrong. Such art reveals inequities in the social structure. The play’s dual focus on the people themselves and the social and economic con-

Motion of the Ocean

55

text of the coal rush interweave to help explain the social causes of why people did what they did. Porterfield, who grew up on the family farm in West Virginia but saw a lot of theater once she left home, remembers being “bowled over” by Red Fox/Second Hangin’: “For the first time I was seeing theater from my own background, my class background, from a rural sensibility . . . all these things that I had never seen. It was really overwhelming to me. So I think the theater that we do here, and the theater that we work with other people to do in their communities is that. It’s their own stories from their own background and how you make theater out of that” (Fields 2002a). Red Fox is a quintessential community-based performance given its braid of activism, grassroots, and experimentation. Cocke explains how the first two elements are interconnected in Roadside’s work: “By locating the holes (the disruptions and intentional suppressions) in the Appalachian historical narrative and filling them with touring performances of the first professional Appalachian plays, Roadside has publicly proclaimed that Appalachian people, for whom persistent economic hardship has often been accompanied by a poverty of pride, count. These plays have been made with local materials: oral histories, traditional ballads and archetypal stories, the forms of indigenous church services, personal memory—all re-imagined for the stage” (2003b). Experimental elements in 1997 included the number of characters played by each actor, the direct relationship with the audience, and the use of slides as a backdrop. In 1977, the Manhattan Theatre Club, which has always had a very contemporary focus, produced Red Fox, agreeing to Cocke’s request to put the show in context by presenting Appalachian films and music over the course of the show’s run. Roadside’s work fit the expanded vision of theater of the 1960s and 1970s. It was broader in terms of who performed, what the plays were about, why the company existed, and how they made their art. Conve rge nce of Community-Base d Artists and Ensemble s into a Moveme nt By the mid-1970s, a critical mass of artists had emerged that focused on local concerns and an expanded sense of art’s purposes, constituents, sites, and subject matter. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), created by the Ford and Nixon administrations during the high unemployment of the mid-1970s, was a tremendous boost to the fledgling communitybased arts movement. CETA paid artists to facilitate “community service” projects at public institutions such as schools, senior centers, and prisons. Department of Labor statistics reflect more than $200 million allocated to the arts through CETA in the fiscal year of 1979 alone (Goldbard 1993). Many artists quickly became converted to this expanded conception of artmaking, seeing it as central to the work’s aesthetic value.

56

L o ca l Ac t s

The Neighborhood Arts Programs National Organizing Committee (NAPNOC) was started by Eric Val Reuther, son of labor activist Victor Reuther. When the Department of Labor began to support CETA jobs for artists, Reuther secured a Department of Labor contract to set up NAPNOC outposts in several cities to study CETA arts. Reuther’s style was shaped by the labor movement to build on personal relationships, so the offices were placed where he had trusted associates. Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard were engaged by NAPNOC in 1978 to study the impact of Proposition 13 on community arts in California. When Reuther left NAPNOC in 1979, Adams and Goldbard became the next lead organizers and codirectors (Goldbard 2003). In 1982, on the occasion of a national conference in Omaha, NAPNOC changed its name to the Alliance for Cultural Democracy (ACD). This was at Adams’s and Goldbard’s instigation—they had been systematically spreading ideas of cultural democracy, a concept they found more powerful than “neighborhood arts.” The organization expanded its constituency, including more avant-garde artists and writers. The ACD was an especially important training ground for constituents featuring alliances of urban and rural, arts and nonarts (grassroots, education) people. But it lacked sufficient funding, and without a reasonably sized paid staff, it was forced to rely heavily on its board. As with many progressive organizations, the ACD struggled to racially diversify its constituency and leadership. (NAPNOC’s leadership was fairly integrated on gender and class.) Goldbard (2003) believes that diversification of NAPNOC was challenged by the emphasis, at the time, on identity politics; many community artists preferred to attach themselves to ethnically and racially specific groups. Nevertheless, conferences of community artists such as those organized by NAPNOC and ACD have continued to play an important role in the years since, facilitating exchange of community-based art ideas and practices. TENAZ, El Teatro Nacional de Aztlan,7 a national coalition of activist Chicano theater troupes, was founded in 1971 in the wake of Teatro Campesino’s extraordinary popularity. TENAZ is also a word for tenacity, a symbol of the organization’s determination to survive. Theater historian Jorge Huerta sees TENAZ’s role in the Chicano theater movement as “a driving force, sponsoring annual festivals, workshops, symposia and publications in efforts to assist groups with their aesthetics and political growth” (Huerta 1982, 2). The organization regularly invited leading figures from Latin America to its biannual gatherings, expanding members’ theatrical and social visions. Over the course of the 1970s, TENAZ expanded to include not only Chicanos but also other Latino theater companies, such as the Puerto Rican Pregones Theater from New York. According to Pregones’s Alvan ColonLespier, TENAZ was very important in the Latino theater movement because

Motion of the Ocean

57

it nourished the historical links among Chicano, Mexican, Latin American, and Latino theater makers. Through TENAZ, current trends and methodologies in Latin American theater were brought to the table. TENAZ and its festivals created a dynamic space for exchanging ideas and practices. Different forums brought together intellectuals, scholars, critics, and artists in open dialogues about practice, vision, and need (Colon-Lespier 2003). More recently, the National Performance Network (NPN) has been important to performers both in and out of the community-based context. NPN initially supported artists to tour and then procured special funds including community-focused monies to expand the artist/community connection beyond a “one-night stand.” NPN broadened its constituency beyond its original group of contemporary artist spaces to include community-based and culturally specific organizations and artists. According to its Web site (http://www.npnweb.org), “over its eighteen year history, NPN has grown to a partnership of fifty-five art organizations in over thirty-six cities across the country. NPN connects artists with communities around two simple ideas— to help artists make work in their own neighborhoods, and to cross geographic and cultural divides to increase the traffic of fresh, challenging artistic work.” Certain funding sources have also been crucial to community-based art’s development. Early support came from the National Endowment of the Arts’ Expansion Arts program, a concept of Nancy Hanks, a former NEA director. It was crafted in response to pressure from community artists and artists of color to expand the federal program beyond its initial interest in major institutions and traditional art forms. There are various perspectives on Expansion Arts. According to A. B. Spellman (2002), a consistent friend of the communityarts movement and currently deputy chairman for Guidelines at the National Endowment for the Arts, “Expansion Arts had a core philosophy, that all cultures were created equal and we had to help them wherever they can be found. We would honor all those that were culturally rich and institutionally poor.” In contrast, Goldbard, equally committed to community-based art, views Expansion Arts as “a containment strategy that to some extent was coopted by the people it aimed to contain. I always found the name offensive, as it encoded the idea of ‘expanding the arts’ to benighted communities. There was a fairly explicit sense that groups would ‘emerge’ and then move beyond ‘expansion’ status, but in practice, the program became a ghetto for groups based in communities of color and rural communities” (2003). Nonetheless, I shudder to think what would have become of communitybased performance without such support, which has also included private initiatives such as Rockefeller Foundation’s PACT (Partnerships Affirming Community Transformation) Grant, Nathan Cummings’s Art and Social Justice focus, and Ford Foundation’s support of the Animating Democracy

58

L o ca l Ac t s

Initiative (ADI), just to name a few. Arts and policy consultant Caron Atlas explains that various foundations fund through different lenses. Artists need to be alert enough to recognize the related fields through which they might get funded. For example, Albert A. List has an emphasis on building democracy. Arts Partners was funded by Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, now the Wallace Foundation, which continues to support audience development and cultural participation. However, their Arts Partners grants ended this year, and ADI is ending. This will have a big impact. Nonetheless, there are still some local funders that support initiatives in particular places. These foundations help ideas become realities, bring necessary attention to people’s work, and help build networks of support on material, personal, and professional levels. Atlas, who has worked with progressive foundations over the years, sees a key challenge as the predisposition for funding to be project-based when in fact the work is long term. Similarly, evaluation must encompass the multiple phases of a project: “When you are looking at measuring, impact has to be evaluated over time. And it needs to incorporate not only what went right but also what went wrong and what was learned from the difficult parts of the endeavor. A good thing about ADI and PACT is they are multi-year initiatives” (Atlas 2003a). Another challenge has been that monies have more frequently been made available to do community-engaged work in any community but an artist’s own. No funder creates a field. The good ones find where the energy is and help move it along, supporting visions, bringing people together, and publishing the results. Whether from private foundations or the government, monies have usually resulted from a convergence of interests. In the 1970s, for example, funding flowed from the desire to keep kids busy during the summer, to offer jobs to the hard-core unemployed, and to encourage community life in depressed neighborhoods (Goldbard 1993, 24). Community artists saw ways to make good use of the money set aside for these purposes in the service of their culturally democratic aims. Goldbard has come to see a larger role for individual personalities on movements, for better and for worse: “The older I get, the less I think the course of events is determined by large historic forces and the more by accidents of individual initiative, character, and ambition. Apart from people who threw monkey wrenches into things, individuals willing to go the extra mile have largely shaped these small, underfunded, and often personality-driven groups” (2003). Community-based art as a movement has been further shaped by its anticommercialism. The community context provides an alternative to the market economy into which art has been increasingly cornered. According to Linda Burnham (2003),

Motion of the Ocean

59

The great wave came in about 1970 when the Boomer generation got out of grad school and began dropping out because they were resistant to the market atmosphere surrounding art. This not only took the artists out of the art palaces and into the streets, it created a revolution in art forms. Some artists rooted themselves in conceptual art, work that couldn’t be sold. Performance art was born from this seed.8 Interestingly, the notion of “art for art’s sake” was initially a response to the commercialization of art during the industrial revolution. Raymond Williams (1958, 30) explains that British Romantic poets in the early nineteenth century such as Wordsworth and Blake had no trouble expressing both personal feelings and commitment to government and people in society. But as the industrial revolution took hold, these same artists positioned themselves apart from commercialism and the market, and particularly against the commodification of art (35). Though the idea of art for art’s sake was set against that of art for society’s sake, that was not its conceptualizers’ intention. In community-based art, there is an impulse away from profit-driven art and toward community fully manifested.

Chapte r 3

Establishing the Field There are those who view art as . . . all about giving individuals . . . the prerogative to express their feelings and views. There are others who see art as part of the process of the individual in the context of community and the community coming to consciousness of itself. In the first case, the artist is seen as a symbol of the antagonistic relationship between the individual and society. In the second case, the artist symbolizes the individual within the context of a dynamic relationship with a community. . . . Obviously the latter view is the one that I identify with . . . that gives basis to the notion that the artist is a vehicle for a force greater than him or herself . . . it includes the whole spirit life that we participate in, as well as the whole political, social and economic life. —John O’Neal

Picture a stunningly bright day in New Orleans, November 1985. A black man in dark pants and a white blazer, a sash across his chest, holds a fringed umbrella up high. Behind him lies a casket and to his right, five African American musicians play brass and percussion. Past Free Southern Theater members put old costumes, props, and scripts into a coffin, which also contains a broken mirror. Reflected therein, mourners see that they are losing a part of themselves in the theater’s demise. Music and dancing continue through the night. The next morning, following a eulogy, the funeral party traverses from the theater to the burial place in Armstrong Park in front of Perseverance Hall II in Congo Square. Journalist Jim O’Quinn recounts: “One of the bands strikes up a brass-heavy version of ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ and the funeral marshal . . . begins the slow, bowing prance of the jazz funeral processional” (1986, 27). The parade marshal, umbrella outstretched, followed by the musicians, pall bearers, and a long line of black and white mourners, leads the slow procession to the grave site. The last words are spoken for the departed before consigning the casket to the grave. The band begins the second line, upbeat 60

Establishing the Field

61

and jazzy, leading everyone out of the cemetery to celebrate the deceased’s life. O’Quinn describes a “clamorous chorus of ‘Ain’t Gonna Study War No More’ followed by ‘We Shall Overcome,’ giving way to ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ ” (27). This was the funeral for the Free Southern Theater, which O’Neal conjoined with a three-day conference entitled “A Valediction without Mourning: The Role of the Arts for Social Change.” O’Neal thus marked the death of the company at the same time as he affirmed the continuity of activist theater. Shaping the event as a jazz funeral, a southern, African American ritual, O’Neal underlined that ensemble’s role as a southern, African American instrument of the civil rights movement. Just as a jazz funeral communicates the ongoing life of the departed’s spirit, O’Neal communicated that though the Free Southern Theater was no more, its spirit lived on in other activist companies working in their own communities. Caron Atlas (2002), who later worked closely with O’Neal, describes the event’s impact: The funeral told me there was another way that art and politics connected beside what I was so familiar with—activism in the service of other causes but with artists as the primary constituents. The Free Southern’s notion of theater tied to a social movement went beyond artists. Moreover, theater companies inspired by the Free Southern were challenged to ask, rather than just being an ally with another group’s struggle, how do you do this with your own people, within your own context and culture? Presciently, the funeral marked the death of not only the Free Southern Theater but also the civil rights movement and many of the other national political endeavors of the 1960s and 1970s. Still, as O’Neal “preached” through the “valediction without mourning” at the funeral, the theaters assembled there took up the torch from U.S. political theaters also of the 1960s and 1970s. The gathering brought them together as a community-based movement. The question Atlas poses above—How can a theater support struggles in its own context and culture?—gave local direction to the next phase of art and activism in the United States. And O’Neal formalized Junebug Productions, the company that he had actually begun a few years earlier. Storyte lle r, Preache r, and Teache r John O’Neal In the absence of a strong, national political movement, and with severe financial constraints, O’Neal explored other ways of using art toward social change. In the last days of the Free Southern Theater, O’Neal felt it was exploitative to continue creating plays with unpaid local people who had to work day jobs and rehearse evenings.1 So in 1979 O’Neal made a decision to

62

L o ca l Ac t s

instead “exploit myself ” and make a solo show. Impressed by Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight, O’Neal considered basing his piece on W.E.B. Du Bois. But he realized that he was too young to portray such a figure without extensive make-up. Then he thought to portray Paul Robeson, but James Earl Jones had recently opened a Robeson show on Broadway. Taking inspiration from Langston Hughes, who wrote about everyday characters as a result of listening to people in Harlem bars, O’Neal created a character based on Junebug. SNCC members had invented Junebug in the early 1960s as a representation of the wisdom of everyday African Americans in the long tradition of cultural characters such as Anansi the spider and Uncle Remus, keepers of dreams, wily underdogs with strong survival mechanisms. O’Neal dubbed him Junebug Jabbo Jones, collecting and developing tales that emphasized such values as wit and humor to oppose power. Junebug and O’Neal’s other characters in his subsequent solo productions speak right to the audience, telling stories and singing songs gathered from a broad cross-section of people. He is thus in the tradition of the Hurston/Hughes model of oral historyinfluenced activist art, celebrating African American culture. O’Neal has continued the Free Southern’s work through Junebug, supporting resistance to oppression. Like the model Du Bois established during the Harlem Renaissance, O’Neal always sought to link the cultural to the political, continuing to work closely with activist organizations from his Free Southern Theater days. Junebug productions are usually directed by freelancer Steve Kent.2 The company is one of a number of progressive theaters capably managed by Theresa and Michael Holden. (Kent and the Holdens are white, reminding me that even as O’Neal considered the Free Southern Theater a black organization with white people in it, so is Junebug.) Kent describes Junebug’s aesthetic as “transformational theater” and “character-based storytelling” (2002). Reflecting O’Neal’s coming-of-age in the context of the church and his background in theology, his storytelling has a spiritual dimension. His solo performances, each with its moral center, are like dramatic sermons. As Kent explains, the work’s roots in African American and African traditions are essential: “Before all of the pieces, we sprinkle water around the performance space, sanctifying it, every time we do them. We expect the audience, in some way, to interact with the performers the way black audiences tend to do because of their church training” (2002). O’Neal combines culturally syntonic forms, in this case oral tradition and ritual elements, with contemporary content, one of the hallmarks of community-based performance aesthetics. O’Neal wrote the first Junebug play, Don’t Start Me Talking or I’ll Tell Everything I Know: Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones (1980), with help from Ron Castine and Glenda Lindsay.3 Its first production, directed by Curtis L. King, introduces a world of cotton fields, churches, and

Establishing the Field

63

jails typical of the rural black South. In an epilogue, Junebug sums up the point of the play: “Can’t nobody ride your back unless you first bend over.” The second Junebug play, You Can’t Tell a Book by Looking at the Cover (1985), written by O’Neal with Nayo Watkins, takes the audience through changing race relationships midcentury. With some resonance of Malcolm X, the main character, Po Tatum, Junebug’s best friend, stands for the many black youths who moved from their rural, southern homes to the cold northern cities. This play begins in the 1940s when Po Tatum travels from Mississippi north to seek a better life. O’Neal captures the excitement of possibility, rapping: “I’m going to Chicago, baby, heading for the city (repeat), A chicka chicka chicka chicka chicka Chicago (repeat), Lemme catch a northbound train.” The story illustrates how destructive that move often is and how naive Po is to assume that money is “going to drop like rain.” Po encounters racism in the North, too, and is referred to as “boy” at his shoeshine job at a hotel. But Po pretends to be thriving, returning home for his mother’s funeral in a fancy car with a lady friend “with high heel shoes that were more strap than shoe.” In the two-hour solo performance, O’Neal is both Junebug the narrator and the twenty-four other characters—black and white, male and female, including for example, a preacher, Po and his various sisters and brothers, a white hotel clerk, and Po’s “floozy” lady friend with the Coke-bottle figure. O’Neal draws on great vocal range, carefully selected gestures, and a fair dose of humor. The portrayals are heightened, symbolic. The characters often speak with each other, meaning O’Neal does some pretty skillful juggling to keep several characters going at once. Kent describes solo pieces as reduction art: “you only have so many elements to deal with so you have to be real clear.” Also, it’s directed outward: the essential dialogue is between actor and audience, says Kent, not between actor and actor with audience observing (King 1987). In the third Junebug solo, Till the Midnight Hour (2000), O’Neal tells stories about several kinds of villains and what it takes to straighten oneself out. He begins with the story of the white slave ship captain who, amazingly enough, wrote “Amazing Grace.” In a terrible storm, the captain promises God he’ll give up slaving if he makes it back to England. He does and disregards his promise. At sea again, in an even worse storm, he promises again, writes this song, then, back on land, gives up slaving and becomes a preacher. Focusing next on a scoundrel called Bo Willie Boudreaux, the play meditates on the following questions, listed in undated Junebug publicity material: “What would it take to save Bo Willie? How far would he and people like him have to go before we’d have to say he’s irredeemable? When does the eleventh hour turn to midnight?” Structurally, the plays tease out themes through an assortment of stories rather than a single narrative line. The Junebug cycle teaches, preaches, and entertains through storytelling. As Junebug Jabbo Jones puts it: “A preacher and a storyteller have somewhat

64

L o ca l Ac t s

the same job: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” O’Neal connects these two cultural roles, suggesting that artists also have a moral responsibility and preachers are also mindful of aesthetics. The black church depended on an artful morality through both the preacher’s oratorical skills and the spirituals that congregants sang for fortification. O’Neal is also talking about himself, as renowned for his steadfast commitment to art that makes a difference in the lives of the poor and oppressed—comforting the afflicted— as for the relentless standard to which he holds others in a position to help— afflicting the comfortable. And in explaining why he calls himself a storyteller, O’Neal as Junebug seems to chide his spectator/congregants to be vigilantly truthful: “A liar’s somebody trying to cover things over, mainly for his own private benefit. But a storyteller’s somebody trying to uncover things so everybody can get something good out of it. So I’m a storyteller. It’s a heap of good meaning to be found in a story if you got a mind to hear.” At times humorous, at other times unbearably sad, the world of actions and ideas into which O’Neal transports us emerges through the stories themselves, never devolving into political rhetoric. The pieces are funny and bittersweet, pungent; the victory, O’Neal asserts, is in the continuing struggle, in people’s ability to carry on (King 1987). Junebug continues to ally art and activism. The Environmental Justice Project, a multiyear effort begun in 1993 in O’Neal’s home turf of New Orleans, brought together environmental and arts groups to highlight environmental racism, such as the high rate of cancer in poor neighborhoods of color. This work is in a great tradition of art to support, encourage, and celebrate “those things that are good for a community, and to expose those things that are bad.” Environmentalist Robert Bullard, a project participant, believes that the images and stories facilitate an understanding of environmental justice as a major issue: “I can talk and talk about the number of toxic particulates in the air, but you see a photograph of children playing next to leaking chemicals and it is clear” (Schwarzman 1998, 32, 35). Roadside Theate r Workshops Another core approach of community-based performance in the absence of a strong, national movement for social change is facilitating workshops. Much of Roadside’s work is about nurturing other people’s creativity and encouraging their self and group expression. Because of entrenched, substandard social conditions, content often includes people’s direct experience of economic exploitation, attempted cultural suppression, geographic isolation, poverty, youth exodus, absentee landlord-owners, high unemployment, substandard health care, and severe environmental damage. As Michael Fields, researching Roadside, concludes: “Politics is inescapable here” (2002a). What follows is a description of their residency format.

Establishing the Field

65

Rather than one-way presentation, Roadside’s approach is based on twoway exchange with audiences. The actors often begin by performing ensemble work as the fullest expression of their thoughts and feelings, maybe with an explanation of how the piece came to be. Their work is intentionally transparent, so the spectators can get in touch with their own stories and believe in their own expressive potential. The next step is creating community music and story circles so the participants begin to hear and appreciate their own voices. The group chooses a theme for the stories, perhaps something unique from their local history. In a circle, each participant tells a story as the others listen. One of the fascinating results, explains Cocke, is that they “often hear many facets of a common experience. If something has racial overtones, for example, suddenly we might be getting very different points of view from people in the same community who haven’t really heard each other before. We start getting a complex sense of a particular place—every individual in the circle does. What participants hear from their neighbors is consistently surprising, so it’s exciting.” Roadside also initiates music circles which, along with the stories gathered and potluck suppers, contribute to community celebrations that end the second phase: “People get up and play music and tell the stories that they’ve by now fashioned somewhat. Through this big structured celebration, the community starts to hear itself in public, to become aware of itself. And it is composed of many voices, because we insist on inclusion” (Cocke 2000). In the third phase, community playwrights use these stories and songs as the basis of plays that Roadside sometimes collaborates on. In the fourth phase, once the production has been mounted, Roadside will “identify and make visible the local leaders and help them find an infrastructure [including funding, space, and other resources] that can establish their theater in the community so they can continue to explore and develop their community’s story. And we introduce them to the national network of artists and communities engaged in similar explorations” (2000). Cocke (2002) articulates the underlying dynamic of this process as “one of pushing communities towards self reliance. It’s standard pedagogy: everyone is both teacher and learner. Roadside alternates between leading and following, teaching and learning. What’s needed is continuity, and understanding of outcomes and obstacles. Begin where the community is. Not ahead (unrealistic) or behind (patronizing).” Alte rnate ROOTS: Organizing the Fie ld in the South Even as Junebug and Roadside developed strategies in response to the splintering of the vibrant national movements for social justice from which they sprang, so did politically minded artists all across the United States look

66

L o ca l Ac t s

for local contexts in which to make meaningful, socially oriented performance. In 1976, a group of artists founded Alternate ROOTS (Regional Organization of Theaters South). Ruby Lerner, executive director during ROOTS’s formative years, described the association as both an arts organization and “a grass roots cultural movement, peculiar to the South, whose aim is to be part of the transformation of the region—by acknowledging and critically assessing its past, particularly with regard to race, uncovering its buried history and untold stories, and celebrating its heroes” (Lerner 1994, xvi). The first gathering of what would become Alternate ROOTS took place in 1976 at the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. Representatives of about a dozen theaters met to discuss how they could best share their resources and skills. Over the years, ROOTS has incorporated activist, grassroots, and experimental community-based performers. Its stated mission is “to support the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As cultural workers, we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services” (http://www.alternateroots.org). ROOTS features an annual meeting where members share performances, workshops, and discussions of the issues they address separately the rest of the year. They publish newsletters and, funds permitting, provide financial and touring support. The Community/Artist Partnership Program, for example, “supports artists developing healthier relationships in their communities, whether at home or on the road” (deNobriga 1993, 14). According to Steve Kent (a satellite member of the organization because he is not a resident of the South), the common denominator at ROOTS is people who are “anti-racist, anti-sexist, alternative, grassroots, weird, fun, kooky, playful, and have that delicious southern style gift of gab and generosity of spirit. I don’t think it’s an accident that linguistically, the South is the only place with a plural inclusive in the English language: y’all” (2002). Kent affirms the peer-to-peer validation ROOTS provides as a space where likeminded artists can come together. According to African American writer Nayo Watkins (2002a), “ROOTS is the only place we find the intersection of white and black activist artists. It’s stated, intended, and sometimes even practiced.” ROOTS plays a unique role in connecting community artists from the southeastern United States and elsewhere. Many ROOTers are rural artists, sometimes geographically isolated, who need a community with which to connect socially as well as politically. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, some longtime members felt the organization had weakened its social change commitment. However, during the summer of 2003, ROOTS took a major step in materially recommitting itself to its antiracist foundation. The mem-

Establishing the Field

67

bership made a requirement that proposals for ROOTS grants include some antiracist aspect. The newly voted-in executive committee is approximately 40 percent people of color, up from 25 percent, and general membership is at somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent (Mount 2003). Given that ROOTS members are on the board of directors, they have the ability to refocus the organization quickly, even though such a board can also lack objectivity. ROOTS has consistently focused on sharpening the work of its artist constituents. Ruby Lerner designed gatherings to increase members’ skills in art and community building. Longtime community-based choreographer Liz Lerman in part developed her Critical Response Process at ROOTS. An ongoing ROOTS initiative is Resources for Social Change, which is “devoted to teaching ideas, methods, and techniques for creating social change through the arts. The core method we teach is the development of partnerships between artists and communities, leading to the empowerment of both. A core idea is the equitable sharing of power, knowledge, and resources within partnerships” (http://www.alternateroots.org). Ame rican Fe stival Project (AFP): Artist Re side ncie s/Partne r ships Dudley Cocke tells the story like so: In the late 1970s, Cocke and O’Neal had heard about each others’ work but had not met. Then in 1980, O’Neal was at the Highlander Center for a weekend workshop and director Myles Horton said, “John, you really need to tell me a little bit about what you’re up to.” And John told him. And Myles said, “Well, it sounds like you’ve taken a nationalistic bent. I think you ought to go meet this theater group over in Whitesburg, Kentucky, because they seem to have taken the same sort of bent you have. They’re Appalachian nationalists.” Soon after, Cocke invited O’Neal to see Red Fox and then asked him what he thought about it. O’Neal said, “From what I understand, there’s a lot of Klan activity starting back up in your neck of the woods. Frankly, I didn’t see anything in the piece that would stop this from happening.” According to Cocke, O’Neal’s experience at that point was that bringing up racism ends any conversation with white people. They become offended because of their position of power and say something polite and that’s the end of that. But instead of being offended, Cocke replied, “What do you think we ought to do about that?” Cocke recalls that O’Neal “sort of rocked back. ‘We? You mean we have to do’—this is what he said was going through his mind—‘you mean now we gotta do something about it? It’s not just your problem?’ ” That was when Cocke and O’Neal began collaborating. First they brought the allwhite Roadside Theater down to New Orleans to perform for Junebug’s allblack audience, and vice versa, in each others’ communities. Their next step was to bring the working-class white and black audiences together.

68

L o ca l Ac t s

4. (Above and right) I Don’t Know but I Been Told If You Keep on Dancin’ You Never Grow Old. Performed by Urban Bush Women with local people as part of American Festival Project in Philadelphia. Choreography by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Photo by Jan Cohen-Cruz, 1991.

In 1981, Bob Martin, who ran the People’s Theater Festival in California, invited O’Neal and Cocke to participate in his next festival, along with the Traveling Jewish Theater and El Teatro Campesino. Out of the strength and enthusiasm of that experience with both audiences and artists, O’Neal and Cocke began to build the idea of the American Festival Project. Roadside, Junebug, and Traveling Jewish formed a three-way tour, performing in Alabama where the first freedom bus was burned. As in the California festival, the Alabama gathering had a humanities component and also featured local artists. Cocke and O’Neal hoped that the AFP would function on the national level in the way that they envisioned ROOTS working on the regional level, focused on creativity and social change in the South. They wanted ROOTS as a model to spin off to other regions. The AFP was to be smaller, but they could have more control over it as a national coalition of invited artists who they felt had the same values. Over the years other companies and individual artists—including El Teatro de la Esperanza, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Pregones, Robbie McCauley, and Urban Bush Women—also creating original work, based in particular constituencies, and with compatible political goals, joined the ini-

Establishing the Field

69

tiative. The festivals address social issues through performances and workshops through long-term residencies in urban and rural locales, at colleges and universities, and via statewide initiatives all across the United States. AFP builds on local efforts to generate a national dialogue. People on a microlevel decide what is important to them and act accordingly. Caron Atlas, first director of the AFP, elaborates: “The AFP is committed to shining a light on local culture . . . where you are from has a profound effect on what you have to say . . . Cultural and geographical diversity go together” (Cohen-Cruz 1995, 119). In Philadelphia, Urban Bush Women worked with local people in a unique manifestation of their dance-theater piece I Don’t Know but I Been Told If You Keep on Dancin’ You’ll Never Grow Old, structured to integrate any rehearsed movement sequences into the set choreography of the company. Artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar sees a continuum between popular forms of movement and dance as art. This was brilliantly expressed by incorporating local input, including double-Dutch jump roping and karate. Local drummers provided exuberant musical accompaniment that left the audience howling for more. The Louisville American Festival (1993) was a collaboration with the University of Louisville’s Multicultural Center and Women’s Center. Despite the goodwill reflected by the opening of these centers, issues of race and gender still unsettled the university. Many black students felt alienated by the university experience; their concerns were insufficiently reflected in the

70

L o ca l Ac t s

classroom and they felt isolated, encompassing only 9 percent of the student population. African American writer/actor Robbie McCauley was the core AFP envoy to this project. For several months, she met with students, professors, staff, representatives from the two Centers, and local people, especially artists, of various races. First she urged everyone to abandon the idea that art is removed from everyday life. Then she used her performance training to get people talking about their own experiences of difference: “By listening and trying to find out what was going on with the people in the room, the AFP work began. As an actor, I always use dialogue and stories to find out who ‘others’ are, any others than myself. Actors have these skills. And they translate into social skills, because art is not boring, it uses humor and stories to get at charged issues like race and sex.” McCauley believes that listening and speaking together is a way to understand racial and cultural “others” without the familiar pitfalls—“like who’s right and who’s wrong, and self-censorship around charged issues, and having rules like don’t blame anyone when we have to, and like we’re all equal when we’re not” (Cohen-Cruz 1995, 125–126). The next phase of the work was organized around performances, all chosen for their relevance to the issues that had brought the AFP to Louisville. For example, Sally’s Rape is McCauley’s examination of the sexual vulnerability of black women through stories of Thomas Jefferson’s mistress, Sally Hemmings, and McCauley’s own grandmother, also named Sally. It also addresses the different experience of black and white women around sexual violence. The audience at the University of Louisville Women’s Center sat riveted as McCauley, enacting a slave, stood naked on an auction block. In character, McCauley described the slave auction process while white actress Jeannie Hutchins led the audience in the refrain, “Bid ’em in, bid ’em in.” Later in the piece, Hutchins climbed onto the block and revealed a little shoulder and leg. A familiar image of white woman as commodity, it was nevertheless not as horrific as the literal buying and selling of the black woman slave. McCauley asserts, “The use of art in this dialogue is so valuable because artists make things beautiful. I’m talking about beauty as a function: if I want to tell you something I want to seduce you so you listen. Theater is different from a political forum but the subject matter can be essentially the same” (127). Linda Wilson of the Multicultural Center felt Sally’s Rape was particularly effective in light of the painful feelings of invisibility that black women had shared in the meetings. The Women’s Center became more inviting to women of color by acknowledging their different experiences. Performances including Sally’s Rape continued and intensified the dialogue already engaging local people. The show was an hour long; the postperformance conversation was an hour-and-a-half. McCauley compares this experience in Louisville to a conventional touring gig of the play in Santa Fe: The audience was numb. Some-

Establishing the Field

71

one said, “What are we supposed to do with this?” In Louisville, people were prepared with questions and at the same time able to be surprised. They were ready for the charged issues, so they were less reactive, more open. “By preparing,” avows McCauley, “we set an atmosphere where things could happen” (127). Reflecting on the years that she was actively involved with the AFP, Atlas sees significant achievements. A group of artists, leaders in the field, had for more than ten years a sustained, critical, honest, and straightforward conversation among themselves as well as through their work in communities. Multiple community art approaches were developed, the whole idea of a festival was reinvestigated, and artists came together as catalysts and supporters for local organizing. Over the course of time, AFP participants learned when to catalyze, when to support, and when to do both simultaneously. This dynamic plays out differently in each place, but it often takes the form of a cycle. Collaborations often begin by identifying local energy, which AFP catalyzes by providing resources, including artists from elsewhere who work with local artists, money, and a staff paid to help forward the local desire. For example, in Montana, what began as a statewide story project developed a significant gay and lesbian component. AFP did not want to impose its own agenda, but it did want to support local desires to further gay and lesbian recognition. Local participants needed to decide whether to do a play and come out publicly or be a support group and share stories among themselves. In other words, AFP philosophy was not to instigate change but to sense a climate where something was ready to happen and support it. Art in the Public Inte re st: Writing about the Fie ld From the alternative, feminist, and performance art movements of the 1970s in California to the convergence of experimental and community-based art projects across the United States in the 1980s and beyond, Linda Burnham, through High Performance, the journal she founded in 1978 and edited until 1985, has been documenting art that would otherwise have vanished with barely a trace. Equally deserving of recognition is Steve Durland, who was the journal’s editor from 1986 to 1994, during which much of the innovative social and political focus developed. Burnham and Durland then shared the editorship from 1995 to 1997. The journal has published articles and reviews about artists of different economic status, ethnicity, faith, gender, national origin, and sexual orientation. The content of the art has focused on cultural diversity, community development, education, respect for the environment, and the empowerment/creative development of people of all ages, including those who are incarcerated, economically disadvantaged, disabled, and healthimpaired. High Performance engendered public debate and provided resources

72

L o ca l Ac t s

on the arts and public policy, the arts and technology, and public art. When High Performance folded in 1997, Burnham and Durland shifted their activities to the Internet under the banner of “Art in the Public Interest,” adopting the name of Arlene Raven’s book on art at the intersection of social concerns. Burnham and Durland stayed at the cutting edge by following the artists. During the U.S. culture wars,4 they began a fifteen-year investigation into the artist’s place in society in relationship to positive social change. Articles in every issue were written by artists working in the field, in contrast to the bias that only people “at aesthetic distance” can contribute to critique. They defied the prejudice that High Performance was “only” a “regional” publication because of the attention they paid to artists in widespread urban (not just Los Angeles and New York) and rural areas in every state, plus other countries. Art in the Public Interest’s Web site, Community Arts Network, has brought to international attention the work of artists in venues such as schools, hospitals, shelters, prisons, community spaces, and churches; posted hundreds of pages of articles, studies, book chapters, surveys, and dialogues about the field on the Internet; and provided new material about the field on the Web. Under the rubric “Places to Study: Opportunities in Community Arts,” Burnham and Durland organized, researched, and posted directories of people and institutions that provide degrees and quality training in the field and co-organized and co-conducted major studies of the intersection of artists and community organizers in the state of California and of grassroots ensemble theater in the United States, implementing qualitative analysis methods. Acknowledging Burnham and Durland’s work is also recognizing the writer—journalist, critic, or scholar—as an active partner in community-based performance. Busy documenting, advocating, reflecting on, and bringing the important work of others to the foreground, the writer is often the silent partner who, ironically, remains on the edge of the field herself. We must recognize those who tell a field’s collective tale and leave knowledge behind for future generations. Ron Short of Roadside Theater describes how thrilling it was to meet people who were part of the Works Project Administration in the 1930s (the agency that funded the Federal Theatre Project among other progressive endeavors): “And the first thing they said to me was, ‘We’ve been waiting. We thought that you had forgotten.’ And then they said, ‘Write everything down, because someday somebody like you will come looking for it’ ” (Fields 2002a). That’s precisely what Burnham and Durland have done for alternative art— most especially for community-based performance. Rece nt Directions of June bug, Roadside, and Lacy Overall, the shift in performance for social change since the 1960s and early 1970s has been a change in tone from opposition to partnership. In place

Establishing the Field

73

of resisting the status quo and fighting against the powers that be, many community-based artists have focused on making relationships with other individuals, ensembles, and organizations with some common goals, both locally and across the United States, and focused on building diverse leadership within communities. Such ensembles still seek broad social change but go about it in such a way as to build maximum support, especially locally. O’Neal has extended his earlier work through such projects as The Color Line, grounded in gathering stories of people involved in the civil rights movement. The project is a three-way collaboration; an artist, educator, and organizer are at the helm of each of several sites nationwide. Local artists, under O’Neal’s guidance, turn the stories into performance. The lead educator is frequently someone at a local school who spearheads the translation of the stories into the curriculum. O’Neal used to think that his early work with SNCC meant he did not need an organizer. But he has come to realize that the task of turning an ambiguous collection of people into a focused, united group takes the full-time participation of an organizer. Curtis Muhammad frequently takes on that task in this project. Muhammad, O’Neal, and the rest of the staff are exploring how the stories will become an organizing tool, a way to help create and maintain organizations for social justice. Gathering local stories as a step in organizing is an example of asset-based community developing—valuing what people have, not just looking at what they do not have. The Color Line staff intends to carefully analyze local stories to ascertain what people want. They may then follow a familiar organizing path, which Muhammad (2003) describes as (1) see the assets—that is, something of value already there, in this case the local stories; (2) identify who in each walk of life is angriest and put them on the organizing committee (this is an adaptation of labor organizing, where one involves workers from the various parts of the production process); (3) look for themes in the stories that most people want to do something about; (4) let the stories lead people to their own agenda, with the help of the organizer. The Color Line evinces a move in O’Neal’s aesthetic journey from noun— centering the social potential of theater in the play—to verb—recentering the social potential on the more broadly collective making of the play and, indeed, the whole project. Whereas he initially produced plays by playwrights and performed by professional actors, with The Color Line he offers wider and longer participation, beginning with collectively generating the play through story gathering and then inserting the stories into theater, education, and organizing. Roadside increasingly collaborates on projects beyond its Appalachian home. For example, the theater is engaged in a twenty-five-year collaboration with the first Zuni language theater, Idiwanan An Chawe (Children of the Middle Place), directed by Edward Wemytewa. The purpose of the Zuni

74

L o ca l Ac t s

5. Corn Mountain/Pine Mountain, a bilingual, musical play performed by Idiwanan An Chawe of Zuni, New Mexico, and Roadside Theater of Whitesburg, Kentucky. Photo by Tim Cox, 1996.

theater is to help sustain the Zuni culture. Cocke has also worked further afield individually as a spokesperson for grassroots theater. He contrasts placebased performance with the reproduction of former Broadway plays all over the country, “the Henry Ford assembly line approach to theater.” Cocke has greatly contributed to the theorization of the field, from his early writings on grassroots theater through his more recent framing of the field as an expression of democracy. (See http://www.roadside.org.) Recognizing that the vast majority of U.S. theatergoers are among the 15 percent wealthiest Americans, Roadside has put a great deal of effort in drawing the diverse audience they most want to reach. According to the Roadside Theater Web site, the results have been stunning: Based on six years of tracking (1991–1997) by the AMS Planning and Research Corporation in Connecticut, 70% of Roadside Theater’s national audience live in rural communities and 33% are people of color. 43% of Roadside’s national audience earn between $25,000 and $50,000 annually; 30% earn less than $24,000 a year. In 1999, the median income for people eighteen years and older in the U.S. was $21,250. 15% of the population earned $50,000 a year or more. According to several sets of data, the typical not-for-profit professional theater draws 80% of its audience from the top 15% of the U.S. population, measured by income. In

Establishing the Field

75

contrast, Roadside Theater draws 73% of its audience from 85% of the population, measured by income. Research findings show a close correlation between an individual’s earnings and educational level. Cocke explains that actors cannot help but play to the audiences they get. Had Roadside not “swum upstream” and actively sought a diverse audience, they would have ended up playing to a mostly white, middle- and uppermiddle-class audience. They would have ceased to be in dialogue with the people they cared most about reaching. This active audience development demonstrates yet another realm in which community-based performance is about more than what happens on stage. While Cocke continues to value accessibility and commitment to the place, people, and heritage where one is situated, he also believes in “keeping the door wide open.” One of the highlights of a trip I took to Appalshop in 2002 was visiting a black church in a neighboring coal mining community with Roadside members who were involved in a song exchange, each group from its respective spiritual tradition. Singing for and with each other, they immediately connected, experiencing the spirituality and artistry in both of their musical traditions. The door in this case was the music and its sense of spirit and hope, providing a strong meeting point. Lacy’s recent focus has been youth empowerment in Oakland, California, where she has lived for fifteen years. In 1999, she completed Code 33: Emergency, Clear the Air, concluding a decade’s work articulating youth concerns on schools, health care, and the police in a city where 95 percent of its public high school youth are of color. Named after the police radio code for “emergency, clear the radio waves,” Code 33 sought to reduce police hostility toward youth, provide youth with skills to participate in their communities, and generate a more profound public recognition of youth needs. Multiple strategies were employed: a youth leadership team that met weekly; youth presentations before Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils; art workshops for 350 youth from probation programs, high schools, and organizations; a prototype youth-police training session aired on local television; a mass media campaign; and a youth and adult artist team responsible for designing and producing videos of youth experience in ten neighborhoods and the Code 33 performance. The preparation leading up to a final performance is as important to Lacy as the performance itself, which she sees as a “public touchstone” that represents years of work by her collaborating team and other activists in the community. These projects are politically positioned to maximize civic resources as well as introduce youth into the mainstream of community life. During Code 33, the artistic production team occupied a set of offices in Mayor Jerry Brown’s City Hall, and over the years project components have commanded considerable support from local agencies.

