AKA I fell in love with theatre again this weekend.
By Kathleen Choe (actor/singer/writer)
Amy Poehler said to treat your career “like a bad boyfriend” and that “…it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with someone else.”
I feel the theatre has been a “bad boyfriend” as of late. I love it and I always will, but it’s been on the outs with me: the lack of diversity in the stories being told, lack of diversity in casting, the unwillingness to pay actors a living wage, the defensiveness of members of the community when any of this gets called out. When I tried to talk to it, it refused to listen and shut down all the arguments, smiling and repeating over and over, “But it’s getting better.”
So Iike a bad boyfriend I pushed it to the side, loving it but needing space. Until last Friday when it asked me away for a long weekend.
Last Friday, I went up to the Geva Theatre Center to work on a devised piece based on the idea of the American Dream—what it is, what it has become, if it still exists. For four days, I got to be in a room with nine other very talented people:
...to hash out and exchange thoughts over this idea to create something completely new. At the end of the process we put up what we had devised in front of an audience to hear and exchange ideas with them.
To add icing on top of this very delicious cake, I even got paid to do it.
And what d’ya know? I fell in love with the theatre again. I remembered what excited me about theatre in the first place. Collaboration. Conversation. To be sure those two are not always comfortable when put together, but when they combine something beautiful almost always emerges: possibility.
Theater is not just feel-good bedtime stories for rich people, it’s not just where you go for the experience of being part of a standing ovation in the audience at the end. Watching a fellow human being in front of you and seeing their story unfold has a power that can open perceptions, and as a wise man once said, with great power comes great responsibility.
To entertain is only an iota of what the theatre can do, and yet these days it seems that’s mostly what the theatre is being used for.
To engage an audience with a diverse cast and different stories is possible, yet the struggle to see diverse casts or hear different stories goes on.
To pay artists for to what they love—create—is possible, and yet the resistance against doing so persists.
So, bad boyfriend. You reminded why you’ve made me happy in the past, of your potential, of what you’re capable of when you pause, and stop, and listen. That you have the ability and capacity to treat me and my fellow artists well.
Thank you for that.
Let’s see what else you’ve got.