Theater as a means for social change

This is an issue I’ve been struggling with since the Sandy Hook/Newtown, CT school shooting. How should we as artists, playwrights, directors, and actors respond to such a tragedy. How do we share our voice and our beliefs. should we even say a thing? Do we have a responsibility beyond just entertaining?

I recently submitted a piece to the group NOPASSPORT for their Gun Control Theater Action event (to be held Jan 26 at Theater J in Washington DC). And while I haven’t heard if my piece was selected or not, but it did get me thinking. Can theater be an effective tool for societal change?

Obviously, I think it can be or I wouldn’t have spent two days writing and polishing and editing a 10 minute play for that purpose, focusing my attention on something else, a light comedy or farce perhaps. I’m reminded of a quote John Cheever said, “Art is the triumph over chaos.” Theater is an art and without it, in any form, we are allowing chaos to truimph. So, as artists, we have a responsibility to be an agent of change in our society. Every great story has a character going through an emotional or physical change from who they were to who they should be. This, in turn, should challenge the audience to examine their own life and change.

I also think that we are a visual society. That you can express in characters what is often not heard in debate. You can debate about AIDS vicitms or homosexuality if you con’t know such people, but when you watch a piece such as ANGELS IN AMERICA or RENT, you come face to face with people who are suffering from AIDS or are real people who happen to be gay, or suffer a hate crime. NEXT TO NORMAL brings us face to face with mental illness. O’Neill’s THE HAIRY APE displays his concern for the working man and society’s attempts, at that time, to look away from them.

So yes, I do think that theater not only SHOULD be an agent of social change, but has a responsibility to do as much.

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