76

L o ca l Ac t s

6. Code 33. Conceived and directed by Suzanne Lacy. Photo by Chris Johnson, 2003.

Lacy (2002) wonders how much of artists’ impact on youth is the result of the art work per se and how much is the result of the meaningful relationships that artists tend to develop with youth. “The length of time for these projects is important; the more sustained contact you have with the kids, the more impact on their lives.” Although youth development is important in these projects and considerable time, money, and energy is spent providing various arts-based and personal services to young participants, several of whom develop into leadership positions in repeated performances, Lacy equally targets the institutions that dramatically impact youth lives and the local community and its attitudes toward youth. The public relations efforts that accompany each project are not a means to an end of gaining a larger audience but an empowerment tool for getting youth perspectives to a mass audience. Likewise, Lacy considers her political advocacy work, inside City Hall, the school superintendent’s office, or the police department, as integral to the work, part of life that is framed as art within the context of the project. The Code 33 performance took place on a warm October evening, with eight citywide residential communities represented, ten people per group, along with 100 police officers, 150 teenagers (almost fifty of them members of the dance troupe Culture Shock), thirty television monitors, twenty police cars, and a police helicopter. Teens and police sat in groups on the roof of a vast seven-floor parking lot and continued conversations they had engaged in during the organizing period. As the sun went down, the groups were lit by

Establishing the Field

77

the headlights of red, white, and black vehicles. Spectators listened in on conversations between youth and police and then participated in discussions themselves, along with neighborhood residents, to consider how to ameliorate relations. One thousand spectators witnessed the event, including many local public officials—even the mayor—and every major newscaster in the area. Code 33 had both aesthetic and political goals. The latter were to make an impact on police, more so than youth, culture. Although youth as individuals were very much a part of the efforts, the problem, according to the analysis of project artists, was police, not youth, culture. With only 700 police officers the police department seemed an institution that could be the focus of change efforts, with an emphasis on how officers were trained to relate to youth. The several years of the combined projects in Oakland did cause some police to act more sensitively to the teens, according to their own testimony. Equally important, Lacy was only one of many people and organizations trying to shift police culture in a more humane direction. The entire project was nevertheless controversial, as Lacy explains: “There were people who thought I should drop off the edge of the earth for even talking to police, and others who thought that the $200,000 it cost was too much, and scores of organizations, volunteers, and politicians who were very involved and invested.” Lacy believes that her ability to garner some trust from both sides, partly because she kept at it for a decade, earned her, sometimes begrudgingly, a level of respect and effectiveness. But real changes within police training practices are incrementally slow, and the real effort, according to Lacy, is for artists to learn ways to attack the “Teflon nature of institutions, where the artist comes, is successful for a time, and then leaves without permanent institutional transformation.” Lacy is proud of the scale of civic participation that she achieved in Code 33, and she is satisfied with the visual qualities and scale of the work. Indeed, scale plays a central role in Lacy’s aesthetic: “Visual beauty and theatrical coherence are only a piece of the aesthetic whole. Like the recreation of the Storming of the Winter Palace after the Russian Revolution, a performance’s success also depends on the conceptual structure and meaning of the social spectacle.”5 Lacy acknowledges that Code 33 was about the significance of the conversations taking place among teens, police, and community members, “but the visual look of the performance is my reward. Directing is a deep pleasure when it all works together. It’s so complex—four assistant directors connected by walkie-talkies to over fifty people behind the scenes, cuing music, videos, lights, transitions, the doctor and emergency crews, the tech crew, the police helicopter shining its flood on the dancers. The cue sheets are ten pages of minute-by-minute activities, pooling all this information with collaborators and making minute-by-minute decisions to change things.

78

L o ca l Ac t s

When it’s flawless it’s really wonderful, but there wasn’t much tranquility during Code 33.” Although Lacy is passionate about political goals and does serious and long organizing work (ten years in this case), being an artist, as well as a sober acknowledgement of the time scale for social change, is what allows her to move on from an unresolved issue like relations between Oakland cops and youth. Lacy, who works all over the world and is currently developing a project with the American Festival Project in Appalachia, explains, “If you look at my work over the long run of thirty years, it all fits together around certain ideas of identity, race, oppression, and a mandate to impact on the public agenda, whether the issue is violence in Colombia, rape in Los Angeles, or the impenetrability of the border between Finland and Russia.” Lacy’s influence on other artists is as important as her impact on general audiences: “All any of us are doing at this point is making models. Even Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses, who has worked with collaborators to create an entire community in Houston—in the vast scheme of urban development it’s not that many houses, though to us it seems a miracle of persistence.6 People are drawn to the utopian possibilities that Project Row Houses represents; it has an influence on other artists. People see in a new way.” Durland (1998, xxiii) writes that artists drawn to community-based and related art “believed that the arbitrary separation of art world and real world had made them less effective as artists and caused them to call into question their commitment to the public. This new sensibility didn’t necessarily reject the art world, but rather viewed it as one of many contexts in which art could exist. It followed that the context of art was just as crucial to its success as the form and content.” In the twenty years since the funeral for the Free Southern Theater, community-based performance has transformed from a handful of artists and ensembles committed to collective meaning making with particular communities, vitally attached to life contexts, to a veritable movement and, indeed, the more solid category of a field.

Chapte r 4

Between Ritual and Art

Any given community-based performance is situated somewhere between art and ritual. I begin with the particular tradition of art in which this field is located. Community-based performance, in the tradition of popular art, emerges “out of the common experience which audience and performer share. . . . [T]hose experiences, known and familiar, are deepened when re-enacted” (Hall 1965, 64). “Popular performance” evokes eclectic images—NYC teenagers trying to outdo each other rapping or break-dancing, commedia dell’arte performers improvising a play in a sixteenth-century Italian market, African villagers sharing stories beneath a broad tree. Communitybased performance is in this tradition, committed to cultural forms and content that are expressive of a group of people connected by place, tradition, history, and/or spirit. As scholar John Cavelti writes about popular culture, community-based art “walks the line” between “conventions and inventions” (M. Berger 1998, vii). That is, such art combines elements familiar to particular communities with new and surprising aspects. Spectators do not have to see themselves as artistically inclined in order to expect such work to speak to them. Artists do not have to cater to the audience, but rather, in a dialectical relationship, sometimes lead and sometimes follow the people to whom their work is addressed. While popular art is not synonymous with community-based art, theories of the popular help clarify the latter’s goals as well as pervasive prejudices against it. Scholar Raymond Williams articulates five usages of the term popular that reflect a range of attitudes relevant to my subject. The first is implied “other” to high or learned art (Heath and Skirrow 1986, 4). While negatively inflected to position the field below high art, this idea of the popular also has a positive connotation, bespeaking an aesthetic that does not necessitate a special education to be appreciated. John Malpede declares about his company, largely composed of homeless people, “The fact that many of the LAPD [Los Angeles Poverty Department] artists have not attended the Academy—and never will—is, in fact, the point” (Lewis 2002b). They provide what Malpede calls the real deal, a way of looking at the world informed by often harsh experiences little known by those who have never 81

82

L o ca l Ac t s

been homeless. What their stories reveal may be as universal as the tales embedded in high art. Writer Vivian Gornick makes a useful distinction between the story, which she defines as “the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say; and the situation, “the context or circumstance” (2001, 13). Although the situation in a community-based production may relate to the circumstances of those people’s lives, what they are communicating through those circumstances could be as widely meaningful as any other story. Being community-based does not indicate level of universality or artistry but simply collaboration between artists and a group of people connected in some ongoing way who have contributed significantly to a work’s creation. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains that the popular is distinguished from high art because of “severe lines of division within our system of education, the identification between culture and class, and the question of distinct cultural climates in different sections of our stratified society” (1965, 74). Lawrence Levine, looking at the construction of these divisions, writes about fluid cultural spaces in the first half of the nineteenth century that allowed cultural sharing; people of various classes frequently attended productions of Shakespeare, for example. But, increasingly, cultural differences were used to justify class divisions. Only cultural forms deemed inconsequential intellectually could be broadly shared with the general population, and even then the price of distinct seating sections limited mingling. Culture came to reinforce class differences, highlighting that art is not just about objects but rather their relationship to particular viewers in real social contexts. We see this dynamic in as simple a story as the plumber who went to the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1897 and was denied entry because he was wearing overalls (Levine 1988, 185). Community-based performance is often perceived as popular in this sense of lower in the cultural hierarchy, largely due to participation of people beyond the upper and middles class. The second definition, according to Williams, is the popular as folk culture, carrying on a cultural tradition without the specific marking of an individual artist (Heath and Skirrow 1986, 4). Like Williams’s first definition, the popular as folk culture carries a lower status than high art. Challenging this perception, scholar Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez expanded her scholarly focus on El Teatro Campesino from “the great man/text-centered” approach (in this case, founder Luis Valdez and Campesino scripts) to a privileging of cultural roots by positioning it within the Mexican working-class oral tradition. Broyles-Gonzalez’s work has significant ramifications for community-based performance, which can similarly be valued on its own terms, and for its cultural roots. Orality provides community-based art with the power of context missing in theater not allied with particular audiences. Broyles-Gonzalez writes, “Oral culture is not typically just spoken words but words defined by

Between Ritual and Art

83

their lifeworld context . . . engaged in the dailiness of life” (1994, 5–6). Because of their basis in everyday life, references common to whole populations in tradition-based work go deep and are numerous. The actor–farm workers of El Teatro Campesino, for example, knew very well what references were relevant to the Chicano farm workers who constituted their core audience. In contrast, professional actors are not likely to know, in detail, what an anonymous group of spectators has in common. The link to folk culture is an asset, not a deficit, in community-based performance. According to Williams’s third definition, the popular is something addressed to a large number of people and “well-liked by the many” (Heath and Skirrow 1986, 4). Hall, on the other hand, argues against a formulation of the popular based on numbers of spectators. He believes that popular art “thrives only when widely varied audiences find something common and commonly valued in their appreciation of it; one of the preconditions of this being that the institutions which carry this art should be open institutions widely available” (65). Diversity of engaged spectators, not quantity, is the factor Hall emphasizes. As community-based performance increasingly involves diverse groups in partnerships, popularity in this sense is a value it shares. Popularity measured in numbers brings up the idea of mass art and the question of commercialism. Critic Dominic Strinati asks, “Does the emergence of culture in commodity forms mean that criteria of profitability and marketability take precedence over quality, artistry, integrity and intellectual challenge? Or does the increasingly universal market for popular culture ensure that it is truly popular because it makes available commodities people actually want?” (3) The term mass in this context refers to industrial-age society characterized by separate individuals making their own choices rather than organized as part of communities with collective values and “morally coherent relationship[s]” (Strinati 1995, 6). Community-based art is clearly an alternative to the popular in the sense of mass culture. Williams’s fourth definition is the popular as oppositional: “That which represents a certain kind of interest or experience, as versus the modes of an established culture or as versus a power” (Heath and Skirrow 1986, 5). Though not all community-based performance is popular in this sense, there are many such examples. In the late 1960s, Cesar Chavez, leader of the Chicano farm workers union, identified a role for theater geared to working-class audiences. Following the Mexican tradition of the carpa, a popular traveling tent show, such a theater would perform satirical, slapstick, improvisational plays sympathetic to the underdog: “With a carpa we could say difficult things to people without offending them. We could talk about people being cowards, for example. Instead of being offensive, it would be funny. Yet it could communicate union issues. When Teatro Campesino was formed I gave the early

84

L o ca l Ac t s

characters [traditional carpa] names” (Broyles-Gonzalez 1994, 13). This category is also an example of the popular dynamic of “convention with invention.” Chavez wanted to draw on the familiar and pleasurable convention of the carpa but infuse it with a new, inventive, prounion content. Fifth, Williams describes the popular as “a very active world of everyday conversation and exchange. [This includes] jokes, [and] . . . everyday gossip” (Heath and Skirrow 1986, 5). This understanding of the popular is allied to the aesthetics of everyday life and, like the third definition, also to folk culture. According to Oscar Handlin, folk culture “dealt directly with the concrete world intensely familiar to its audience” and with “common situations within a familiar pattern of life” (Hall 1965, 53). There was a direct relationship between performer and audience because the material, passed down over generations, was deeply familiar. Folk culture was overtaken by popular culture when art was no longer created by the collective but by the individual who was still connected to the group. Many community-based artists are popular in this sense, drawing on shared cultural traditions that they shape according to their own artistry. An example is Pregones Theater, which draws on Latino performance traditions and is responsive to a largely, but not solely, Latino audience. Community-based performance has recouped the collective grounding of folk art, combined it with a central role for the artist as in popular art, and, falling somewhere between the two, has continued to incorporate community input. Hall (1965, 59) writes of popular art: “Certain ‘folk’ elements were carried through even though the artist replaced the anonymous folk artist and the ‘style’ was that of the performer rather than a communal style. The relations here are more complex—the art is no longer simply created by the people from below—yet the interaction by way of the conventions of presentation and feeling re-establishes the rapport. Although this art is no longer directly the product of the ‘way of life’ of an ‘organic community,’ and is not ‘made by the people,’ it is still, in a manner not applicable to the high arts, a popular art, for the people.” Community-based performance is on one end of the popular theater continuum, at which the “audience-as-community” is maximally involved in the creative process. On the ritual end of community-based art is a tradition of performance created with a community to serve a social or spiritual function. Ritual is part of what anthropologist John MacAloon (1984, 1) calls cultural performance, “occasions in which as a culture or society we reflect upon and define ourselves, dramatize our collective myths and history, [and] present ourselves with alternatives.” MacAloon observes that cultural performances offer their community some ways to change, other ways to remain the same. For example, in my son’s bar mitzvah speech, he confirmed his identity as a Jew by virtue of his connection to the food, communal gatherings, and Torah study, even as he

Between Ritual and Art

85

declared his agnosticism verging on atheism. While not a typical bar mitzvah speech, through it he offered our congregation both a sense of the continuity of Judaism and an alternative conception of Jewishness. The ritual paradigm accounts for the intensely engaged potential of community-based performance for all involved. Richard Schechner writes: “There is no audience [in ritual]. Rather there are circles of increasing intensity” (1973, 243). People choose to attend performances in the context of art; they are obliged to attend performances in the context of ritual. Such performances (whether sacred, such as a church service, or secular, such as a political inauguration) assert “the group’s shared and unquestionable truths” (Myerhoff 1978, 32). Community-based performance is like ritual in arising from a community that contextualizes the performance as part of a larger collective project. Anthropologist Victor Turner articulates why the community needs such performances: “Cultures are most fully expressed in and made conscious of themselves in their ritual and theatrical performances. [. . .] A performance is a dialectic of ‘flow,’ that is, spontaneous movement in which action and awareness are one, and ‘reflexivity’ in which the central meanings, values and goals of a culture are seen ‘in action,’ as they shape and explain behavior” (Schechner and Appel 1980, 1). Cultural performances also provide emotional and intellectual linkage between our individual lives, those who have come before, and those who will come after. I hear the Hebrew words that begin the Jewish chant for the dead—yisgadal, vyisgadal, shmay raba—and the tears well up. It does not matter whether or not I believe in G-d, abide by the Ten Commandments, or live in a Jewish community. Deeply familiar, the chant acts as both a microscope, focusing on those I have loved and lost, and a telescope, sighted on an immense river of departed souls, providing me with a broad vista of generation upon generation. With the help of that lens, I have a particular way to work through my loss. The ritual dimension may account for the spirituality that communitybased performance encompasses. For example, its roots in the civil rights movement include grounding in the church and religious leadership. Though there were practical reasons that movement activists met in churches—few other large spaces were available to them—one role of the church is to reaffirm faith. Secular idealism, too, is sustained by faith, in the sense of committed belief in a vision with no guarantee it can come to pass. In the context of community-based performance, that vision may be a longing for a better world, with or without religious undertones. The ritual dimension of fusing past, present, and future signals spirituality’s marshalling of strength from those with shared values who have come before and striving toward something that has yet to be. We reach toward that future when we talk of being our best selves, of being the change we want to see in the world. The songs that mark

86

L o ca l Ac t s

community-based artists’ coming together and going forth are often spirituals, such as one John O’Neal has long used in his projects: “Hold my hand while I run this race (repeat twice), ’cause I don’t want to run this race in vain.” The value placed on good listening in this work, taking in the other as equally important as oneself, is part of making the kind of world that spirituality evokes. The ritual element also carries danger. The intense desire to share in a culture’s deep and evocative expressive life is mitigated by the knowledge that terrible things have been done in the name of tightly bounded communities. A hypnosis sometimes takes over; swaying in the comforting arms of the collective, individual boundaries merge, and one ceases to perceive what might be objectionable personally. Hence enter art, community-based performance’s other dimension, which does not demand conformity to core ideas. Art offers a temporary suspension of belief, an “imagine if,” inviting participants to engage critically. Indeed, art often interrogates assumptions and received truths. As the philosopher Herbert Marcuse asserts, art is the practice of freedom; our best protection against a terrible conformity lies in the expression of the “uncolonized imagination” (Becker 1994, xx). In the same spirit, writer James Baldwin states: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers” (Lerman and Borstel 2003, 8). Pure ritual would also provide answers. The art end of the community-based performance continuum is responsible for making the familiar new. That is, while art also has traditions, it is expected to be as committed to the new as to the old. According to writer Anaïs Nin, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with, we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it” (8). By performing “as theater,” community-based artists invite people who do not adhere to a particular set of values and practices, as artists and spectators. Such work, typically presented in secular venues, is more open-ended than traditional performances held in spaces reserved for believers. Art and ritual intertwine in community-based performance, any given project positioned somewhere between the two. The use of space supports the merging of ritual and aesthetic purposes. Cornerstone Theater insightfully adapts design elements to the community within which it is working. Their production of Steelbound with Touchstone Theater in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was performed in a 160-year-old former iron foundry. The space supported Steelbound’s ritual-like role, fusing past (the incredible history and meaning of that space for the community), present (its current state of abandonment), and future (as a space in which to begin to imagine how to go on). The foundry also supported the production as a work of art with aesthetic pleasures—its vast depth, soaring height, ancient walls

Between Ritual and Art

87

and arches. Community-based performance seeks to integrate the best of both worlds—coming out of a group of people connected to each other in some way, reasserting a sense of meaning, and yet nonauthoritarian—neither the strictly self-contextualized celebration or unquestioning obligation of cultural performance nor the totally open and up-for-grabs-ness, limited accessibility, and individualistic realm of high art in the Euro-American tradition. Although both art and ritual depend on the leadership of people with special skills, they have different criteria concerning participation. In ritual all who adhere to the values of the group, whether or not they have special skills, may participate. In art, all participants, not just the leaders, are expected to have special skills. Given its joint rootedness in both ritual and art, any given community-based performance must decide who can participate—members of the group in question, skilled or not, as in ritual, or only people with special skills, whether with a particular collective affiliation or not, as in art. The key purpose of a given performance is at issue: is it most important for the people participating to have the primary experience, as in ritual, or is it better to depend on representation by trained artists, as in art, to get a group’s viewpoints across to a larger audience that may have trouble appreciating a piece with limited artistic craft? Or is it possible to provide a compelling experience to both community participants and general audiences? Each community-based performance must be clear about its primary goal. The purpose of ritual is to strengthen the collective and, depending on the occasion, possibly transform it as well, through participation. The purpose may be to literally accomplish something. The purposes of art are manifold but rest on both the artist’s self-expression and how the performance “works” with an audience. Where does this leave community-based performance? How can it serve both masters? When people without performance training represent themselves, does that limit the communicative potential of the production? If a piece is informed by communities but performed by trained artists, does that raise the possibility of co-opting material or misrepresentation of the community? Different practitioners have different responses to these questions. Artists may be inspired by ritual and still hold to professional art standards. Liz Lerman frequently cites the following: “I think there was a time when people danced and the crops grew. I think they danced and that is how they healed their children. They danced; that is how they prepared for war. Maybe they mainly danced because they could not understand the incomprehensible, and perhaps in a moment of becoming—not interpreting—the sun in a sun dance, they could understand the forces of nature.” Notwithstanding this appreciation of the ritual role of dance (which happens in the present in some cultures as well as the past), Lerman has become ever more committed to

88

L o ca l Ac t s

formal training for participants in her pieces, recently envisioning a school for older people so those who participate in her hallmark, intergenerational dances will be physically more supple and capable (2003b). Art and ritual values can be negotiated by assuring that participation happens at some point in the performance process without predetermining which point. Depending on the project, people can be researchers, primary sources, performers, or central participants in postshow discussions or other activities. While only Roadside actors perform in Roadside shows, for example, interaction with communities is mutually beneficial, providing local people with storytelling opportunities and Roadside artists with cultural knowledge that informs their productions and enriches their lives. Even so, certain issues, such as who gets paid, must also be addressed. Many community-based ensembles negotiate what people need in order to participate. For some people, it’s childcare; for others, it’s transportation to and from rehearsal. Moreover, the issue of payment is more complex than need since we have come to express value through monetary compensation. Participants need to know that they are valued whether or not they receive salaries or stipends. The difference between community members performing themselves or being represented by professional artists has its parallel in the political system of democracy. Law theorists Lani Guinier and Gerard Torres explain that whereas in representational democracy people vote every few years for a professional politician to “stand in” for them, in participatory democracy they are directly involved in at least discussions concerning policies that affect them. Guinier and Torres give the example of Boal’s Forum Theater as a rich terrain for participatory democracy, as spectators intervene in scenarios to pose their own ideas for solving them. Guinier and Torres explain why this is important: “Getting communities involved in imagining their future is the problem that democracy is supposed to solve” (2002, 219). Many community-based artists deal with the centrality of participation for political growth by regularly including everyone in pre- or postshow story circles, whether or not everyone performs in the production. In other words, both representative and participatory democracy are modes of community-based performance. Adherents of democracy, whether in politics or community-based performance, see a role for both professionals and active constituents. Guinier and Torres advise professional politicians to develop their expertise through engagement with people they are supposed to represent. Comparably, community-based artists value deep engagement with community participants no matter who performs. So long as community participants have a significant role, it does not have to be on stage. There are other issues governing who participates in a production. For community-based artists whose roots are in the avant-garde and happenings rather than theater, a person’s experience, not his or her theatrical skill, is the

Between Ritual and Art

89

criteria for casting. A concern for artists of either tradition is the power relationship with participants. Creating art about a less powerful “other” risks exploitation. Suzanne Lacy gives the example of playwright Henrich Ibsen. His Hedda Gabler (1892) might be seen as exploiting women by representing them from his position of power. Yet on the other hand, states Lacy, “many of us clung to that play as one of the first we’d ever seen that represented a longing and a thwarted ambition, and a more complex female character—so artists represent and artists will inevitably represent something other than themselves. Then you’re into a position of degrees” (2002). Lacy understands that black playwright August Wilson only wants black directors for his plays, given that black directors are likely to have had experiences closer to Wilson’s characters than white directors will have had. Still, such practices can lead to the worst kind of identity politics that splinters groups of people who could be allies. Lacy asks how specific the similarity between director and material needs to be; does Wilson want only working-class black directors of a certain age? Lacy believes that artists now are generally very aware of these complex identity negotiations as “we just sort of stumble forward.” Identity politics raises the question, who is of the community? Must participants share an identity such as race, place, or ethnicity, at the heart of a performance, in order to play a leadership role in such an endeavor or even to participate? O’Neal welcomed anyone sincerely committed to the civil rights struggle to participate in the Free Southern Theater. Leadership, however, had to emanate from the people whose liberation struggle it was. Thus from O’Neal’s point of view, white Jewish professional actor Murray Levy, deeply committed to equality, was a model member of the Free Southern Theater, itself a black organization with African American leadership. Thomas Dent and others in the company disagreed, however, and expelled all white members. Often emotional resonance rather than identity politics determines who makes art about what. Lacy comments that because an artist works on aging does not mean she’s interested primarily in the aged. It may be about an interest in exclusion, an involvement with otherness, expressed through empathy for excluded groups. How do community participants relate to the artist if he or she is not from the same place as they are, either geographically or vis-à-vis ethnicity, economics, or circumstances? Lacy urges us to look at the insider/outsider dynamic more complexly: “What about our multiple identities? What are we outside of? A lot of my work with race began with women. The argument could be made that race is a more critical definer. Yet it’s more important that we all work to solve the problems than to exclude the participation of genuinely committed people. A lot of us work more out of empathy than guilt. I didn’t feel guilty about blacks in the civil rights movement, I felt completely empathetic” (2002).

90

L o ca l Ac t s

Negotiating inclusion and exclusion, similarity and difference, is seminal to community-based performance. The artists that Linda Burnham produced at the alternative performance space Highways in Los Angeles wanted their intercultural identities recognized: “The Latinos wanted Latino performance by Latino performers, but they also insisted on participating in projects that mixed all identities. It afforded them the frame of ‘my people’ and ‘my people as part of all people.’ They needed their identity recognized but they also needed inclusion” (2003). Sometimes the artist may expect identification and instead find difference. When I was working with a group of women recently released from prison, one of them asked if I had any children. Grateful to underscore our shared identities as mothers, I showed her a photo of my kids. Her response was, “Two? That’s nice—she have two children! Twins??? She have twins! They took my babies away from me.” There are yet other factors to look at concerning in and out. How do the people that the artist is working with feel? How does the artist’s position change over time? Within any given group, some people will be more willing than others to connect with a newcomer. In the late 1970s, Lacy found that people her grandmother’s age in the African American community were often more open to bonding with her than urban, intellectual women her own age. She’s also found that many people tend to embrace this rationale: “I’m from this place so I have the right to speak about and for it.” Her response is: I’ve lived in Oakland in the middle of a ghetto for ten years and 50 percent of my friends are black. Of course I am outside it by race, and race holds power, but what is the basis for people to determine if I’m an outsider? If it’s race, then absolutely, but if it’s place—not so. The real issue of insider/outsider is the power that your signification brings with it, and the benefit you get from that representation. Notice they almost never think it’s gender based. I still think gender is one of the least fully dealt with—not that race is dealt with—issues of our culture. And if you are dividing insiders and outsiders, then you are creating oppositionalities, which in the Buddhist sense is not a skillful way of doing things (2002). Cocke of Roadside Theater explains an advantage of outsider status: When we travel, we recognize the value of being outside the established dynamics of a community. Which is why, when we are at home, we like some part of our audience to be outsiders to our culture and traditions. In being outside they make connections further afield that we hadn’t seen. We don’t like when everyone is outside because then there’s no sense of what the inside view is; this deep resonance with a tradition, really knowing it and the history of the music and when it’s being played well (2003b).

Between Ritual and Art

91

Community-based performance sometimes takes place at the most extreme edge of difference, as artists with some privilege (race, class, education, or circumstances) make art with people with the least power. Is it suspect for people in comfortable circumstances to want to make art with people living in poverty, some in and out of jail, some on and off drugs, some not able to take care of their children, some children themselves having children? In such instances, this field can look like colonialism. Often, financially more stable, largely white artists ship in to so-called fourth-world pockets of entrenched poverty within the first world. And what do the artists do?—mine the raw material, all that experience and all those stories. Then they leave with the natural resources and make their own art out of them. That’s where the model breaks down; the market is in the first world because art does not have the power to build up the fourth-world economy enough so it can serve as a market. In that respect, community-based art is worse than colonialism! Of course artists may ship in and stay in the community, making a performance there with local people and resources. The artists may help establish a theater in that community that continues after they have gone. Though artists may be naive at the onset, the community experience may be a social awakening to the inequities and social injustices of the world. Artists may recognize their own positions of power and come to appreciate the necessity of equitable partnerships and the sharing of decision making and resources. Another critique of the insider/outsider polarity typical in short-term community-based projects is that it looks like liberalism—which means unlike radical politics, the artist believes “the system” can be reformed. This thinking can lead to blaming the victim, not recognizing that racism and sexism are institutionalized and must be dismantled politically and socially; that reaching out to struggling people by doing art with them without a larger social agenda will most likely end with that project. Artists doing such work would do well to educate themselves about the causes of social inequity and expand their artbased strategies accordingly or to collaborate with people who have. This implies the need to develop an interdisciplinary model of training community-based artists with a strong political component. Principle s I turn now to four principles—communal context, reciprocity, hyphenation, and active culture—that suggest good reasons for community-based performance. Articulated around common concerns, community-based performance defies the tendency to professionalize civic engagement and to let the experts handle it. In a world of lobbyists and electoral politics based on representational rather than participatory democracy, community-based performance is a welcome anachronism. Community-based performance emerges from a communal context; the artists’ craft and vision are at the service of a specific group desire. It may be

92

L o ca l Ac t s

to further the goals of the civil rights movement, as with the Free Southern Theater. It may be to affirm an under or misrepresented culture, as with Roadside Theater. Community-based artists use their aesthetic tools in concert with a group of people with lived experience of the subject and with whom they work to shape a collective vision. Communal expression is rooted in recognition that much creativity and meaning come out of the group. Theater is, of course, already a collaborative art. The hierarchical structure of most theater, however, gives the bulk of the power to the producer, playwright, and director, whereas community-based performance, at least theoretically, asserts a model of power shared among the various artists and community partners. Moreover, as in ritual, communitybased art derives meaning from its context; its creators are inspired to make beautiful art because of the socially meaningful role it plays. Aesthetics do not matter less in a ritual context, but they are centered on a collective purpose rather than on the individual maker. Appreciating the collective context of the field leads to a reassessment of individual and collective genius. The former is the well-known, accepted model of art in the West. Dudley Cocke defines the latter as “the accumulated wisdom of a people distilled and passed along by tradition. For traditions to live, they must regularly be renewed. In grassroots theater, the individual genius, fully realizing the collective source of his and her inspiration, blurs the line between the two” (2003c). Once one accepts the notion of collective genius—an underlying reality in theater whether or not acknowledged—the relationship of the artist to the community is radically altered. Rather than being an alienated, sensitive person, the artist is nourished by the people she chooses to live and work with and the place she chooses to settle. She’s engaged by events in the shared life of her community. In turn, she displays her art in the most accessible way, such as low cost of admission, accessible venue, and inviting contexts. There are times, however, that the individual is freer to present contrasting, heterogeneous points of view than is the collective. The individual is free to be dazzling without worrying about overwhelming the group. Moreover, reliance on collective traditions is not always possible. What about a heterogeneous group of actors or spectators who do not share a tradition? What about the outdated parts of a tradition—for example, frequently more delineated gender roles? How does one keep tradition from oppressing rather than liberating? How does collective genius rise to meet contemporary challenge without individual genius? Innovation is essential to collective genius; artists allow themselves the freedom to experiment and reinterpret traditions for their particular time and place. Cocke believes that Roadside has a responsibility to make traditions new, reinventing them so they remain entertaining and instructive. He explains, “People who work with a consciousness of a tradition, whatever it

Between Ritual and Art

93

is, have even more incentive to be creative than artists who are unconscious of tradition. They know what’s already been invented, which is the springboard for inventing something else. Otherwise you’re flailing around with no sense of where the art is going because you have no sense of where it’s been” (2003b). Individual and collective sources of genius are intertwined. Liz Lerman describes the necessary flexibility between the two: “I find much inspiration, pleasure, and challenge in my collaboration with company members, other artists, and members of communities, just as I enjoy the moments of creative leaps. It would be good if we could find a language that supported the idea of artistic vision crossing back and forth between collaborative genius and individual brilliance” (2003a). Lerman thus urges us to get beyond either/or thinking and the need to choose between individual and collective genius. Emphasis on individual genius to the exclusion of collective genius can close down people not so identified and make them less likely to participate in any artistic experience. I am perfectly happy to sit back and watch theater some of the time. But the idea of individual genius as the only model of artmaking serves a particular, undemocratic ideological perspective. It is linked to other kinds of hierarchies and justifies doling out more to those deemed gifted and talented than to other members of society. It also serves the total commodification of art; if only a select few, special people can make it, more can be charged. The power of collective context is used to a variety of ends. A particularly stirring example is composer/activist Bernice Johnson Reagon’s description of how, during a march, the sound of protestors’ singing preceded them as they walked, “so that by the time they reached their destination their voices had already occupied the space in a way the police could not reclaim. It wasn’t just the message of the music that was important, but its ability to give physical presence and visceral force, to the movement” (Cieri and Peeps 2001, 271). Collective context links where a performance takes place with who the audience will be. Community-based performance is frequently performed at churches and schools, in parks and neighborhood community centers, indeed, at any venue where the people that performance is addressing gather. The next principle, reciprocity, describes the desired relationship between community-based artists and participants as mutually nourishing (albeit often challenging). Participants receive such satisfactions as imaging and imagining—that is, translating ideas into forms and dreaming about what life could be; deep reflection, an outgrowth of play-building; critical distance in their lives; and public visibility. A frequent refrain from people who have participated in such projects is how appreciated they felt to have a moment in the spotlight and to be treated with respect by people interested in their viewpoints.

94

L o ca l Ac t s

Artists are stretched by learning what people know and feel through the authority of their experience and the particularity of their imagination. Cornerstone artistic director Bill Rauch describes being groomed as a young director at Harvard to eventually become artistic director of a professional regional theater.Yet he was disappointed that most regional theaters were not, in fact, expressive of their particular place. He knew there were stories out in the world that never got heard. Indeed, professional theater relies on agents, script submissions, auditions, and particular training methods not accessible to everyone with something to express. Rauch believed he would grow by learning about what he did not know, from people all across the United States who had different experiences than he did. With a handful of like-minded colleagues, he set out to make a theater expressing experiences as eclectic as the country itself. Approaching people as partners in the creative process, Cornerstone, the company Rauch and others formed in 1986, supplies the technique, and people from a vast range of circumstances provide the content. Reciprocity characterizes community-based art process. The dancer/ facilitators of Urban Bush Women, inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, enter communities inviting undertold stories. They call the story-gathering component of their work “When the lions tell history,” which, as the African proverb suggests, is very different from the hunter’s version (Zollar 2003). In contrast to top-down experts who assume what will be of interest to people, this process draws on the skills of trained artist/facilitators to tease out what a range of people want to express and then helps them to do so. A core element of reciprocity in the artist/community relationship is listening. Based on extensive interviewing with people who have been involved with Cornerstone, Ferdinand Lewis writes about respect, which takes concrete form through good listening: “The principle of respect refers to valuing community input in all matters, and appreciating the lives and stories of community partners and participants in whatever way possible. It is our experience that when this sort of respect is a factor in creative and administrative decisions, collaborators are more likely to contribute their truest selves to the work. Respect creates the conditions in which an essential joy-in-creating is released, which in turn engages collaborators in extraordinary ways” (2003a, 6). I first experienced this kind of reciprocity in 1969, having landed my first job as a professional actress with the Players’ Theater of Manchester, New Hampshire. Thanks to a Title I grant, through which the federal government matched local funds, we were performing a play based on New Hampshire’s Daniel Webster, in little towns throughout New England’s White Mountains. People in one particular town wanted to book us but would not know how much money they could contribute until the night of the performance, intending to raise the funds by holding a preshow potluck supper. But they

Between Ritual and Art

95

could promise us a homemade dinner. We accepted these terms and arrived at the town hall amidst great excitement. Nearly every spectator had produced a tasty dish, setting up a sense of reciprocity such as I had seldom experienced at any event. The spirit infused the performance itself, accounting for extra generosity on the actors’ part and extra receptivity from the spectators, as a result of co-creating the evening’s pleasures. In contrast, mainstream theater as an institution carries a whole apparatus of hierarchy. Those able to leverage the most money are on top, be they producers or stars. The playwright is generally second, demonstrating Western civilization’s bias for written expression over the oral and physical. Next comes the director, then the rest of the “creative team”—designers, composers, and choreographers. Then the actors, mere interpreters, followed by the even more lowly technicians, mere “skilled workers.” Last and least, if discussed at all, is the audience. A few years after my New Hampshire experience, performing in an “out-of-town” (meaning outside New York) try-out house, I had the horrible sensation that there was no one in the audience. It was not the bright lights on stage and the auditorium in darkness—a community-based play may choose such a lighting design to support focus. Conceived as an out-of-town try-out, the performance was less for the actual spectators there than as a preparation for elsewhere. In a profound way, the audience we were performing for was not there. Applying the criterion of reciprocity alleviates several misconceptions. For example, community-based art is in distinct contrast to “community service,” bringing to mind a soup kitchen with the well-fed on one side ladling out soup to the hungry who receive it on the other side. This one-directional model is not reciprocal; it does not support meaningful exchange. Nor is the field a monolithic celebration of human commonality, erasing very real differences which may exist between artists and local partners. Reciprocity rests on dialogue, which refers to “two or more parties with differing viewpoints working toward common understanding in an open-ended, face-to-face discussion” (Bacon et al. 1999, 12). Artists must be as sensitive to their differences from community participants as to the common ground they share. All involved must genuinely appreciate what the others bring to the collaboration, or why do it? Based on his theory of heteroglossia, Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin refers to dialogism as the quintessential mode of knowing. At the heart of this complex idea is the primacy of context in relation to text: “a word uttered in a particular place at a particular time means something different than it would under any other circumstance” (Bakhtin 1981, 428). Dialogism, to Bakhtin, means that everything must be understood as part of a greater whole. There is a constant interaction between meanings, all of which have the potential of conditioning other meanings (426–427). Bakhtin saw

96

L o ca l Ac t s

the goal of dialogue not as a specific solution but rather as a co-understanding. He also theorizes our internal dialogues with ourselves in the distinction he makes between authoritative and internally persuasive discourses (341– 342). The former refers to the voice of the father, the state, the external authority imposed from outside of oneself. The latter refers to our own, internalized authority, arrived at through a synthesis of the outer and inner voices. Reciprocity is reflected in joint ownership of work created by the community from whence it came and the artist/facilitator. A danger is that artists sometimes impose their own aesthetics and ideology. But one must be careful of charging artists with “using” a community. Suzanne Lacy keeps a tight rein on the pageants that she creates with hundreds of people. I see that as a methodological choice, not an imposition. Within Lacy’s process, people have great opportunity to explore their issues, bond with others, and become more public. Artists can equally be underinvolved, seemingly noncommittal, which may result in work that contradicts their own political stand. The piece may represent everyone involved but the artist/facilitator and risk falling into a one-directional, the artist-helping-the-people model. Another challenge to joint ownership is that sometimes artists are more ready for change than is the community. Linda Parris-Bailey of Carpetbag Theater describes the need for sensitivity given that her community is not so proactive: “The community is sometimes challenged and needs to be challenged, and sometimes they don’t like that. But that’s a part of how we all grow. So it’s not that we have to constantly please” (Watkins 2002b). Reciprocity is rooted in an assets-based model of community-building that “insists on beginning with a clear commitment to discovering a community’s capacities and assets” (Kretzman and McKnight 1993, 1). This model is in contrast to focusing on a community’s deficiencies and problems. In community-based performance, artists as well as organizers need to find a community’s strengths. Community organizers John P. Kretzman and John L. McKnight explain that while poor communities have problems, focusing only on the negative results in (1) residents of those neighborhoods thinking of the deficits as the only reality; (2) fragmented efforts to ameliorate the situation when, in fact, problems are generally intertwined; (3) funding for service providers rather than residents; and (4) the perception that only outsiders can help. The authors conclude that “significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort” (5). These insights apply to partnerships among artists within the same company, between companies, and with community participants, both individuals and institutions. Ron Short of Roadside Theater expresses the personal satisfaction derived by a third principle of community-based performance, what I call hyphenation: “Why would I not want to do this work? It is so central to who

Between Ritual and Art

97

I am. It is ritual and religion to me. It is the integration of my history and my culture and my family” (Fields 2002a). Jump-Start’s artistic director Steve Bailey says, “It’s about making an exchange with a community, which doesn’t solely happen via the theater work” (Hennessey 2002). Community-based performance is hyphenated in consisting of both multiple disciplines—aesthetics and something else, such as education, community building, or therapy—and multiple functions, having as goals both efficacy and entertainment. The notion of hyphenation calls to mind Schechner’s observation that any given performance may be looked at on a continuum between efficacy and entertainment (1977, 75). The more characteristics fall on the former end, the more ritual-like the performance; the more characteristics fall on the latter end, the more the performance is theater. Indeed, the exact same performance done in two different contexts could be differently categorized. A performance of a rain dance, for example, is theater, not ritual, when presented to an audience of tourists. But done by and for people with the goal of bringing rain and within the context of a spiritual system to which they adhere, it is a ritual. Or a theatrical production might become a ritual given the context. Such was my experience at a Broadway production of Falsettoland in the early 1990s. As the play’s protagonist mourned the loss of his friend (lover?) to AIDS, I wept at the loss of my dear friend David and inadvertently leaned in to the stranger to my left. He, weeping with an abandon that also seemed to transcend the death of the character, leaned in to me, too, communicating great empathy. Everywhere I saw weeping spectators, and felt that the theatrical event was a mass public funeral for our beloveds lost to AIDS. The pull in community-based performance is regularly substantial from both the ritual/efficacy and art/entertainment ends of the continuum. Artists frequently experience art in relation to something in addition to aesthetics, such as religion, therapy, education, or the articulation and expression of a political point of view or vision. Community-based performance is even more intrinsically hyphenated. Poet Muriel Rukeyser (1974, 23–24) expresses the difference between art that is about something and art that does something: “Because you have imagined love, you have not loved; merely because you have imagined brotherhood, you have not made brotherhood.” For practitioners in this field, symbolic expression is not enough; they want their art to have some concrete social impact, and they want a life in art that interacts with other realms (such as therapy or community organizing). Community-based performance thus challenges traditional aesthetics, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a doctrine whereby art and artists are held to be free of any obligation or responsibility other than that of striving for beauty.” The concreteness that Rukeyser evokes again positions this field between art and ritual, entertainment and efficacy.

