The passage below reflects thoughts offered over the events of the summer of 2017, particularly inspired by what took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For some time now, there’s been a worrisome conflation of ‘safety’ and ‘comfort’ as they pertain to the theater and other related spaces. The thinking seems to be that the theater is meant to blithely affirm; that its purpose is to be a comfortable space that merely cultivates good feelings and challenges very little. For some artists and organizations, this may be true and that is their prerogative.

However, when considering the artist-as-civil-servant, I can’t help but think the notion of the theater as an incubator of comfort and blithe affirmation could not be further from the truth. The theater has a tremendous responsibility as this country continues to grapple with matters of racism and its many troubling by-products, White supremacy in its many forms, and ahistorical understandings of how we arrived here. Daily, we are reminded of the importance of the work that we and so many others do.

The theater’s purpose is to reflect the world as it is and as it could be. It is a space where we safely confront the myriad challenges people face as individuals and as a collective. The theater is a space where we step into discomfort, where we engage in difficult conversations with a clear purpose: To get better. To be better.

In a surprise to no one, I’m a fan of hyphenates. I’m a fan of people who bring their plurality to the table and the stage. The magic is truly in the mix. Why? Because it makes for better theater and better communities. We have quite a few hyphenates and pluralities at Mixed Magic and all of them–African-American, Italian-American, Asian-American, Latinx-American, LGBTQ, liberal, conservative, homegrown, foreign-born, pacifist, combat veteran, Wall Streeter and street sweeper–all are welcome and all are necessary for doing the difficult job of making their city, state, country and world a better place. Like so many civil servants, they embrace the mean task of this work because they recognize their duty to act in service of improving upon what came before us.

The task is herculean. Though the environment is safe, there is pain and discomfort. The tears are many. Wounds are opened and reopened in an effort to cleanse and move forward and, at times, the movement is slow. These conversations reveal our own biases and prejudice and bigotry. No; the theater and its practitioners are not immune to these human failings. When we have the courage to be honest with ourselves, we are regularly reminded of just how far we have to go. Nevertheless, those who do this work honestly persist with love and respect in their hearts because there is no alternative to the truth which they seek. And it is a truth they seek together.

Still, a space–and the difficult work that must happen within it–is only as effective as the parameters in place. There are rules; there are baselines rooted in human decency that must be respected. Among the pain and discomfort and tears and wounds, there are notions, ideas and energy that have absolutely no place. There are things that simply will not be countenanced.

Let me be absolutely clear:

Those who would equivocate on or apologize for the despicable ideas and actions of those who would terrorize, subjugate and exterminate, those who would merely toss off said ideas and actions as sensationalized provocations from the media, the world of academe or elsewhere have no place in the theater, our country, or our world and will be emphatically resisted at every turn.

Those that espouse or protect these beliefs are enemies to the difficult work described above. They are enemies of the people of the United States and the world beyond our borders and will always be regarded as such.

There is much work to do. My father often quips that as artists, we are not in the theater business; indeed, we are in the lifesaving business. In times like these, the truth of those words is self-evident. This work is hard and hurtful and, many times, it feels utterly thankless. But it is necessary.

The forces of hate won’t rest. Neither will we.

–Jonathan Pitts-Wiley

 

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