How often have we heard some say, “Why do actors have to give us their political opinions? They’re paid to act, not tell me what to think!” That’s a paraphrase, but I’m sure we’ve all heard something along those lines. Aside from the fact that actors are always making a political statement by the very way they create a role, it’s inherent in the process. It’s a little sad that anyone should be denied their freedom of expression, no matter if we agree with them or not.
While there has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, Amir Levi and Kimberly Atkinson, both members of SacredFools Theatre Company, decided to take a different approach. In their own words,
After the 2016 presidential election, we … saw a need in the community for artistic expression, an opportunity to meld art and activism. Kimberly founded the Diversity Initiative of Sacred Fools, … After a successful and deeply meaningful production of the nationwide theatre action, After Orlando (benefiting the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting), which was produced by Amir and Natalie Rose at Sacred Fools, Company of Angels and Celebration Theatre. Kimberly and Amir wanted to continue this kind of community building and healing work. From the meeting their minds and hearts, sprang We The People.
The basic idea is that a notice is put out to as broad a community as possible. The call is for the creation of new works, based upon a prompt. The first effort was A MORE PERFECT UNION, two months later it was DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY. And now repeating the two months cycle the newest is BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY.
Here are the basic rules:
PIECES MUST BE BRAND NEW AND MUST BE BORN FROM THE PROMPT
– 3-5 MINUTES LONG
– PIECES CAN NOT BE PART OF A LARGER PIECE
– TRUMP CAN NOT BE A CHARACTER IN THE PIECE
Once pieces are submitted, Amir and Kimberly go through the submissions, select the ones that speak to them the most, and go about producing selected works for a one night performance, which takes place at the Broadwater’s Black Box Theater (one of three stages that are the home of Sacred Fools). This includes casting, producing and publicizing.
Incidentally, while theatre is the genesis, any creative effort is welcome.
The goal is then to take the proceeds of the evening and make a donation to a local non-profit. At the same time, it’s a focused effort to reach out to a broader community of artists, hoping to expand on the concept of diversity.
The results have been remarkable. First, there is the interest by other companies in other cities to replicate the effort. It’s a practical and real-life network development. Second, to date, two different non-profits have received additional funding, nearly $500 each. Tanenbaum and CARECEN-LA are both organizations providing assistance to under-served members of the population. The third, is that the notion of diversity has been put into action, and the real-life connectivity of artists is being expanded.
For both productions the houses have been sold out, which begs the question, what next? More than a single performance? Bigger houses? Travel to other theaters?
Now it would be an act of omission if we didn’t note that there was a distinctly progressive agenda behind all this. In the notes for each show, we see the following:
“Here we are in this space together. In action. However small it may seem against the backdrop of injustice and ignorance that pervades this country. How can we collaborate as artists and audience to do more? In this short time together, what difference will it make? How can our art and our presence have some greater impact in the world? Can we keep it from flickering out when the lights go up? We can. We can create art that moves out of this room. Art whose consumption creates currency that can help other organizations of like-minded activists. Art that connects us with a tangible way to be of service. Yes, you are an activist tonight. Thank you for your donations. Thank you for bearing witness. Thank you for being part of the conversation.”
But the opportunities are diverse as well. Both Kimberly and Amir talk about the fact that they want to hear all voices. Solutions are in the dialogue, not in the shouting. Each of the prompts is a phrase from the preamble of the US Constitution. It’s a clear demonstration that regardless of opinion, the basic goal we all want to achieve is a nation and a world we can be proud of.
Whatever the future holds, there are a couple of important takeaways from this. Artists exist because they have a need to speak out. It is the foundation of art, the drive to communicate. And here, We The People has created an opportunity to do that in a community responsive fashion. The focus of each production seeks to hear voices from across the entire human spectrum – political, racial, sexual, religious – to respond to soul searing ideas.
We should applaud, nay, participate, in the opportunity that has been created. How tired are we all of the seemingly endless shouting that goes on in all aspects of our lives? Our news sources are becoming unwatchable, our social media seems to be an endless source of propaganda and misinformation, our daily lives are replete with the anxiety of what’s next. Here are people saying we need more, we need to understand, we need to hear beyond the shouts.
And furthermore, certainly not finally, we see the birth of creativity. Not just in the work, but in the causation for the work, the process to reveal the want, and the methodology to share it with the rest of us.
Want to get involved? On Monday, January the 15th, at 8:00 p.m., we will see the latest contributions based upon BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY. Reservations can be made through the Sacred Fools website, http://www.sacredfools.org/misc/wethepeople/ Be a part of the solution. Attend, contribute, and revel in the resilience, ingenuity and boundless hope of humanity. If you don’t see BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY, you’ll have to wait till March for the next installment.