98

L o ca l Ac t s

For community-based artist Susan Ingalls, the overarching goal of her work is not to make great art at any cost but to provide participants with a “key positive experience.” This is an endeavor that unlocks an expanded notion of self and what one is capable of and, with it, a sense of fulfillment. The key positive experience can be the result of an emotional, intellectual, physical, or aesthetic experience: a challenging Outward Bound trip or team sport as well as an artmaking effort. In the same spirit, Ingalls’s (1996) concept of “sympathetic witness,” the artist/facilitator who affirms the community member, as a principle of her work, makes sense in a field that is not only concerned with aesthetics. As a hyphenated field, community-based performance draws from other disciplines in addition to theater. Ingalls expanded her artistic practice to serve social goals influenced by Teacher, Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s account of instructing aborigine children in Australia by beginning with “key words” the children generate that are meaningful to them. Ingalls adapted AshtonWarner’s practice in an approach she calls “Words Work” and got children interested in reading by beginning with their own key words before moving on to scripts. Many community-based artists have drawn inspiration from Brazilian Paulo Freire, whose liberatory pedagogy proposes a theory and a method to teach literacy, especially to adults. Freire’s reach is beyond word recognition to a deeper critical cognition, a learning to read the world: “Every human being, no matter how ‘ignorant’ or submerged in the ‘culture of silence,’ is capable of looking critically at his world in a dialogue encounter with others, and provided with the proper tools for such an encounter he can gradually perceive his personal and social reality and deal critically with it” (Freire 1970, back cover). Fellow countryman Augusto Boal integrated core principles of Freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed” into his “theatre of the oppressed.” For example, Freire called for an end to the banking method of education, whereby learners are passive vessels, objects, into which teachers deposit their knowledge. In its place, Freire called for a dialogic method of education, whereby everyone is a subject. Similarly, Boal replaced the spectator, the passive receptacle of the artists’ insights, with the spect-actor, who is able to intervene and replace the actor/protagonist through a series of techniques that dynamize the erstwhile spectator into an active subject. Like ethnography, community-based art is a collaboration between professional artists and people from all walks of life centered on the expression of meaningful human behavior and practices. Anthropologist James Clifford defines ethnography as “diverse ways of thinking and writing about culture from a standpoint of participant observation” (9). According to this definition, community-based artists are also ethnographers. Indeed, fieldwork, the anthro-

Between Ritual and Art

99

pological research practice grounded in participant observation, may be as valuable to community-based artists as it is to anthropologists: “in order to fully understand and appreciate actions from the perspective of the participants, one must get close to and participate in a wide cross-section of their everyday activities over a period of time” (Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw 1995, 10). The principle of active culture reflects the recognition that people frequently get more out of making art than seeing the fruits of other people’s labors. Such experience causes people to plumb their hearts and minds, experiences and conceptions. Active culture is also reflected in another core axiom of the field—that everyone has artistic potential. Finding the aesthetic strengths of each first-time actor is one of the major challenges for community-based artists. Bill Rauch is a master at casting people in parts that are enhanced by the actor’s real experience. Seeing the chief of the Walker River Paiute Tribe play the king in The House on Walker River, adapted from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, added a layer of real power in performance that more than compensated for the actor’s lack of theatrical training. In other words, just as the field draws on multiple disciplines, so can it draw on people’s multiple capacities and apply them in performance. Liz Lerman sees her role as “remaining open to see the beauty of what people without art training do and make it work.” Lerman distinguishes between “creative process” and “artmaking.” The former is the free exploration of themes, at which time the artist tries to make people feel relaxed and confident and encourages the flow of material. The second phase is the editing and shaping of the material into something that can be articulated to an audience that was not part of the creative process. Some community projects stay in the first phase. Lerman is interested in how to bring community groups into the second phase. She sees a fallacy in the idea that only in community art do artists worry about hurting participants’ feelings in the editing process. Rather, she finds it to be a touchy area in professional companies with collective processes as well. In both cases, the director/choreographer contends with conflicting loyalties—to the work of art, to the participants, to the audience. Lerman (1997) believes that artists need to get tough without being mean, to use their editing skills without being unduly authoritarian. Inclusiveness and diversity are other elements of active culture. In “The Matrix of Grassroots Theater Principles,” this idea is framed in two ways. First, “Inclusivity is a core value expressed via affordable ticket prices, accessible venues, and partnerships with community organizations.” The second is more explicitly about the relationship to social justice: “Grassroots theater is linked to the struggles for cultural, social, economic, and political equity for all people” (Cocke et al. 1993, 81). Cornerstone articulates diversity of one of its four core principles in community collaborations (the other three are listening, respect, and flexibility). Ferdinand Lewis writes about Cornerstone:

100

L o ca l Ac t s

Experience has shown that no community is so monolithic that it does not contain a great deal of diversity. . . . As a framework for creativity, the concept of diversity can free the imagination from monolithic ideas, and encourage unexpected collaborations. . . . [W]henever possible, the production team should represent a diversity of experience with Cornerstone collaborations, including participants who may be doing their first such project alongside those who have previously collaborated with the company. (2003a, 6) For Cornerstone, then, active culture, expressed as inclusion and diversity, is both an aesthetic and philosophical pillar of the work. The four characteristics of communal context, reciprocity, hyphenation, and active culture are mutually reinforcing. Being rooted in a communal context is enabled by deep, reciprocal interaction with the people who identify with that context. Expanding participation—that is, active culture that leads to hyphenated performance—non-artists bring other founts of knowledge. With art on one side of the hyphen, the “something else” on the other side can also shape how a project develops. The nature of that performance, to maximally serve those people, is likely to do something as well as be something, to have efficacious as well as aesthetic goals. That the creation process be as active and inclusive as possible is as important as the product made. Community-based performance is as much about building community as it is about expressing it. Community-Base d Pe rformance as Proce ss Community-based artists can strive to embody the values, achieve the goals, and integrate themselves with their constituencies because this kind of performance is not just the show but all the processes leading up to and following after it. Time is opened up; this work is about much more than the transaction between actors and spectators in the brief period of the show, however powerful that may be. Like experimental theater more generally, community-based performance is distinctive in highlighting process. Boal explains why popular theaters tend to emphasize what is in process and unfinished: “The bourgeoisie already knows what the world is like, their world, and is able to present images of this complete, finished world. On the other hand, the proletariat and the oppressed classes do not know yet what their world will be like; consequently their theater will be the rehearsal” (1979, 142). Boal’s insights about process in theater hearken back to the great political philosopher Frederick Engels, who explains: The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the

Between Ritual and Art

101

things apparently stable no less than their mind-images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into begin and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidents and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end—this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is scarcely ever contradicted (Selsam and Martel 1963, 100–101). The emphasis on process creates spaces for interaction and, perhaps most important, the grounds for belief in change, be it personal or political. The equal value placed on pre- and postperformance phases—the play, in and of itself, is not the (only) thing—corresponds to the structure of rites of passage, that category of ritual providing a process for not just individual persons to go through change but for their community to recognize it and adapt accordingly as well. Like rituals, community-based performances are structured processes capable of taking people through changes. According to anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1960), rites of passage have three-part structures: separation, liminality, and reintegration. In the first stage, the persons going through the change are taken from their ordinary life to be specially prepared for the change. The middle phase is a period of being betwixt and between, during which participants are no longer in the old category but not yet in the new one. The third stage, often marked by a performance, is the moment of reincorporating the persons back into the community in the new status. An example of a rite of passage is marriage. The separation phase corresponds to the period of growing commitment during which the couple stops dating other people. In the “engagement” phase the couple is betwixt and between—no longer single but not quite married. The wedding marks the couple’s new status in the community as married, not only for them but also for their parents and friends, with the change in behavior they ought to exhibit as well. Richard Schechner (1985, 21) identifies seven possible phases of any performance in a “pattern analogous to initiation rites” and hearkening back to van Gennep. Schechner’s first four phases—training, workshop, rehearsal, and warm-up—correspond to van Gennep’s first ritual stage, “separation.” They are the processes the actors go through before contact with the audience, during which they prepare for the performance. The middle stage of a rite-of-passage, liminality, corresponds to Schechner’s fifth phase, performance, during which the transformation is symbolically represented but has not yet been effectuated in everyday life. Van Gennep’s notion of reintegration, the point at which the people who have gone through the rite of passage rejoin their society with new roles and responsibilities, corresponds to Schechner’s final two stages, cooldown and aftermath. These phases provide opportunities to experience

102

L o ca l Ac t s

community-based performance’s principles—communal context, reciprocity, hyphenation, and active culture. The first phase is training. Given this field’s hyphenated nature, learning multiple skills in addition to the artistic is necessary. Dudley Cocke, for example, emphasizes the need for grassroots artists to learn community organizing. Community-based writer Alice Lovelace believes artists working for social change need training in conflict resolution. Particular performance skills are also invaluable. Actor/director Mark McKenna reflects on Dell’Arte’s school, which teaches popular theater techniques such as commedia, an inherently interactive mode: “Students come to understand the performer’s responsibility to the audience” (2002). The school’s focus is on creating one’s own work, a critical skill for community-based performers. Dell’Arte teaches a sense of the artist’s ownership of their work; Steve Bisher, associate school director, says that before he did workshops with the company’s Michael Fields, he “didn’t know that as an actor you could have your own thoughts” (McKenna 2002). The next phase, workshop, is the period of building the performance. It incorporates communal input in one form or another. Both primary and secondary research generate material for creating the performance. Stories are gathered, subject matter is investigated, and a script is developed in a process involving artists and, often, community participants. The structure of such participation varies. For example, each Cornerstone community show involves an average of twenty meetings with local focus groups and leaders. The company begins by finding one local person “making the leap of faith” and becoming an advocate for the project, helping to find appropriate people for an advisory board. Cornerstone tells the board how they build a project, and the board advises the company how to do so there. The inclusiveness of the workshop phase impacts who will come to the performance. Dell’Arte audience member Kit Zettler gives an example: “You are not necessarily going to get a logger who comes see this play and walks away saying I’m never doing that again. But a logger comes to the play because their friend got interviewed or was talked to” (McKenna 2002). He thus ends up hearing other points of view. A variation on the workshop phase is what Suzanne Lacy (2003) calls embedding, which is focused on developing people’s organizing as well as aesthetic skills. At an early stage in the process, Lacy trains participants to contextualize the work in community organizations and the media. For example, in Code 33, Lacy sent teenage participants out to talk with reporters and politicians about community policing, even as they were creating the performance. Laying the groundwork for Code 33’s public components paralleled work on its internal aesthetic components. During the rehearsal process, in projects integrating first-time actors, the artists’ skills must be adapted to the people with whom they are working. See-

Between Ritual and Art

103

ing what an untrained cast is capable of repeating, the director must make choices to highlight their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. Some ensembles, like Cornerstone, incorporate music, dance, and spectacle to heighten the aesthetic experience. Professional cast members are responsible not only for themselves but also for the community cast, frequently rehearsing several small scenes simultaneously to maximize what is never enough time. When rehearsing a fully professional cast, community-based performance is a lot like any other ensemble production. Companies like Dell’Arte have an established aesthetic, which can only be done well by people with years of training. The repetition of the rehearsal phase also functions like ritual in joining cast members together who may never have otherwise met, connected, or interacted. Both the workshop and rehearsal phases rely on what many facilitators call “safe space.” Based on the value of inclusion, how do such artists create environments, drawing on skills beyond artmaking, in which people really can participate? How do facilitators keep a free and open atmosphere without permitting hurtful interactions between people around their differences? How do directors identify a role in which a person will excel without typecasting her or him? How do community-based artists reinforce values such as diversity without becoming authoritarian, especially when contrary values may be pervasive elsewhere in participants’ lives? Warm-up is the process immediately preceding a show. In plays meant to maximize audience participation, spectators are often given a way to prepare, too, perhaps through actual physical and vocal exercises. The community potluck dinner is another popular format. Cocke recounts that “often the Roadside actors move directly from the social mixing to the stage and begin the performance,” having thus established a rapport. Next, the performance itself offers dynamic ways for actor-spectator exchange and illustrates the hyphenation of the field. Carpetbag Theater’s Red Summer was based on historical documentation of activist Knoxvillians during the civil rights era. Director Linda Parris-Bailey saw Red Summer as a way to tell residents that their belief that nothing could change was historically incorrect: “Maybe if we just remind you of what has been here before, you can see some possibility for the future. We talk about people who take control” (Watkins 2002b). Parris-Bailey also sees a fundamentally celebratory component in the company’s historical pieces. And it is satisfying for actors and spectators to return stories to the communities from whence they came. Another role of performance is public critique. The text of LAPD’s Agents and Assets is a transcription from a congressional hearing on CIA involvement in crack cocaine sales in California. It is an indictment of the War on Drugs. LAPD is composed largely of homeless people. There’s an irony in hearing the words of educated, skilled politicians spoken by actors who at some point were casualties of the war on drugs. Having an LAPD actor portray a politician creates a

104

L o ca l Ac t s

built-in critique. Pregones’ The Embrace is an example of a production that integrates audience dialogue. Using Boal’s forum theater, spectators are invited to replace a protagonist struggling with a social issue, in this case as a result of having AIDS. Spectators enact different possible ways of handling those struggles as part of the performance, interspersed with dialogue. The cool-down phase immediately follows performance and may take the form of discussion. Though often effective, discussions are not always what’s most desired. Sometimes spectators are not ready to talk about a play so soon; sometimes artists bring in discussion leaders, but audiences really only want to hear from artists. Pregones usually saves discussion for new shows that they ask audiences to evaluate. The stories people tell in story circles following Roadside’s performances provide a kind of critique, giving the ensemble a sense of whether or not they have done an effective job. Another site of reciprocity, postshow panels may be as valuable for expert participants as for spectators and artists. At Agents and Assets, experts on the CIA reported being educated by their outspoken and eloquent LAPD copanelists from Skid Row. In another example, Cornerstone, in a collaboration with Touchstone Theater, arranged postshow gatherings over dessert and drinks so spectators had unmediated conversation with each other. The artists of Alternate ROOTS often use the Critical Response Process developed by choreographer Liz Lerman after showing a work-in-progress. Lerman developed this process to put the artist herself in charge of the feedback session. Aftermath/long-term activities not immediately following the artwork take the initiative further. For one of this field’s mantras is sustainability: artists must leave something behind. At the end of the day, after the performance has ended, are there local people with the skills to facilitate other work? Is there a support network, any kind of ongoing program for people whose appetites have been whetted? Aftermath is the stage following performance during which spectators, possibly facilitated by the artists, act on new perceptions. Examples of aftermath are eclectic. During the years that Cornerstone did residencies in towns across the United States, they donated money for each community to start a theater. LAPD partnered with an organization called SRO (Single-Room Occupancy) Housing, which by 2002 had renovated thirty former slum hotels into single-room occupancy hotels (Lewis 2002b). They share the overall mission of helping people get off the street. LAPD adds a creative dimension to SRO, which in turn lends an infrastructure that nurtures LAPD. Sometimes seeing a community-based performance influences a later decision to become actively involved in political/civic life. Like Ingalls’s concept of the key positive experience, it often takes people years to realize they had a transformative experience through art, or, in ritual terms, had gone through a rite of passage that effectuated a permanent change.

Chapte r 5

Criticism Throughout the centuries, through every innovation . . . criticism has exerted a primarily conservative force, the gloomy wisdom of inertia, interpreting the new and startling in terms of the old and familiar; denouncing as “not art” what upsets cultural, moral and political expectations. —Joyce Carol Oates

The gap between my enthusiasm for community-based art and the misconceptions that characterize its image reminds me that we rarely look directly at what is in front of us but rather through a kind of screen of what we have been taught to expect. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes this phenomenon by recounting a psychological experiment in which subjects were asked to identify “on short and controlled exposure” a series of playing cards. Most of the cards were normal but some were abnormal, such as red sixes of spades. Still, subjects did not hesitate to identify them as sixes of either spades or hearts. Kuhn explains that these cards were “immediately fitted to one of the conceptual categories prepared by prior experience.” Even as the time exposure to the anomalous cards increased, some viewers merely became flustered: “I can’t make the suit out . . . It didn’t even look like a card that time. I don’t know what color it is nor whether it’s a spade or a heart. I’m not even sure now what a spade looks like. My God!” Kuhn takes this experiment as a metaphor for the process of scientific discovery: “In science, as in the playing card experiment, novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation” (62–64). So it seems with community art and hence community art criticism. Expecting to see what the old deck offered up, we do not see the distinctiveness of the new. Indeed, I am always catching my own bad habits in this regard and recognize that my preconceptions limit how I see not only performance but also the world. My husband, Dionisio, is more responsive to what is actually in front of him. When that olive I ate was stuffed with something white, 105

106

L o ca l Ac t s

I assumed it was garlic, like we usually get, but he said, “Wow! There’s feta in these olives.” I did not taste what was literally in my mouth. In this chapter I begin with assumptions about art that obstruct audiences from seeing community-based performance’s particularity. I then consider four keystones that must inform its criticism: the implications of collective rather than strictly individual expression; the need for multidisciplinary assessment since it is a hyphenated genre; a model of engaged rather than distanced criticism; and the specific needs of a field establishing itself. Whe n Se eing Is Not Be lieving: Assumptions That Obstruct a Clear View The preconception about community-based performance that I hear most is that it is an oxymoron and should either be performed for untrained participants’ friends and relatives or only by people with theatrical training. The former does not take into account the expertise that collaborating professional artists bring and assumes that a piece performed with first-time actors could only be for their own edification and of no interest to an outside audience. The latter assumes that a professional cast is always preferable without recognizing what people vitally connected to the subject matter might contribute. I contend that in order to see the distinctiveness of this field, viewers need a new lens. Like Kuhn’s deck of cards, seeing is not believing; there’s a paradigm shift required to assure that people see what’s in front of them. At the same time, community-based art adheres to some standard aesthetic criteria, which must also be sussed out. Consider this e-mail exchange I had with my brother Randy Cohen, an avid theatergoer and writer of “The Ethicist,” a weekly column for The New York Times magazine, after he saw a community-based play I produced and Sabrina Peck directed with New York City community gardeners, NYU Tisch School of the Arts students, and a cadre of professional artists. Him: Thanks for inviting me to your production. It’s always interesting to see

what you’re doing. Me: Hmm. Let’s take this a little further, given that the play was the result of

twenty months’ work, from conception to completion, and that word “interesting” is often used to mean just the opposite. There’s a way to look at the play, and community-based art generally, to get beyond “interesting.” Why should one not need an orientation to an expressive form that veers from the mainstream? Community-based performance is a hyphenated field. It’s not all about aesthetics. What it’s hyphenated with differs from project to project. So its critical analysis must also shift accordingly. This play was a way to speak out for green open space in the city, to bring people from different neighborhoods and circumstances

Criticism

107

together, and to educate and emotionally engage cast members and spectators alike. This field provides a way of claiming public space and bringing a community together to think through common concerns. Active participation in the art changes people’s relationship to a subject in a way that passive viewership cannot. These might be more fruitful categories that get us beyond “interesting.” Him: I was surprised but not disappointed to get your note soliciting further comments on your piece; not everyone wants such a response. (Was it Tennessee Williams who said he didn’t want criticism; he wanted praise?) But I’m happy to oblige. I absolutely agree that community theater is of genuine value to those who engage in it. But here’s where we may differ. That a thing is utterly worth doing for the participants does not of itself make it engaging for an audience. I may read a book or climb a mountain or engage in political protest, worthy ventures all, but maybe not things for other people to watch me do. Me: Ah, virtuosity! A criterion that fits many a professional theatrical endeavor but may not be of central value here. Community-based performance is a collaboration between artists and people with a lot to say about a particular theme, from lived experience. It’s somewhere between anthropology and art; it’s awkward at times but also capable of providing a different perspective than professional actors can communicate. The commitment of people who’ve lived through the circumstances performed is the pleasure it offers in place of virtuosity. Him: Ah, this may be again where we differ. Real theatre relies on aesthetic distance. Me: This kind relies on closeness. Meeting people you normally wouldn’t. I am drawn to what Paul Heritage calls “impossible encounters.” Like twelve year old Andrew, not hesitating to be the only boy in the group of seven kids in our play because he’s hungry for new experiences; Rosa, who founded a community garden beside her church and carries old wisdom about growing things; Horace, who while working for the subways for thirty years started a community garden in a neighboring trash dump with a homeless man who’d been living there. Majora, who left the South Bronx as soon as she could, went to college and then returned home and raised several million dollars to clean up that part of the river and create a waterfront park. And Haja, who I met thirty years ago when I taught a workshop in the New Jersey state prison where he, an angry young blood, was incarcerated. Haja, who got out of prison, lived on the streets, and then fell in love with a social worker and together they started a community garden in Harlem. If I find these people so amazing, might not audiences? Him: Although a real story or real person is fascinating and moving and entirely valuable does not of itself mean that art about that person is

108

L o ca l Ac t s

absorbing to an audience. If that were so, every biography of Lincoln (or whomever one admires) would be great. It is the task of the artist to tell that story in a true and moving way. Not so easily done. And if an audience doesn’t respond to a story the way one hoped, there’s little point in berating them. It’s never the audience’s fault; it’s always the artist’s. Other than bad audiences, who don’t pay attention. Me: Though my intention is not audience bashing, I nevertheless contend that audiences are sometimes behind artists in adapting to a new kind of art. Then of course audiences are not monolithic.You may have noticed people around you who were quite engaged with the show. Some people enjoy the efficacy in community-based performance, sensing a person transforming or a situation moving forward as a result of the work. A propensity for multi-generational and multi-ethnic casts in this field frequently makes multiple views available. Others enjoy its aesthetic challenges. Directorial craft is even more important in community-based work where the director may be the only one trained. If the pleasure of viewing can’t be based on the actors’ dexterity, then a director who recognizes what each person does best is essential. Who can dance or tell a great story? Who sings in their church choir? Is there an opportunity for spectacle? How can the set and costumes underscore the ideological themes? Who plays an instrument? Him: Artmaking takes real work for a long time. It’s no insult to a neighborhood kid to say I’d rather hear a song about him played by Yo-Yo Ma than to hear this untrained kid pick up the cello and play it himself. Which is to say that in your particular piece, I quite liked the stories of ordinary people, like the fellow who started the garden. But having amateurs tell the story is not, for me, ideal. I can appreciate why the little kids in your piece loved being in it and why their friends and family enjoyed seeing them perform, but I don’t see why I was watching. Me: The instrument of theater is not as separate from the expressive human as a cello. And as for the primacy of technique, there are artists who hide behind it; one of the reasons that directors integrate people with a passionate relationship to the subject is to reinvigorate the art. Him: Didn’t you once tell me about a theater company that travels around, works with folks in a community, and develops a play that tells their stories, but the writing and acting, et cetera, are done by people who’ve spent many years and much effort honing their skills? In some ways this seems analogous to documentary filmmaking. Barbara Kopple found profound and heart-rending stories about the miners in Harlan County, but it was she, not they, who shot and cut the film. Me: The artists on our project did the equivalent of cutting and shooting, editing and shaping. As in Kopple’s documentary, you still see the real garden-

Criticism

109

ers, not actors playing gardeners. Granted, one of the hardest thing about live theater for untrained actors that film documentary avoids is repeating their performance, capturing its liveliness again and again, on cue. This remains an ongoing challenge of community-based performance. Him: But maybe all of this is beside the point, considering your suggestion that community-based theater is not for outside consumption. Me: No, I suggested that some community-based performance is only for participants’ friends and family. Him:Yes, you’re of several minds about that. Hence the invitation to outsiders to join the audience. If community-based performance is indeed “about process and for the pleasure of the participants,” then the reactions of an outside audience member like me are no measure of anything. But if someone does not respond to your work the way you’d prefer, it’s not fair to attribute this to a lack of understanding. Even with an open mind and a deft eye, responses to anything will differ. This is not a judgment on the quality of the work; different people respond to different things, and it is in many ways beyond our control what we respond to. This is much pointed out in reference to love but I think it’s also true about art. Me: Some art is love at first sight and some takes time and effort. Suzanne Lacy emphasizes art as relationship, identifying the space between artist and spectator as the art work. In mainstream theater it doesn’t matter how horrible the rehearsals are if critics deem the show a success; such a measuring stick does not fly in this field, which is equally for participants as for spectators. This feeds my belief that community-based performance is situated between ritual, which is all about the meaning for participants, and art, which assumes an audience at a later stage of presentation. Him: I don’t think it’s as arcane as you present it. And I’ve quite liked reading what you’ve had to say about it here. Do let me know the next opportunity to see your work! As this exchange illustrates, the paradigm for conventional performance obscures perception of community-based performance. Expecting virtuosity, we miss the pleasures offered by commitment and risk. We are used to formal, distanced aesthetics and may underappreciate art driven by a personal connection to the material and a need to communicate. We have internalized some notion of the “right” way to tell a story or execute a dance step so may miss a quirkier but equally revealing approach. We look for individual genius and so may fail to recognize collective brilliance. And we have so internalized the value of “something wonderful right away” that we may be less aware of a piece of art that works on us more slowly, even after the event is over. As John Berger writes, “When an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art.

110

L o ca l Ac t s

Assumptions concerning: Beauty Truth Genius Civilization Form Status Taste, etc.” (1972, 11). Nevertheless, such performance’s authenticity does not always compensate for professionalism. I think of Henry James’s story, “The Real Thing.” An artist, wanting to paint a representation of poverty and need, sought out the most destitute couple he could find. He brought them to his studio and paid them to pose for his oeuvre. They could barely hold still; they became self-conscious and antsy; finally the artist gave them some money and brought them back to the street where he found them. He then hired two much-respected models who were utterly effective representations of poverty and need. While authenticity does not assure artfulness, some criteria recognize the power of people without training as well as with. Choreographer Liz Lerman has defined four such characteristics, using the example of a woman in a nursing home who makes a marvelous little movement with her forearm: 100 percent commitment to the movement, an understanding of why she was doing it, revelation of something about herself and her world, and overcoming some kind of hurdle in the process. For Lerman, this adds up to art. The challenge, states Lerman, is how to retain all that in front of an audience. Without training, stage experience, and technique to fall back on, there’s a good chance that woman will lose confidence in front of strangers, certainly if she’s asked to perform repeatedly. On the other hand, professionals sometime mask revelation in technique (1999). But even if personal revelation supported by total commitment, selfawareness, and the overcoming of obstacles can match professionalism, how often does anyone have something fresh to communicate directly from their experience? I thus make a distinction between amateur theater, whereby the same untrained people make play after play for their own pleasure, and community-based theater, typically that rare performance emanating from a real need to communicate something uniquely from their experience and well worth many a spectator’s time. Amateur theater is generally most meaningful to participants and people who know them. Community-based performance is potentially of interest to anyone. The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), a performance group composed largely of homeless people, is an exception. They have performed piece after piece together, out of a combination of their own experience and vivid imaginings, as directed by performance artist John Malpede. LAPD performers manifest Lerman’s four criteria, exemplifying the overlap between amateur and community-based performance. As concerns aesthetics, community-based artists must maximize strategies that are not reliant on long-term training, since even with a generous rehearsal period, as my brother adjures, neighborhood players will not become Yo-Yo Mas. These strategies include the ability to identify cultural forms through which the particular amateur performers can best express themselves and to

Criticism

111

cultivate other skills that can support the production in the absence of full aesthetic training. Peter Howard identifies qualities that Cornerstone Theater directors look for in casting first-time actors in key roles. The first is a strong desire to participate. Another is reading ability, demonstrating a capacity to lift printed words out of monotone; Howard calls this “musicality.” They also look for physical agility, an ease with facial and bodily gestures. Humor can be a great insight into someone’s potential as a performer; the instinct to give pleasure and bring joy is something a first-time actor can build on. Then there’s archetype. Looking at how someone’s appearance could help tell the story that they will be putting on stage would contribute much to the overall endeavor (Howard 2003). Other skills depend on directorial creativity. John Malpede has built ingenious tactics into LAPD plays—often having doubles for actors who forget what they are doing, or Malpede himself sitting in the audience calling out lines as needed. These strategies become interesting aesthetic components, surprise bursts of energy from unexpected sources. Although in the community garden play discussed above we depended on professional actors and trained students to support community participants, we were not an established ensemble but an ad-hoc group making one play. We, as the core artists, had not developed collective ways of working with first-time actors. So while I believe part of the issue here is the need for a critical paradigm specific to community-based performance, artists must also develop methods of working with untrained actors who have something well worth communicating via performance. A key question to consider here is, what is the subject of communitybased performance criticism? For not only the production but also what takes place in the stages leading up to and following such a performance are essential components and thus also of critical assessment. Like conceptual art, the “object,” as Lucy Lippard has written, is often dematerialized or secondary: the idea or the action is paramount, along with the context, beyond the artwork’s frame (1973, xxii). Community-based performance critics, then, do well to come around for more than just the final show and to take the time to understand the multiple purposes of a given project. Keystone s of Community-Base d Pe rformance Criticism Emphasis on Collective Rather than Strictly Individual Achievement Aesthetic assessment traditionally focuses on individual artistic achievement. The assumptions underlying the emphasis on the individual artist were strikingly articulated by dance critic Arlene Croce (1994), writing a nonreview of Bill T. Jones’s Still/Here. It was illuminating, as Homi Bhaba points out, precisely because, not having seen the piece, Croce wrote about criticism itself,

112

L o ca l Ac t s

only recognizing as art that in which the “grandeur of the individual spirit” transcends what she calls “the political clout of the group” (Bhaba 1998, 44). Croce assumed that Still/Here was performed by people with terminal illness and thus was an example of what she dubbed “victim art,” where people display their real maladies so are trapped in what they are performing, and thus there is no possibility of critical distance. Well, she got it wrong; though choreographer Jones’s HIV positive status was the impetus to create the work, it was performed by his utterly professional Arnie Zane/Bill T. Jones Dance Company. It was based on raw material gleaned from workshops with terminally ill people around the country whose video images appeared in the work. Bhaba interprets Croce’s disdain of victim art as based on “its form as a collective representation, its articulation of art’s ‘subject’ as a group identity. She cannot envisage an art that would short-circuit the sublime, transcendent option to plug into a dialogue with a community that establishes its solidarity and group identity through sharing a desolate interruption, a cessation— death, mourning, melancholia.” This Bhaba calls survival art: “For emergent communities or the practitioners of new art forms, it is often a historical and psychic necessity to depend for their creative sustenance on a communal response (often contestatory) from an ‘interest group’ or interpretive community” (49–50). Jones was drawn to terminally ill people for the same reason artists are most often drawn to particular communities: for what they know, through their experience, that is germane to the artist’s focus. Jones put it like so: “The profoundest questions that I can ask can be answered with other people who are not in the dance world. Literally the issue of life and death: what does it look like? What does it feel like, taste like, smell like?” (Moyers 1997). Joyce Carol Oates (1998), also responding to Croce’s nonreview, distinguishes victimhood from bearing witness, citing a celebrated tradition including Frederick Douglass’s slave narratives and The Diary of Anne Frank. By applying Bhaba and Oates’s insights, both “survival art” and “bearing witness” are relevant categories in critically examining community-based performance. “Survival art” bespeaks the field’s position between art and ritual. Many ritual performances are about getting through crisis, survival, if you will. The very term survival art is in keeping with the favored assets-base approach to community development—celebrating the strengths of a struggling community, acknowledging its inner resources, in order to move forward. Bearing witness is a response to that which we can do little or nothing, concretely, about, at least in the immediate present. Either something terrible has already happened and cannot be taken back, or it is in the process of happening, brought on by an immense power that cannot be immediately restrained. But at least we can bring that event to the public view, thus fulfilling theater’s role as embedded in its etymological root, theatron, seeing place.

