Theatre as a Social Commentary...At Last
The recent trend for theatre in this country, the churning out of play after play based on a movie or pop band, has been a thorn in this young theatergoer's side for many a year. Theatre is perhaps the oldest and most established way for writers to relay social commentary to a wide array of audiences, and this aspect of the art has been all but obscured by the glitz and neon of Times Square. As philanthropists, it is time we started looking for those artfully crafted jewels amongst the rubble of revivals and flashy light shows, and supporting theatrical troupes that undertake worthwhile, meaningful, yet still enjoyable, projects. One such group is DV8 Physical Theater, a troupe led by choreographer Lloyd Newson.
As you may have read before, I hold a particular esteem for what goes on in most British theatre, and this group was brought to my attention by a recent New York Times article. DV8's new piece, "To Be Straight With You," is based on interviews of 85+ people living in London, on the topics of sexuality and religion. The foundation of this play is reminiscent of methods used by author Studs Terkel, who revolutionized the study of history by using oral histories to build real, unadulterated views of certain eras and events. Like Mr. Terkel, Mr. Newson, rather than casting the play, realized that the best way to convey his message “would be to actually use the words of the interviewees, and that meant people from black or Asian communities, as well as white Christian communities, who had some connection with homosexuality and religion to tell their stories and give them a voice.”
Like all good social intellectuals, Mr. Newson's piece illustrates multiple viewpoints, allowing the audience to understand various sides of the issue and form their own opinions. This method is extremely effective for theatre, as it inspires a dialogue about the work that lasts long after the show, transforming the piece from a theatrical event to a form of progressive social engagement. Further, Mr. Newson fully understands and takes advantage of the power of theatre, stating "when you know that one word, say calling a teddy bear Muhammad, can cause such rupture worldwide, then you know the power of language." He uses this language wisely and effectively, and as donors we need to encourage art forms like this. Try looking around your own town, and seeing what local theatre troupes are doing, and supporting them by at least checking out a show or two!