You may or may not have heard, but this past week there was this little thing called an election. People vote. People get mad. People get happy. Facebook arguments ensue. It’s really something.
Now, some people wouldn’t suspect that politics has any place in the theater. After all, we aren’t meant to be movers and shakers, we’re supposed to sing and dance and prance around stage and make people happy, right?
Theater artists are some of the most active, opinionated group of people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. At Temple, we are always told by faculty that in order to be in this field, we have to know ourselves inside and out, we have to have opinions and we have to take a stand for what we believe in.
Obviously, this can create some unsightly issues on the big, bad Facebook. There have been instances where I have seen up to 50 comments on a person’s status because people are doing what they think is respectful debating. Again, false.
In general, it’s a fair assumption to think that theater is a more liberal-oriented forum. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any Republicans in the department. Though they are few and far between, Republicans in the theater world often face far more criticism and demonization than perhaps other groups, especially during campaign season. Now, this column isn’t meant to be a verbal spanking or political statement in any way, because I’m guilty of demonizing and not giving artistic recognition to the “other” side, too.
But now, I’m realizing my faults. My mother would be so proud to hear me admit a wrongdoing. You win, mom. You win.
During the summer, on something called the Theater Alliance listserv, a similar political argument broke out, but this time it was between working professionals — not disgruntled students. An email was sent out asking for participants in something called, “The Republican Theater Festival.”
Well, you can imagine the kinds of responses that followed. At first it was entertaining, because, really, who doesn’t like to watch people duke it out every once in awhile? But after awhile, it became more troubling. Members of the listserv took issue with everything from the name of the festival to the fact that it was being proposed for production at all. How dare they ask a liberal community to offer up their actors to a Republican Theater Festival? The nerve! But it made me think, why shouldn’t they be allowed to? In the theater we hope to open the minds of our audiences, but we can’t open our minds ourselves?
So, I looked up what exactly this Republican Theater Festival was that was causing so much uproar in the theater community.
The tagline that appears at the top of the page is, “Would you say that to my face?” I thought, “Wow, no, I probably wouldn’t.” I continued my detective work. What really caught my attention was this statement: “Online, it’s pretty easy to call someone a fascist. Or to make a joke of their faith. On TV, you can refer to a whole state as a bunch of idiots. In a theater, however, you have to look that person in the eye.” When I read that, I was struck by the truth of it. We are all guilty of it. These 10 playwrights with their plays addressing conservative issues are involved in a very risky undertaking, especially in Philadelphia. Something that I had forgotten was that this is still art; this is still what I live to do.
Cara Blouin, the woman spearheading the “Republican Theater Festival” has received an unending amount of criticism from both sides — liberals and conservatives. Blouin has stretched her neck so far out in the Philadelphia theater community that, at first, I was frightened for her. But I shouldn’t have been.
Blouin is very grounded in her beliefs about theater as well as politics, and mixing the two, for her, only makes sense.
“Theater is a good medium for looking at difficult issues because it requires you to see the characters as people instead of ideas, which makes you more empathetic. It also requires people to hash out ideas together in the same room,” Blouin said.
It’s easy to write off this festival as Republican propaganda. To this assumption, Blouin clears the air about her hopes for the festival, “I hope the festival will be a chance for people who disagree to come together and question some of their ideas. I don’t intend for people to change their minds, but I do want people to open them. I think more politics should be story-oriented and human-oriented. That’s what the plays in the festival do.”
And as for the resistance and backlash? Blouin said, “I get steady criticism from both liberals and conservatives. In general, I would encourage people who are critical of the festival to first look at it for what it really is. It’s not a joke or a satire, and it’s also not propaganda for the Republican Party. It’s a thoughtful look at conservative ideas by conservatives and liberals together.”
I have to give Blouin props for taking a stand, for doing what we theater artists are told to do on a regular basis. Even though I may not agree with conservative beliefs, I still am open to attending the festival and hearing what they have to say. And I would encourage my fellow theater comrades and other students alike to do the same. We all have our beliefs and our opinions, but damning a person or a festival of theater that we don’t deem fit because it falls beyond the concrete lines of our own political beliefs is wrong.
Art doesn’t have a political party, religious affiliation, sexual preference or race. No, I’m not a Republican, but I can appreciate the artistic value of a different perspective than my own. Amurrika!
Interpret this as my one and only political rant.
Marcie Anker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.