Criticism

113

I would apply the terms survival art and bearing witness to performances in which the actors enact such situations not just for themselves but for all present—that is, when the audience attends out of a desire to deal with the same issue. The major factor in Cornerstone’s community collaborations is precisely the play’s relationship to its audience, who they see as the actual subject of the play. This is in contrast to a videotape I saw of a former Hollywood executive who, at a stand-up comedy club, performed a text about having breast cancer. Short tufts of hair bespoke her chemotherapy treatments, but her efforts at humor fell flat. I found her show appalling, perhaps for the very reason Croce has enunciated—it was victim art, seeming to shame an audience into applause, because who would want to make a cancer victim feel worse? Had she been an artist able to locate her plight in everyone’s ultimate morality, perhaps I would have embraced her performance, but the comedy club setting itself worked against such an experience, given the expectations attached to such a venue. Had she been performing for people drawn to the performance because of feeling connected to cancer for any reason, it might have been a performance of survival art or bearing witness. That is, the context of the performance also signals what critical approach is appropriate. There are both political and aesthetic implications in foregrounding the group. Law professor Lani Guinier bemoans the state of affairs in contemporary U.S. politics whereby decisions affecting everyone are in fact made in private—via think tanks or meetings with lobbyists—rather than via public conversation and civic deliberation. Drawn to Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed as a genuinely participatory and thus truly democratic process, Guinier (2002) makes a parallel between reclaiming the power of representation both on stage and in the political arena. Rather than the sort of democracy and theater whereby certain people are invested with the power to stand in for others—the principal or teacher for the parent, the politician for the citizens—Guinier calls for decision-making processes through which everyone participates. Describing such a situation that featured the participation of students, teachers, administrators, and parents, Guinier writes: “Representation became a form of interactive and continuously shifting collaboration, in which participants became even more powerful even as they shared power. This form of generative power exemplifies the concept of ‘power with’ since each self-identified group put their power at the service of the larger search for solutions without demanding to dominate the power of making meaning” (10). When collectively arriving at a solution is a goal for a community-based performance, that ought to be part of its assessment. This is in sharp contrast to Croce, who seemingly would hold all art to one method of assessment that values individual transcendence whether or not that is the creators’ intention. Community-based is not the only sort of performance that values the collective. The tradition of ensemble performance, heralded in the West since

114

L o ca l Ac t s

Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre at the turn of last century, straight through the Group Theatre (1931–40) and the proliferation of ensembles in the 1960s in the United States and elsewhere, constitutes a countertradition to the commercial realm. The ensemble’s cohesion and the actors’ responsiveness to each other in the moment are core critical values in such work. “There are no small parts, only small actors,” declared Stanislavski. Not by chance, in the idealism of the 1930s, the Group Theatre also established the value of the collective, giving everyone their moment to shine and valuing everyone’s contribution to the whole. The young Katherine Hepburn, attending one of the famous talks director Harold Clurman gave to attract young artists to the new company, was not convinced, stating, “I want to be a star.” Frankly, I’m glad that’s what she did. Hepburn’s individual contribution to the arts is formidable. I’m not looking to replace other cultural forms with community-based performance, only to make a place at the table for it, too. To what extent can those performing represent a larger community, be it community gardeners, as in the case of the play in my e-mail exchange with my brother, or the terminally ill, as with Still/Here? How much can a modest selection of any constituency represent the whole, who may number in the hundreds of thousands? Steelbound, about the effect on Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, residents of the demise of the local steel industry, was harshly criticized for not being representational enough by not including more people of color and women who had also participated in the local steel industry (Brady 2000). How representative need the cast of a community-based performance be of the corresponding off-stage reality? One play cannot be expected to represent an entire, complex industry. Thus Touchstone followed Steelbound with Never Done (as in “a woman’s work is never done”), a collective creation about women in that industry. Adherence to the principle of diversity and creation of opportunities, such as the community story circles that informed both these productions, are solid protectors of the effort to create the broadest possible representation. Multidisciplinary Genre, Multidisciplinary Assessment Community-based performance’s multidisciplinarity also impacts the critic. Who could possibly be equipped to write about all its multiple and varied components? An interesting experiment in response to this dilemma was undertaken by Animating Democracy Initiative’s (ADI) Critical Perspectives Project, co-conceptualized and led by Caron Atlas. ADI researches, supports, and documents “current activity and best practices among artists and cultural organizations whose work engages the public in dialogue on key civic issues” (Bacon,Yuen, and Korza 1999, 1). ADI created the Critical Perspectives Project to “support a multi-perspective approach that expands who has voice and authority in writing about civically-engaged art . . . [and] acknowledges mul-

Criticism

115

tiple forms of authority and knowledge, reflecting a democratic rather than a hierarchical approach to knowledge” (Atlas 2003b). ADI commissioned three specialists from different professional arenas to write about each of three of ADI’s funded projects (a total of nine writers). Some of the writers were from inside and some from outside of each work’s community of origin. One of the three foci was the Dell’Arte Players’s Dentalium Project,1 a series of dialogues, a play, and a video about the controversy surrounding the Native American casino built on their Rancheria immediately adjacent to the small town of Blue Lake, California. Dell’Arte’s intention was to create art that facilitated dialogue between the different factions of the town concerning the economic impact and cultural and political conflict surrounding the casino. The three writers were playwright/arts writer/cultural planner Ferdinand Lewis, an old friend of Dell’Arte’s; journalist and Oglala Lakota tribe member David Rooks, from South Dakota; and Jim O’Quinn, editor of American Theatre, the magazine that covers the U.S. non-profit theater scene. They were each positioned to write about different aspects of the project and its meaning for all involved. Project designers hoped that the writing would be useful to the readers of the eventual book of critical essays, project participants, and the writers themselves, who would be given a generous amount of time and interaction with other writers and project participants to consider their approach in this experiment. The notion of the writing serving all the constituencies was not fully possible. This was clearest in the experience of the St. Augustine Church Slave Galleries Project, whose purpose was to restore and interpret the segregated spaces from which African Americans were constrained to worship in that church up until the early nineteenth century. As described at a writers meeting sponsored by ADI, St. Augustine’s Deacon Hopper wanted the writing to serve the church community and help with ongoing fund-raising to restore the space. One of the three writers, Jack Tchen, chose to pursue a historical contradiction that put totally serving the project and being true to his intellectual integrity a bit into conflict. According to Tchen’s research, St. Augustine’s was built after slavery was abolished in New York, so those could not have literally been slave galleries but rather “Negro Pews.” Second, although Tchen writes in an accessible way for the academic world, Deacon Hopper felt his essay would not be understandable to the congregants, which was the other reason that Hopper had participated. Anticipating complications, Tchen had thought hard about the audience for his essay and, as he was contracted to write from his position as a historian, that was his focus. Tchen explained that while the project was offered as an opportunity to be “freely critical,” that is always context appropriate. In academia, he continued, it means savagely critiquing one’s perceived opponent. On the other hand, Tchen did feel freer to

116

L o ca l Ac t s

write more personally in this situation, although that is “the kiss of death” in academia. Being insiders has been trickier than anticipated, for people are loath to alienate the people in their everyday life. Indeed, the fact that project leaders chose the writers raises the question of how free the writers could feel to write their honest responses to those very projects. This in turn raises the question as to how much the critical writer is an artist, free to express her own opinion, and how much the critical writer is at the service of the artists who create the work. Moreover, once in process, Atlas realized the danger of stereotyping the writers in expecting that each would respond critically only vis-à-vis those aspects of their respective identities for which they were selected. One could draw a direct parallel between community-based art and criticism. Community-based artists interact with many people in constructing a piece and must contend with how much the piece is a reflection of the community or how much it is the community as seen through the lens of the artist. Similarly, the critical writer needs to take in the multiple intentions of such a piece, the process that created it, and the context in which it functions, and then decide how much to respond as an individual, creative thinker and how much to communicate the piece as intended by its makers to an audience of readers. Much can be said in favor of the writers’ accountability to the artists and their role as collaborators. If Critical Perspectives had gone as planned, the writers would have come into the project at the very beginning of each artistic endeavor. (In fact, most writers came in a little later.) This suggests more opportunity for dialogue all along the way. Rather than a critic coming in at the end with what should have happened, she or he is positioned to offer feedback all along the way. The result of such a process could be very different from what often feels like a distant judgment by a critic who does not know the work’s intention but nonetheless gets the last word. Moreover, each project director responds, in print, to the critical writers, so they also have a voice in the same text. Given ADI’s appropriate sensitivity to power relations imbedded in art partnerships, equalizing voice between critic and artist seems very valuable indeed. The vast majority of readers of this collection will never have seen the three art projects, so writing is the only means for the artists to represent themselves. It also frees the critic to be true to her perception. There were some surprising results of the experiment. Michael Fields rewrote and re-presented Dell’Arte’s play Wild Card largely as a result of interactions with the writers and concern that the Native American point of view was absent. But the second version’s inclusion of a Native American was not totally successful, either, given the differences in local Native American and Dell’Arte aesthetics. So Fields is at work on solution number three, whereby Dell’Arte will invite local Native Americans and other groups to perform

Criticism

117

their own work in Dell’Arte’s well-equipped theater, with Dell’Arte technical support. So in this case the critics helped propel the project of community connection around difference in a very palpable way. At its best, the growth has been two ways. Perhaps most astonishing is the effect of the project on Lakota journalist David Rooks. Knowing well the negative impact of casinos on Native people nationwide, Rooks was disappointed that Dell’Arte’s play did not take on why Blue Lake Native people chose to have a casino. That, to Rooks, was the most important issue. It was not, however, Dell’Arte’s focus. Of course, it’s not for Dell’Arte to make the play that Rooks wants—or is it? Is there a responsibility in art that professes to build community to take on key aspects of the controversy and find a way to bring in multiple community positions? The amazing piece of this story is the degree of respect Rooks has for the theatrical process as a result of the time he spent with Dell’Arte. Indeed, Rooks has invited Fields to come to his Lakota tribe and teach story-to-performance skills so his tribe can investigate their most pressing concerns through this same format. At a 2002 gathering convened by ADI for critical writers of art with civic goals, scholar and critic Ann Daly, one of the conceptualizers of Critical Perspectives, questioned if more voices equal more truth. Perhaps the real issue is a critic’s willingness to engage a work on its own terms, particularly when those terms are multiple. Critical Perspectives is impractical as a model given that an arts-based civic dialogue project seldom receives one published critical response, let alone three. But even when just one critic writes about a performance, much can be said for approaching it from multiple directions. Some performances need to be understood and evaluated, by critics and audiences, in a specific context. For example, Roadside’s collaboration with the Zuni theater, Idiwanan An Chawe, of Zuni Meets Appalachia, was largely song and music with a bit of text and interaction making transitions from one set of songs to another. The Zuni actors and musicians were not used to Western-style performance on a proscenium stage with an audience of strangers. But when one realizes that this is part of a process to bring an indigenous language back to a people, it is astonishing work. Reviving the stories for an earlier collaboration, Corn Mountain/Pine Mountain: Following the Seasons, led Cocke and Wemytewa to publish the bilingual Journeys Home: Revealing a Zuni-Appalachian Collaboration, part of a strategy to preserve and perpetuate their language and culture. Indeed, a written Zuni language was developed just thirty years ago; for some ten thousand years, Zuni was transmitted orally. Zuni youth are inspired by the theater project to learn those songs and stories in their traditional language (Roadside 2002). Critical writers of community-based performance must respond to a full range of questions encompassing the particular parameters of the work. Some are pertinent to most any art, such as, Did the art surprise?—that is, did it

118

L o ca l Ac t s

offer some uncommon perspective? Did the audience have an emotional experience? Did the piece open the windows of perception? Others are more specific to this field, such as, Did the project bring people together? Was a social agenda furthered? Were stereotypes challenged? Were participants able to have a public voice? Holding community-based performance only to mainstream art standards wrongly assumes that aesthetics are the main and only intention of the work. Critical appraisal of community-based performance necessitates tools not only from the realm of art but also from other fields in which a given project is grounded. Harry J. Elam Jr. emphasizes anthropological tools of assessment in performances intended to “alter social behavior and revolutionize social systems” (2001, 11). The community garden play was also subject to the measuring sticks of environmental activism. Steelbound had to function both as aesthetic expression and as group ritual, laying Bethlehem’s former life, as regulated by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, to rest, for better and worse. Lucy Lippard uses the term advocate critic for one who “works from a communal base to identify and criticize the existing social structures as a means to locate and evaluate the social and aesthetic effect of the art.” Community-based art challenging the political status quo calls for such critics who, Lippard elaborates, “raise public consciousness about the role of art in social life and affirm the connections between artists and the Left and a variety of cultural communities” (1985, 243). This leads directly into my next topic, engaged criticism in contrast to the norm of so-called objective criticism. An Engaged Model of Criticism Some community-based practitioners feel that outside critics skew the field’s internal values. For Linda Burnham, community art is often about people changing their lives. She has wanted to get word out about these powerful moments, but she feels her work has heretofore been perceived as “too positive” by conventional art critics. In conversations at the National Gathering with an Attitude at the University of California, Berkeley, in May 2000, community-based art writer/practitioner Mat Schwarzman pointed out the fear of criticism among some community artists given how embattled the field already is. He differentiated between what one says within the family and how one talks about the family to a wider public, especially as the field suffers from inadequate respect. Community arts consultant Kathie de Nobriga advocated for private dialogue between critics and artists to move the field forward without jeopardizing it in public. Schwarzman also challenged the idea of the singular critic: why all the weight on one opinion? This field is not so reliant on the critic as consumer reporter, or the mass media as a way to get an audience in the door. So why not just poll audience members? Community arts director and teacher Bob Leonard described Washington, D.C.–based professional

Criticism

119

theater Arena Stage’s practice of putting people with clipboards in the lobby for audience polling. A poll’s function, however, is not to analyze but to give a quick opinion. While useful, it is not a replacement for the deeper kind of response that relies on reflection and comprehension of issues in the field. Some community-based artists, like John O’Neal (his high artistic standards notwithstanding), are only interested in critics who share their social goals. Otherwise, from his point of view, what does it matter what they think about it? Who and what are critics for? He compares the critic/community artist connection to a marriage in terms of the need for critical dialogue without destroying the relationship. In the critic’s case, there’s the extra challenge of doing it in print. O’Neal feels that criticism works when it comes out of a shared goal, so it is win-win: “It’s okay if you draw my attention to an error impeding getting to where I/we want to go. If we don’t share the same goal, however, then criticism is nonsense.” Mainstream critics, he asserts, “are trying to communicate with people who benefit from my oppression. . . . All of us in community arts who identify with the oppressed, in a world where we’re dependent on those who exploit us for survival, model what W.E.B. Du Bois called double consciousness. The result is we need a split consciousness or we get wiped out” (2002). Nevertheless, one could criticize O’Neal for being unresponsive to aspects of criticism that address other than a work’s social goals, such as its aesthetic choices. An engaged model of criticism rests on the belief that there are some things we only understand through personal experience. Such did anthropologist Renato Rosaldo conclude when a tragedy opened up the meaning of the fieldwork he had been doing in the Philippines. For a long time, Rosaldo could not understand why grief-stricken, older Ilongot men cut off human heads. They told him that they needed a place to carry their anger. Rosaldo wanted them to say more, believing that a deeper explanation would illuminate the act, and he fruitlessly sought some other analytic level. He writes that only after “being repositioned through a devastating loss of my own”—his wife and partner, anthropologist Michelle Rosaldo—“could I better grasp that Ilongot older men mean precisely what they say when they describe the anger in bereavement as the source of their desire to cut off human heads” (3). Feminist philosopher Susan J. Brison adds, “This is not to say that he fully comprehended (or condoned) the past headhunting behavior of the Ilongots, but it became less foreign to him. His first person narrative, likewise, makes the practice less foreign to us, his readers” (2002, 27). The knowledge Rosaldo gained as a result of his horrific experience deepened his embrace of the concept of the positioned subject. All of us see from a particular vantage point shaped not only by our education and theoretical approach but also by our life experience that places us as insiders or outsiders in many ways besides the obvious. In other words, Rosaldo knew

120

L o ca l Ac t s

less than other Ilongots based on cultural experience, but he shared a profound loss with the headhunters that illuminated the headhunting practice. Rosaldo avows, “My use of personal experience serves as a vehicle for making the quality and intensity of the rage in Ilongot grief more readily accessible to readers than certain more detached modes of composition” (1993, 11). Rosaldo does not advocate replacing formal tools of critical analysis with personal experience; rather, he proposes expanding one’s toolbox to include knowledge so gained. Rosaldo defines the positioned subject as the structural location from which a person has a particular angle of vision, giving as examples “how age, gender, being an outsider, and association with a neo-colonial regime influence what the ethnographer learns” (19). In traditional ethnography, the detached observer offers objectivity and enough distance to arrive at a view closer to “the truth” of the situation. Rosaldo critiques this position: “the myth of detachment gives ethnographers an appearance of innocence which distances them from complicity with imperialist domination,” whereas closeness has the advantages of “passionate concern, prior knowledge, and ethical engagement.” Rosaldo calls for ethnographers to try out multiple viewing positions, uncoupling “the equation of analytical distance and scientific objectivity” (168–169). The notion of detachment strikes Rosaldo as nearly impossible because we have all been conditioned concerning social relations and human knowledge. We all bring our biases with us. Insiders and outsiders each have advantages and disadvantages. JapaneseAmerican anthropologist Dorrinne Kondo felt more pressure to conform to norms in Japan while doing fieldwork there because of her ethnic identification. She had to be more diplomatic in her questions in accordance with Japanese manners across status lines. But to her advantage, she was quickly incorporated into numerous social groups. Kondo recognized the strength in drawing from all the levels of knowing her experience presented, both analytical from her training and emotional and ethical from her close relationship to her subject (Rosaldo 1993, 180–181). Engaged criticism is appropriate for various kinds of performance. Critic Eileen Blumenthal functioned in such a way with the experimental theater director Joe Chaikin, attending rehearsals and discussing works in progress at length with him. This is in contrast to, for example, New York Times drama criticism. Chief Times drama critic in the 1980s Frank Rich referred to himself as a consumer reporter: his reviews were to help Times readers determine whether or not a given production was worth spending their money (Rich 1982). Engaged critics take the time to understand a work’s intentions, crucial in the hyphenated field of community-based art. They do not assume that every performance comes out of the same aesthetic tradition. Of what value

Criticism

121

is a universal measuring stick when a performance is meaningful to a particular audience for whom those aesthetic criteria are not relevant? While it is true that such critics do not tend to write about community-based art anyway, artists rely on reviews as part of fund-raising. We need critics able and willing to be responsive to various kinds of art that are meaningful to various audiences. Lippard, in her introduction to Critical Perspectives, problematizes the engaged critic as risking “ostracism or being run out of town” (2003, 3). Indeed, Rodger Taylor, one of the writers for the Slave Galleries Project and also a congregant of St. Augustine Church, commented on the difficulties of “trying to do an insider piece with insiders all around you that you have dynamic relationships with . . . it was almost like I had to run everything by four heads” (7). While engaged criticism does not make the writer’s task easier, it frequently results in deep understanding unavailable to the critic who stays at a distance. Needs of a Field Establishing Itself Arguably the first need of a field in the process of establishing itself is documentation. Linda Burnham approached the journal she founded to track performance art, High Performance, on the premise that artists’ description of their own work as a record precedes the critic’s analysis. Burnham explains, “I felt we had to start with documentation because there was simply nothing being recorded, and I wanted it to be in the words of the artist, not an observer. It turns out that’s what is now considered most valuable by collectors and historians” (2003). Burnham sees the descriptive base that she, Durland, and other writers have posted on the Community Arts Network as providing readers with something to hold in common and a preparation for a later, theoretical stage of writing about the field. Burnham exclaims, “If there’s no place to go to read what these artists are actually doing, how will the reader know or care what we are writing about critically? Somebody has to describe the landscape. Let’s try to remember that criticism serves the art. I think the old-fashioned view is that it is the critic’s thinking that is important, and art only serves as a series of examples supporting those theories. If art really does help communities develop, I would rather spend my time getting down the details of exactly how artists go about this than showing off how much I have read” (2003). In recent years, Burnham has shifted her emphasis from community context, so necessary in the 1970s through the 1990s, to critical writing that focuses on the work of art itself. She is therefore not looking for a new critical model but is returning to an older one. While I appreciate the need for ongoing documentation and aesthetic-based critique, the investigation of

122

L o ca l Ac t s

other critical modes tailored to the community-based field is nonetheless appropriate. If we do not want to be assessed according to mainstream critical criteria, we need to develop other apparatus. In addition, artists need helpful criticism for works in progress, particularly in a field in the process of defining itself such as this one. Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process is particularly useful in this regard.2 Lerman developed the Critical Response Process partly because of her dissatisfaction with evaluations of her own work. Lerman observed that although well meaning, people tended to respond to art based on a preconception of what they wanted to see or what they would do themselves rather than based on the work in front of them. She was further motivated by teaching while on tour and by often being asked to respond to student work. She was unsure of how to do so without trying to make their work more like her own. Nor was she comfortable responding to the work of peers right after performances. She thus developed a process to put the artist at the center of the critical process. Its four steps are carried out by participants in three roles—the artist presenting, a facilitator, and the people responding—sitting together in a circle: 1. Statements of Meaning. Lerman observes that all artists first want to know “that what they have just completed has significance to another human being” (Lerman and Borstel 2003, 19). Lerman’s first step thus consists of people naming elements of the work they genuinely find meaningful. This grounds the discussion in reflection on what is effective in the work rather than what is not. In Step 1, the facilitator gathers a wide-ranging array of reactions to the work that open up a variety of ways to think about it. For example, details and overall shape, narrative values and striking images, performance values and script or choreographic content, technique and emotion might all come up when everyone is offered a chance to respond to the opening question, What did you find meaningful in the work you’ve just seen? It’s also worth noting Lerman’s reminder, “Nothing is too small to notice.” This step not only serves the artist but also gives spectators practice in watching more closely in order to respond, and it allows them to hear various perspectives on the work in the process. 2. Artist as Questioner. In the spirit of making critical response to works in progress useful to the artist, above all, “the creator asks the questions first” (19). Lerman reasons that if the artist asks the questions, she is ready to hear the answers. At this point, responders may offer opinions, even negative ones, if they are in direct response to the question asked. That is, the process does not require responders to withhold all negative opinions to the end, but just to follow the artist’s lead in offering them.

Criticism

123

3. Neutral Questions from Responders. Lerman distinguishes between the responders’ opinions, which are to be saved until Step 4, and the quest for further information. She gives this example of the difference: an opinion is expressed by asking, “Why was it so dark?” A neutral question would be posed by instead asking, “What governed your choices in lighting the piece?” Lerman sees artists as much more receptive to neutral question than to opinions at this stage, so she finds the genuine quest to understand a more fruitful direction. For spectators, this stage is about learning more about the artist’s quest, not about expressing their own opinions. 4. Permissioned Opinions. In keeping with the artist-serving nature of this process, responders first state the topic of the opinion and ask if the artist wants to hear the opinion about it, such as, “I have an opinion about the costumes. Do you want to hear it?” (22) Perhaps the costumes at that showing are not the same as the ones for the performance, or the artist is more interested in something else at the moment, or the artist does not want to hear from that responder. But Lerman finds that artists are open to most opinions, the three previous steps having laid the groundwork. I have observed Lerman facilitate Critical Response sessions with great success—maximum learning for all involved and useful suggestions, framed in ways the performers could really use. But I want to focus on a less satisfying occasion, with Princeton University dance students, in fall 2003. I found one of the students’ dances cold and technical; but, I could not find a way to say so, within Lerman’s structure, to a stranger, particularly a young one. In later conversation, Lerman’s response to my criticism of the process was enthusiastic. She had sensed resistance to her method in college dance programs and began imagining variations on her process. One idea she suggested was that, immediately following the presentation of a piece, the dancer would leave the room and Lerman would gather uncensored responses. Totally at ease in the structure herself, I have no doubt she could communicate more rigorous criticism through these steps in such a way that the artists would still be eager to get back to work in the studio rather than ending up in a heap on the floor, the important purpose of this approach. But respondents are also core participants of Critical Response, and they will not always know how to be so usefully critical. Lerman’s vision of criticism is an opportunity for maximum learning. The Critical Response Process is about supporting the artist’s best work. I like its democratic spirit, eliciting everyone’s response. I have found that Critical Response brings out my most helpful impulse, and I think it does so in many other respondents as well. I like treating artists with kindness. The challenge

124

L o ca l Ac t s

to the Critical Response Process is for the artists to get enough direct criticism. In the effort to frame responses according to Lerman’s model, what gets left out? I do not see Critical Response replacing the kind of criticism someone more advanced in one’s same aesthetic can provide. I need other writers of nonfiction, scholars, and practitioners of community-based art to read and assess this book according to their substantial knowledge of the craft of writing and of this field. I also care deeply what readers think; the one does not replace the other. I wholeheartedly recognize what Lerman’s close collaborator and Dance Exchange Humanities Director John Borstel calls the rigor of this process, asking both artist and responders to work hard observing, thinking, articulating, analyzing their reactions, and clarifying what they want. Borstel elaborates: “The four steps are a skeleton. The principles of the process (sequence, neutral questions, and permissioned opinions) are its heart and soul. The ‘flesh’ of the process is formed when it’s actually practiced; and that flesh can be lean and mean or toneless and flabby or anything in between, depending on how the facilitator leads and how well the groundwork has been set for the Process” (2003a). I wonder if the groundwork was not sufficiently laid at Princeton. Perhaps those students are not as familiar with a dialogic approach, in contrast to practitioners I have observed working with Critical Response in venues such as Alternate ROOTS, where dialogue is part of the culture. Borstel adjures that Critical Response’s dialogic conception and implementation are “revolutionary in some quarters, since many forms of criticism (journalistic critique, peer response as practiced in many fine arts departments and writing programs) emphasize the necessity of the artist keeping silent while her work is under discussion. In Critical Response, the artist is engaged as an active participant in a conversation about her own work, resonating with the value placed on dialogue in the world of community-based performance generally” (2003a). Borstel also sees the value of experiences where artists do not participate in the discussion, which provide a different kind of learning, listening, and even freedom. But Critical Response offers an alternative, and if artists only get the “keep silent and listen” experience, they ultimately miss out. As the field of community-based art takes clear shape, we will be able to distinguish what critical approaches are appropriate for which goals. An artschool based critical orientation may be irrelevant in the face of communitybased performances by people who have not been heard from in the past. To create safe space for such endeavors and then to critique the absence of particular aesthetic standards would be sadistic. Yet, observed longtime practitioner Nayo Watkins, sympathetic critics of community arts are accused of being too subjective. Critics, she asserts, are never neutral; however, racism is inherent in the assumption that there is one critical attitude, one artistic stan-

Criticism

125

dard of assessment, in the first place (2002a). John O’Neal explains the conundrum into which the idea of a universal measuring stick places communitybased performance: “High Culture nurtures the ‘we are the arbiters of knowledge’ point of view, and recruits universities to reinforce that. Then we buy into the idea of objectivity and refer to communion as incestuous, nepotism, partisan. But isn’t communion the desired relationship between actors and audience?” (2002) Just as Lerman and Borstel emphasize the value that multiple responders play in their method, so does the entire field of community-based performance profit by gatherings and collective assessments of the various directions in the field. This is one of the roles that conferences play, and those that make space for critical dialogue are utterly necessary. For the health of the entire field of community arts, I long for critical writers to be brought into the fold. I would like community-based artists and critical writers to see themselves as partners, both helping to make a public space for art with multidimensional goals. Good criticism has a vital role to play in community art’s sustainability, of utmost importance if the field is to be more substantial than a pack of cards.

Chapte r 6

Storytelling We sit around a table, the dozen of us who’ve spent the past few months laying the ground work for a play about and with community gardeners. Facilitator Peggy Pettitt asks us each to tell a story of some way this project has affected us already. Two of the students, Dhira Rauch and Rebecca Lambrecht, recount getting arrested for trying to defend El Jardin de la Esperanza (The Garden of Hope). Rebecca says, “The police came into the garden and I said, ‘Be careful, you’re stepping on the bulbs,’ forgetting momentarily that they were about to bulldoze the whole thing.” —Excerpt from my journal, spring 2000

Personal storytelling expressing what people in different walks of life know from the authority of experience is appropriately the signature methodology of community-based performance. Whether via metaphor—the underground bulbs in winter and the unseen value of the garden are also about the underappreciated community gardeners—or a more direct fashion, tales about what is personally meaningful are available to everyone and thus are in tune with the democratic underpinnings of the field. Like Philip Lopate’s observation about the personal essay, the hallmark of oral firstperson narratives is intimacy. The teller, be the tale factual or fanciful, “seems to be speaking directly into your ear.” Lopate links this conversational tone to both the desire for contact and the idea of dialogue. Storytelling is about the personal in relationship to others and often articulates an underrepresented or counter point of view. The personal essayist Montaigne avows that the most deeply individualized is at the same time the most universal: “Every man has within him the entire human condition.” Lopate explains: “When he was talking about himself he was talking to some degree about all of us” (Lopate 1995, xxiii).1 Personal stories position even the least powerful individual in the subject position, the I, since everyone is an expert on his or her own life. Experience “affords a privileged critical location from which to speak” without denying 129

130

L o ca l Ac t s

others the same, in contrast to modernist master narratives of authority (hooks 1990, 29). In The Postmodern Condition, Jean-Francois Lyotard contrasts the “grand narratives” of the Enlightenment with the “little tales of women, children, fools, and primitives” (Benhabib 1992, 15). The “little tales” were excluded because they were considered insignificant. Yet any life, as Virginia Woolf so famously demonstrated with Mrs. Dalloway, is potentially full of meaning if the person shaping the tale does so in a compelling way. In what follows, I examine personal storytelling and consider why it is so pervasive in community-based performance.2 Shaping Fir st-Pe r son Narrative s into a Play: The Case of C O M M O N G R E E N / C O M M O N G RO U N D Common green/ common ground (cg2) was a twenty-one-month play-building and performance project I initiated about New York City community gardens— their creation, flourishing, and then struggle to survive. It began as a glint in my eye in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I was writing an article about Steelbound, a performance project marking the demise of the Bethlehem steel industry. I witnessed the power of people bonded by a compelling experience joined with professional artists with the technique and respect necessary to facilitate the most vivid telling of that tale. I wanted to do such a project with New Yorkers and young artists at New York University, my workplace. And I knew the story I wanted us to tell—the struggle to protect community gardens. Several factors contributed to this decision. One is my commitment to community-based art as a reciprocal relationship; I offer my theater skills to interested people who have something that I, conversely, want to learn from them. And I have been full of respect for New Yorkers living in poor and marginalized neighborhoods who have cleaned up and beautified their own blocks by creating community gardens. Equally important was one particular community gardener/organizer, Haja Worley, whom I had met in 1971 when he was an inmate and I was cofacilitator of a drama workshop at Trenton State Prison. We remet in the 1990s. Haja had since been released from prison, married, and was codirecting, with his wife, Cindy Nibbelunk, Project Harmony, which included the creation and sustenance of two large community gardens in Harlem. Instigating cg2, I wanted to support Haja and Cindy in a way I had not been able to when they lost their first garden to urban development—actually, upper-middle-class housing—in the mid-1990s. Haja agreed without hesitation to participate in the project. Through Haja we soon had two more partners—the arts-based Point Community Development Corporation in the Bronx and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA). Because New York University borders the East Village, where many community gardens have been bulldozed due to

Storytelling

131

7. Common green/common ground. Directed by Sabrina Peck. Photo by Jan Cohen-Cruz, 2001.

gentrification, for which New York University is partly responsible, involvement in that neighborhood was vital. We are, institutionally, implicated. In January 2000 I began meeting with a handful of students and various guests to further our understanding of urban green space and to begin research on New York City community gardens. NYCEJA taught us that New York City has one of the lowest open space standards of any metropolitan area in the country: 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents. And 56 percent of the city’s Community Planning Districts do not meet even this meager standard. Nevertheless, community gardens have proliferated in diverse New York City neighborhoods, especially since the 1970s. At that time a downturn in the city’s economy resulted in a high rate of abandoned property in the East Village, Harlem, much of Brooklyn, and the Bronx that continued for more than a decade: Haja: My wife started our first garden in 1986 with a neighbor from Guyana

in his 80s who loved horticulture. They had help with the physical labor from a dozen young people from the Civilian Volunteer Corps. They took an abandoned lot that had become a trash heap and a dumping ground. Drug addicts and prostitutes used it. When I got involved in 1987 we didn’t have a lot of help from people in the neighborhood. We planted cherry, apple, and mulberry trees, dogwood and forsythia. Every spring

132

L o ca l Ac t s

we have a mulberry festival. In 1991 we got another, larger site and planted lilac bushes, roses, evergreen, juniper, and spruce. We got material from the Bronx Botanic Garden and a lotta help from the Green Guerrillas.3 We built benches and tables, put a fence up around the garden, and every year tried to add something. On an extraordinary grassroots level, people throughout the city transformed such lots from garbage-strewn, rat- and drug-infested eyesores to oases of vegetable and flower plots, recycling centers, and neighborhood gathering spots. But especially since the 1990s, many of these city-owned spaces have been sold to private developers, despite efforts of resistance. Though the rationale for selling the gardens is to provide lower- and middle-income housing, statistics do not bear out the affordability of most of the apartments built on these sites. Moreover, there are over eleven thousand vacant lots in New York City and under seven hundred community gardens. Part of the gardeners’ rallying call has been support for the principles of livable neighborhoods, where affordable housing and green open space are viewed as complementary land uses. Artist/teacher Peggy Pettitt guided us in the early story-gathering phase of the project. We visited gardens and gardeners throughout the spring and summer of 2000, holding story circles. We would pose a question like, “What nourishes you most in the garden?” and people would respond with a story, one by one, as everyone else listened. There would be no general conversation until everyone in the circle had a chance to tell their story. Through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Greenbridge program, we connected with community gardeners in that borough. Seventeen people showed up to our first storytelling workshop there. I asked if they wanted to divide into two groups so they would get more time to tell their stories. NO! they said, We want to hear all the stories. And I was reminded, storytelling is as much about listening as telling. So listen: Lorna: There was a Haitian man at our old community garden. As night went

down he would tell us all sorts of supposed-to-be voodoo scary stories. His cousin said it’s not true about things happening in the garden but what convinced me was when he showed me his secret spot: He took me by the zucchini plant and under the big leaves he had a little shrine—two African sculptures, a man and a woman, and they had little seeds, and he poured water. He said, When I come to my garden, I feed my spirits. That opened up for me all sorts of magic. Now whenever I see a big tree I look under it to see if there are some kind of spirits being fed. Andrea: That reminds me of growing up in Wisconsin. In our backyard we had a grape vine that was always the safety zone when we kids played tag; you’d go there and you’d be SAFE. I’d hide in there and eat concord grapes. I thought fairies lived there.

Storytelling

133

Horace: In Virginia, where my wife was born, we used to see magnolia trees,

which I consider the most beautiful tree there is. But we were told you couldn’t grow magnolia trees in the North. Then we noticed they had them here at the Botanic Garden. So I decided to get us a magnolia tree in our garden and now we have a whole variety of them. Savannah: I lived in west Philly, where all these buildings were close together. My neighbor’s front porch was full of junk—old dressers and whatnot. But around the edges of the porch they had tiny little pots and they grew all these herbs you can eat and that are good for your body. Haja: I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, a textile city, where Samuel Colt, the manufacturer of Colt pistols, had one of his first factories. Probably if I looked at my backyard now it’d seem really small, but at the time it seemed very big. My parents came from the South and we always had collards, tomatoes, a grape vine, peach tree, cucumbers. I had a little rabbit, black and white, named Thumper who lived in a hutch under the grape vine. I could get lost back there. My mother used to can a lot of vegetables. My wife Cindy cans now. To smell the jelly when it’s cooking—we still do that and try to pass it on to the men, women, and children we work with. We have our own product line, Harlem Harvest, and we’re trying to raise money to turn it into a little cottage industry. Shequila: That garden is on our block. I grew three tulips for school there and got an A on it. Cindy helped me plant and water them and learn how tulips change and all the colors they are. Cindy helped me make a threesided board. I researched and typed all the information at her house. Only one lived, a pink one, but it made it all the way to the principal’s office. Shenikwa: This man named Steve came to the garden with some rocks and he asked us to be the first two kids to carve them. I started on a big one and Mike had a small one. We brought all the kids on the block when Steve came back, and all carved, washed, shoe polished, and made designs on the rocks. He had this big, uh, dinosaur—no, it was a lizard, yeah, a lizard—he carved out. He said it took him two weeks to do it. It’s hard. It’s hours. He has special tools. Sue: I made a water garden in my backyard, out of a barrel with goldfish, water lilies, and water palms. It was biodiversity, with the fish eating the mosquitoes; we didn’t need any sprays. Just the harmony of that little water garden. I want to bring that harmony to the people at Kingsborough Psychiatric Center, where I work. Toby: One of the most pleasant things is at night when we finish gardening. Whoever happens to be around will just sit and talk. There are no buildings to obstruct our view. We have the whole sky to see and we’re on a slope so you can’t even see us from the street. It’s totally private though we’re in the middle of a very dense area, so I always feel we’re on our very own estate.

134

L o ca l Ac t s

Haja: In the garden there are always surprises. My wife planted hollyhocks,

one of our favorite flowers, and then we didn’t see them for a year or two. One day my wife was really sick and I went to the garden and saw this tall stalklike plant with blossoms. I couldn’t identify it, so she came and said we had hollyhocks. They had come back. In the fall, Sabrina Peck, a founding member of Cornerstone Theater, came on board as coconceptualizer, director, and choreographer. Peck, Pettitt, and I set up workshops with potential participants, and along with a group of New York University students, we began exploring the material through the arts. We continued to gather stories and research community gardens in newspapers, magazines, and books. Over the winter break, Sabrina and I uncovered three recurring themes in the material we had gathered and transcribed: (1) creation of community gardens; (2) thriving of the gardens; and (3) struggles in the face of threats to destroy them. Sabrina added two more sections for us to develop—a microcosm of the three phases on the level of the plants themselves and a final section on rebirth, on how to continue after loss. Sabrina’s five-part structure guided all our subsequent work. It facilitated a rehearsal process whereby each section was initially developed at one of the partner sites, facilitated by the artists with the help of several drama and writing students. There’s a saying in community-based art: Make it with whoever is in the room. Since most of the thirty-some gardeners in the play were not trained actors, project artists built on the artistic strengths they do have, such as Haja’s gospel singing and the Bronx teens’ experience with dance. New York University student artists served as anchors in the cast and helped the professional artists train the nonactors who performed with them. Shaping improvisations, Peck led the scripting process, to which we all contributed. I purposely taught “Making Art, Impacting Policy” that semester, through which student groups worked with local people on advocacy for green open space in each participating neighborhood, using the play as a springboard. Beginning late March, we brought the whole cast together every Saturday to weave all the pieces together, also serving everyone lunch. These sessions were often grueling, sometimes tedious, and not infrequently thrilling. The project in its entirety involved 130 community gardeners, urban environmental advocates, New York University students, and Drama Department technical theater staff. We represented a dazzling mixture of race, ethnicity, age (nine to sixty-nine), class, and circumstances, brought together by a fierce desire for an intimate relationship with nature in the belly of the city. One hundred and thirty people. Community-based art really is as much about building as expressing community.

Storytelling

135

Story as a Link betwe e n the One and the Many According to Seyla Benhabib, “All struggles against oppression in the modern world begin by redefining what had previously been considered private, non-public and non-political issues as matters of public concern, as issues of justice, as sites of power” (1992, 100). How does cg2 demonstrate personal stories’ applicability to collective uses? Cg2’s basis in story created a level playing field apparent to everyone from the first story circle. As John O’Neal says, the circle itself is symbolic of the nonhierarchical relationships to which such work strives. People were going to be respected here not for their educational or economic level but for their relationship to gardening: Rosa: I shared something I knew with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden here.

