Updated: Jun 3
Note: this blog article was originally published on 28 August 2016 on the Mezzo, Legato! WordPress blog.
Roughly about two days ago I went with my family and some friends to see a one-person play by Anna Deavere Smith at the American Repertory Theater, and it was the first one-person play I had ever seen (professionally I mean, apart from the prose dramatization pieces we used to do for practical assignments, which was at amateur level probably). The piece specifically spoke on the preschool-to-prison pipeline stigma that is currently plaguing the U.S. at the moment, and I could give rave reviews for all eternity about the many ways the performance would’ve forced anyone to look and actually pay attention and come away with more existential moments where they’re questioning why they believed certain things rather than answers to all of life’s problems, and how Anna Deavere’s Smith’s portrayal of the different characters basically had them speaking to the audience and confronting us with the problems using live videos and news headlines, but…
What stood out for me the most wasn’t only just that, but much more importantly, something else that doesn’t normally happen.
In the interval between Act One and Act Two, we were split into discussion groups, bizarrely enough. And I was the only black girl and person barely out of her teens. But the interesting thing was what came out of thinking about what questions we would ask Taos Proctor (one of the interviewees for the project, and an ex-convict) after he told you that he had always thought his life was hard, but he had considered the fact that his circumstances were part of what had made it that way.
Obviously, a lot of intriguing ideas come out when you’re confronted with the action rather than, I don’t know, reading about the fact that America had a higher incarceration rate than any other country, and that a lot of inner city schools use jail to enforce school rules instead of getting the rulebreakers actual help. Anyway, there were points that struck me. Someone said that children need to be taught earlier on that life is hard because that’s the reality of living, but then at the same time, they should be shown ways to make it better. Which led to my question (though I initially hesitated to say anything because I thought it would be too shallow or bizarrely optimistic given the topic we were discussing – turns out timing could be part of it): “Is there any way you could have made your life better for yourself and what you stand for?”
My reasoning for this was that Yes, people should be shown that life is hard, but also they’re ultimately responsible for making it better. Someone had mentioned that there was a lot of anger within the play that can’t be directed, which probably reflects the fact that people feel powerless over their life situation, which can sometimes be due to lack of resources. As I continue writing this and thinking it through, it seems to occur to me that some people are afraid of potentially causing trouble, and as someone else I my group said, we often run away from things we’re afraid of (as we saw in the play when Deavere Smith portrayed a principal who had a student with anger issues, and when he approached her one day during one of his raving fits, she just comforted him until he started bawling).
I personally don’t think your life circumstances are entirely to blame for the way your future turns out (until it’s something like it’s the only thing you know). From what I’ve learned, there are times when you need to look for your own solutions to fix your own problems, and speak up for the things you don’t like about your life. There are a lot of things I have done in the U.S. that under before I probably would’ve been afraid to do (besides leaving behind half of my life and coming back to the U.S. itself).
Basically, I jumped headfirst into the deep end to improve myself.
After six months of voice lessons, not only did I figure out that before my voice was quite average (hence why I never made the callback list for any of the musicals in high school), but I also realized how unique and interesting my voice could become.
Until I had my eyes tested, I had no idea my eyesight had been crappy for probably a few years.
There were times when I questioned whether it was worth me applying to college, because I had very little idea as to how to blend my American-but-not-quite-Americanness into a culture I don’t fully relate to. (Now I realize I can like whatever the heck I want to. You dig Florence and The Machine? I dig them too. Let’s be pals and scream “Spectrum” completely off-key for hours.)
And then there’s my blog…oh my blueberries, my blog…had I not one day just acted on impulse and decided to talk to you through a series of articles littered with zany vocabulary, then I wouldn’t be sitting in a semi-dark college dorm right now with Ellie Goulding whispering in her breathy tone in the background while I stare at a computer screen through really strong prescription glasses that at this moment are giving me a headache. But the bottom line is, if we keep having this mentality of “That’s the way things are, just deal with it”, then imagine that all the grand things that have already happened in history never happened because people never saw the reason to change their circumstances. There is a good chance I wouldn’t even be in college right now, or actually even alive for that matter.
To wrap things up, I believe that part of what theatre is supposed to do is make you more aware of the world and yourself; if it doesn’t directly do that, at least think about the characters and why they may have reacted to certain things the way they did.
So yeah, don’t be afraid to keep looking for answers. Keep going strong.
Love and light,