Taking Over

We spend a lot of time at PhilanthroMedia thinking about how to approach giving to specific causes. When the concern is, say, helping people deal with Alzheimer’s, the source seems clear. You give money to a group that does research toward a cure, or helps people in the advanced state of the disease.

However, things get more difficult when the addressed problem is more nebulous. For example, how does one take on an issue like Gentrification? While there are a few groups that work in policy and the like, much of the fight is based on raising awareness about the people being affected.

It’s somewhat vague, this idea of “raising awareness”, and if you are a donor you might have some questions. Where does the money go? How does it make itself the most useful?

While I have more doubt about the efficacy of art as a way to advance dialogue than some, I recently saw a show that re-affirmed both my interest in theater and my belief in the ability of the arts to push the envelope on issues. Taking Over, a one man show written and preformed by Danny Hoch, tackles the raw emotions generated by gentrification in New York. It's thoughtful, thought provoking, funny, and a little scary at times. I have a low tolerance for being lectured when I go to see a performance and my radar is especially tuned to shows like this one that “deals” with an issue; I was impressed by how little it felt like a lecture.

Hoch’s characters range from a large black woman to a French real-estate agent, and in my opinion he was completely inside the skin of many of the people that I see in Brooklyn every day. He captures both the frustration and pride that life-long Brooklyn residents have with their city, as well as their anger at people taking over their world which is also shared by him.

And, see, that’s the thing. Either by intent or by accident, the group seeing the show at the Public Theater in New York is generally the exact group that the show is raging about (and against). One of the vignettes is simply Hoch speaking to the audience as Danny Hoch, ostensibly to explain the meaning of the show. In that moment, he tells us plainly that his interest isn’t in tidy endings: he would prefer that we left his city.

The performance left me feeling open ended and raw, with more questions than answers. It was not a conciliatory bit of theater, and it didn’t profess to have many solutions. Rather it was a pure expression of the anger and humiliation that makes gentrification such a difficult topic to discuss. It left me confused, a little upset, and feeling that I was the enemy. (Which, as a young white urban professional living in Brooklyn, I most assuredly am).

I found this discussion productive and eye opening, and I am someone who has already done a lot of thinking on the issue. There’s no doubt that I have been thinking about my interactions with my neighborhood even more than usual, and there’s no doubt in my mind that anyone who is interested in gentrification should see this show. However, everyone else should see it too, regardless of your state in life or your professed social interest. Everyone will get something out of the discussion, and Danny Hoch’s passion will speak to people who haven’t even given the underlying issue a thought.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 13, 2009 in Economic Development | Ethnic/Social Diversities | Philanthropic Strategy | Poverty | Permalink | Comment

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