You take any plant that’s dead or you figure can’t grow.You take a grain of corn, put a hole in it, and put it in the ground near an ailing plant. When the corn sprouts, the plant catches on and it grows. I had a rose bush that was nearly dead until I put it in the ground with the corn and it sparked right up. Pettitt emphasizes that storytelling expands not only tellers but also listeners/audiences: “My reverend taught me that theater is where I stand. Both he and my grandmother showed me that theater is not owned by somebody over there.” According to South African writer/critic Zakes Mda, “Why should ‘art’ as in ‘art theatre’ be used to distinguish between theatre that is composed in the codes of national elites, and uses techniques that are appreciated only by them and are beyond the comprehension of the rest of the society, from theatre that has a broad appeal within the society and is rooted in the community? Popularity does not make a work inartistic. It merely means the artist has utilized codes that are shared by the whole of the community” (Mda 1993, 49). At a gathering of writers convened by the Animating Democracy Initiative, African American storyteller Lorraine Coleman avowed she relies on stories because “Minority communities only trust what comes from the heart.” Storytelling is also expansive vis-à-vis whose points of view are publicly valued. Pettitt (2003) states: “Everyone needs recognition and is deserving of it. Everyone has a voice and something to say. If they’re put in the right circumstances together, all they need is a little thing to ignite it. And it will fly, fly on its own.” People without political theory but with political experiences can connect to big ideas through personal stories. As Pettitt (2003) recounts, “It wasn’t through books—I didn’t know anything about Brecht—it was through

136

L o ca l Ac t s

example. I didn’t have any politics except the hardworking people in my life.” She describes her storytelling roots: I was raised by my grandparents, who were great storytellers. The fact that they weren’t very secure in their writing meant everything in our home was oral. We lived through stories. They taught me how to listen differently. People would come over, have a little drink, and then the atmosphere changed as they told stories about places I’d never been. My stepfather used to tell stories about Mississippi. He had seen his brother lynched. Whenever he talked about Mississippi he’d whisper. It was as if he felt that even in a room like this he could still be overheard. When I went off to college I was surprised that people didn’t tell each other stories. I think it was a big deprivation. Because stories come from everyone, not only people designated exceptional, the events they recount feel like actions any of us could emulate. Here is Toby Sanchez: Our garden started out as a dump just like all the others. There were suitcases in there and you didn’t know if there were dead bodies or what. Our neighborhood association was always complaining, oh the lot it’s so terrible, it’s ruining property values, but I have to say they mainly whined. So I went downtown and found out that Banco de Ponce owned the land, and I wrote them a letter saying, “You’re causing slums and blight. Why don’t you give the lot to the association and we’ll create a garden? I promise we’ll take good care of it.” Well, they threw that in the waste can. Then some friends told me the correct language to use with banks and the right agencies to send copies to. I wrote the letter again on behalf of our neighborhood association and said, “Federal money has just been used to renovate two buildings next to this lot, and you are creating slums and blight” and I put c.c. to the right agency. That bank manager called up the very next day and said, “I’ll do whatever you want.” In the same vein, stories promote solidarity. As cultural activist Caron Atlas avowed at the Animating Democracy Initiative’s writers’ gathering, “I especially like stories of resistance that help other people speak out and feel less isolated.” First-person narratives have found a place not only in performance with a participatory democratic agenda but also in other disciplines, with the breakdown of the authority of only one dominant discourse shaping “truth.” Through the interviewing of eyewitness participants, oral history, for example, emphasizes the inclusion of the experiences and perspectives of groups of people who might otherwise have been “hidden from history.” Going beyond the “debriefing of ‘Great Men’ before they passed on[,] . . . calls for history

Storytelling

137

from ‘the bottom up’ found a swift focus in oral history” (Frisch 1998, 32). For example, women’s history, according to the Popular Memory Group, “well understands the process of silencing and is raising the ‘hidden’ history of women’s feelings, thoughts and actions more clearly to view. Feminist history challenges the very distinction ‘public’/‘private’ that silences or marginalizes women’s lived sense of the past” (77). How complete is “fact” if it doesn’t contain many people’s perspective on what happened? Historic accounts have become more transparently subjective and multiple, not ideologically neutral and singular. The gathering of oral histories is frequently a research mode of community-based art. Storytelling offers what Dudley Cocke (2003c) calls a “counter-history” to that written by those with the power to articulate official accounts. Local stories, explains Cocke, often provide a viewpoint that is otherwise suppressed. Like Roadside’s production of Red Fox/Second Hangin’ (1976), community-based performance can oppose a written history version of a region with oral history accounts that might totally reverse who are the villains and who are the heroes. Roadside takes oral stories up a notch by corroborating them with material evidence such as old newspaper articles and court records. Suzanne Lacy is one of a group of a feminist artists who, in the context of the women’s movement in the early 1970s, integrated women’s accounts of hitherto private topics, including rape, aging, and invisibility, into their artwork. Lacy’s interest is in multivocal storytelling that creates a social sculpture. While over the past decade Lacy has shifted her focus from women to teens, she has remained committed to story so long as it is a building block toward political analysis: The young people tell something about themselves and you get the sense that there are other kids like them. That takes you into politics: what is the social condition at work here? What do you do with it as a work of art? We also developed a curriculum to turn the personal into the political. The kids spent one week talking about themselves, the next week their personal relationships, the next their institutional and familial ones, and then public position. That was hard. So we’d ask, “How do people treat you on the bus?” And they began to make the links. The kids operate as beings in terms of their own personal narrative, but they also operate as symbols for a culture, with a political impact. (Lacy 2002) John O’Neal has also used personal story for political engagement since cofounding the Free Southern Theater in 1963 as a cultural wing of the civil rights movement. Rather than tell people what to do, the Free Southern Theater strived to create performances that stimulated postshow discussion, thus serving their goal of supporting the development of southern black commu-

138

L o ca l Ac t s

nities. The exchange of stories proved to be a better way of having dialogue than argument, because, explains O’Neal (2002), “adversarial debates reward people who are trained in their techniques. Those tend to be people who have the largest vocabularies and largest egos and most willingness to claim ground and hold it, which merely affirms the problem you’re starting with in the first place. So instead of standing on stage and answering questions, I moved off the stage and sat in the audience and said, ‘Why don’t you tell me a story that the experience of the theater evoked in you?’ ” Story circles frequently lead to other activities; activist Lisa Albrecht, for example, conducts workshops in which she begins by asking people to tell the story of a seminal moment in their politicization. They write a kernel of the stories on Post-it notes and paste them on a timeline of major political events within their lifetime—such as civil rights, union organizing, women’s issues, wars, and welfare legislation. Seeing their personal stories in the larger context, their sense of themselves as part of history becomes apparent. Linking with other people who feel strongly about particular issues helps move them into political action (see http://www.projectsouth.org). The Animating Democracy Initiative finds that its goals are often best carried out through a combination of artists generating stories and dialogue specialists: “The arts . . . frequently do not move beyond the exchange of stories to dialogue focused on the broader civic dimensions of an issue. Civic dialogue specialists, on the other hand, note that in more conventional public settings, personal or emotional dimensions of an issue are typically denied a presence, based on a belief that people need hard information, attitudes surveys and technical data to support positions, in order to have intelligent and informed dialogue” (Korza, Bacon, and Assaf 2002). ADI’s practice of artbased civic dialogue is an example of hyphenated art that builds on personal story in conjunction with guided dialogue to arrive at political concerns.4 According to literary theorist Paul Cobley, narrative helps maintain and recall identity; the memories embodied therein have served in the “formation and maintenance of the self-image of a people” (2000, 38). This may prove liberating when a group is under attack to assimilate or simply deserves more respect. Roadside Theater, for example, was founded in order to strengthen its Appalachian region. According to Cocke (2002), “Roadside’s home community had no experience creating or attending plays created from its local life. . . . Roadside has had an open field to invent itself, always ready to try something different based on what it originally identified as its core theatrical resources: storytelling, oral history, bluegrass and mountain music, and lively church services.” Storytelling as a traditional form of education passes on values, practices, experience, and knowledge that affirm the collective identity of the group. Popular education also affirms collective identity but is based on rethinking

Storytelling

139

received wisdom in a dialectic with lived experience. It stresses “dialogue, group learning, and valuing the participants’ experience as the foundation for further learning and knowledge.” Even as artists facilitate community-based art, trained educators facilitate popular education, because they are “able to question critically different perceptions of reality and custom, and contribute to the formulation of new knowledge that addresses the problems of poor communities and the actions those communities want to undertake” (Razack 1993, 87). Augusto Boal’s direct translation of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed into Theatre of the Oppressed is an example of the emergence of new knowledge out of people’s experience. Boal moved from agitprop, a form of theater that tells audiences what they should do, to forum theater, a story-based approach that engages audiences in discussions about what they want to do. The story of this methodological shift is instructive. Boal and his middle-class actors from São Paolo were performing for peasants in northeastern Brazil. Holding their prop rifles over their head, they called for the peasants to mobilize against the landowners and take control of the means of production. After the show, the leader of the peasants rushed up to Boal and said, “Yes! You are right! We have a stash of rifles back at our hideout. Let’s all go have lunch and then fight the landowners and take the land!” Boal was ashamed. He and his ensemble were actors, not fighters. He realized then the fallacy of telling a group of people a solution to a problem that he did not share and whose ramifications he would not experience. This led Boal to the creation of forum theater (2001, 194–195). In forum, several people who share a particular social oppression each tell a story that localizes how that oppression plays out in their lives. The stories all end badly; otherwise, they would not need to find solutions for the problem. Using the stories as building blocks, the group makes a scene in which they all feel represented and performs it for an audience that also identifies with that problem, so there’s no need to feel shame. The effort is to build on the particulars to create one story that stands for the many. That is why, after performing the scene, a liaison between actors and audience known as “the joker” can discuss the problem with the spectators and ask, “Can anyone imagine anything the protagonist might do to ameliorate the situation?” If anyone has an idea—and I have never seen a forum theater event where no one did—the scene is replayed, stopping at whatever points spectators want to replace the protagonist and try the idea out. The spectators thus become spect-actors, and the room full of people who share the concerns get to see a number of possible solutions enacted. Storytelling as critical pedagogy thus provides a way for people who identify with one another to imagine different actions leading to different outcomes. Without the critical component, stories risk merely reproducing

140

L o ca l Ac t s

dominant ideology. This is not always easy to avoid. Susan J. Brison, a feminist philosopher who survived a serious sexual assault, gives the example of a rape victim who, in an attempt to regain control of her life, may blame herself for the attack (2002, 13). While “blaming the victim” is hardly a liberating narrative, to do otherwise admits to an unbearable random violence in the world. Personal stories allow for self-representation, for, drawing on narrative theory, the storyteller is the one to select which memories are sustained and which ones are not (Cobley 2000, 6). Narrative theory introduces a level of involvement beyond subject to author. The author is the one who interprets the story by making a sequence of events into a narrative. This corresponds to the moment when Boal adapted forum theater so that, rather than his professional actors, the people trying to break out of social oppression are not just the subjects but also the authors of the story, shaping it into the kernel that they perform. Again, Boal tells a story that captures this moment. Originally, Boal’s actors created little forum plays around particular oppressions (such as race, class, and gender) and performed them for people likely to be suffering that social ill. Following the play, Boal would invite spectators to engage in “simultaneous dramaturgy,” whereby they would make suggestions that the actors would perform. The degree to which performing, not merely suggesting, an idea was its real manifestation became clear when a spectator was consistently dissatisfied with the way an actor performed her idea. Finally, in frustration, Boal asked her to do the intervention herself. She very happily did so, and Boal realized that she had just opened the door to a fuller handing over of the experience to the spect-actor. The danger of being subject but not author of one’s personal narrative is evidenced in the case of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, a quasi-governmental organization that collected and intended to publish the stories of immigrant women. Though the women told stories from their point of view, the council took total control of the stories’ fate. Critic Cheryl Razack asks: “To what uses will these stories be put? Will someone else then take and theorize from them? Will they serve to reassure everyone that Canada really is diverse, full of folklore? Who will control how they are used? Will immigrant women tell a particular kind of story in a forum they do not control?” (1993, 84). Here is an example of Benhabib’s warning at the top of this section that what is first perceived as a personal matter may in fact be a “site of power.” The agency that personal storytelling assumes must extend beyond the telling to participation in the shaping of the story into the form that will be made public. Boal, O’Neal, cg2, and Lacy all fulfill what Benhabib calls contextualizing the personal as a “struggle for justice,” but they do so in different ways. Boal proposes a structured approach to illuminating the political realities embedded in personal stories. For in Theatre of the Oppressed, the subject of the stories

Storytelling

141

is always an oppression encountered, struggled with, but not overcome. Whether in workshops or forum performances, spect-actors first warm up so as to be ready to participate. Although the structure of O’Neal’s story circles is looser than Boal’s techniques, they are part of a movement for social justice from whence their potential emanates. Participants in cg2 also saw themselves as part of a movement. And, whereas Boal’s forum theater begins by people identifying an oppression and then bringing specifics of their lives to illustrate it, Lacy’s early feminist work and Oakland project with teens began with personal stories to lead to political revelations. For example, as long as rape was considered a private matter, it was beyond the ken of political regulation. The very act of speaking about it publicly helped move it into the domain of the politically regulatory. But personal stories manifesting political implications do not necessarily lead to justice. For that a political link is necessary. Boal made such a connection when he became a city councilor of Rio de Janeiro and treated the revelations of forum theater as a dossier pointing the way to laws that needed to be passed. And, indeed, thirteen laws were passed on that basis. Lacy, too, has allied herself with institutions capable of making changes. A decade of work in Oakland, California, was closely coordinated with the police and eventually led to better police training, especially in regard to treatment of male teens of color, who voiced bitter stories of their treatment at the hands of Oakland’s finest. O’Neal originally allied his theater with the Student NonViolent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC) and now regularly partners artists with activists and educators. All three of these artists situate story-based performance in relationship to institutions able to affect inequities that the stories make public. As a story is told, paradoxically, it is no longer just that person’s tale. That’s the basis of storytelling in forum theater—each person’s story is but the raw material from which the scene, with which everyone in the group must identify, is created. Donna Porterfield (2003) described in an e-mail message to me how personal story is valued for its universality in Roadside Theater: Ron Short of Roadside wrote a play, South of the Mountain, that was his family’s personal story, in which real family members were portrayed using their real names. The story, however, was the same story experienced by many in the mountains, so it became archetypal. The play was immensely popular in the mountains, and in working class communities nationally. Audiences always wanted to stay after the show to tell their stories to the actors. After about two years, Ron says his family began telling the play’s story, almost word-for-word as their own story. To testify, writes Shoshana Felman, is “to produce one’s own speech as material evidence for truth—to accomplish a speech act rather than formulate

142

L o ca l Ac t s

a statement” (1992, 5). When Appalachians tell Roadside members stories of exploitation in the coal mines, people of color relate their struggles for civil rights at O’Neal’s story circles, and community gardeners describe the bulldozing of urban oases reclaimed from garbage dumps, all are acting on behalf of not just themselves but a whole class of people struggling against similar unjust treatment. Why and under what circumstances have people with no social cachet individually been listened to when they are understood to speak for a group? What gives testimony this power? Testimony in a legal context refers to serious statements made under oath; the term is also used to mean a public declaration of religious experience. The idea of testimony therefore contains the notion of answering to a higher power. One puts one’s hand on the Bible and swears to tell the whole truth. It is a ritualized saying, a way of evoking a higher authority, be it the nationstate in whose realm the court is situated or the spirit evoked by religious belief. The act of giving testimony in these contexts unites the teller with the listeners by evoking shared and dearly held higher values, creating community between speaker and listeners. Testimony is not identical to personal storytelling. Whereas stories are often so much a part of the teller’s life that they need to be told to be recognized as noteworthy, as with many of the gardeners’ stories, testimony, according to Shoshana Felman, “seems to be composed of bits and pieces of a memory that has been overwhelmed by occurrences that have not settled into understanding of remembrance . . . events in excess of our frames of reference” (1992, 5). Such overwhelming occurrences are typically described as traumatic. Michael Rothberg writes that “trauma is not an event but a ‘structure . . . of experience’ in which events remain unintegrated into narrative memory” (2002, 63). But the line between personal story and testimony is not obvious. The shift from story to testimony sometimes happens in the act of telling: what the teller has lived with as an everyday occurrence may become unbearable when revealed to people for whom such acts are unacceptable. Suddenly the teller has a context in which she can feel a chronic act as the breach it is. Jason Tougaw writes that “trauma, by definition, defies parameters of ‘normal’ reality” and is therefore incomprehensible, needing testimony to frame it: “Testimony provides trauma with its missing narrative (beginnings, endings, befores, durings, and afters), with conventions all its own to organize and explain what defies social conventions” (2002, 171). Integ rating the Political and the The rapeutic in Story-Base d Pe rformance Projects Given the horrific acts that testimony often bespeaks, what assures that the telling does not merely retraumatize the teller, leaving her isolated in the

Storytelling

143

past evoked by the story? Through the deep meeting place that is personal story, oppression may not only be made manifest but reframed, no longer a secret shame but a political condition. Those who hear are also reframed, as ones who must respond. Without the participation of those who suffered the oppression, they are again the object of someone else’s story; and without an audience positioned actively as witnesses, why reactivate the pain? The witness, who hears the testimony, has a significant responsibility. In a court of law, testimony reaffirms the erstwhile victim’s membership in a world where criminal acts are unacceptable, made concrete by physically removing those who transgress from the community as a result of what the jury has heard. In community-based art, the spectators are also witnesses of the experiences revealed, a position between audience, as in art, and congregant, as in ritual. In the workshop phase, as in a court of law, facilitators must assure tellers that they are now in a context where such things are not allowable. I experienced the challenge of testimony cofacilitating, with a team of university arts students, a twelve-week workshop on Youth and War with teenagers who had come to the United States because of armed conflicts in their West African homelands. We used a range of forms, including poetry, rap, Theatre of the Oppressed, improvisation, Web sites, and video to embody each others’ stories. But we were unsure how to respond when seventeenyear-old Bintu told the story of rebels bursting into her home in Sierra Leone and, before her eyes, killing her father and raping her sister. Especially her best friend, who was also in the workshop and knew this story, found it excruciating to hear in the context of the sixteen of us; it was bad enough in the privacy of the two of them. Not wanting to reproduce these incidents in any realistic way, student facilitator Ryan Baum chose a variation on image theater and the group constructed silent tableaus in response to her story. Then we sat in a circle and each of us thanked Bintu for sharing the story and acknowledged the strength that she demonstrates in her life in New York. At the end of the workshop, we presented a work in progress for other refugee teens that included Bintu’s story and our enacted responses. Bintu told the group afterward that sometimes people look fine on the outside but are carrying more than they can bear on the inside. She thanked the workshop for making a space where she could move the story out. Speaking publicly in this way, Bintu continued to be more active vis-à-vis her story, putting it at more of a distance from her current self in literally describing the performance as helping to move it outside her. Our role as witnesses to Bintu drove home the necessity yet potential harm of the witness. The West African teens wanted to talk about the wars. Our presence made it more possible for them to take in the horror of each others’ stories and to see them as political wrongs rather than private crosses to bear. But we were lucky. We did not understand enough about trauma

144

L o ca l Ac t s

when we began the workshop. Without realizing the importance of it, we managed to provide a safe place by at once listening empathically to their travail and not stepping over the edge into identification. We represented a society where such experiences are not considered normal, thus helping to reestablish a moral universe. There is a collective condition necessary for personal story to fulfill a social role. We see this clearly in Theatre of the Oppressed. Forum theater identifies people who share the same oppression, with whom the protagonist can strategize ways out. That Boal positions the spect-actor in such an active position is a fundamental insight for other disciplines that use personal stories as a strategy to undo oppression. It may explain the ambivalence with which story-based performance around painful, unresolved issues is met in circumstances where the listener’s role is not defined so actively, a subject pursued later in this chapter. Story’s therapeutic potential also relies on a balance between distance and intimacy. Drama therapist Robert Landy describes the client/teller who is overdistanced—that is, in a state of repression—and underdistanced, in which the repressed emotion returns: “overdistancing becomes a cognitive process of remembering the past; underdistancing, an affective process of reliving or reexperiencing a past event. At aesthetic distance, the two extreme states are in a balance, and the participant/observer is able to return to the past safely, that is, through both remembering and reliving a past event” (1996, 17). “Aesthetic distance” is compatible with one of Boal’s seminal ideas—the human being’s ability to see him- or herself acting, at once subject and object. Storytelling experienced in a communal context must still negotiate closeness and distance with tellers in touch with but not overwhelmed by their past. The act of putting a traumatic incident into a narrative reaffirms the return to a safer and saner world where the self can heal. Brison writes, “Narrative memory is not passively endured; rather, it is an act on the part of the narrator, a speech act that defuses traumatic memory, giving shape and a temporal order to the events recalled, establishing more control over their recalling, and helping the survivor to remake a self ” (2002, 71). Whereas trauma overwhelms the individual with its potentially life-threatening force, storytelling provides a way to begin to imagine a sense of control. Feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero takes this idea a step further in what she calls “the classic rule of storytelling[:] . . . the story of who one is finds its response in the unfolding of the story.” Cavarero argues that we cannot see the meaning of our own life story because we live it. For that we need someone else to tell us our tale: “In the heart of everyone beats the question ‘who am I?’ and . . . it needs as a response one’s own story narrated by another” (2000, 135, 136). So she counsels an even greater distancing of one’s story. Boal theorizes therapy as the other side of the coin of the political. We

Storytelling

145

internalize oppression and consequently are left dealing with “cops in our head” as well as cops in the street (see Boal 1995). Collective story-based projects can help root out both the internal and external manifestations of the oppression.5 Therapy tries to undo the internalization of oppression that exists in the outer, political world. Brison believes that retelling the story to willing listeners allows the survivor to “master the narrative . . . lead[ing] to greater control over the memories themselves, making them less intrusive and giving them the kind of meaning that enables them to be integrated into the rest of life” (2002, 54). Group narrative processes with trauma survivors often lead to “greater compassion for their earlier selves by empathizing with others who experienced similar traumas” (63). Brison parallels Freire in interpreting this phenomenon as “a shift from being the object or medium of someone else’s (the perpetrator’s) speech (or other expressive behavior) to being the subject of one’s own. The act of bearing witness to the trauma facilitates this shift, not only by transforming traumatic memory into a narrative that can then be worked into the survivor’s sense of self and view of the world, but also by reintegrating the survivor into a community, reestablishing connections essential to selfhood” (68). Brison believes that narrative must often “be supplemented by action, for example, self-defense training—a kind of embodied narrative itself—or political action” (68). The structure of cg2 paralleled the linking of past, present, and future that Brison implies is part of the working through of trauma. People’s desire to speak of the creation and thriving of their community gardens corresponds to a reconnecting with their past selves as proactive urban gardeners. Their need to speak about “threat” is akin to a present moment of trauma that needs an empathic listener. The day the people involved with El Jardin de la Esperanza told the story of its destruction to the full cast ceased to be a rehearsal and became more akin to group therapy. We had to hear and take it in; we could not work that day on making it a theatrical scene. The creating and performing of the play was a step to a future, an act of advocacy to save other gardens.Viewed as such, it was meaningful to perform it with people who had lived through the trauma of their own destroyed gardens so they could insert themselves, as subjects, into the next step, contiguous with their past identities as urban gardeners, as ongoing advocates, not as audience to other people’s advocacy. It would be naive to expect cg2 to single-handedly save community gardens. But it was efficacious and therapeutic on the local level. According to Haja, “After our first garden was bulldozed I didn’t think I could go on. It was too devastating. But then I met other gardeners from around the city and I started to realize that the struggle was bigger than one plot of land.” The play also contributed to the redefining of community gardens as, returning to

146

L o ca l Ac t s

Benhabib, “matters of public concern, issues of justice, sites of power.” It helped build coalitions of garden activists, heartened those already in the struggle, and raised consciousness among people who came to see the play. Pettitt (2003) states that the play was not just about saving the gardens; it was about saving the people attached to the gardens. I’d say it was about the participants saving themselves and each other. The play gave a public value to the participating gardeners’ contribution to their neighborhood. That was possible because of not only the subject matter of the play but also the process of the production. We made relationships with the community gardeners and that guided our effort to make a play that was personally supportive as well as aesthetically pleasing. A year after the play, Michael Bloomberg became mayor of New York City, and in September 2002 he instituted a slightly better policy on community gardens. Did our work contribute to an environment that forced Bloomberg to be fairer to gardeners than his predecessor? Or was that already his position? We’ll never know. I do know that, for those of us in the play, publicly proclaiming our commitment to urban greenery went a ways toward deepening it. Actions like the making and performing of cg2 conjoin the political and the therapeutic, one of community-based art’s quintessential purposes. We ease the pain through action that serves not just ourselves but also a larger community. Such personal choices regarding our moral actions vis-à-vis other people bring us into the terrain of ethics. Theater scholar/practitioner Alan Read agrees with Michel de Certeau that ethics “defines a distance between what is and ought to be. This designates a space where we have something to do.” Read adds, “This is the place where theatre occurs. Both ethics and theatre are concerned with possibility” (McConachie 2001, 40). Cg2 was concerned with possibility. It was about giving participants and audiences an emotional, social, and spiritual boost that could transform into political action. Forty-three cast members singing “Ain’t We Got a Right to the Tree of Life” at the end of cg2 was a statement at once political in terms of rights and therapeutic concerning what we most needed and wanted, rather than suffering its loss in silence. Theater historian Bruce McConachie further articulates community-based art’s efficacy—not directly political but a valuable step in that direction—when he writes that it is “about imagining and constructing the relationships of an ethical community for the future” (42). It is the future orientation, the sense of an elsewhere as yet to be created, that underlies community-based performance and manifests itself in the stories we tell publicly at once for ourselves and for others. Pe r sonal Story in the Theate r In the radically democratic atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, many plays were built out of the actors’ personal stories. In 1978, Caryl Churchill assem-

Storytelling

147

bled a company to develop Cloud Nine, hiring actors partly based on personal stories they told about their sexual experiences, a range of which were needed to create that play. The Broadway hit A Chorus Line, based on the personal stories of performers who sang and danced in Broadway choruses, was one of the first shows to develop in a not-for-profit milieu that moved to a commercial arena once it proved sufficiently profitable. But, like community-based performance, it celebrated the least-heralded members of its community, those actors who perform in the chorus. Much personal story-based solo performance in the 1980s and 1990s focused on the experiences and sentiments of culturally marginalized people. O’Neal is critical of the work of performance artists who focus on their own personal story without articulating connections to the broader historical and social context. For him it becomes about “celebrating ego and personality and the uniqueness of the self. So? Every self is unique, every ego has its needs. What do we gain that is of benefit to us all, to the historical moment we’re experiencing, by indulging that? It’s self-indulgent” (2002). I’m not so sure. Sometimes it is the audience’s task to find the universal in an artist’s personal expression. A huge amount of performance art was about the invisibility of gay people, for example, at a time when homosexuals experienced a great deal of discrimination. As Burnham (2003) writes about the gay performance artists that she presented at Highways, an alternative performance space in Los Angeles, “Making themselves visible to each other and the rest of the world— in all their commonality and uniqueness (not all gays are alike)—was a potent political act . . . Highways was rewarded with a packed house all the time and constant donations of time, materials, and money because this work was so relevant to and desperately needed by the gay community.” Story-based work has increasingly thrived in more conventional theatrical venues since A Chorus Line. Moises Kaufman and Eve Ensler based The Laramie Project (2000) and The Vagina Monologues (1998), respectively, on multiple interviews with people with compelling, personal stories about their subjects. Though neither artist cast first-time actors, they provided valuable experiences for the storytellers. In response to the terrible murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Laramie, Wyoming, Kaufman’s The Laramie Project instigated dialogue among people there, as well as created a play (also broadcast nationally on television) that presented more diverse attitudes in Laramie than did media representation. Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, regularly performed by mainstream actors, has been wildly successful in serving an efficacious goal, too. Through worldwide productions and a three-year run in New York City featuring well-known actresses, Ensler’s organization has raised millions of dollars to eradicate violence against women around the world, some of whose stories are sources of that play. Writer and performer Anna Deavere Smith illuminates something larger than the self via the

148

L o ca l Ac t s

multiple stories she weaves into her plays: “My goal has been to find American character in the ways that people speak . . . If I could find a way to really inhabit the words of those around me . . . I could learn about the spirit, the imagination, and the challenges of my own time, firsthand” (1993, xxiii, xxv). Through what artistic means do these stories stand for many? In an important break from realism, in which the actor tries to find the character in herself, Smith came to emphasize “the travel from the self to other” (xxvi). That is, she did not assume that she contains every experience in herself, but that her many sources had much to teach her. As a writer, she structured Fires in the Mirror (1992),6 for example, so that each character’s two- to threeminute monologue is preceded by the projection of a large text title. They sometimes preview a core idea, sometimes set up an expectation that she then defies. As a Jewish survivor she performs a piece called Ovens, setting up the expectation that it will be about the death camp ovens. But it is about the special ovens in which Orthodox Jews must prepare their Kosher food and thus cannot share a meal at an African- or Caribbean-American neighbor’s home even if invited. She also carefully orchestrates the order of the tellings. We hear a Jewish and an African American hair story side by side: controversial and outspoken African American political leader Al Sharpton explaining his distinct hair style as an homage to James Brown, and an orthodox Jewish woman explaining her ambivalence about the traditional practice of wearing a wig. Such moments are poignant representations of cultures better known for differences than points of connection. Smith’s choices as an actor are equally purposeful. Costume and props are minimal; characterization is skin deep; she is showing us these people, not fully becoming them, hardly possible since we see so little of each one and never in dialogue with each other. But she maximizes this strategy by modulating a sympathetic take on each character at the same time as capturing speech patterns that some find stereotypical. If that is true, and it is unavoidable in two-minute portraits meant to communicate social formation as well as individuals, Smith performs characters of all races and creeds in the same style. The one exception is her more sympathetic portrayal of Cato’s grieving father, which is closer to psychological realism than her erstwhile Brechtian stylization, and with whom she concludes the show. Pettitt (2003) describes an aesthetic similar to Smith’s in its simplicity: The economy of my work as a performer came out of the traditions of my reverend. He’d take a handkerchief and start preaching and he’d wipe the sweat from his brow. Then he’d talk about Christ and that handkerchief would become thorns and he’d walk you through the Great Hall and it’d become a whip. And then that handkerchief would become a sword. He would just pop the air and you would be electrified. How could you not

Storytelling

149

believe? It had transformed into all these things. And I saw the power of that, in my child’s mind. But their acting styles and relationship to the sources of their stories are formidably different. Smith performs “in quotes”: one never forgets that she is playing each character. She approaches the character from the outside in, repeating the language and ums, ers, and pauses of the taped interview. Pettitt works from inside out, spending a great deal of time with the people whose stories she ultimately tells or helps shape into a play. Pettitt worked with Elders Share the Arts for twelve years and is in her eighth year at Central Park East, a New York City school with children from kindergarten through eighth grade. Many of her stories come out of these long-term relationships. For Pettitt, storytelling is about transmission, passing on life lessons from one generation to the next, with the responsibility that the person to whom she is speaking “get it.” She is fiercely committed to what her plays do for the community or person from whence they spring. She wants to tell stories that people need, that both entertain and contribute to their well-being. Moreover, she portrays characters in direct relationship to, and in conversation with, each other, whereas Smith’s signature approach is a series of monologues by different characters who respond to each other by the way they are juxtaposed, not directly. A case in point is Pettitt’s performance of and for Marie Divine. Pettitt was teaching a storytelling workshop at a senior center. Marie Divine, a quiet solitary woman, asked Pettitt to perform a story for the center population of the terrible child abuse she had suffered. At the time the news was full of the story of a lawyer who had badly abused both his wife and their illegally adopted child and finally killed the child. According to Pettitt, “Marie wanted me to tell her story: ‘This almost happened to me, too, but I lived.’ I took it on because it was gnawing at my conscience. On some level it’s a universal tale. The fact that she lived to tell the story was phenomenal to me.” Pettitt (2003) emphasizes the impact of the show on Divine herself, “who walked out of the performance healed.” Pettitt’s solo pieces are communitybased because she knows the people she is talking about and talking to, she shows them the works in progress to make sure she is getting it right, and she evaluates the work primarily not according to a New York Times critic—though she is always glad for a review—but according to the value of the work for the community from whence it springs and to whom it returns in the concentrated, heightened, sufficiently distanced, and educational form of a play. She explains: “I do this work out of a sense of urgency, out of my relationship with these people, because I feel called to respond. That’s what responsibility means.” Speaking about need, she says, “My reverend, when he preached, always had something at stake. He was trying to win souls. So he preached as

150

L o ca l Ac t s

8. Peggy Pettitt telling a story, circa 1985.

if his life depended on it. Each performance piece that I do, it’s important for me that the intensity of it is based on a sense that something is at stake.” Pettitt describes herself as akin to a griot, a traditional African storyteller who is at once a tribal storyteller, community healer, and educator, bespeaking the ritual component in community-based art, the artist as shaman who feels compelled to do work that is at once entertaining, healing, and spiritual. Smith is not a community-based performer, nor does she claim to be, with a sense of responsibility to a community with whom she has an ongoing relationship. Still, as is important in multiple story-based work, Smith often creates an intimate relationship with the audience during the show itself. When she performs in small theaters—I saw Fires in the Mirror in a ninetynine-seat space—she looks directly into the spectators’ faces. She becomes the character she interviewed and we become her, the person who asked the questions. This “casting” of the audience is especially important in solo per-

Storytelling

151

formance, when there is no other actor on stage. It continues Smith’s one-onone relationship with each source, putting us in close touch with people who have multiple perspectives on a controversial issue. In contrast, Pettitt creates and performs multiple characters who sometimes converse among themselves and sometimes speak directly to us. There is a significant and problematic loss of intimacy with the audience when Smith performs in Broadway theaters and on television, or when her characters are portrayed by whole casts of actors, as in House Arrest (2000). We spectators are no longer in an intimate relationship with the witness to the original storytellers. The Broadway theater is too large; the characters in the television version do not of course really see us, and the many actors in House Arrest relate more to each other than to the audience. Then the work becomes too much about virtuosity. This suggests a delicate balance between the original tellers’ voices and the artistic shaping of multiple story-based work. Much can also be said for storytellers playing themselves in personal story-based theater. They receive deserved recognition and deepen their relationship to their own words via the ritual-like repetition that is performance. We feel in the presence of authenticity. Roadside frequently helps nonprofessionals find, collect, and publicly tell their local stories and sing their local songs, even developing the material into a play and sometimes establishing theater companies to continue exploring their local life. In such cases, elaborates managing director Donna Porterfield (2003), “the participants work together to tell their own and each other’s stories, so the result is generally satisfaction on everyone’s part concerning portrayal of the truth. However, these plays often confront difficult issues in the community, and audience members want to stay after the performance to talk about the issue by telling their own stories, so we make a way for that to happen. The play prompts more stories that shed light on the issue, rather than argument about the truth of portrayal.” Even in community-based performance, storytelling takes a range of forms. The mostly homeless people who perform story-based plays in John Malpede’s Los Angeles Poverty Department utilize stream of consciousness, mixing fictionalized stories with autobiographical ones. This approach reflects both Malpede’s own performance art background, where a freer aesthetic reigns, and his collaborators’ frequent inability to distinguish between what happened and how they remember it. Anne Basting’s storytelling with people without memory, in early stages of dementia, reflects the pleasure of storytelling as invented narratives. Given their frequent loss of memory, they use visual images, such as postcards of artwork, as story prompts. Susan Perlstein’s Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) bases its technique of “life review” on Eric Ericson’s theory that the task of old age is to find coherence in one’s life, through all the changes. Personal story in ESTA’s “living history” projects provide

152

L o ca l Ac t s

multiple, personal views of public events that at the same time are occasions for participants to reflect on their individual lives. Aesthetically, ESTA living history plays often juxtapose the large sweep of history against highly personal, lived details. Clearly, storytelling is a valuable source of performance, whether or not performed by the original tellers and in a range of aesthetic and social frames. Most important, the people whose stories are a performance’s original sources must benefit from the art thus created.

Chapte r 7

Performance Structures Before I met you I thought artists were the people in the room dressed in black not talking to anyone else. —Rabbi Daniel Zemel to choreographer Liz Lerman

There is no singular community-based performance style or form. Indeed, part of the appeal of this field is its sheer diversity, aesthetic as well as cultural and ethnic. But there are frequently-used structures, three of which I describe below: collectively grounded popular forms, oft-adapted literary texts, and original compositions shaped by the core participating artists’ particular creative process. Artists use these structures to give form to the content they invite through community-based performance building, such as the story gathering discussed in the previous chapter. The structures are not mutually exclusive; though Dell’Arte, for example, is grounded in popular theater, they still work with preexisting and original dramatic literature. I discuss these structures through case studies of community-based artists whose work includes strong and contrasting examples of each. Popular Forms Dell’Arte Players Dell’Arte, founded in 1974 in Blue Lake (population 1,300), California, advocates a notion of the popular that they call theater of place, “created by, for, and about the area in which you live” (McKenna 2002). In an instructive contrast to Roadside Theater’s generational sense of place/familial roots, none of Dell’Arte’s core members were born in Blue Lake. Founder Carlo Mazzone-Clementi brought a physical theater aesthetic with him to northern California, inspired by “the great traditions of the European popular theater: commedia dell’arte, melodrama, the world of the circus, fairs and streets, pantomime, music hall” (Schirle 2002b, 187). He did not intend to reproduce popular European traditions, explains artistic director Joan Schirle, but he was interested in the essence of the popular, expressed in the United States as silent film, vaudeville, burlesque, jazz, and the American musical theater (193). 153

154

L o ca l Ac t s

The popular forms Dell’Arte employs are enlivened by a critical edge. Artists in Dell’Arte freely reinterpret traditions for their particular time and place. While popular in the sense of accessible and pleasurable to a large portion of the population, Dell’Arte also embraces the notion of the popular as counterhegemonic, its function articulated by Mikhail Bakhtin as “to liberate from the prevailing point of view of the world, from conventions and established truths, from clichés, from all that is humdrum and universally accepted” (193). Popular cultural forms also provide Dell’Arte with a rigorous methodology that challenges them artistically even when audiences in their small hometown may be satisfied with less. Dell’Arte’s formal technique is grounded by “insider” content: “local characters and issues are frequently the subject of original stories that reveal voices and points of view . . . from a new perspective” (McKenna 2002). Theater of place is about local content and connection, as ensemble members explained to researcher Mark McKenna: “Artists can earn community support while challenging parochialism, bigotry, insularity, apathy; they balance experimentation with awareness of what the audience wants, likes, hopes for, can tolerate, will be inspired by.” The forms of the company’s physical acting style, such as commedia dell’arte, have always responded to the topical. Schirle elaborates: “Moliere created Theatre of Place in his time. He was writing about the intimate issues of people he knew, he was satirizing actual people’s behavior, and he was using the commedia form to do it until his own work became more sophisticated and evolved into his own individual voice.”1 As a theater of place, Dell’Arte supports the biological “diversity of life in the region as well as its cultural and ethnic diversity” (Dell’Arte 1991, 3). But the ensemble’s environmental pieces have grown more and more complex as company members got to know a range of local people and their needs: “We came here with a very immature sense of environment which was basically, don’t cut trees. It took a number of years to understand the complexities of how jobs are created, how people make their living, and that not everybody who cuts trees or keeps cows is a bad person. In some cases it is only the ranches that are keeping the land from being completely over-developed, and people are holding on to their ranches because of their cows. So the alliances you start to form are different from what you thought they would be. This came to a real crisis when people were coming in from the outside to protest, and we were more on the side of local people who didn’t want outside protesters . . . who came in here knowing nothing about the area” (McKenna 2002). One way that Dell’Arte, like many community-based ensembles, expresses its commitment to place is by offering workshops to local people, especially to children through partnerships with the schools. I have often detected a bias against “community outreach” and “educational” programs as less than artistic. But they are only outreach if one perceives only the perfor-

Performance Structures

155

mance within the proscenium space as in, rather than valuing the full range of interactions with the community, be it before, alongside, during, or after a show. Schirle explains the origin of Dell’Arte’s programs with the local school: “There was vandalism of our theater, animosity that basically came from the parents; kids don’t call someone a commie fag on their own. We thought doing something with the kids would make a difference in how the community perceived us.” They were right. Core company member Donald Forrest directed a large project on Cesar Chavez impressing the kids with a model of an individual who made a big difference in California. Teachers have done workshops at the theater on subjects including how to create a play in a day and how to make and use masks. But then there was a period when the Christian right was powerful on the school board and they did not want anything to happen, for example, around Halloween—“because of images of the devil, that sort of thing,” Schirle explains. The program has undergone a number of mutations, paralleling the way arts and education has been thought about nationally over the years. Now it is necessary to be curriculum-based. Some teachers begrudge the time spent on art because of so much pressure to perform well on tests. Dell’Arte has a training program in popular theater techniques that attracts students from around the world. Booking manager Dave Firney attended that program and describes its place-based component: “The students tour to small communities in the area, just like how the company started. You get to understand what their roots are. There’s something really alive about bringing yourself as a performer out to a small community and making a real connection” (McKenna 2002). Dell’Arte has found a range of ways to make their work accessible and engaging while still pursuing their own concerns as artists and politically progressive individuals. A good example is Wild Card (2002), written by managing artistic director Michael Fields, in response to the casino that Native Americans built in town. Wild Card is set ten years in the future and imagines the repercussions of the casino on Blue Lake life generally. Much of Fields’s research came from dialogues and story circles with local community members who expressed a range of emotions about the casino. Wild Card inhabits the popular form of a live radio broadcast; the stage represents a large radio studio. An applause sign blinks in red neon lights after the songs and upon the entrance of special guests. Some characters read their lines from “cheat sheets.” A character seated on stage provides sound effects. The play opens as band members, in bright jumpsuits, take their place upstage; they punctuate the show with country music and songs. They are actually members of the popular local Joyce Hough Band. The emcee for the evening is a fictional character named Buddy O’Hanlan. He looks like a cross

156

L o ca l Ac t s

9. Wild Card. Dell’Arte Players. Photo by Carol Eckstein, 2002.

between a Las Vegas superhero and a hippie, his cape bedecked with a sequined American flag and his gray hair cascading down below his shoulders. Now he’s a radio personality who has come home, after ten years, to mark the tenth anniversary of the casino. His through line, as he states early in the show, is, “It is possible we had a piece of paradise here and maybe we still do. It would be a shame if this place became like everywhere else . . . especially (musical riff, expression of horror) “McKinleyville!!” Audience laughs. The seriousness of his purpose is softened with the joke fast on its tail, here and as a device throughout the play to keep it from getting (musical rift, expression of horror) preachy!! Decisions about the play’s content and form came directly from the casino dialogues. Cameo appearances and radio call-ins, miked voices phoning in responses to the question, “What is your greatest hope or worst fear for Blue Lake,” and texts adapted from the community dialogues communicate a range of feelings about the casino and Blue Lake’s future. Some of the formal, popular elements that Fields selected include performing in their outdoor amphitheater because of its relaxed atmosphere; making it a musical, which is “less heavy and didactic”; doing it both live and broadcast over local PBS radio station KHSU-FM, to reach more people; and using satire because it provokes “a biological response of recognition”—that is, laughter (O’Quinn 1986, 3).

