Change the World and Have a Good Time Doing it!!

activism in action

By Marc Weinblatt for the “Blue Star Gazette”, July 2003.

A woman intentionally creates a huge multi-car accident with an aftermath of writhing bodies and blood curdling screams. People from the polarized “Peace Movement” and “Support the Troops” protest groups at the Sims Way triangle drop their agendas and immediately rush to aid the injured. A tragedy in Port Townsend? Not an actual incident, this was interactive theatre with the “cars” played by actors from PT’s new interactive Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble. The accident causing woman was an audience member at an April 10th performance entitled “Support our Troops — Support Peace: a Paradox or Can We Do Both?!” Though not actually suggesting that we create a deadly accident to solve our problems, her tactic was a way of saying that perhaps it takes a crisis to bring people of opposing viewpoints together. It was shocking, poignant, and for me a highlight of the theatrical dialogue with 120 Port Townsenders around this very confusing issue. It was also a more vivid illustration of her idea than any words could have ever conveyed. And it was fun.

A long-term project of the Mandala Center for Change, the Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble is a multi-generational team of actor/activists. The current 15 members range from age 16 – 65 and cover a spectrum of PT’s eclectic population. The Troupe’s main objective is to provide a local community service stimulating deep dialogue and inviting positive action around peace and other social justice related issues — both local and global. In our improvisational performances, audience members are not spectators but spect-actors — invited onstage to explore solutions to their own questions and struggles. They are also spontaneous storytellers — sharing experiences and truths that are then played back by the actors through physical imagery, voice, and movement. Not “political theatre” in the traditional sense, our interactive approach is non-dogmatic. We do not tell people what to think but instead invite people to think. All opinions are welcome and valued. Through the evocative and universal language of theatre, everyone is invited to share wisdom on the issues at hand. Whether one chooses to actively participate or not, audiences at our performances are frequently left with richer awareness as well as a greater belief in their ability to effect change in their own lives.

The Ensemble bases its work in the internationally renowned applied theatre techniques, Theatre of the Oppressed and Playback Theatre among others. Theatre of the Oppressed, as created by Brazilian visionary, Augusto Boal, is a form of popular community based education which uses theater as a tool for transformation. Originally developed out of Boal’s work with peasant and worker populations, it is now used all over the world for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building, therapy, and government legislation. Playback Theatre, as developed by American, Jonathan Fox, very simply and exquisitely honors personal story.

“Change the world and have a good time doing it” is a phrase I have been using since my days helping run the Seattle Public Theatre in the 1990′s. It is also very much how I continue to approach social change work in order to sustain myself as well as those around me. I certainly believe that actively working to make a more just world is important and necessary. However, it can also be very draining, thankless, and often without tangible reward. Burnout is all too common among political activists and community organizers. I have found that theatre can be a powerful and effective means toward making a difference and, at the same time, be the necessary fuel to keep me going. I continuously see the work transform lives. And after 12 years of nearly full time practice, I can genuinely say that I’m still having a great time.

The Ensemble’s next public performance is scheduled for May 22nd at 7:00 PM at the Unitarian Church, 2333 San Juan Ave. in Port Townsend. Entitled “Peace Work — What Now?” this event will provide an opportunity for people to explore current burning questions such as:

How do we want to make peace — as individuals, as a community, as a world?

How can we sustain this over the long haul? What is next?