by Andrea Gordillo
I like to think of myself as a relatively informed citizen of the world, but I knew very little about the largest protest movement in America in decades, the Occupy movement. I had made an active decision not to learn more because I had written it off as a radical movement that expressed legitimate concerns but lacked the leadership, ideas, and organizations to have any real effect in the political arena. It was not until recently, at the celebration of the movement’s one-year anniversary, that I started to really understand Occupy and what it stood for. What brought me to this realization was not reading about the issues or anybody persuading me on the street – it was theatre
Adam Odsess-Rubin, intern and assistant director of the Civilian’s Paris Commune and Dan Lipton, actor and company member, led one of our Studio classes on a Wednesday a few weeks ago. They began the class with a few exercises based on Boal’s work on Theatre of the Oppressed. These exercises forced us to reflect not only on the terminology of the Occupy movement, but also on the feelings and motivations behind it.
We were asked to create a tableau that recreated the scene of the student protests at UCDavis. A few of us became the students lined on the ground about to be maced, a few became the spectators looking on, and one became the police officer macing the students. The experience was surreal. I was in the group of students linked in protest, I was startled by how much the usual assumptions of imaginary circumstances in acting were suspended. I understood, first-handedly, how these students felt. I understood their urgency, their fear, their determination. At the same time, after hearing from my studio-mate who assumed the role of the police officer, I understood his frustration and hunger for power. Suddenly, the Occupy movement made sense to me. It was no longer black and white; I could no longer dismiss it. It became, for me, real, tangible, and complicated.
That is, essentially, the purpose of theatre. It transports a person from what he /she knows and believes and takes him to the “other.” No other medium allows people to fully embody the “other” as effectively as theatre does. The work that the Civilians do takes this basic principle of theatre and specifies it to teach and inspire audiences about real world issues. Their work transports their audiences to the “other” whose voice is suppressed. Naturally, the audiences develop empathy and connections are formed. Once an audience can reach the “other,” the very concept of the “other” disappears. The distance between “you” and “me” is breached; through theatre, people can find that they are universally connected.
I still believe that organization is a major weakness in the Occupy movement, but I understand now from where it originated. People’s desperation, indignation, and passion cannot be dismissed as easily as it has been. Frustrations over class inequality, economic disparities, and civil rights violations are perfectly validated and should be taken seriously. Their voices need to be heard, but not through mediums where their message can be manipulated or distorted, as it has through mainstream media. Theatre acts as a vehicle for these stories to be shared truthfully; even if they are entirely foreign to us, if we truly listen we will be hard pressed to ignore the connecting thread of humanity.
See Andrea perform one of the monologues from The Civilians’ Occupy the Mind series in the Semel lobby before or at intermission of The Grapes of Wrath (October 18 – 21, 2012).