Performance Structures

157

The complex relationship between the mostly white Blue Lake community and the Rancheria, the fifty-member Native American tribe that controls the casino, runs through the play. O’Hanlan reminisces about Mrs. Wiggins, his second-grade teacher at Blue Lake School. She taught him “about cowboys and Indians but mostly cowboys, so it was interesting for me to learn some history about the local natives here. It seems that the Rancheria was granted its land so it would have the sewage pump on one side and the garbage dump on the other.” But Mrs. Wiggins also taught O’Hanlan about the soapbox, the guiding purpose of the play. As O’Hanlan explains, “I have always believed that if you feel strongly enough or get pissed off enough, it does you no good to take it out on the dog. It’s best to stand up and say it where someone can hear it.” Thus begins a series of “soapbox speakers,” invited on air to talk about the casino. The first is Jane. She sings “It Sucks to be Jane,” more Brecht and Weill than Rodgers and Hammerstein, directly communicating the artist’s point of view. She is a lightly veiled version of Dell’Arte’s Joan Schirle, who lives across from the casino and originally moved to northern California for the peace and quiet. The satire extends to local figures from government, local businesses, and the theater itself. The latter is represented by the No Lake Players. Each ensemble member portrays a different artsy type. They face familiar restrictions on their art based on what is and is not okay to say on stage, about which they sing a humorous song expunging terms including Indians, rednecks, fat, gay, and short. O’Quinn muses, “What does that say, we’re left wondering, about the challenge of broaching the sensitive racial divide that is the essential subtext of the show we’re watching?” (1986, 4). The only group not satirized is the Native Americans. One reason is expressed in a song: “Why There Are No Indians in This Show,” which tells the tale of thousands of years of Indians in this region, the land being taken by the white man, and ongoing separation and distrust between the two peoples. O’Hanlan apologizes: “To be fair we did ask, but the cultural gap may be just too wide.” O’Hanlan ends Wild Card on this note: What makes a home? Is it comfort, time, a building, a landscape, a state of mind, or all of the above? For me, home is character formed over years of use . . . what worries me the most is that we lose the possibility of soul . . . [that] where you arrive looks just like where you left. It’s a planned sameness—as if everything is approved by the same universal building code . . . Blue Lake has always had its streak of difference; sometimes nasty, sometimes celebratory, sometimes conflictual, but so necessary. . . . There is such a thing as the “commons”—but for it to be there, we all have to come together. (Fields 2002b)

158

L o ca l Ac t s

The play cannot unmake the casino; rather, it encourages local political involvement so that by the time an issue comes up, a stronger city council is ready to respond. A member of Dell’Arte, in fact, is running for the council as a result of the casino. A year later, in June 2003, Wild Card 1.5 opened with .5 new materials. Fields added a local Native American actress who plays Buddy’s former lover from whom he fled ten years ago, a metaphor for the cultural divide between Blue Lake whites and Natives. She makes the Native American jokes that were missing in the earlier version of the play. The significance of humor in a show about a community’s future brings to mind Michael Bristol’s insight about laughter: “To perform a utopia is the act of a community that knows itself,” which relies on “performances that help us understand the situation we are really in and open up that situation to destructive laughter” (Bristol 1973, 28). Wild Card demonstrates that Dell’Arte is popular not just because of its physical aesthetic, replete with pratfalls and slow burns, but because of its ever-expanding set of aesthetic strategies to reach a broad audience around issues that directly affect them. Like other professional rural theaters, explains Schirle, Dell’Arte cultivates diverse audiences for its diverse offerings: “In the early days there were people who wouldn’t come to anything we did because they thought we were environmentalists. Then there were people who’d never seen anything but the work our students do and thought all our work is at that level. Then there were people who only saw things we got into trouble for, like Robert Crumb’s White Man Eats Big Foot, which got picketed by some Christian righters as something dirty, and then people thought we didn’t do anything for kids.” Dell’Arte’s holiday shows started as history pieces about local events like two women photographers who documented Native Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. They have cultivated a multigenerational audience by doing what they called family shows. They offer disclaimers for their student shows: “Commedia is a pretty scatological form so we say, ‘Adult material. Do not come if you are easily offended.’We try to be really clear in our advertising, bending over backwards so people wouldn’t come to our Paradise Lost [a serious experimental piece] and say, ‘Where are the clowns?’ ” Then there’s the work they create for international audiences that a small audience at home also likes. Firney (2002) described some of the flack the company has gotten because of its philosophy: “Theater of place is interpreted by some people as too regional, that if you live in a rural place and make theater about it, that’s not going to translate in San Francisco or New York City. Its been a challenge for the company to create work about where they are and the issues that they care about but at the same time to be perceived as universal.” Yet universals always come from specifics. Why not from Blue Lake as well as Athens?

Performance Structures

159

Dell’Arte is also interested in artistic recognition from the larger theater community and critics. Firney explains, “You’re still out there in the marketplace and you need a metropolitan review to be taken seriously. That’s not all bad; if you are constantly operating in your own small region, you might have a misperception of the level of your work. Dell’Arte doesn’t suffer from that because of its national and international recognition. It’s a constant balancing act of wanting to expand and develop the audience in all directions.” The combination of an ever-expanding popular approach, the professional theater world, and the local community contribute to Dell’Arte’s brand of good place-based theater. Teatro Pregones The word pregones is Spanish for “street vendors’ chants,” which critic Arnaldo Lopez (2002) identifies as the spirit of this ensemble—“the image of immigrants peddling their goods in el barrio, rhyming in the playful declamatory style of el pregon, making the new urban landscape a little more like home.” The original members of Pregones had recently emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York and wanted to stage theater from the island. Over time the ensemble expanded to include U.S.-born artists of Puerto Rican heritage who shared that interest. According to associate director Alvan ColonLespier, “The work we do is borne out of our experiences as Puerto Ricans living in this city, and also from the experiences we bring from our formative years in Puerto Rico, from the process of migration and from the experience of twenty years working in theater and getting to know theatrical trends” (Lopez 2002). Rather than defining the popular in place-based terms, Pregones’s mission attests to their commitment to both ethnic grounding and multicultural exchange: “to create innovative, challenging theater rooted in Puerto Rican traditions and popular artistic expressions, and to present performing artists from different cultures, offering Latinos and other communities an artistic means to affirm and enhance our roles in society.” Eighty-five percent of their audiences are Latinos who often travel from some distance to see them. Since its founding in 1979, Pregones has built “an artistic repertory concerned with questions of self determination, identity, displacement, continuity and belonging . . . [and offering] a message of cultural affirmation.” Artistic director Rosalba Rolon points out the dearth of theater addressing itself to U.S. Latinos generally and to the approximately 1.5 million New York City Puerto Ricans in particular. Associate Director Jorge Merced explains his personal need for such a theater: “At Pregones I met a group of Puerto Rican actors with a political restlessness similar to my own . . . plus I could do it through art . . . it was a very intimate need to understand my identity, to question my identity as a Puerto Rican” (Lopez 2002).

160

L o ca l Ac t s

Colon-Lespier (2003) identifies as major influences the Latin American Popular Theater and New Theater trends whose origins can be traced to the late twenties when Latin American theater artists began experimenting with Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Piscator, and later Brecht. Popular theaters participate in the celebratory, political, and affective life of the populace: “little or no fourth wall, travel to people rather than expecting them to come to you” (Rolon 2003). Not infrequently, Pregones’s performances are part of larger events such as street parties and festivals. On the other hand, the ensemble does not exhibit blind devotion to tradition. Says Rolon, “There are some traditions we don’t value. But we rarely take up an issue without going back 100 years. Because we realize it was probably done already.” Even when they think they are inventing something, they find a common thread in earlier Latino work. El Apagon/The Blackout, for example, is based on the story La noche que volvimos a ser gente (The Night We Became People Again) by Jose Luis Gonzalez. Two men trapped in the New York City subway because of a power outage share their respective stories. In a theatricalized version of Latin American magical realism, the space transforms into a neighborhood bar, filled with popular music from the 1940s through the 1960s. Though the ensemble frequently begins with traditional cultural forms, they deconstruct and reshape them to serve their own expressive goals. For example, Voces de acero (Voices of Steel) was an exploration of the effect of long incarceration. Working with Puerto Rican danza, they used the language of dance to explore the repetitiveness of the prison experience and express the monotony of that routine without boring the audience. They also integrated text based on interviews with inmates. Pregones introduces popular Latino forms to a range of constituents. Their Youth Ensemble ran from 1987 to 1991, engaging Latinos aged twelve to eighteen in a series of workshops transmitting Latin American theater traditions of music, movement, and gesture. They adopted Boal’s “forum theater” in The Embrace, inviting spectators to come on stage and improvise alternative solutions to the protagonist’s dilemma. The company produces international arts festivals and hosts a range of Latino multidisciplinary works. A Visiting Artist Series gives audiences a chance to interact with artists and learn more about their own cultural heritage. Pregones’s audiences are often sources of the ensemble’s work, too, through individual interviews, family stories, and historical documents. Pregones reaches economically diverse audiences by keeping performances and workshops affordable and by performing in places that many people gather—schools, churches, union halls, sports and recreations centers, as well as theaters. They also function as a popular theater in the sense of broad cultural ownership. For example, Merced describes a Pregones performance at

Performance Structures

161

10. El Apagon, Pregones Theater. Left to right: José Joaquín García and Jorge Merced. Photo by Héctor Delgado, 2000.

a largely Hispanic high school. The young audience did not engage until the Latino music and poetry started, and the whole event turned around. The diverse performance venues also reflect Pregones’s commitment to the needs of their constituents. Former ensemble member Judith Rivera elaborates: “Without the community we would not exist. They are the ones who request the need for a better quality of life and seek our theater for that . . . The refreshment stand has become an excuse to stay after the performance to gather and socialize” (Lopez 2002). Audiences express enthusiasm for Pregones’s accurate and diverse representation of Puerto Ricans, especially appreciated in a society that typically undervalues or exoticizes Latinos. Notwithstanding a primary commitment to the Puerto Rican experience, company members have a complex sense of identity and community integrating ethnicity, aesthetics, and politics. Merced affirms that Pregones’s collaborative process “was in tune with my interests; it was a socialist perspective” (Lopez 2002). Says Colon-Lespier (2003), “To me, the working class . . . was the broader community; the narrower community was the one ethnically identified as Puerto Rican. . . . And I could see something like circles or tangential contacts across multiple communities, and multiplicity within the boundaries of our own Puerto Rican community . . . defined according to interest, occupation, income, geographic location.” Certainly Pregones’s

162

L o ca l Ac t s

notion of community has always been translocal—for example, an “unfixed geography of Latinos in the U.S.” (Lopez 2002). It has also included membership in the professional world. Over time, Pregones began collaborating with other artists with whom they identify for various reasons. They frequently work with Roadside, for example—“That they feel colonized in Appalachia—we have that in common even though we are different races” (Rolon 2003). In other words, they feel class bonds even in the absence of ethnic bonds. Pregones, Roadside, and Junebug collaborated on an original work composed of a short play by each of the ensembles, based on traditions from their respective cultures. During its creation, Colon-Lespier proposed that each actor tell a story for the group to enact. Whereas most of the cast told stories from their own traditions, Colon-Lespier recounted a story about the seven deadly sins. Though initially questioning how it represented a culturally meaningful tale, the group, unraveling the sins, realized they illuminated all of the cultures. They felt they needed a common theme to underlie the three parts of their play. They made a long list of injustices that ran through all their cultural experiences. Then they stopped for the day. That night Rolon dreamed that she told the group she thought the play was about love and they laughed at her. But she liked a theme that was not so grim. The next day, she told them about the dream, explaining: “The movement has lost touch with the beautiful things. The enemy has the advantage of being able to do whatever they want. Celebrating one’s culture is another way of being politically active” (Rolon 2003). The group embraced Rolon’s idea and the eventual play was entitled Promise of a Love Song. The common theme, love, reinforces similarities among people even as the piece also manifests cultural differences. Rolon describes another project Pregones did that challenged a simple notion of identity—an adaptation of Translated Woman, a book by Jewish Cuban anthropologist Ruth Behar, based on fieldwork in a Mexican village. A woman who began as Behar’s central informant became her close friend, her “comadre.” Behar realized she had crossed the line anthropologists are meant to stay behind and thought she would have to abandon the book. But the woman told her to continue, that she wanted her story to cross the water. Pregones was invited to adapt the subsequent book into a play. Initially, as Puerto Ricans, they were against representing Mexicans. As Rolon said, “It wasn’t first voice.” But then Rolon met Behar and was quite taken with her. She began considering the proposal by looking at it another way. She knew she would not hesitate to play Ophelia or any other non–Puerto Rican classical role. But she was uneasy at the idea of portraying a Mexican, perhaps because Mexicans in the United States had so little chance to represent themselves. Rolon sensed the importance of a play featuring a rich portrait of

Performance Structures

163

11. Promise of a Love Song. Left to right: Roadside Theater’s Kim Neal Cole and Ron Short; Junebug Production’s Adella Gautier, Donald Harrison Jr., and John O’Neal; Pregones Theater’s conguero Desmar Guevara with Judith Rivera and Jorge Merced. Photo by José García, 1999.

Mexicans given the rise in anti-immigration legislation being passed at the time. Pregones decided to approach Translated Woman as a solidarity project, as a group of Caribbean artists struggling with similar issues. They performed the play in “third voice”—the Pregones artists at music stands, establishing the distance of third voice, telling the story of these Mexicans. Occasionally they made scenes and portrayed the characters. For them the big test was performing for Mexican immigrants, at Minnesota’s Walker Art Center. To their relief, the audience was grateful that Pregones told the story and that they never pretended to be Mexicans. The ensemble felt validated knowing the production was meaningful to the people that it was about. Pregones has taken lessons learned about their need to honor their own cultural traditions and moved into relationships with other cultures, acknowledging theirs. Dramatic Lite rature Cornerstone and Script Adaptation Cornerstone Theater, founded in 1985, is best known for adapting classical plays to local circumstances through intensive community interviewing and the insertion of local references, so “universals” need not always be in someone else’s terms. Playwrights literally “wright”—that is, hammer out

164

L o ca l Ac t s

plays—typically from materials gathered locally. Cornerstone playwright Alison Carey often adapts established dramatic texts to incorporate points of view from the many local people she interviews. This collective expressivity reflects the ensemble’s mission that includes but goes beyond artmaking, evident from its founding. Cornerstone began when a group of Harvard graduates, led by Carey and Bill Rauch, rejected the model of regional theaters whose largely urban and suburban audiences are typically among the 15 percent most prosperous people in the country. Instead, they set off for small towns and urban neighborhoods composed of diverse populations. Cornerstone community plays are performed by a combination of local people with a direct relationship to the material and Cornerstone actors with a solid basis in craft. Rauch elaborates, “The company’s aesthetic is to include the community’s dialogue with itself in the script, which calls for opposing voices and layers of meaning and a vital richness. Multiplicity of viewpoints: it’s essential to our mission” (Lewis 2002a). Steelbound, directed by Bill Rauch and written by Alison Carey of Cornerstone, was produced by Touchstone Theater of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and performed by local people including professional Touchstone actors. In the fall of 1998, the auditorium of the union hall in Bethlehem was full of former steelworkers, laid off over a decade of downsizing at Bethlehem Steel, which for over a century had dominated the town. The small local professional theater company, Touchtone, wanted to produce Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound as a response to the town’s resulting identity and economic crisis and thus organized a reading of the script at the Union Hall. Touchstone artists saw local resonance with the central image of fire and themes including forced submission to power and the cost of “progress.” The reading began; people strained to grasp the meaning of the unfamiliar words and cadences, the ancient poetry of the man punished for stealing fire from the gods. Little by little nearly everyone in the room turned off and, peering frequently at their watches, waited for it to be over. Contrast this scene with another a year later, same place, and nearly the same audience. Only this time the text that they heard and participated in reading is called Steelbound, Allison Carey’s adaptation of Prometheus Bound based on extensive interviewing of local people about the demise of “the Steel” (as the corporation is known locally). The degree of local input was possible largely because of Touchstone’s ongoing contact with a great diversity of Bethlehemites. It also reflected Carey’s artfulness and fearless strategy when seeking local input in developing a script, of starting up conversations with people everywhere she goes—the supermarket, a bar, a street festival. At this reading there was no straining, no yawning, no furtive glances at watches. People were totally engaged with what they recognized as their own story, stylized and lifted into a particular form, but full of their neighbors and them-

Performance Structures

165

selves. This Prometheus was subject not to the gods but to a different power, the corporation, and felt equally betrayed at being cast out, in this case from his former job: It hurts to talk, it hurts not to. Just like always. And to tell the truth, the story changes depending on who you ask. But I know what happened to me is what happened to this mill, all these acres of brick and work and metal and hope. See, the mills couldn’t rule economies, or move great lakes south, or change their own layout, or give fair wages to foreign workers, or subsidize industries, or determine past practices, or improve technology, or decide what people buy, or inspire board rooms. And neither could I, or at least I didn’t. I’ll tell you one thing, though. What did I do? I had a job. Used to be, you asked people around here, “What do you do?” They answered, “I’m building America.” What did I do to end up like this? I built America.” (Carey 1999) After the reading, people eagerly discussed what worked and what didn’t, what they loved and what was missing. Steelbound went through several drafts, each time vetted by local stakeholders. “People are not just sources of information, but also partners in shaping the production in structure and intent,” Carey avows. “The play we all wrote together was much better than the one I would have written alone” (Cohen-Cruz 2000, 18). Auditions for the production also manifested the principle of inclusion. Located at different sites to attract different constituents of the community— a union hall, community centers, places of worship, schools, and Touchstone’s theater, the auditions attracted, by and large, former steelworkers and their families. They had something to say about their experience with “the Steel” and trusted Touchstone as a conduit through which to say it. As is Rauch’s usual practice, nearly all who auditioned—a surprisingly high 127—were called back. Rauch tries to cast as many people as possible; the callbacks are a show of commitment and a chance to make sure that people understand the spirit of a production and do not look to it for strictly self-serving reasons (such as a career break or chance to rant). Whereas normally about 65 percent of the people Cornerstone calls back actually come, in this case 95 percent returned. Rauch interpreted this as the passion they had to tell that story. Carey did some script work to accommodate an expanded cast, which finally numbered 56. While not all the large roles went to the professional Touchstone actors, ensemble member Bill George was chosen to play Prometheus. Once a month, from January through July, Touchstone movement director Jenny Gilrain and local music director Bev Morgan held Saturday workshops to fuse the cast into an ensemble. Touchstone’s movement-based aesthetic would pervade the production, coupled with diverse local opinions on the meaning of the closing of “the Steel.” Rauch arrived in August and an

166

L o ca l Ac t s

12. Steelbound cast members performing in the windows of the Bethlehem Steel iron foundry. Photo by Edward A. Leskin, 1999.

intensive four-week rehearsal period ensued. The last week, the cast moved into the mammoth brick foundry, dating back to 1863, where they were to perform. This was only possible because of support from Bethlehem Steel itself, despite its ambivalent, multi-perspective, representation in the play. The foundry’s great arches, once filled with windows and doors, are now open to the air. As the play opens, the immense space is bare except for a twenty-seventon ladle, the massive receptacle used to hold molten steel, which is lying on its side. A chauffeur drives in with two elegant passengers identified as Progress’s henchmen, Brutality and Indifference. Popping open the trunk, the chauffeur deposits his cargo, a bound man, onto the ground. This is Prometheus, the former steelworker unwilling to accept the closing of the mill. Christlike he is welded to the ladle, even as his namesake was tied to a high promontory. Over the course of the play, various individuals and three choruses—composed of youth, women, and steelworkers, respectively—ask him why he is there or try to persuade him to leave. Faced with Prometheus’s great sense of betrayal by the Steel Company, the young people sing, “I used to think that every good deed was paid back by one even better.” The women’s chorus responds to the disheartened youth,

Performance Structures

167

“That’s not the lesson to be learned here.” Their exchange is interrupted by a wounded character who has lost her memory and fears that in forgetting the bad—suffocatingly hot, monotonous work and an ordered, conformist way of life—she’s also forgotten the good. She propels the action beyond denial to the mourning of an era of small-town prosperity and secure jobs. The oldest actor in the multigenerational cast, at the emotional apex of the play, simply but powerfully reads the dates of the opening and closing of each building in the steel complex. Meanwhile, one by one, each actor places a symbol of the Steel onto a pile in the center of the stage—a helmet, an adding machine, a tool. Maybe moving on, the steelworkers consider, is not so bad. Maybe the Steel closed not simply because of the owners’ greed but because the work was completed. They had built America. This idea is given voice in paeans to paperclips and safety pins, skyscrapers and frying pans, the amazing diversity of products made of steel. There’s a problem here—plants continue to turn out such products but in other regions and countries where the cost of labor is less expensive. The play, though not taking up such politics in depth, ends on an ambiguous note. While the affirmation of friendships forged in the mills and people risking their lives for each other moves Prometheus to break his chains, he does not move from his spot at the play’s close, suggesting that finding closure for the long and complex relationship with the industry that dominated local life is still a process for each person to complete on his or her own.2 With the arrival of the spectators, what the actors have been rehearsing shifted into sharp focus—reinhabiting a former way of life in order to set it to rest. Their actions are at once real and symbolic, evoking for public acknowledgment a way of life people thought would last forever. Good God, I realize. This is a funeral. On opening night, even the weather contributed to the pervasive sense of ritual. As Gilrain describes, “There was an incredible storm, like a consecration of that space. The spirits of the men who died there and have died since it closed were raging around. All the ghosts who had never been heard! There was a lot of anger in that lightning. It was an extremely spiritual experience” (Cohen-Cruz 2000, 68). Susan Ingalls and Scripts for Young People Since 1968, Susan Ingalls has adapted and directed scripts for young people. Ingalls does not integrate local stories into the scripts but rather chooses texts that metaphorically tell stories that are meaningful to the community. Equally important is Ingalls’s purpose as concerns young actors: that through rehearsing and performing they will have what she calls a “key positive experience,” a sense of their own worth emerging from contributing to a meaningful endeavor. Her work exemplifies that area of youth theater which is

168

L o ca l Ac t s

community rather than school-based, both physically and conceptually. Her work is collaborative, art driven, and creative, not a class taught by a teacher as an extension of school. Her hyphenated sense of the purpose of the work and the centrality of the community context situates Ingalls squarely in this field. Ingalls directed her first scripted play with young people at the Loft Film and Theatre Center when her boyfriend was killed in the Vietnam War. She wanted the play to wake up the conservative community of Bronxville, New York, home of a John Birch Society chapter and a community where a “gentlemen’s agreement” barred Jews and people of color from living. Many of the Loft parents had high corporate positions. The twenty-three-year-old Ingalls, herself from a privileged background, was struck that most of the white men who ran the United States came from privileged communities like Bronxville, where they never met anyone different from themselves. She felt that the cloistered nature of upper-middle-class U.S. suburbia and U.S. leadership made the war in Vietnam possible. She wanted to direct a play that would reveal the tragic error of that thinking and cause people to rethink the war. She was shocked when the play’s impact was nowhere so dramatic. Nevertheless, her work was powerful partly because of its intense sense of social context. The production was John Dos Passos’s USA, an antiwar play set in World War I. Previously, Ingalls had not believed in producing scripted plays with kids; she was committed to improvisation and theater games, having studied with the great children’s theater innovator and creator of theater games Viola Spolin. But Ingalls had done USA in high school and remembered its beautiful, antiwar language—“where his chest should have been they pinned the medal.” And she had enjoyed directing scripts by Lorca, Brecht, and other great playwrights as a student at Sarah Lawrence College. In four performances, USA reached one thousand spectators out of Bronxville’s population of six thousand, as well as parents and friends of cast members from the adjacent town of Tuckahoe. Directing USA with teenagers convinced Ingalls that she was better working with kids with a script than out of improvisation: “Because it’s not about your adult authority deciding what the play will be; the script becomes the authority.” Scripts provided a natural discipline and focus. By the time Ingalls left Bronxville twenty years later, she was working with kids as young as six with scripts for these same reasons. Recentering herself in the youth literacy movement, she also came to value scripts because they taught kids to read and got them excited about it. The literacy-oriented funders did not care how good the theater was, which was all the Loft funders had cared about. But Ingalls and the kids did: “Even with the literacy focus, the kids have more fun when we have, you know, green wigs, and it’s good theater (2003).”

Performance Structures

169

13. USA by John Dos Passos, directed by Susan Ingalls. Photo from Loft Film & Theater Center Archives, 1968.

There’s sometimes a bias against scripted plays in community-based art. At issue is inclusion of everyone’s voice. Broyles-Gonzalez quotes Enrique Granados, speaking of the great Mexican comic Cantinflas, who worked primarily via improvisation: “He doesn’t speak through someone else’s mouth, that is, what the author wrote; he says whatever comes to mind, whatever he improvises, and that is what is so pleasing to the public.” Improvised plays leave more room for actors to respond directly to audiences, another central value of the field. The direction such performances took was influenced by “the composition of the audience and audience response and participation” (Broyles-Gonzalez 1994, 16, 17). However, this requires great mental and physical agility on the part of the actors, both individually and in relationship to each other, not skills likely to be developed in very young people. Ingalls (2003) explains that the script is not a barrier but part of a system of support for the young people’s self-expression: “As a director I watch my

170

L o ca l Ac t s

kids like a hawk. I see what comes out of them organically in games and improvisations and I build upon it so that’s why, in the end, they really shine through. The experience can be ruined if people leave out the games and improvisation and just drill the kids constantly until they memorize the lines. But I’m sure there’s a way to work with personal stories that can be misused.” Ingalls adapted her own training from Sarah Lawrence College to further support the kids. Her mentor, Wilford Leach, believed that with all the right externals—props, costumes, lights, blocking—the actor has something to fill, like a vessel. Master teacher Bessie Schoenberg, with whom Ingalls also worked closely, taught a series of movement-based exercises. Neither approach focused on what the actor feels inside. Ingalls explained the relevance to theater with children: “I think it’s really wrong to use psychological acting exercises with kids. Don’t pry, don’t invade. They often don’t know what’s happening to them exactly. I help them by providing an alternative universe. I don’t have the power to change their lives. I’m not their parent. My whole way of working with kids is external. It’s about having all the right stuff. Take an eight-year-old meant to be a grandmother. With a gray wig and spectacles and a short cane, she has to hunch over, and with good language from the great writers we adapt, it all works. And every kid can do it because it’s just make-believe.” Ingalls also sees the value of scripts in helping children learn to deal with the unexpected: “It’s hard to contend with all the random incoming things of life. In stories, like life, unexpected things happen, a tornado picks up your house; mean people appear.” Ingalls carefully selects stories that both engage youth and provide models: “In every case there’s a good-hearted heroine or hero and then hard things happen that they have to struggle against and in the end, they triumph. That’s true in most of the Shakespeare I do, too. Except for Romeo and Juliet, which is great with teenagers for other reasons. Juliet is contemplating suicide, she’s got a weapon and an illegal drug. We see everyone make these terrible choices.” So like community-based art generally, Ingalls’s work is hyphenated, about theater + something else, concrete, from their lives; in the case of Romeo and Juliet, for example, the young people’s relationships with their parents and the passion of first love. Other than selected works by Shakespeare and USA, Ingalls was drawn to few scripts for young actors. She didn’t think musicals like South Pacific and Oklahoma had an immediacy for kids. There were at least six versions of Tom Sawyer in Samuel French editions, but all had rewritten Mark Twain to focus on adult concerns. Furthermore, these adaptations changed too much of the original language. So Ingalls went back to meaningful literature, not plays, from her own childhood, most of which were in the public domain. She adapted and edited these stories, and former Loft student Al Hemberger wrote lyrics and music.

Performance Structures

171

One reason that personal stories rather than preexisting texts dominate community-based theater is to avoid white- and male-dominated plays. Ingalls solves that problem by setting her texts as plays within plays and thus has done interracial casting since 1968: “You don’t want people saying, ‘Isn’t everyone except Jim supposed to be white in Tom Sawyer?’ So we add a frame that puts the play in a modern situation where anyone can take any part.” Her Tom Sawyer is acted out by a bunch of kids at a summer camp. Alice in Wonderland is already framed. The magical world Alice goes into could have people of any race in it: “The only requirement in Wonderland is that they be enormously rude.” A seventh grade Latina from East Harlem made a great Alice “by giving back all kinds of attitude.” After the Loft, in the 1980s, Ingalls spent four years at East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) and ran a summer program in Amarillo, Texas. In both situations, where literacy was a struggle, she emphasized improvisation as a rehearsal technique. Working with teenagers assigned through the courts to her Amarillo program, she translated scene dynamics and characters types from Two Gentlemen from Verona into a contemporary version, Two Guys from Amarillo. Two weeks later she passed out scripts of Two Gentlemen of Verona: “At first the kids were freaked, faced with the Mount Everest of language. But they soon understood that it was the same thing they’d been doing in their own language.” At EHTP she really wanted the kids to read. Many had parents who didn’t read, period, or at least not English: “Knowing other languages is great. But kids who grow up poor have so many things they are struggling with that they must also become masters of either math or English to succeed in our society.” Throughout her work with kids in diverse venues, Ingalls has stayed committed to a sense of play linked to Viola Spolin’s emphasis on games but including the material world of theater as magical, a realm of confetti and fantastical costumes. Everyone can play in the game. In rehearsal Ingalls would use stand-in props until they had the real thing. Two chairs were the cow. Everything was nothing. The rehearsal process was always “do-fors,” not the thing itself but enough so that the kids saw what they were meant to do and used their imagination. Really good community art exists on two planes, the make-believe and the real. Ingalls gives an example of this phenomenon in a production of As You Like It that she directed at the Loft: At the end, little cherubs pulled the lovers in on floats in the shape of hearts, with arches and flowers like the top of a wedding cake. Other kids threw petals. We played the Beatles song “All You Need is Love.” The whole audience got up and danced. They’d seen this comedy with its silly but endearing conclusion. Everyone clapped when the lovers came in and

172

L o ca l Ac t s

there wasn’t even a curtain call because everyone was dancing.You got the feeling that the Loft was this place that the kids adored and all you need is love. The parents loved that the kids loved this place. They all shone and everyone felt it. And we got that feeling at almost every production. I think it’s because the parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors saw more in the kids each time. Whatever the kid was, that kid took a big step and everyone witnessed that. They knew enough of the kids to recognize and celebrate that (2003). The merging of audience and actors and the view of the audience as witnesses rather than spectators bespeaks a performance on the ritual end of the ritual/art continuum. Ritual has no audience because everyone is a part of it. The production brings to mind Stuart Hall’s definition of popular art: “a conventional art which restates, in an intense form, values and attitudes already known; which reassures and reaffirms, but brings to this something of the surprise of art as well as the shock of recognition” (1965, 66). The texts the Loft adapted were core canonical works, easily appreciated as worthwhile. These classical children’s stories were known in many Bronxville families, like the myths at the root of the Greek plays. Seeing such texts made directly relevant to that community and witnessing the kids transformed was the surprise element, the transporting element that art provides. If you didn’t know the kids, you wouldn’t know they were transformed. Part of the richness of the experience came from having a relationship to the people on the stage outside of the stage. Ingalls identifies this element as a “synergy that happens in a community but not in conventional theater.” Another example is her production of A Christmas Carol. A Loft parent had shown Ingalls’s photos of local kids playing musical instruments for the parents at little parties at each other’s houses. Ingalls set her production of Christmas Carol in a contemporary living room, with a piano and furniture borrowed from Loft families. In the production, all the neighbors come in and have a party where they act out A Christmas Carol, just like the Bronxville families’ musical evenings. Ingalls reflected the community back to itself. Ingalls believes that audiences at professional theater also hope for an electric experience, where on one level there is the pleasure of the production but on another level it overflows the boundaries into our shared life. Sometimes it happens in professional theater, though Ingalls thinks it is less often than in community-based productions. She recalls experiencing that electricity at the first production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls in New York City in 1976: “I found myself on my feet cheering with all these other people and that was like the Loft. All the professional excellence was at work, but it crossed with something broader—a need at that moment, a wider cultural

Performance Structures

173

phenomenon.” With Colored Girls, it was the need to hear African American women’s voices—in sync with the women’s movement at that moment, and extending it, as was so necessary, to fuller inclusion of women of color. And the audience felt it. This double level does not happen with all community art or all the time. But the condition of artists knowing the audience and what is emotionally powerful for them makes the possibility of such electricity more likely than with anonymous audiences. Compo sitions: The Liz Le rman Dance Exchange Liz Lerman Dance Exchange is one of many companies that uses its own aesthetic approaches to compose work with community participation. Company founder and artistic director Liz Lerman has been inspired by a range of artists and experiences. Dada is one of her biggest influences, particularly Marcel Duchamps. She revels in surprising combinations, so characteristic of the avant-garde, and critiques prevailing notions of professionalism that she finds overcompartmentalized: “You are a dancer if you take two technique classes a day, wait tables, behave and dress a certain way, perform once a year. . . . You are not a dancer if you teach dance in a senior center. You are a social worker. You are not a dancer if once a month you work with the rabbi at the synagogue. You are a liturgical something.” In other words, the narrow definition of dance as art has led to a narrow practice. Lerman critiques professionalism that devalues art in community context, indeed devalues any performance with a larger frame than a proscenium stage. She wryly points out that working as a waitress is considered more the mark of a “real dancer” than making dances with nonprofessionals. In the early 1970s, Lerman studied Graham technique in Washington and did guerrilla theater in Boston. In 1974, she spent a requisite season living in New York City, struggling to make it as a “pro,” earning her living as a go-go dancer. Finally fed up, she returned to Washington, D.C., to pursue the integration of her various passions: “I had the idea that dance could belong in a community and that there would be a mutual change in both the dancer and the community if it were there.”3 She applied political organizing principles to dance—“meet people on their own turf, affirm what they already know, bring them together”—as a way to build community. One of Lerman’s major contributions to the dance world has been the broadening of the basis for who is included. In 1976, to help work through her mother’s death, Lerman choreographed a piece incorporating women in their seventies and eighties. She was already aware that dance is not all about technique, that technique can obscure as well as clarify. That same year she founded the Dance Exchange, composed not of a group of perfect human specimens in their twenties, such as typifies dance ensembles, but rather of

174

L o ca l Ac t s

14. Liz Lerman with Dancers of the Third Age, performing a variation on a theme from Swan Lake. Left to right: Judith Jourdin, Thelma Tulane, Liz Lerman, Vee Hollenbeck, and Jess Rea. Photo by Dennis Deloria. Courtesy of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, 1984.

moving movers of various shapes and ages. (At first she had a younger and an older dance company, which she eventually merged.) She became smitten with the older dancers’ “impact on an audience, their incredible openness to learning, the beauty of their movements, and what they had to teach me about dancing.” Incorporating older people into her work, where the thrill, as she puts it, cannot possibly be seeing how high someone’s leg is going to go, has had the salutary effect of weaning audiences from the habit of overvaluing technique. Contrary to the stereotypic conception of community-based art as an oxymoron, Lerman’s criteria for artistic merit—how committed and connected a person is to the movement—expands art itself: “And if I don’t see that on stage I’m bereft.” Thus for Lerman, a deepening of the artistic experience—the emphasis on an aesthetic of commitment as well as technical prowess—takes place concomitant to a focus on communal representation. Continuing the avant-garde practice of marvelous and surprising assemblages, Lerman integrates forms, ideas, and people that are usually kept apart. Take Shehechianu, a Lerman dance/theater piece that explores a century of interactions, overlaps, and frictions among various ethnic, racial, religious,

Performance Structures

175

and sexual legacies in the United States. It is an example of an avant-gardist aesthetic in terms of its unlikely range of sources. They include a speech by Teddy Roosevelt, a film of vaudeville performers and exotica that appeared in the 1904 World’s Fair, excerpts of company members’ family history, a contemporary score with influences from ragtime, and various levels of characterization—a mosquito, Teddy Roosevelt, company members playing themselves—some of which are fantastical, some representational, some real. The tone of the piece shifts between dreamlike, real, surreal, and disconnected, creating a dynamic sense of the century through the mix.4 Lerman grounds the piece in her favorite Jewish prayer, “Shehechianu,” Hebrew for sustenance. It is usually translated as “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and permitting us to behold this day.” She ties a meaningful personal source, Jewish identity, to the history of other peoples by retranslating the prayer thusly: “Isn’t it amazing that, given all our different histories, we’ve gathered together at this moment?” The company examined the theme of sustenance through a series of questions, such as, “What is the meaning of the prayer in relationship to your own cultural history? What has sustained you in the face of the wounds you have suffered? Are you to remember and be burdened by those memories or forget and move on? Do you see other choices?” These were explored through movement and storytelling in three contexts: within her company, in short workshops (a half day to two weeks) with interested people around the country, and at an extended residency in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portsmouth became a source for Shehechianu because in 1995–96, the company was also working on The Shipyard Project there, so ideas and materials from the two inevitably overlapped. One of the Dance Exchange’s core approaches is the combining of text and movement. Company members create aesthetically exciting dances from anybody’s story using a series of techniques that Lerman and the company have developed. She elaborates: “One of the ways in which movement and stories go together is when you listen inside a story for the movement metaphor. That’s a movement image taken from the story, standing for something in the story. Then what the dancers do is explore. They forget the story for a few minutes. We explore in as many ways as we can the beauty, the excitement, the thrill of the image, maybe being a little wacky even. So we stop the meaning, and we do the movement. We look at all the movements we’ve gathered, and we begin to work with the movements that are the most striking. Then when we go back to the story, we look for possible relationships” (Borstel 2003b, 9). The company started work on Shehechianu with the prayer itself, both the shape of its Hebrew letters and its meaning. They talked with Hebrew scholars about the root meanings of the words. Different translations offered

176

L o ca l Ac t s

different movement ideas; for example, the word vihichianu can mean “caused us to reach” or “caused us to endure.” In a 1997 company newsletter, dancer Rome Quezada expressed the energy that struck him about the letters themselves as swirling and pulsating movements, also communicating his experience of his own life at that time, which required him both to reach and to endure. In the same newsletter, company member Jeffrey Gunshol said that he “was drawn to the letter that represents Adonai, which means ‘Lord’ . . . [and] has two hooks near the top. So I am jumping into the air while hooking my fingers and knees.” Images may be developed via detailing, a technique that “draws movement ideas from concrete physical evidence by observing the immediate environment and by conjuring details of a scene from memory and imagination” (Borstel 2003b, Tool #9).5 Lerman gives an example of detailing from The Shipyard Project, using this line: “I stood on the bridge and looked at the shipyard”: The details are the unstated imagery in the sentence. The details are in what I didn’t say. So, the details might be: What is the ironwork on the bridge? What are the patterns of the ironwork? . . . Which way was the wind blowing my hair? . . . What happens choreographically is, I might take the patterns of the ironwork, which is like a crisscrossing pattern, and I might take the cranes, which are at very disjointed angles to each other. I might take my arms and form a criss-crossing pattern and then take my arms and form a disjointed, angular pattern. So now I would have two movements. She would do those two movements while she said the line. Where she places her arms vis-à-vis her body adds more layers of communication, an underlying feeling about the bridge she has discovered (Moyer 1996, 10–11). Lerman avows that emotion is often embedded in the details, suggesting that one model of her artmaking is to tell the story and dance the details. This is a widely accessible exercise suitable for the wide range of people with whom Lerman makes dances. Shehechianu evolved into a triptych zooming in first on the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, then on critical midcentury moments in two American cities, and finally on the time period that the Dance Exchange was performing it, at the edge of the millennium. Part 1, “Faith and Science on the Midway,” opens with an evocative sense of beginnings. The characters appear all in white. It is the opening of the piece, the start of the century. As “Faith and Science” unfolds, the company represents the fair’s attractions, within which are imbedded stereotypes of cultural “others” displayed for their entertainment value, that continue to (mis)shape perceptions of different groups to this day. These images also bespeak the personal histories of the dancers. Rome Quezada does the dance of a Filipino on the midway, naked except for a white

Performance Structures

177

15. Shehechianu. Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Top to bottom: Jeffrey Gunshol, Michelle Pearson, and Andy Torres. Choreography by Liz Lerman. Photo by Beatriz Schiller, 1997.

cloth covering his genitals. Judith Jourdin, as an exoticized Palestinian Jewess with a large fake nose, tells the audience about the letters in Shehechianu as her two assistants dance a hoochie-coochie. Peter Dimuro plays a congenial white anthropologist, measuring the head of the pygmy Otabenga, a particularly painful display. Andy Torres, a dark-skinned Latino, plays a carnival barker selling cure-all potions but moving in the physical step-and-fetch-it language of nineteenth-century minstrelsy, which has plagued the representation of African Americans since before the Civil War. Juxtaposed against these large racial and cultural representations are small, detailed movements and the text, “The essence of life is in smallness.” We are thus brought into the uniqueness of the individual dancers, beyond their cultural markers. Is this also a clue to the bizarre mosquito character, bearer of malaria, the first in a series of plagues including cancer and AIDS that scourged the century? Why is this bearer of bad news so cute, too cute, so round and lyrical? The piece contains a certain amount of mystery. The company thus resists the equation that accessibility to broad audiences means aesthetic simplification. But Lerman does include a guide for looking at art in the program when they perform for audiences new to dance.

