CMU School of Drama

Thursday, December 01, 2016

In wake of the election, Chicago's theater leaders ponder: What now?

Chicago Tribune: What will the role of theater be in the age of Donald Trump? Following the election earlier this month, free hugs were offered, potlucks were held and doors were opened at Chicago theaters. A few companies gave out free tickets to weekend performances. And all the shows have continued to go on.

The Tribune asked a number of theater artistic directors what the responsibilities of creative communities will be in a nation that will soon be headed by a man who created a Twitter storm demanding an apology from the performers in the Broadway production of "Hamilton" after a curtain speech directed to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. All interviews have been edited and condensed.


Sarah Battaglia said...

I think all of these people had really interesting things to say, and even though not all of them were the same, and there were so obvious differences in opinion the common through line I have found is that we are responsible for making some sort of change, whether we like it or not. The first few days after the election I was devastated, and I was completely paralyzed I had no idea how to help or what to, or how sad I was "allowed" to be as a white upper middle-class straight woman in a very liberal institution. It wasn't until I had a discussion with my class the Friday after the election that I realized how much it was my responsibility, and this ownership over what is going on in the world I wholeheartedly think comes straight from within the artistic community. It is exactly what I read in this article. We may not like the world that we live in, and we may have lost this time, but it is our responsibility to make sure that we never lose again, and to have conversations with people who do not agree with us even if it is difficult. We have to own where we are, and fight from within to change it.

Vanessa Ramon said...

I found this article really interesting. My first thought of how theatre will take action in the wake of the election was to use its voice, its power of performance to move audiences to use their voice as well, but I never thought about how in many ways we are a click. We are a group of people who have set views. I agree with a many people in this article who have said that we need to open our doors to those who might not share our views because ours shows can be eye opening to many. I myself am guilty of being closed off to the views that seem so obviously wrong to me. I get that people might not have had the privilege of and education as beneficial and eye opening as mine but I still am closed of to the many excuses people try to make for others. Theatre is such a close community and I can understand how difficult opening ourselves up to understand others will be, but at the same time, if we want them to open themselves up to us and try to understand where we are coming from, we must try to do the same, if only to make our arguments stronger.

Jacob Wesson said...

The Chicago theatre scene is an incredibly tight-knit community of practitioners who are there to support and help each other. Many companies are founded from folks that worked together at other companies, and folks from companies come out to see shows and support their friends, coming down to the green room after the show and congratulating them. As such, it's no surprise that the dialogue across the entire community there has been dominated by the recent election of Donald Trump. Having had a conversation about what it means to pick work that is important at Steppenwolf this summer, I truly believe that they know how to pick work and market it in such a way that people will come out and be willing to look at things with an open eye, as the productions Steppenwolf puts on are always meant to have something to say about the world we live in and what it means to be a person in that world. Victory Gardens also tends to do politically-charged works that force the audience to turn their lenses in a direction that they often would prefer not to, and I think that if all the directors in the article stick to their word, Chicago will always be a safe haven for those scared and exasperated by the world we live in.

Mary Frances Candies said...

I am very grateful for the cultivation of these interviews. I connected particularly to what Gus Menary of the Jackalope Theatre Company. He expressed that although the next four years will be a mess, he is hopeful for the art that will come out of it. I agree with that sentiment. I am incredibly excited for the art that will come out of this time of distress. Such a focus has been turned to the arts to make sense of this chaos, that one cannot be hopeful for the art itself. Yes, the role of theatre during this time can be difficult to decipher, but this article makes great sense of it. It is very inspiring to hear important theatre artist talk about what their companies plan to do during this time. Some of the artistic directors talked about their audience demographic and the lack of diversity. I am interested in seeing what these theatres do to broaden their audience base. I am interested to see how theatre will reach out to those with drastically conflicting views.

Sasha Schwartz said...

“I’m not sure if you build it they will come…” (Anna D. Shapiro, Steppenwolf Theater Company). I think this echoes a lot of what my friends and I have been thinking in regards to theater making this post-election season. I think it’s great that in the wake of realizing how much of America doesn’t see racism, sexism, or homophobia as a deal breaker (or, if anything, sees it as a win), many of us are even more driven to make provocative pieces of theater about these social issues, and featuring actors and production teams filled with women, people of color, LGBT people, etc. However, it sucks to think that we are just preaching to the choir. I hate to imagine us, as present/ future theater artists, thinking that we are doing so much good by creating these pieces of theater that are only being seen by those who we already know agree with us. While I think it’s great that CMU does shows like I’m Very Into You and Antony and Cleopatra which battle social issues of sexuality, race, sexism, etc, I can’t help but think that we are the only ones who see them (and talk about them and agree about them and how important and powerful they are) and that then the conversation ends far too early. How can we push the messages of these shows in the faces of those who aren’t exposed to them 24/7?

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