Theatre, The Hero

by Constance Strickland

“Theatre has a role, a noble role, in energizing and mobilizing humanity to lift itself from its descent into the abyss. It can uplift the stage, the performance space, into something sacred. In South Asia, the artist’s touch with reverence the floor of the stage before stepping onto it, an ancient tradition when the spiritual and the cultural were intertwined. It is time to regain that symbiotic relationship between the artist and the audience, the past and the future.”

~Shahid Nadeem in honor of Madeeha Gauhar

After weeks inside the house, the days started to blend together and I found myself replaying how I got to the work. Why do I do the work? What is the weight of the work while the world is on pause?  Although presenting to an audience is usually the goal, the work is still very much alive even with no clear date of when theatres and performance venues can reopen. I feel is the very reason the theatre lives even more now with a newfound worth. 

I imagine a new American Theatre with a wide vision that embraces new ways of merging the talent that lives within a city. How do we present work to an audience and who gets to be in the positions that uplift new voices? It seems there is no better time than now to answer these questions of how we can collectively merge the independent theatre artist, freelance theatre artists, and union and nonunion theatre artists. What barriers need to be pushed aside so that we can all come together to give voice to the times in which we exist? 

Michael, an old friend from High School times, asked me the other day how I was doing during this time of quarantine. The first real question, where I knew my answer mattered to the person, and so I took my time in thought before I responded to him, now it has become my mantra:

“I’m adjusting. I’m luckier than most and that feels bad inside – I cried a bit for so many communities and I just hope this was the best way.

The rest I feel is relief in a way – that residency feeling, that opportunity that many of us never get as artists to focus on the work, where one can do the work wholeheartedly, absorb stillness and manifest old and new ideas. Yet I know that comes from a place of privilege and that hurts and frees me.

Yet, I feel much will grow from this – nature and humans and so I’m positive + excited and a wee bit scared for what’s to come but I know doing the work has always been the guiding light.”

Shadid Nadeem’s World Theatre Day speech filled me energy for I knew what he said to be true. For I, too, honor the space in which I will perform, channeling those who walked the space before, my ancestors and to give thanks to all who enter it. Theatre is sacred. Theatre is a ritual. Theatre is healing. It is why we must continue to fight for an eclectic variety of voices leading the way to the Great White Way, for they exist in the smallest of theatre houses, community theatre houses or that hole in the wall theatre space that is constantly doing great work but has no large audiences; these theatres exist in cities all throughout the U.S. There is no better time than now to see how to widen the scope, expand the reach and not lose a generation of artists to a lack of support and opportunities. The future of American Theatre depends upon a new way of seeing.  As we know, not everyone will be taken into the future. There will be some artists who will be a part of the history of theatre and many others will be forgotten. What can we do in the present to ensure as many voices as possible are heard and remembered?

COVID-19 Relief Grants:

Foundation for Contemporary Arts

Department of Cultural Affairs

Africa. Sabratha Roman theater ruins, Lybia // Maurizio Camagna

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