178

L o ca l Ac t s

Part 2, “Bench Marks,” evidences moments in which two core elements of human sustenance, namely love and work, are in social crisis. The section starts in the shipbuilding town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, after World War II and focuses on the collective history of workers and their families. Indeed, fourteen minutes of Shehechianu is accompanied by an audiotape culled from Portsmouth stories. Images, too, are drawn from former shipyard workers. In one segment, the dancers are lying on the floor doing work gestures they learned from shipbuilders as, on tape, a Portsmouthian recounts a story about twelve generations of her family who worked there. Peter DiMuro confirms, “Portsmouth feeds our art. We are pushed to explore new metaphors.You don’t put it together in the same way because you have different ingredients” (Whitney 1996, 20). The second part of “Bench Marks” takes place in Washington, D.C., the Dance Exchange’s home turf. It depicts the 1950s, when gays and lesbians in the U.S. government were hunted out and ejected from their jobs. It also suggests the complicated relationship between work and love. One section danced to the tune of “Young at Heart” is unabashedly romantic with pleasurable couplings of various sex, race, and age combinations. There’s a woman in love with babies, and another in love with her vacuum cleaner. Gay love is complicated with spies lurking in bushes, shifting the mood from nostalgic romance and satire to paranoid intolerance and ruined careers. Part 3, “The Skin Soliloquies,” evidences how our different histories affect the way we relate to each other in the present. Characters from earlier in the piece arrive at the edge of the millennium and consider holding onto their historical scars or forgetting their pasts. One carries a box, one a sphere, one the branch of a tree. The dancers, friends and fellow travelers, comfort each other. A hand reaches down, lifts someone up, and their heads rest on each other’s shoulders. One kisses another’s cheek. Others take hands, balance, twirl, leap, and give more kisses. They pass the sphere, one to another. Sometimes they appear to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders; other times, the sphere is a playful, oversized beach ball. And another kiss. Torres sings: “Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather,” evoking the emotional geography of loss of the sustenance of love. The space is empty but for an enormous panorama with tree, sky, and Hebrew letters floating on a scrim. Baruch, atah, adonai. . . . African American dancer Gisel Mason ponders: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be seen without my scars? Scars on my knees from bending, picking. On my chest from Otabenga’s chest. Can’t forget, your water fountain is over there. I’m trapped by my own skin.” Picking up Torres’s minstrel shuffle from part 1, she mutters, “I’m going as fast as I can.” Mason then asks for us all: “Is my worth always to be measured by the weight of my burden? Do I diminish my ancestors if I move forward? Do I diminish myself if I look back?” In part 3

Performance Structures

179

we have arrived at the edge of the century as in a vast wilderness. Is this where Moses saw the burning bush? Both are evoked by shin, the first letter of Shehechianu—looking like three flames reaching upward or Moses with his two arms stretched upward. Indeed, throughout the piece the dancers raise their arms up to the sky or, more often, out to each other. Or is this that famous landscape, barren except for a single tree, from Waiting for Godot? For these characters are also trying to figure out how to go on. Lerman describes her choreographic role as “creating an environment in which people can do their best work,” in contrast to her “own rotten experiences in other people’s dance”—that is, being told exactly what to do. As a choreographer she observes that creation improves when the dancers participate in the process of making it. To that end, Lerman typically shares the big picture with the dancers. She describes getting a group of teenagers to edit their section of Hallelujah, a five-year, multi-city project celebrating what people praise. The teens were very attached to their choreography, but Lerman explained her perspective on it: “I tell them the whole story; of how I liked the movements when I first saw it earlier in the day, and of how I had come to see that it would have to be trimmed. I ask them to go away in small groups and edit out all of the material that they think will not work when set against the Whitman poem. In spite of their attachment to their choreography, they are inspired and interested in the problem. They work efficiently and return with their edits.” By framing the issue as larger than them and their dance, Lerman observes “that they can really think beyond their own needs when they are asked to confront the larger questions of the work, including what the audience will actually experience” (2002a, 24). Lerman takes what people offer up and shapes it into art. For example, she was collaborating on a Hallelujah piece with Rudy Hawkins and his gospel choir. She wanted Hawkins to write a song in which Adam and Eve fight over what to take in their suitcases when they are banished from the Garden. Lerman recounts, “At that suggestion, several of the singers looked at me in dismayed exasperation and said, ‘What suitcases? What argument? They messed up and they have to leave. Period.’ ” Moreover, Hawkins explained, “I can’t write an argument in gospel. Gospel is only for good news.” He thought for a moment, then grinned and said, “I can write it in the blues, though. But they may not sing it . . . most of the singers have left the blues behind for gospel” (Lerman 2002b, 29–30). Lerman later asked Hawkins to take something he had written for one dance and play it elsewhere. When he balked, she observed, “Our greatest difference is that I always take things apart and try to put them back together in new ways, and you always try to keep things whole and connected.” She also noted “how close faith values and aesthetic values can be” (2002b, 30). This suggests that Hawkins is a religious and aesthetic purist, whereas

180

L o ca l Ac t s

Lerman is eclectic, finding sources and inspiration for both her spirituality and art in multiple traditions. Lerman’s ability to articulate difference without rancor is a skill that has surely been as necessary to her work as have pliés and relevés. Lerman’s methodology includes educating her audience so they can see the company’s aesthetic choices. In program notes, she suggests to audiences that they pay attention to the following: gestures, from small to how amplified and expanded; repetition, how and why; sequence: why; numbers of dancers changing, why and when; geometric shapes the dancers make and their approach and recoil vis-à-vis audience; variations on a theme re: levels and body parts; where dancers facing; unison (and how many), individual, variational dancing; relation between music and dancing, music and space; stories and their relation to each other, the movements; explicit/implicit content and effect on spectator; what a given spectator likes (2002a, 26). This is a concrete way to facilitate audience engagement in company performances. Lerman’s deep connection to art that flows out of everyone’s life exists comfortably alongside that which is created by professionals. One of her inspirations is “the passion play at Oberammergau, where who gets to play Jesus is an issue in that community and the person who is chosen brings himself to that. And the knowledge you have about him filters into what you see.” For Lerman, that does not take away from the performance but enriches it. At the same time, she revels in the intensity of long technical rehearsals, insisting, “I think I’m the better for having both. I don’t see why we can’t practice the art of dance and have those things and many more. That seems much more what the role of an artist should be.” The myriad ways in which Lerman shapes what people offer up, be it company or community participants, bespeaks an effort known in Hebrew as lishlam, to make whole, the noun form of which is shalom, translated as peace. But wholeness, the literal translation, is a more complex and apt word. It means bringing everything in, with all the discomfort that suggests. Community-based artists develop ways of working through conflicts that arise as a result of the plurality of voices. Lerman describes this as “colliding truths,” accidental insensitivities to each other as a result of different perspectives (1993b, 16). Lerman is committed to not leaving in the face of conflict but rather working through the discomfort. Her writing is sprinkled with variations of lishlam. She writes of feeling fragmented, of recognizing fragmentation as the state of most people in these times, and of art as a way of bringing all the parts together. Lerman imagines that dance played a popular role in ancient cultures, that everyone knew the dances, and that dance was not an experience for specialists apart from everyday life. She states, “What we’ve really been about is trying to take these incredible functions of dance and reintegrate them into art” (17).

Closing: Boundary Jumping

Washington, D.C., Yom Kippur, October 2003. I am with choreographer Liz Lerman and some four hundred congregants at Temple Micah, dancing our atonement on this the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. Ten days ago, on the Jewish New Year, Rabbi Daniel Zemel invited worshippers to write down their sins of the past year so they could be used as part of today’s danced prayer. Lerman has chosen the following sins that were inscribed most frequently: For the sin I sinned by losing my temper, by being impatient, for my smart mouth, my pride, and for not listening. Five congregants join her on the bima (stage) and each reads a sin. Lerman has choreographed a movement for each, which she teaches all four hundred of us now. The gestures are of the hands, face, arms, and fingers; we can do them standing in place. We all do each gesture as the five congregants each read the corresponding line. Then we join in speaking and embodying all five lines and gestures. Next we do the gestures as we sing a song with different words but the same spirit of praying for forgiveness for our sins. Then music is added. Each time, the totality of the words and gestures take me to a deeper place. All of me is asking for forgiveness. One boundary traversed here is between art and ritual. A professional choreographer has brought her expertise to a spiritual context. One of the strengths of performance in a ritual context is that everyone has prepared, not just the facilitators. All of us in Temple Micah have been reading the prayers and listening to the rabbi’s words and the choir’s songs. Doubtlessly we have engaged at different levels, but, nonetheless, the power of the dance is surely related to our readiness. Equally important, all of us present, not the artist alone, has chosen forgiveness as the theme. The meaningfulness of the ritual context gives the art the possibility of playing a more central role in this community’s life. The next boundary overstepped is the typical demographics of community-based art. Through her work in this Washington Jewish community, Lerman is investigating bringing people of wealth and status into this field of performance, too. That full societal participation be welcome is a very rare 181

182

L o ca l Ac t s

phenomenon. If we really want to hear everyone’s story, we must include the rich and powerful; they could benefit from this kind of work even as do people who are disempowered, ideally in the same room, hearing from people in different circumstances than one’s own. Lerman has taken the opportunity to get people to participate by chance. Because her Yom Kippur dance is for the whole congregation and not just a subset interested in “creative Jewish experiments,” she hopes the power of art to open our hearts and minds will be experienced by the entire congregation. In the same spirit, Lerman worked with both military personnel and those against the use of nuclear weapons in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Shipyard Project, believing that people of different positions and opinions must be brought to the same table if we all are to move forward together. Lerman’s effort to expand participation in community-based performance is typical of a growing number of artists both in this field and outside of it. Like choreographer Bill T. Jones’s workshops with people with terminal illness when he created Still/Here, there are signs that participation in art projects may increasingly be based on any number of qualities that someone might bring, not only on their technical prowess. Artists such as Jones—not all of whom identify as community-based—are taking up the challenge to make their work as compelling socially as it often is aesthetically. There are also disappointing signs of projects halted at the border. Roadside Theater is one of a number of long-respected community-based ensembles experiencing a particularly uphill moment of their trajectory. Funding has been increasingly difficult to come by, especially since 9/11, as Cocke articulates in this Director’s Statement: We now come to the curious part of our journey of discovery: Because both the community chorus and residency method work in just about any situation, in any community, we reasoned that there would be great interest in employing them. Certainly the rhetoric of local and national leaders in the philanthropic and public sectors suggested a concern about social divisions and the democratic social contract that these divisions threatened to cancel. And surely, we thought, the not-for-profit theater would not turn its back on the opportunity to have a larger and more diverse audience. Reluctantly, we’ve had to conclude that we misunderstood. Presently our society does not have a firm commitment to the outcomes that our discoveries make possible; quick fixes that mask exclusion are preferred to the more arduous process of social change. The good thing, however, about such discoveries is that they remain ready to be enacted, like a promising play script. (2003a) Despite uneven societal support for community-based art, it continues to flourish. I conclude with some remarks about the direction of its growth.

Closing

183

While community-based performance is a response to local circumstances, it is nevertheless an international movement. Its emphasis on efficacy as much as aesthetics is evidenced in the word development that is frequently part of the terms used to describe it. Cultural policy consultants Arlene Goldbard and Don Adams use the term Community Cultural Development. In Africa, the term of choice is Theatre for Development. Significantly, many of the artists who have taken the lead in community cultural development are from so-called developing countries. N’gugi wa Thiongo has had a major impact both through the theater-based community literacy project he facilitated in the mid-1970s at the Kamiriithu Cultural Center in Kenya, and through his prolific writings. N’gugi wa Mir’ii worked with him in Kenya and then brought the approach to Zimbabwe, where he created the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theaters (ZACT) (see Byam 1999). Steve Oga Abba and others established the Nigerian Popular Theater Association, largely composed of community-based groups (Amkpa 2004). Likewise, Boal’s practice and theory of Theatre of the Oppressed has been adapted globally. Some African theater-for-development practitioners influenced by Boal have attached concrete social projects onto forum theater, so the work leads to both aesthetic and efficacious ends, like the digging of a well. The tendency in poorer countries to take an assets-based approach, looking for solutions within the community itself, having learned to expect nothing from the government, may be responsible for some performance projects flourishing where the need is greatest. U.S. practitioners have much to learn from colleagues worldwide less pressured and less inclined to justify every manifestation of active culture solely on aesthetic grounds. Certainly an attitude toward art that does not separate the utilitarian from the aesthetic has a long history in non-Western countries. Another boundary that we need to transgress is the notion that because we are born into an identity we are only that identity. Ferdinand Lewis (2003b) elaborates this point: “Where we are responsible to our larger, more general communities for the choices of our smaller, particular communities, we are more likely to extend ourselves outward rather than inward, open rather than closed. Ultimately, community-based identities of all sorts—no matter how unlikely the alliances—can be seen as contributing to resistance against the crumbling nation-state and a lack of representation in a globalized society, but only if those identities are networked by an ideology large enough to contain all of them. That is only conceivable within a framework of shared responsibility.” Community-based performance is thus a rich site to rethink the interrelationship between local and global. Steering clear of the tendency to oppose the local with the global, geographer Doreen Massey (2003) asserts that localism is produced and enabled by virtue of its relationship to a multitude of

184

L o ca l Ac t s

“strangers without.” Massey’s insistence that the stranger without is not abstract and distant but rather concretely present in the everyday, material reality of our lives reminds me of a scene created in a drama workshop I cofacilitated years ago in a men’s maximum prison. The scene was called “Breakfast at the White House.” It featured President Ronald Reagan; his wife, Nancy; Vice President George Bush Sr.; and his wife, Barbara. Ron told the serving person that they just wanted a light breakfast, some coffee. So the serving person put on a top hat, went to Brazil, did a little fancy footwork of diplomacy, and came back with the coffee. Then George asked for some milk. The serving person put on a cowboy hat, went to a Midwest dairy state, fixed some prices, and came back with the milk. Barbara wanted sugar. The serving person put on a soldier’s helmet, went to Cuba, and came back with the sugar. This is, of course, an easy scene to update. Just add George W. to the morning scene and have him ask the serving person for fuel to cook the coffee. We know where the serving person goes. Of course we’re all dependent on “strangers without” to provide our material world. Community-based performance offers an array of ways to experience the global in the local. Indeed, Boal takes as a central postulate of theater that it is telemicroscopic, taking what is distant and bringing it close and making the unseen visible. For community-based theater frequently focuses on people who constitute a status similar to strangers without. These people are “strangers within,” part of what used to be called the fourth world—living in the United States marginally economically and socially, yet providing services that others do not want to do and on which we depend: cleaning the streets, our living places; digging coal, building roads, and taking care of our children. The “stranger within” applies both to those born and bred on the social margins of the United States and to the global communities now living in First World cities. Jane M. Jacobs describes the complexity of contemporary global/local connection in Edge of Empire: Old models of urban development which placed the colonial city as a mid-point in an evolution from pre-modern to modern have outlived their usefulness. It is not that the distinction between core and periphery, haves and have nots, has gone away—it is devastatingly present. But the “where” of this geography is increasingly confused: First World cities have their Third World neighborhoods, global cities have their parochial underbellies, colonial cities have their postcolonial fantasies. (Jacobs 2000, 69–70) Indeed, the global is evident in the center of the city as well as the margins; it merely takes a different form there as the appropriated wealth on which the “haves” live. Community-based performance problematizes an easy definition of the

Closing

185

local as “lived experience” by bringing elements of the local that we don’t see to the here and now. I wonder if it’s not so much the global that people reject as part of their immediate lives, and hence avoid responsibility for, but anywhere with which they avoid making a relationship. That is, we are spared a bad conscience for ignorance of “global” conditions in which people produce the coffee and sugar, and extract the milk, that we unthinkingly consume. But in fact “the global,” in this sense, stands for unseen and unknown conditions in any geographical location that are distant in terms of our consciousness of them. Cornerstone Theater’s fall 2003 production of You Can’t Take It with You with a largely Muslim cast exemplifies how community-based performance can illuminate the presence of the stranger within who lives in such unseen spaces. By making theater with and for people of many ages, cultures, and levels of theatrical experience, Cornerstone builds bridges between and within diverse communities in their home city of Los Angeles and nationwide. Inherent to Cornerstone Theater’s practice is diversity. No community is monolithic; part of the task that Cornerstone sets itself is finding multiple voices within a community nevertheless defined by what they have in common. The paradox of their work is that it begins with commonality in order to invite difference. Ensemble member Peter Howard adapted Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It with You using Cornerstone’s signature methodology. First Cornerstone members read excerpts of the original play at a gathering at a local Islamic center. The play met with great enthusiasm; Muslim partners appreciated its emphasis on a multigenerational family and other themes of importance to their culture, its comedic approach, and the name of the play itself as in keeping with Muslim philosophy. Then Howard conducted interviews and story circles with the community partners, in this case local Muslims, and rewrote the text accordingly, keeping the original structure and themes. Publicity material described the production as “a contemporary adaptation (the first ever in this classic American comedy’s sixty-seven-year history) that revolves around the lives of a high-spirited Muslim family in Los Angeles, exploring themes of faith, family, individualism, politics and love.” What comes of this exchange between a diverse group of professional actors and Muslims of various professions? Or as Massey might say, how does this production find its “place” through the relationships forged in its making? One of the Cornerstone actors—their community plays always combine professional ensemble members with first-time actors—attested to how great it had been to learn about a religion she didn’t know. She has reflected on her relationship to her own religion by watching how Muslim cast members live their faith. For director Mark Valdez, the production is a chance to experience what it really means to look at things through somebody else’s eyes. For example, one

186

L o ca l Ac t s

of the Muslim actresses, for religious reasons, may not allow anyone of the opposite sex to touch her. Nor may she dance in mixed company.Valdez mused, “At first it feels insane—it’s a play. But think what it means to look at that as a positive. How freeing. I have to find other ways to communicate those feelings beside touch or dance. As much as I think I’m open-minded, I really have blinders as rigid as everybody else’s. That was such a great experience, really stepping over” (2003). The production is of equal value to the Muslim collaborators. Casting is self-selective; everyone who auditions is invited to callbacks. Those who made the commitment to be in the play are by-and-large community leaders looking to stretch, to build their community, and to take this rare opportunity to share their culture with people outside of it and engage in an interreligious, intercultural dialogue. Nevertheless, Cornerstone actor Shishir Kurup voiced some criticism of this project, expressing wariness of where Cornerstone sometimes “backs off ” in order to make a collaboration comfortable to community partners. In this case, the initial draft of the script refigured a male/female couple as two men. Even handled with a light touch, very few of the Muslim cast members were willing to participate in the play with a gay couple represented, believing the production would alienate their community. This was particularly upsetting to a gay Muslim who had been cast and was eager for his community to acknowledge that there are gay Muslims. Compromising, the gay actor noted his homosexuality in his biographical blurb in the program, so his community would see it. Despite some misgivings, Kurup recognizes that Cornerstone’s agenda “is not to force a community to deal with its homophobia” (2003). Community-based performance takes place where it meets up with its constituents. One of the built-in potentials of community-based ensembles like Cornerstone rests on the fact that they are not going anywhere. That is, in this first collaboration they only made the homosexual stranger within the Muslim community visible via one line in a bio blurb. Later, however, director Valdez came out to the cast as homosexual, and no one dropped out. And the door is open to further exchange. Indeed, after several collaborations such as this Muslim You Can’t Take It with You, Cornerstone will create a bridge play with participants from other productions within their current five-year cycle, all of which focus on faith. In Massey’s terms, Cornerstone and members of the Muslim community are making a space through their interaction. Thus seen as a process, I am optimistic that these strangers within will become more and more visible over time. Cornerstone’s negotiations in the Muslim collaboration cited above, carried out in line with its core principle of respect for community partners, led organically to experimentation. Valdez was inspired by the Muslim leading lady, who would not let a man touch her, to find other ways to communicate

Closing

187

16. You Can’t Take It with You: An American Muslim Remix. Cornerstone Theater Company. Left to right: Baraa Kahf, Georfe Haddad, Gezel Remy, and Sondos Kholoki-Kahf. Photo by Craig Schwartz, 2003.

her character’s loving relationship with her husband. In the same spirit, Peter Howard’s 2002 production, Zones, was another experiment born in pursuit of Cornerstone’s principles. Seeking fuller critical participation of the whole audience, Howard set up Zones as an open community board meeting, halfway between a dialogue with the audience on zoning for a hypothetical religious institution different from the community’s, and a play, with characters peppered throughout the audience. Howard was exploring how far they could structure meaningful audience participation within a play without feelings of manipulation, for example, when spectators realized that certain dominant figures in the room were actually actors. Community-based art experimentation exists side by side of its embrace of tradition. Indeed, a nonEnglish-speaking eighty-five-year-old man was cast in You Can’t Take It with You because he plays a traditional stringed Muslim instrument, which had

188

L o ca l Ac t s

been a big draw in a previous Cornerstone show in which he was featured. What is important is to get beyond an either/or mentality—Is communitybased performance local or global? Traditional or experimental?—when the answer is that it can be both or either. Experimentation has the capacity to further not only community-based performance but also art as a whole. Dudley Cocke links experimenting to building knowledge and thus urges artists to research “antecedent theory and practice and recent observation” as part of conceptualizing new works: “Unlike the sciences, it seems that in the arts we’re not always conscious of building knowledge. . . . Sometimes something new comes because we put what is known, or what has been done, into a new pattern of relationships. Other times, by clearing away inherited theatrical assumptions and practices, we see our way to make something new.” Cocke advocates that “experimentation be in creative tension with what has come before, and rationality in play with intuition.” Seeing every theater as part of some tradition and historical context, he urges artists to research who has already tried an experiment of current interest to them and to find out the result. Cocke’s proposal comes out of recognizing that his own company does not know enough about the context of what they do, currently regarding bilingual performances with a Zuni tribe: “Now we’re basically doing it out of enthusiasm; our company would benefit from knowing more” (2003c). In the same spirit of Cocke’s call for artistic experiments grounded in precedent, community-based art criticism might be grounded first in the tradition within which a project is situated. Evaluation of Zones, for example, would thus foreground degree and depth of audience participation. Aesthetically, given the emphasis on merging life and art, believability of character would be an appropriate measuring stick. Second, the critic might assess a project in relation to a company’s long-term mission. In the case of Cornerstone, it would be appropriate to assess if the piece helped build bridges between different subgroups of Los Angeles. The critic might also look at aesthetic means used to convey emotion not dependent on a fully experienced cast. Third, given that community-based performance unfolds over multiple phases of which the performance is but one, it would be informative to know what happened before and what was planned to happen after this production. Fourth, the critic might find out what the people involved got out of it, both performers and audiences. Fifth, the critic could enunciate her own responses, acknowledging her particular bias for or against such a model of art. “Life is more important than art. That’s what makes art so important,” says John Malpede, and with community-based performance, this adage often proves true. Sometimes it is because this field focuses on the making of meaning for artists and a participating community that spills well over the boundaries of art. Sometimes it is because of the impossible encounters it facilitates.

Closing

189

I experienced both of these dynamics cofacilitating a workshop in a men’s maximum security prison when I was twenty years old. That experience, so confounding my expectations of what “people in prison are like,” led me to question other preconceptions I carried about groups of people I’d never met. It made such an impact on my life that I came to see the actor as a particular sort of anthropologist, revealing the gap between cultural stereotypes and real people; to do so, I saw a place in actor training for fieldwork. Even as anthropology informs community-based performance, so could this field inform conventional theater by challenging it to stay as emotionally connected to and as aware of its social context as it is of its production values. Bertolt Brecht expressed a related sentiment when he marveled at the expressivity of people involved in everyday acts of persuasion and survival. He cautioned his professional actors, “even if you improved upon What the man at the corner did, you would be doing less Than him if you Made your theatre less meaningful—with lesser provocation Less intense in its effect on the audience—and less useful.” (1962, 179) The etymological root of art, “ar,” means to fit together, such as numbers in ARithmetic, soldiers in ARmy, musical notes in hARmony. Including its variants ri, ra, and re, as in ritual, ratify, ratio, and reason, this root can be found in the words for many of the disciplines that we in the West separate, even perceive as opposites, such as art, reason, and religion. Some languages do not have a separate word for art. I am told that in Bantu, the same word is used to indicate agriculture, craft, art, and science. In certain Native American languages, art translates as “prayer made visible.” The modernist idea of art as a self-contained domain is the blip on the screen. Community-based performance is in the great tradition of art integrated into people’s lives, expressing and bestowing meaning.

Note s

Introduction 1. For a description of the street activities themselves, see Lebel (1998).

Chapte r 1

Early Antece de nts

1. In Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, pageantry engaged a vast number of people, most of whom were illiterate and relied on performance to communicate ideas. Whole towns were transformed into stages for the representation of Christian cosmology. 2. The Chautauqua Institute was founded in 1874 in southwest New York State “as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning . . . a place in which to grow spiritually, a place of intellectual stimulation, where faith is restored and the arts are valued” (http://www.chautauquainstitute.org). The institute has, since 1880, also served as a public forum for open discussions of public issues and has continued to envision a role for the arts in public life. 3. Prior, during, and immediately following the Russian Revolution of 1917, participatory performance was widespread, with amateur troupes enacting historical events and actively engaging in what Vladimir Tolstoy (1998, 15) called “the struggle for national transformation.” 4. For more on Arvold’s work, see Arvold (1923). For more on the fruits of the Extension Service, see Patten (1937).

Chapte r 2

Motion of the Ocean

1. Although I refer to the 1960s, this period began in the 1950s with mass civil rights organizing and extended until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. 2. All quotations from John O’Neal come from our interview of January 2002 unless otherwise indicated. 3. According to O’Neal, Moses and he argued so much that they needed a tiebreaker. They also needed someone with good theater credentials. O’Neal and Moses further understood that the American theater is a white institution and thus it would be good to have a white associate. 4. All quotations from Susan Ingalls come from our interview of July 12, 2003, unless otherwise indicated. 5. Not to overromanticize this moment in feminism; it was mostly white and middle class but significant nonetheless. 6. All unattributed quotations by Lacy come from my interview with her in 2002. 7. Aztlan is the Aztec word for “all the lands to the north, the lands from which we came.” It refers to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, and it is a way Chicanos honored their North American roots (Huerta 2000, 2).

191

192

Notes to Pages 59–130

8. See Burnham and Durland (1999) for their organization of this field around the tropes of the avant-garde, activism, and citizenship.

Chapte r 3

Establishing the Fie ld

1. Under Thomas Dent’s leadership, the Free Southern Theater had frequently cast community performers, replacing Moses and O’Neal’s earlier practice of hiring professionals. Volunteerism is still an issue in community-based arts. Plays are typically made with community participants, and, given how hard money is to come by, only the professional artists are usually paid. 2. Kent also founded and directed a formidable theater company, The Provisional, which began in 1976 in Los Angeles. 3. Though much community-based performance is developed with the actors, the Junebug plays, authored by O’Neal and one or two collaborators, nevertheless fall within the field. They were directly created out of stories by the community to which they are directed. 4. In the late 1980s and 1990s, conservative cultural critics, clergy, and politicians “decried some art as sinful, blasphemous, or unpatriotic” and “sought to reduce or eliminate public funding for art in general” (Yenawine 1999, 9). 5. This mass dramatization of November 6, 1920, was a celebration of a revolutionary event that took place in October 1917, re-created at the same Palace Square. See Tolstoy, Bibikova, and Cooke (1998). 6. Rick Lowe, director of Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, has integrated art with a community revitalization program. The multidimensional project features seven installation houses, “which, twice a year, are each transformed by an artist whose work deals with themes relevant to African Americans. . . . Artists are asked to involve neighborhood residents in the work’s creation and carry out outreach activities of their own choosing during their six month stint” (Dewan 2003).

Chapte r 5

Criticism

1. Dell’Arte managing artistic director Michael Fields explains that dentalium “is a word for ‘shells’ that were used as currency amongst many of the north coast tribes. It is actually Latin in root and is used to describe the marine mollusk from which the shells come. So it is not an Indian word per se and yet the different tribes all attribute different meanings to it and do use it” (2003). 2. Liz Lerman’s Critical Response ProcessSM and the Critical Response ProcessSM are service marks of the Dance Exchange Inc. (Liz Lerman Dance Exchange). Use of and reference to Liz Lerman’s Critical Response ProcessSM and the Critical Response ProcessSM require prior permission of the Dance Exchange. For editorial purposes, the service mark has been omitted from the text of this publication.

Chapte r 6

Storyte lling

1. The tradition of the personal essay nonetheless diverges from that of the oral community-based narrative. The latter focuses on points of view by people hitherto unrecognized, whereas the personal essayists gathered in Lopate’s anthology are well known. While story-based performances might include well-known people, that which self-identifies as community-based is a deeply democratic project. 2. I distinguish such stories from the roar of personal exposés that have become part of the contemporary media circus. Whereas in community-based performance stories are told to expand our understanding of diverse people in the world, personal stories recounted on reality TV and talk shows risk positioning viewers as voyeurs, tellers as objects of pity or shame, and the event of the telling as a competition.

Notes to Pages 132–176

193

3. Since 1973 the greenguerillas™ organization has helped thousands of people transform rubble-strewn lots into community gardens. Each year they work with hundreds of grassroots groups throughout New York City to strengthen underserved neighborhoods through community gardening. They help people grow food, plant flowers, educate youth, paint murals, and preserve their gardens as vital community centers for future generations. 4. Brent Blair, who directs the Theatre of the Oppressed/Art of Applied Theater/Los Angeles Center, pointed out that discussion and percussion share the same root, suggesting lively, heated contact, not a bad thing at all. 5. For more on the relationship between political trauma and the therapeutic, see Marlin-Curiel (2001). 6. Fires in the Mirror is Smith’s solo performance that she created from her interviews with people from many perspectives concerning the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The riots were a result of long-simmering tensions between Jews and Caribbean Americans there, set off when a young black boy, Gavin Cato, was killed by a car in a local rabbi’s motorcade and a Jewish student was killed by neighborhood blacks in retaliation.

Chapte r 7

Pe rformance Structure s

1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations by Joan Schirle are from my interview with her in 2002. 2. Sara Brady harshly critiques Steelbound for not indicting Bethlehem Steel. In her essay on the subject (2000), she erroneously assumes that community-based performance always claims to be radical when, in fact, as Steelbound exemplifies, it is not. Steelbound was enormously successful vis-à-vis its intentions, which did not include a questioning of the status quo. It is a disservice to the field to critique a project for something it did not intend to accomplish. 3. Unless otherwise indicated, all comments by Lerman in this essay come from my interviews with her on January 21, 1995, in New York City; June 28, 1997, and January 22, 1999, over the telephone; and October 7, 2003, in Takoma, MD. 4. I am grateful to Dance Exchange Humanities Director John Borstel for conversations about Shehechianu that informed this analysis. 5. The Dance Exchange as an entity uses and refines all of the techniques, but the source of the initial impulse varies. Detailing, for example, originated with choreographer Celeste Miller before she was part of the Dance Exchange. Lerman has evolved it to the point that she and Miller now practice it in distinctly different versions.

Bibliog raphy

Adams, Don, and Arlene Goldbard. 1990. “Grass Roots Vanguard.” In Crossroads: Reflections on the Politics of Culture. Talmage, CA: DNA Press. ———. 2001. Creative Community:The Art of Cultural Development. New York: Rockefeller Foundation. Amkpa, Awam. 2004. Postcolonial Desires. London: Routledge. Arvold, Alfred. 1923. The Little Country Theater. New York: Macmillan. Ashton-Warner, Sylvia. 1963. Teacher. New York: Simon and Schuster. Atlas, Caron. 2002. Interview by the author. February 15. New York. ———. 2003a. Interview by the author. August 19. New York. ———. 2003b. “Critical Perspectives Project.” Unpublished paper written for Animating Democracy Initiative. At http://www.americansforthearts.org/AnimatingDemocracy/ resource_center/publications.asp. Bacon, Barbara Schaffer, Cheryl Yuen, and Pam Korza. 1999. Animating Democracy:The Artistic Imagination as a Force in Civic Dialogue. http://www.artsusa.org. Baker, Don, and Dudley Cocke. 1994. Red Fox/Second Hangin.’ In Alternate ROOTS: Plays from the Southern Theater, ed. Kathie de Nobriga and Valetta Anderson, 57–102. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press. Bates, Esther Willard. 1925. The Art of Producing Pageants. Boston: Walter H. Baker Co. Bean, Annemarie. Forthcoming. “The Free Southern Theater: Moving Between Movements.” In Group Theaters, ed. James Harding and Cindy Rosenthal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Becker, Carol. 1994. “Herbert Marcuse and the Subversive Potential of Art.” In The Subversive Imagination, 113–129. New York: Routledge. ———. 1995. “Our Students Need the City.” In Conversations Before the End of Time, ed. Suzi Gablik, 335–380. New York: Thames and Hudson. Benhabib, Seyla. 1992. Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Post-modernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge. Benjamin, Walter. 1969. Illuminations. New York: Schocken. Berger, Arthur Asa. 1992. Popular Culture Genres. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Press. Berger, John. 1972. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books. Berger, Maurice, ed. 1998. The Crisis of Criticism. New York: New Press. Bhaba, Homi. 1998. “Dance this Dis Around.” In The Crisis of Criticism, ed. Maurice Berger. New York: New Press. Boal, Augusto. 1979. Theatre of the Oppressed. Trans. Charles A. and Maria-Odilia Leal McBride. New York: Urizen.

195

196

Bibliography

———. 1995. The Rainbow of Desire. Trans. Adrian Jackson. London and New York: Routledge. ———. 2001. Hamlet and the Baker’s Son. London and New York: Routledge. Borstel, John. 2003a. Telephone interview with author. December 12. ———, ed. 2003b. Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Basic Toolbox. Takoma Park, MD: Author. Brady, Sara. 2000. “Welded to the Ladle: Steelbound and Non-Radicality in Community-Based Theatre.” TDR:The Drama Review 44 (3): 51–71. Brecht, Bertolt. 1962. Brecht on Theatre. Ed. John Willett. New York: Hill and Wang. ———. 1976. “On Everyday Theatre.” In Poems, 1913–1956, ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim, 176–179. New York: Methuen. Brecht, Stefan. 1988. The Bread and Puppet Theatre. New York: Routledge. Brison, Susan J. 2002. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Bristol, Michael. 1973. “Acting Out Utopia: The Politics of Carnival.” Performance 6, 13–28. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Story Circle. 2000. Unpublished oral narratives. May 15. New York University Drama Department. Broyles-Gonzalez, Yolanda. 1994. El Teatro Campesino. Austin: University of Texas Press. Burnham, Linda. 2001a. “Telling and Listening in Public: The Critical Discourse.” http:// www.communityarts.net/concal. ———. 2001b. Personal correspondence with the author via e-mail. July 12. ———. 2003. Personal correspondence with the author via e-mail. June 15. Burnham, Linda, and Steven Durland, eds. 1999. The Citizen Artist. http://www .communityarts.net. Byam, L. Dale. 1999. Community in Motion: Theater for Development in Africa. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey. Carey, Alison. 1999. “Steelbound.” Unpublished script. Touchstone and Cornerstone Theaters, Bethlehem, PA. Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Cavarero, Adriana. 2000. Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood. New York: Routledge. Chaikin, Joseph. 1972. The Presence of the Actor. New York: Atheneum. Cieri, Marie, and Claire Peeps, eds. 2001. Activists Speak Out: Reflections on the Pursuit of Change in America. New York: Palgrave. Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Cobley, Paul. 2000. Narrative. New York: Routledge. Cocke, Dudley. 1993. “CAPP: A New Posture?” High Performance 16 (4): 13. ———. 2000. “Change.” Keynote speech. Kentucky Arts Council, October 20. http:// www.appalshop.org/rst. ———. 2002. Interview by author. June 6. Norton, VA. ———. 2003a. “Director’s Statement.” http://www.appalshop.org/rst. ———. 2003b. “A Call to Experimentation.” Keynote speech. Amherst College, Network of Ensemble Theaters Festival, July 23. ———. 2003c. Personal correspondence with author. July 20. Cocke, Dudley, Harry Newman, and Janet Salmons-Rue, eds. 1993. From the Ground Up: Grassroots Theater in Historical and Contemporary Perspective. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Cohen, Anthony P. 1985. The Symbolic Construction of Community. New York: Youngstock.

Bibliography

197

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. 1995. “The American Festival Project.” In But Is It Art? ed. Nina Felshin, 119–140. Seattle: Bay Press. ———, ed. 1998. Radical Street Performance. New York: Routledge. ———. 2000. “The Stars of Bethlehem.” American Theatre 17 (3): 16–19. ———. 2001. “Speaking Across Communities: The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.” In Performing Democracy, ed. Susan Haedicke and Tobin Nellhaus, 213–225. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Colon-Lespier, Alvan. 2003. Personal correspondence with the author. November 4. Cooney, Robert, and Helen Michalowski, eds. 1987. The Power of the People. Philadelphia: New Society Press. Croce, Arlene. 1994. “Discussing the Undiscussable.” New Yorker, December 26–January 2. d’Aquili, Eugene, Charles D. Laughlin Jr., and John McManus. 1979. The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press. Dell’Arte Players. 1991. “Redwood Curtain: The Scar Tissue Mysteries.” Publicity booklet. Blue Lake, CA. deNobriga, Kathie. 1993. “An Introduction to Alternate ROOTS.” High Performance 16 (4): 11. Dent, Tom, Richard Schechner, and Gil Moses, eds. 1969. The Free Southern Theater by the Free Southern Theater. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co. Dent, Tom, and Jerry W. Ward Jr. 1987. “After the Free Southern Theater: A Dialog.” TDR:The Drama Review 31 (3): 120–125. Dewan, Shaila. 2003. “Art in the House: Project Row Houses.” http://www .communityarts.net. Dewey, John. 1934. Art as Experience. New York: Perigee Books, 1980. Dreeszen, Craig. 2002. “Summary Notes. Dudley Cocke, Director of Roadside Theater, Whitesburg, Kentucky; A.B. Spellman, interviewing Cocke.” Americans for the Arts National Convention, June 10. http://www.appalshop.org/rst. Duberman, Martin. 1964. In White America: A Documentary Play. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Du Bois, W.E.B. 1994. “Criteria of Negro Art.” In Harlem Renaissance Reader, ed. David Levering Lewis, 100–105. New York: Penguin. Durland, Steve. 1998. Introduction to The Citizen Artist 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena, ed. Linda Burnham and Steven Durland, xv–xxiv. Gardiner, NY: Critical Press. Elam, Harry, Jr. 2001. Taking It to the Streets. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ewell, Maryo Gard. 1999. Introduction to Grassroots Theater. Ed. Robert Gard. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Felman, Shoshana. 1992. “Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching.” In Testimony, by Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, 1–56. London: Routledge. Fields, Michael. 2002a. “Interviews with Roadside Theater.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert H. Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steven Durland. http:// www.communityarts.net. ———. 2002b. “Wild Card.” Unpublished text. Dell’Arte Players, Blue Lake, CA. ———. 2003. Personal correspondence with author. August 1. Filewod, Alan. 2001. “Coalitions of Resistance: Ground Zero’s Community Mobilization.” In Performing Democracy, ed. Susan C. Haedicke and Tobin Nellhaus, 89–103. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

198

Bibliography

Firney, Dave. 2002. Interview by the author. May 25. Blue Lake, CA. Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. Friedman, Daniel. 1985. “A Brief Description of the Workers’Theatre Movement of the 1930s.” In Theatre for Working-Class Audiences in the United States, 1830–1980, ed. Bruce McConachie and Daniel Friedman, 111–120. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Frisch, Michael. 1998. “Oral History and Hard Times.” In The Oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson. New York: Routledge. Gard, Robert. 1999. Grassroots Theater. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Geer, Richard Owen. 1993. “Of the People, By the People and For the People: The Field of Community Performance.” High Performance 16(4): 28–31. Gennep, Arnold van. 1960. The Rites of Passage. Trans. Monika B.Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Gilroy, Paul. 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Glassberg, David. 1990. American Historical Pageantry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Goldbard, Arlene. 1993. “Postscript to the Past.” High Performance 16 (4): 23–27. ———. 2003. Telephone interview by author. October 15. Gornick, Vivian. 2001. The Situation and the Story. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Guinier, Lani, and Gerald Torres. 2002. The Miner’s Canary. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Haedicke, Susan C., and Tobin Nellhaus, eds. 2001. Performing Democracy: International Perspectives on Urban Community-Based Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Hall, Stuart. 1965. The Popular Arts. New York: Pantheon. Hammer, Kate. 1992. “John O’Neal, Actor and Activist: The Praxis of Storytelling.” TDR: A Journal of Performance 36 (4): 12–27. Heath, Stephen, and Gillian Skirrow. 1986. “An Interview with Raymond Williams.” In Studies in Entertainment, ed. Tania Modlewski, 3–17. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Hennessey, Keith. 2002. “Researcher, Jump-Start Theater.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http://www .communityarts.net. Heritage, Paul. 2000. Unpublished lecture on Brazilian theater. New York University, April 17. Herman, Judith. 1992. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books. hooks, bell. 1990. Yearning. Boston: South End Press. Howard, Peter. 2003. Interview by author. September 22. Los Angeles. Huerta, Jorge. 1982. Chicano Theater:Themes and Forms. Ypsilanti, MI: Bilingual Press. ———. 2000. Chicano Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ingalls, Susan. 1996. “The Six Concepts of Community-Based Education.” Unpublished manuscript. Children and the Classics, New York. ———. 2003. Interview by author. July 12. New Jerusalem, PA. Jackson, Peter, and Jan Penrose. 1993. Constructions of Race, Place and Nation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jacobs, Jane M. 2000. “From The Edge of Empire.” In The City Cultures Reader, ed. Malcolm Miles, Tim Hall, and Iain Borden, 69–73. London: Routledge. Jones, Bill T., with Peggy Gillespie. 1995. Night on Earth. New York: Pantheon.

Bibliography

199

Kaprow, Allen. 1993. Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kelley, Jeff. 1995. “The Body Politics of Suzanne Lacy.” In But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism, ed. Nina Felshin, 221–250. Seattle: Bay Press. Kent, Steve. 2002. Interview by the author. January 22–25. Los Angeles. Kershaw, Baz. 1992. The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention. London: Routledge. King, George. 1987. Writer/ producer. You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover. George King and Associates, Atlanta, GA. Video about actor John O’Neal. Kohl, Erica. 2001. “Organizing and Theater: Bus Riders Union.” In Connecting Californians: Finding the Art of Community Change. Project report. http://www.communityarts .net/concal/concal.php. Korza, Pam, Barbara Schaffer Bacon, and Andrea Assaf. 2002. “Inroads: The Intersection of Art and Civic Dialogue.” http://www.communityarts.net. Kostelanetz, Richard. 1980. Theatre of Mixed-Means. New York: RK Editions. Kretzman, John P., and John L. McKnight. 1993. Building Communities from the Inside Out. Chicago: ACTA Publications. Kuftinec, Sonja. 2003. Staging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. Kuhn, Thomas. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kurup, Shishir. 2003. Interview by the author. September. Los Angeles. Lacy, Suzanne. 1980. “Documentation of Three Weeks in May.” Unpublished manuscript in author’s possession. ———, ed. 1995. Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Seattle: Bay Press. ———. 2002. Interview by author. May 23. Oakland, CA. ———. 2003. Interview by author. September 20. Los Angeles. Landy, Robert. 1996. “The Use of Distance in Drama Therapy (1983).” In Essays in Drama Therapy, ed. Robert Landy, 13–27. Bristol, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Lebel, Jean Jacques. 1998. “Notes on Political Street Theatre: Paris, 1968, 1969.” In Radical Street Performance, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz, 179–184. New York: Routledge. Leonard, Robert H., Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland, eds. 2002. Performing Communities: The Grassroots Ensemble Theater Research Project. http://www .performingcommunities.org. Lerman, Liz. 1993a. “Toward a Process for Critical Response.” High Performance 16 (4): 46–49. ———. 1993b. “Are Miracles Enough?” Dance/USA Journal (spring): 16–20. ———. 1995. Interview by author. January 21. New York. ———. 1997. Telephone interview by author. June 28. ———. 1999. Interview by author. January 22. Takoma, MD. ———. 2002a. “Framing it Bigger: Meaning, Morale and the Question of Quality” and “How to Watch a Hallelujah.” In Hallelujah:The Extraordinary Essence in Everyday Life, 24, 26. College Park: Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland. ———. 2002b. “Walking the Thin Border: A Parting Thought on Art and Faith.” In Hallelujah: The Extraordinary Essence in Everyday Life, 29–30. College Park: Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland. ———. 2003a. “Dancing in Community: Its Roots in Art.” http://www.communityarts .net/readingroom/archive/intro-dance.php. ———. 2003b. Interview by author. October 2. Princeton University.

200

Bibliography

Lerman, Liz, and John Borstel. 2003. Critical Response Process. Takoma Park, MD: Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Lerner, Ruby. 1994. “Searching for Roots in Southern Soil.” In Alternate ROOTS: Plays from the Southern Theater, ed. Kathie deNobriga and Valetta Anderson, xv–xviii. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Levine, Lawrence. 1988. Highbrow/Lowbrow. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Lewis, David Levering, ed. 1994. Introduction to Harlem Renaissance Reader, xv–xliii. New York: Penguin. Lewis, Ferdinand. 2002a. “Researcher, Cornerstone Theater.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert H. Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http:// www.communityarts.net. ———. 2002b. “Researcher, Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD).” Performing Communities, ed. Robert H. Leonard Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http://www.communityarts.net. ———, ed. 2003a. Cornerstone Community Collaboration Handbook. Los Angeles: Author. ———. 2003b. Personal correspondence with the author. September 1. Lippard, Lucy R., ed. 1973. Six Years:The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. London: Studio Vista. ———. 1984. Get the message? A decade of art for social change. New York: Dutton. ———. 1985. “Headlines, Heartlines, Hardlines: Advocacy Criticism as Activism.” In Cultures in Contention, ed. Douglas Kahn and Diane Neumiaer, 242–261. Seattle: Real Comet Press. ———. 1997. The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: New Press. ———. 2003. Introduction to “Critical Perspectives.” Unpublished manuscript. Animating Democracy Initiative. http://www.americansforthearts.org/AnimatingDemocracy/ resource_center/publications.asp. Lopate, Philip, ed. 1995. The Art of the Personal Essay. New York: Random House. Lopez, Arnaldo. 2002. “Researcher. Teatro Pregones.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert H. Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http:// www.communityarts.net. MacAloon, John J., ed. 1984. “Introduction: Cultural Performances, Cultural Theory.” In Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle: Rehearsals Toward a Theory of Cultural Performance, 1–15. Philadelphia: Ishi. MacGowan, Kenneth. 1929. Footlights Across America. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. MacKaye, Percy. 1912. The Civic Theater in Relation to the Redemption of Leisure. New York: M. Kennerley. Magendzo, Salomon. 1990. “Popular Education in Non-governmental Organizations: Education for Social Mobilization.” Harvard Educational Review 60 (1): 46–54. Malpede (Taylor), Karen, ed. 1972. People’s Theater in Amerika. New York: Drama Book Specialists. Marlin-Curiel, Stephanie. 2001. “Performing Memory, Rehearsing Reconciliation: The Art of Truth in the New South Africa.” Ph.D. diss., New York University. Massey, Doreen. 2003. “The Stranger at the Gate.” Keynote address, Civic Centre Conference, London, April 12. McConachie, Bruce. 2001. “Approaching the Structure of Feeling in Grassroots Theater.” In Performing Democracy, ed. Susan Haedicke and Tobin Nellhaus, 29–57. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Bibliography

201

McKenna, Mark. 2002. “Researcher. Dell’Arte Players.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert H. Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http:// www.communityarts.net. Mda, Zakes. 1993. When People Play People. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. Modlewski, Tania, ed. 1986. Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Mount, Lisa. 2003. Telephone interview by author. September 8. Moyer, Judith. 1996. “A Most Excellent Conversation.” The Music Hall’s Shipyard Project Book, 7–16. Portsmouth, NH: Author. Moyers, Bill. 1997. Producer. “Bill T. Jones’s Still/Here with Bill Moyers.” New York: WNET. Muhammad, Curtis. 2003. “The Color Line.” Presentation at Animating Democracy Initiative Conference, Flint, MI, October 10. Myerhoff, Barbara. 1978. Number Our Days. New York: Simon and Schuster. Neal, Larry. 1968. “The Black Arts Movement.” TDR:The Drama Review 12 (4): 29–39. Nochlin, Linda. 1985. “Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913.” In Theatre for Working Class Audiences in the US: 1830–1980, ed. Bruce McConachie and Daniel Friedman, 87–94. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Oates, Joyce Carol. 1998.”Confronting Head-on the Face of the Afflicted.” In Crisis in Criticism, ed. Maurice Berger. New York: New Press. O’Brien, Mark, and Craig Little, eds. 1990. Reimaging America:The Arts of Social Change. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers. O’Neal, John. 1968. “Motion of the Ocean.” TDR:The Drama Review 12 (4): 70–77. ———. 1999. “A Road Through the Wilderness.” In A Sourcebook of African-American Performance, ed. Annemarie Bean, 97–101. London: Routledge. ———. 2002. Interview by author. January 22–25. Via telephone August 6. La Verne University, La Verne, CA. O’Quinn, Jim. 1986. “Free at Last.” American Theatre Magazine (March): 27–28. Orenstein, Claudia. 1998. Festive Revolutions: The Politics of Popular Theater and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Patten, Marjorie. 1937. The Arts Workshop of Rural America. New York: Columbia University Press. Patterson, Cynthia, and Bari J. Watkins. 1981. “Rites and Rights.” In Women in American Theatre, ed. Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkins, 29–33. New York: Crown Publishers. Peck, Sabrina, and ensemble. 2001. “Common green/ common ground.” Unpublished script. New York University Drama Department, New York. Peeps, Claire. 2001.”Getting in History’s Way.” Activists Speak Out: Reflections on the Pursuit of Change in America, ed. Marie Cieri and Claire Peeps, 269–272. New York: Palgrave. Pettitt, Peggy. 2003. Interview by the author. January 10. New York. Popular Memory Group. 1998. “Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method.” In The Oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, 75–86. New York and London: Routledge. Porterfield, Donna. 2003. Correspondence with author via e-mail. June 17. Razack, Sherene. 1993. “Storytelling for Social Change.” In Returning the Gaze, ed. Himani Bannerji, 83–100. Toronto: Sister Vision Press. Read, Alan. 1993. Theatre and Everyday Life. New York: Routledge.

202

Bibliography

Rich, Frank. 1982. “Introduction to New York Theatre.” Fall lecture presented at New York University Drama Department. Roadside Theater. 2002. Publicity material on collaboration with Idiwanan An Chawe. Appalshop, Whitesburg, KY. Rolon, Rosalba. 2003. Interview by the author. July 24. New York. Romney, Patricia. “The Art of Dialogue.” http://www.americansforthearts.org. Rosaldo, Renato. 1993. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press. Roth, Moira. 1988. “Suzanne Lacy: Social Reformer and Witch.” TDR: The Drama Review 21 (1): 42–60. Rothberg, Michael. 2002. “Between the extreme and the Everyday: Ruth Kluger’s Traumatic Realism.” In Extremities: Trauma Testimony and Community, ed. Nancy K. Miller and Jason Tougaw, 55–70. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Rukeyser, Muriel. 1974. The Life of Poetry. New York: Morrow. Salverson, Julie. 2000. “The Mask of Solidarity.” In Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism, ed. Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz, 157–170. New York: Routledge. Sandford, Mariellen R., ed. 1995. Happenings and Other Acts. New York and London: Routledge. Schechner, Richard. 1973. Environmental Theater. New York: Hawthorne Books. ———. 1977. Essays on Performance Theory, 1970–1976. New York: Drama Book Specialists. ———. 1985. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ———. 1998. “What is Performance Studies Anyway?” In The Ends of Performance, ed. Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane, 362–367. New York: New York University Press. ———. 2000. Interview by the author. April 28. New York. ———. 2002. Performance Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge. Schechner, Richard, and Willa Appel, eds. 1980. By Means of Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press. Schirle, Joan. 2002a. Interview by the author. May. Blue Lake, CA. ———. 2002b. “Movement Training: Dell’Arte International.” Movement for Actors, ed. Nicole Potter, 187–195. New York: Allworth Press. Schroeder, Patricia R. 1996. “Transforming Images of Blackness: Dramatic Representation, Women Playwrights, and the Harlem Renaissance.” In Crucibles of Crisis, ed. Janelle Reinelt. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Schwarzman, Mat. 1993. “It’s About Transformation: Thoughts on Arts as Social Action.” High Performance 16 (4): 32–35. ———. 1996. “Drawing the Line at Place: The Environmental Justice Project: Artists and organizers collaborate to address environmental issues in Louisiana.” http://www.communityarts.net. ———. 1998. “Something Big.” Inside Arts (November): 32–38. Selsam, Howard, and Harry Martel, eds. 1963. Reader in Marxist Philosophy: From the Writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. New York: International Publishers Co. Shank, Theodore. 1982. American Alternative Theatre. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Smith, Anna Deavere. 1993. Fires in the Mirror. New York: Doubleday. Solomon, Alisa. 1998. “AIDS Crusaders ACT UP a Storm.” In Radical Street Performance, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz, 42–51. London: Routledge. Spellman, A. B. 2002. “Annual Americans for the Arts Convention Innovator Interview

Bibliography

203

Synopsis: Dudley Cocke.” Speech given at the Americans for the Arts 2002 Annual Convention. June 10. Nashville, TN. Stam, Robert. 1988. “Mikhail Bakhtin and Critical Left Pedagogy.” In Postmodernism and Its Discontents, ed. Ann Kaplan, 116–145. New York: Verso. Strinati, Dominic. 1995. An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. London: Routledge. Thiongo, Ngugi wa. 1996. Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Tolstoy, Vladimir. 1998. Excerpt from “Street Art of the Revolution.” In Radical Street Performance, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz, 15–25. New York: Routledge. Tolstoy, Vladimir, Irina Bibikova, and Catherine Cooke, eds. 1998. “Street Art of the Revolution.” In Radical Street Performance, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz, 15–30. New York: Routledge. Tougaw, Jason. 2002. “Testimony and the Subjects of AIDS Memoirs. In Extremities: Trauma Testimony and Community, ed. Nancy K. Miller and Jason Tougaw, 166–185. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Turner ,Victor. 1982. From Ritual to Theatre. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ———. 1985. On the Edge of the Bush:The Anthropology of Experience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Valdez, Mark. 2003. Interview with the author. September 22. Los Angeles. Watkins, Nayo. 2002a. Telephone interview by author. September 12. Los Angeles. ———. 2002b. “Researcher. Carpetbag Theater.” Performing Communities, ed. Robert Leonard, Ann Kilkelly, Linda Burnham, and Steve Durland. http://www.communityarts .net. Weiss, Judith, Leslie Damasceno, Donald Frischman, Claudia Kaiser-Lenoir, Marina Pianca, and Beatriz J. Rizk. 1993. Latin American Popular Theatre. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Whitney, D. Quincey. 1996. “Week of Dance Fetes Portsmouth’s Past.” Boston Globe, September 15, 20. Williams, Raymond. 1958. Culture and Society, 1780–1950. New York: Harper and Row. ———. 1976. Keywords. London: Farber. ———. 1984. The Long Revolution. Harmondsworth, England: Pelican. Worley, Haja. 2000. Personal narrative. May 15. Yenawine, Philip. 1999. “Introduction: But What Has Changed?” In Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America, ed. Brian Wallis, Marianne Weems, and Philip Yenawine, 8–23. New York: New York University Press. Zinn, Howard. 1980. A People’s History of the United States, 1492–Present. New York: Harper Collins. Zollar, Jawole Willa Jo. 2003. Interview by the author. August 15. New York.

Index

Abba, Steve Oga, 183 activist performance of the 1960s and 1970s, 4, 35, 36, 38, 48. See also companies by name: Bread & Puppet Theater, El Teatro Campesino, Free Southern Theater, Living Theatre, Open Theater, and San Francisco Mime Troupe Adams, Don, 2, 56, 183 ADI (Animating Democracy Initiative), 3–4, 135, 138 ADI’s Critical Perspectives Project, 114–11, 121 advocate critic, 118 aesthetic distance, 144 aesthetics, 24, 35, 44, 81, 97, 148–149 aftermath phase of performance, 104 agit-prop, 24, 47 Albrecht, Lisa, 138 Alice in Wonderland (Carroll), 171 Alliance for Cultural Democracy, 56 Alternate ROOTS, 3, 7, 65–67, 68 amateur theater, 7, 25–26, 110, 191n3 America Hurrah (van Itallie), 36 American Festival Project, 67–71, 78 Appalshop, 52 art end of art/ritual continuum, 81–84; 86–88 art for art’s sake, 59 Art in the Public Interest, 71–72 Arvold, Alfred, 28 assets-based community building, 96, 112 As You Like It (Shakespeare), 171–172 Atlas, Caron, 58, 69, 71, 136

audience education, 177, 180 audience participation, 65, 85, 187 avant-garde, 30–33, 44, 88–89 Bailey, Steve, 97 Baker, Don, 53 Baker, George Pierce, 17, 28 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 95–96 Baraka, Amiri, 48, 49 Barrault, Jean Louis, 11 Basting, Anne, 151 Baum, Ryan, 143 Beck, Julian, 36 Behavior of Self in Everyday Life,The (Goffman), 44 Bethlehem Steel, 164–166 Bhaba, Homi, 111–112 Black Arts Movement, 49 Black Revolutionary Theater, 48 Blair, Brent, 193n4 Blumenthal, Eileen, 120 Boal, Augusto, 98, 113, 139, 140, 144–145, 184. See also forum theater and Theater of the Oppressed Boggs, Grace, 4 Borstel, John, 124 Brady, Sara, 193n2 Bread & Puppet Theatre, 36–37, 41 break-dancing, 81 Brecht, Bertolt, 6, 47, 189 Brooklyn Botanic Garden Greenbridge program, 132 Broyles-Gonzalez, Yolanda, 47, 82–83, 169

205

206

Index

Burnham, Linda, 7, 71–72, 90, 118, 121. See also Highways Burton, Richard, 37 Cage, John, 32 California Institute of the Arts, 44 Cantinflas, 169 Cantu, Felipe, 48 Carey, Alison, 164–165 Carmichael, Stokely, 49 carpa, 47–48, 83–84 Carpetbag Theater, 50, 96, 103 Carter, Majora, 12–13 CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), 55 Chaikin, Joseph, 36, 120 Chatauqua Institute, 191n2 Chavez, Cesar, 48, 83–84, 155 Chicago, Judy, 43–44 A Chorus Line, 147 A Christmas Carol (Dickens), 172 civic theater, 17 civil rights movement, 10, 37, 51–52, 85 civil rights theater, 38 class, 24, 52, 53, 55, 82, 83–84. See also working class theater Cloud Nine (Churchill), 146–147 Clurman, Harold, 114 coalition theater, 4 Cocke, Dudley, 7, 8, 51–55, 65, 68, 74–75, 90, 92–93, 188. See also Roadside and Red Fox Code 33, 75–78, 102 Coffey, Tamara, 2, 53, 67–68 Cohen, Randy, 106–109 Coleman, Lorraine, 135 collective creation, 36 Colon-Lespier, Alvan, 56, 159–162 The Color Line (Junebug Productions), 73 commedia dell’arte, 47, 81, 153, 158 commercialism, 5, 59, 83 common green/common ground (Peck etal), 8, 12–13, 106–109, 130–136, 145–146

community, 2 Community Arts Network, 121 community theater, 7 community-based performance: as active culture, 12, 99–100; braid of activism, grassroots, and experimentation, 9, 55; communal context, 11, 91–92, 100; criticism, 9, 46–47, 105–109, 110–122, 183–185; definition, 1–3, 7, 26; and democracy, 2, 18, 24–25, 28, 29, 52, 88; and difference, 3–4; as ethnography, 98–99, 189; experimentation and tradition, 187–188; foundation support, 57–58; history, 9, 17; hyphenation, 5, 10–11, 96–99, 100; local act, 13, 50–51; outsider/ insider, 90–91; particulars and universals, 24–25; power dynamics, 91; principles, 9, 91–100; process, 11, 32–33, 100–104; reciprocity, 12, 93–97, 100; scripted vs. collectively created plays, 169–171; universitybased, 28–30, 130 community development/organizing, 4–5, 43, 46, 173 community gardens, 130–136, 193n3 community service, 95 consciousness-raising (CR) groups/ process, 42 cool-down phase of performance, 104 Cornerstone Theater: and aftermath of performance, 104; assessment of Zones, 188 casting, 111; company origin, 164; conceptions of community, 4, 5 original impulse, 94; principles, 99; and regional theater, 26; script adaptation, 163–167; and Steelbound, 86–87; and workshop phase, 102; You Can’t Take It With You: An American Muslim Remix (Kaufman and Hart, adapted by Peter Howard), 185–188 Critical Response Process, 67, 104, 122–125, 192n2 Croce, Arlene, 11–113

Index

207

cultural performance, 84 Cunningham, Merce, 32

experimentation, 9, 27, 30–34, 36, 37, 55

Dada, 30, 31, 173 Daly, Ann, 117 Daniels, Wanda, 8 De Bretteville, Sheila, 44 Decroux, Etienne, 11 Dell’Arte Players, 102, 103, 115, 116–117, 153–158, 192n1 deNobriga, Kathie, 118 Dent, Thomas, 89 Derby, Doris, 37 development, 183 Dewey, John, 33 dialogue, 3, 95–96, 138, 155–156 diversity, 27, 74, 99–100, 160–161, 164 Divine, Marie, 149 documentary filmmaking, 108 Drummond, Alexander, 28, 29 Du Bois, W.E.B., 21, 22, 23, 62, 119 Duchamps, Marcel, 173 Durland, Steve, 7, 71–72

Falsettoland, 97 Federal Theatre Project, 26–28, 39, 72 feminist art programs, 44 feminist performance, 19–20, 42–45 Fields, Michael, 116–117, 155–156 Fires in the Mirror (Anna Deavere Smith), 148, 150, 193n6 Firney, Dave, 155, 158–159 Flanagan, Hallie, 26 Fluxus, 44 folk art and culture, 22–23, 82, 84 For Colored Girls (Shange), 172–173 Forrest, Donald, 155 forum theater, 88, 104, 139, 144, 160. See also Boal Free Southern Theater, 37–41, 60–61, 89, 192n1. See also John O’Neal Freire, Paulo, 98, 145. See also Pedagogy of the Oppressed futurism, 30, 31

East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP), 171 education and theater, 6, 73, 98 efficacy/entertainment continuum, 97 Elam, Jr., Harry J., 48, 49 El Apagon/The Blackout (based on Jose Luis Gonzalez story), 160 Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), 50, 149, 151 El Jardin de la Esperanza, 129, 145 El Teatro Campesino, 37, 47–49, 56, 68, 82–83 El Teatro de la Esperanza, 68 Embrace,The (Pregones), 160 ensemble theaters, 113–114, 154–155, 157 Ensler, Eve, 23. See also The Vagina Monologues Environmental Justice Project, 64 ethics, 146 Events of May, 11

Gandhi, 4 Gard, Robert, 29–30 Geer, Richard Owen, 2 genius, individual and collective, 92–93 Gennep, Arnold van, 101 George, Bill, 165 Gerbner, George, 44 gesampkunstwerk, 18 Gill, Brendan, 41 Gilrain, Jenny, 165, 167 Goffman, Erving, 1 Goldbard, Arlene, 2, 56, 57, 58, 183 grassroots theater, 7, 29, 55, 74, 92 Grassroots Theater, 30 green guerrillas, 193n3 Grimke, Angelina, 22 griot, 150 Group Theatre, 114 Guinier, Lani, and Gerard Torres, 88, 113 Gunshol, Jeffrey, 176

208

Index

Hallelujah (Liz Lerman), 179–180 Halprin, Anna and Lawrence, 32 happenings, 32–33, 44, 88–89 Harlem Renaissance, 21–23, 24–25, 39, 62 Hawkins, Rudy, 179 Hedda Gabler (Ibsen), 89 Hemberger, Al, 170 Hepburn, Katherine, 114 high art, 81–82, 87 Highlander Center, 51, 52, 66, 67 High Performance, 7, 71–72, 121 Highways, 90, 147 hip-hop, 7 Holbrook, Hal, 62 Holden, Theresa and Michael, 62 Hopper, Deacon, 115 Horton, Myles, 51, 67 House Arrest (Anna Deavere Smith), 151 Howard, Peter, 111, 185, 187 Huerta, Jorge, 56 Hughes, Langston, 22, 23, 62 Hurston, Zora Neale, 22, 62 Hutchins, Jeannie, 70 identity politics, 2, 3, 48, 49–50, 89–90, 183 Idiwanan An Chawe, 73, 117 I Don’t Know But I Been Told… (Jawole Zollar), 69 immigrants and performance, 18–21, 23, 25–26, 48, 163 inclusiveness/accessibility, 24, 27, 99–100, 165 Inevitable Associations (Lacy), 45 Ingalls, Susan, 12, 41–42, 51, 98, 167, 167–171. See also Loft Film & Theatre Center innovation, 9, 92 In White America (Duberman), 39 Jewish identity, 10–11, 84–85 Jones, Bill T., 111–112. See also Still/Here Jones, James Earl, 62 Jones, Robert Edmond, 9

Jourdin, June, 177 Judson Poets Church, 41 Jump-Start Theater, 97 Junebug Productions, 61–64, 67–68, 162 Kaufman, Moises, 23. See also The Laramie Project Kaprow, Allan, 32–33, 44–45 Kent, Steve, 62, 66, 192n2 key positive experience (Ingalls), 98 Koch, Frederick, 28 Kondo, Dorinne, 120 Kopple, Barbara, 108 Krigwa Theater, 22 Kuftinec, Sonja, 5 Ku Klux Klan, 10, 67 Lacy, Suzanne, 33, 42–47, 75–78, 89–90, 96, 102, 137, 141 Lambrecht, Rebecca, 129 LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department), 81, 103, 104, 110, 151 Laramie Project,The (Moises Kaufman), 147 Leach, Wilford, 170 lehrstucke, 6 Leonard, Robert, 118 Lerman, Liz, 5, 33, 67, 93, 99, 110, 173–180, 181–182. See also Critical Response Process and Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Lerner, Ruby, 66–67 Levy, Murray, 89 Levy, Richard, 12 Lewis, Ferdinand, 3, 4 liberatory pedagogy, 98 Lippard, Lucy, 1, 111, 118 listening, 94 Little Theater Movement, 25–26 living history, 151–152 living newspaper, 27, 39 Living Theater, 36 Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, 8, 68, 173–180

Index

Locke, Alain, 22 Loft Film & Theater Center, 41–42, 168, 170, 171–172 Lowe, Rick, 78, 192n6 MacKaye, Percy, 17–18 MacLuhan, Marshall, 44 make-belief and make-believe performances, 38 Malina, Judith, 36 Malpede, John, 81, 111, 188. See also LAPD Manhattan Theatre Club, 55 A Man’s a Man (Brecht), 36, 40 Marinetti, Filippo, 31 Martin, Bob, 68 Mason, Gisel, 178 mass art, 83 Massey, Doreen, 183–184 Mayakovsky, Vladimir, 31 Mazzone-Clementi, Carlo, 153 McCauley, Robbie, 68, 70–71 McConachie, Bruce, 146 Mda, Zakes, 135 medieval cycle plays, 6 Merced, Jorge, 159, 160–161 Meyerhold, Vsevold, 31 Miller, Celeste, 193n5 Miss Saigon, 50 Morgan, Bev, 165 Moscow Art Theatre, 114 Moses, Gil, 37, 39–40 Muhammad, Curtis, 73 Myerhoff, Barbara, 5 NAPNOC (Neighborhood Arts Program National Organizing Committee), 56 Nation,The, 23 National Endowment of the Arts Expansion Arts, 57 National Performance Network, 57 National Women’s Party, 19 Nazi Nuremberg party Rallies, 19 Neal, Larry, 49

209

New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA), 130–131 New York University, 130–131, 134 N’gugi wa Mir’ii, 183 N’gugi wa Thiongo, 183 Nibbelunk, Cindy, 130 Nigerian Popular Theater Association, 183 Nuremberg Party Rallies, 19 NYC Street Theater-Jonah Project, 11 Oates, Joyce Carol, 112 O’Neal, John: American Festival Project, 67–68; and Cocke, Dudley, 52; Color Line, The, 73; and criticism, 119, 125; Free Southern Theater funeral, 60–61; and identity politics, 89; and Junebug, 62–64; social justice goal, 4; and spirituality, 86; and story, 63, 137– 138; story circles, 135, 141. See also Free Southern Theater, SNCC Open Theater, 36, 41 oral history/tradition, 10, 51, 53, 62, 82, 136–137 pageants, 17–21 Parris-Bailey, Linda, 96 participation, 9, 17, 33, 50, 87–88 partnerships, 6, 67, 72 Paterson Strike Pageant, 9, 20–21 Peck, Sabrina, 106, 134 Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire), 98, 139 People’s History of the United States (Zinn), 94 performance art, 59, 147 performance phases, 101–104 Perlstein, Susan, 50, 151 Pettitt, Peggy, 8, 129, 132, 134–136, 148–151 Picnic (Inge), 7, 12 place-based theater, 8, 17, 29, 51, 74–75, 154–159 Players’Theater of Manchester, NH, 94 Point CDC, the 130

210

Index

politics and performance: and American Festival Project, 67–71; and Boal, 139; and Code 33, 75–76; and The Color Line, 73; and Dell’Arte, 158; and El Teatro Campesino, 48–49; and Events of May, 11; and feminist pageantry, 19–20; and Harlem Renaissance, 22–23; and Ingalls, 42; and institutional links, 141; and Junebug Productions, 64; Ku Klux Klan, 10; and Lacy, 45–46; Nazi pageantry, 19; and NYC Street Theater, 11; and Paterson Strike Pageant, 20; and Roadside, 54–55; and theater generally, 25. See also activist performance of the 60s and 70s, common green/common ground, and individual companies popular art and culture, 81–84, 172. See also Dell’Arte. popular education, 138–139 Porterfield, Donna, 52, 55, 141 Pregones, 50, 56, 68, 84, 104, 159, 161, 162 prison theater, 11–12 Project Harmony, 130 Project Row Houses, 78 Prometheus Bound (Aeschylus), 164 Pryce, Jonathan, 50 psychodrama, 6 Quezada, Rome, 176, race, 3, 21–23, 35, 37–41, 48, 67, 90 Rachel (Grimke), 22 radio, 155–156 Ransom, Louise, 41–42 Rauch, Bill, 94, 99, 164–165 Rauch, Dhira, 129 Raven, Arlene, 44, 72 Read, Alan, 146 Reagon, Bernice, 52, 93 “The Real Thing,” (Henry James), 110 reciprocity, 93–99

Red Fox, Second Hangin’ (Baker and Cocke), 53–55, 67, 137 Reed, John, 9 regional theater, 26–28, 30 rehearsal phase, 102–103 religion and performance, 4, 6, 27, 64, 84–85 Resources for Social Change, 67 Reuther, Eric Val, 56 The Rifles of Senora Carar (Brecht), 39 Ritual: community-based performance grounding, 9; danger of, 86; efficacy and entertainment, 5; Free Southern Theater funeral, 61, 62; and goals, 87; and Judaism, 10–11; merging actors and audience, 172; neurological theory and, 19 as paradigm for CBP, 85; in political theater of the 60s and 70s, 49 rites of passage, 101; and space, 86–87; in working class theater, 24 Rivera, Judith, 161 Roadside Theater: and community stories, 151; core elements, 55; diversifying audiences, 75; founding, 51–52; funding difficulties, 182; and identity, 138; and Idiwanan An Chawe, 117; and participation, 88; recent collaborations, 73–74, 162; residency format, 64–65, 67–68; South of the Mountain (Ron Short), 141; and warm-up phase, 103. See also Red Fox and Dudley Cocke Robeson, Paul, 62 Rolland, Romain, 25 Rolon, Rosalba, 159–160, 162 Romeo and Juliet, 12, 51, 170 Rooks, David, 117 Roots (Moses), 40 Rosaldo, Renato, 119–120 Rukeyser, Muriel, 97 safe space, 103 Sanchez, Toby, 136 San Francisco Mime Troupe, 36, 47 Sarah Lawrence College, 41–42

Index

Schechner, Richard, 5, 37–8 Schirle, Joan, 153–158. See also Dell’Arte Schoenberg, Bessie, 170 Schumann, Peter, 37 Schwarzman, Mat, 118 self-representation, 23, 50, 140, 162–163 settlement houses, 25 Shadow of a Gunman (O’Casey), 39 Shehechianu (Liz Lerman), 174–179 Shipyard Project (Liz Lerman), 175, 176, 182 Short, Ron, 72, 96–97, 141 Slave Galleries Project, 115, 121 Smith, Anna Deavere, 23, 147–151 Smith-Lever Act, 28 SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), 37, 38, 52, 141 social justice, 4, 11, 99, 141 Soviet amateur theater, 24 spirituality, 7, 62, 85–86 Split Britches, 50 Spolin, Viola, 168, 171 Stanislavski, 11, 114 Steelbound (Alison Carey), 8, 114, 118, 164–167 Still/Here (Bill T. Jones), 111–112, 182 Stone, Susan, 46 story: and action, 145; Appalachian tradition, 51; as basis for a play, 132–135; as counter-history, 137; as critical pedagogy, 139–140; integrating diverse populations, 182 link between the one and many, 135–142; literary stories, 170; and Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, 175, 178; and personal exposes, 192n2; political and therapeutic, 142–146; as popular expression, 81–83; and preaching, 62–64, 148–150; and Roadside audiences, 53; story circle, 65, 155; and testimony, 142–145 Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The (Thomas Kuhn), 105–106

211

suffrage pageantry, 19–20 surrealism, 30, 32 survival art, 112–113 Sweet Honey in the Rock, 52 sympathetic witness, 98 Taylor, Rodger, 121 Teacher (Sylvia Ashton-Warner), 98 Tchen, Jack, 115–6 Temple Micah, 181 TENAZ, 56–57 testimony, 142–145 Theater and education, 6, 27, 155 Theatre for Development, 183 Theatre of the Oppressed, 98, 113, 140–141, 183. See also Boal therapy and theater, 7 Three Weeks in May (Lacy), 45–46 Three Sisters (Chekhov), 8 Three Sisters from West Virginia (Cornerstone), 8 Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain), 170–171 Torres, Andy, 177 Touchstone Theater, 86, 114, 164–165 tradition, 9, 29, 33, 48, 92 training, 102, 155, 170 Translated Woman (Behar), 162 Traveling Jewish Theater, 50 Tsara, Tristan, 31 Turner, Victor, 5 Two Guys from Amarillo (adapt. Ingalls), 171 Two Gentlemen from Verona (Shakespeare), 171 Urban Bush Women, 68, 69, 94 USA (Dos Passos), 42, 168 Vagina Monologues,The, 147 Valdez, Luis, 37, 47, 82 Valdez, Mark, 185–186 victim art, 112 Vietnam War, 41, 42, 51, 168 Visiting Artist Series (Pregones), 160

212 VISTA, 43, 51 Voices of Steel (Pregones), 160 Waiting for Godot (Beckett), 39, 179 warm-up phase, 103 War on Poverty, 52 Watkins, Nayo, 63, 66, 124 Wemytewa, Edward, 73. See also Idiwanan An Chawe Whisper Projects (Lacy), 46 White Man Eats Big Foot (Crumb), 158 Wild Card (Fields), 155–158 Williams, Raymond, 81–84 Wilson, Linda, 70 Wisconsin Idea, 29–30

Index

witness, 112–113, 143–145, 172 Women’s Building, 44 working-class theater, 20–21, 23–25 workshop phase of performance, 102 Worley, Haja, 130–131 youth and theater, 41–42, 75–77, 160, 167–172 youth-police collaboration, 75–78 Zemel, Rabbi, 181 Zimbabwe Association of Community Theaters, 183 Zinn, Howard, 17, 94 Zollar, Jawole Willa Jo, 69 Zones (Peter Howard), 187, 188

About the Author

Jan Cohen-Cruz is a scholar and practitioner of activist and communitybased performance. An associate professor in the New York University Tisch School of the Arts Drama Department, she is the first recipient of the school’s David Payne Carter Great Teacher Award. Jan coedited Playing Boal:Theatre,Therapy,Activism (1994) and edited Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology (1998), both for Routledge. Her essays have appeared in TDR, High Performance,American Theatre, New Theatre Quarterly, Black Masques, African Theatre, Theatre Topics, Nina Felshin’s anthology But Is It Art? Tobin Nellhaus/ Susan Haedacke’s collection, Performing Democracy, Ben Shepard and Ron Hayduk’s From ACT Up to the WTO, and Cindy Rosenthal and James Harding’s Group Theaters (forthcoming). She and Lorie Novak self-published Urban Ensemble: University/Community Collaborations in the Arts, Reflections and Exercises to use with their students. She is currently coediting a book with Mady Schutzman about correspondences between Augusto Boal’s theater of the oppressed and other cultural projects. Cohen-Cruz is grounded in the resistant theater of the late 1960s and early 1970s, at which time she was a member of the NYC Street Theatre/ Jonah Project. She has worked with such experimental theater pioneers as Joseph Chaikin and members of the feminist company Split Britches and studied with Brecht expert Carl Weber and mime Etienne Decroux. Jan has been a freelance practitioner of the techniques of Augusto Boal since bringing him to the United States in 1989. Eclectic in her application of the arts to social situations, she is also well versed in techniques grounded in storytelling and in the adaptation of existing texts.