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friday collection: this theater is occupied

November 11, 2011

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to do a friday collection because I’ve taken on a new project: As Long as Fear Can Turn to Wrath, an adaptation of selected chapters of a certain great American novel, will be presented as part of Son of Semele Ensemble‘s Company Creation Festival in January and February. In the novel, which is set in the Great Depression, the author essentially tells the same story twice: the bulk of the book focuses on the personal experiences of the main family’s journey from Oklahoma to California to find work, but the interstitial chapters paint a picture of the collective Okie experience by retelling the same story in broader terms. Our adaptation uses those chapters and thereby attempts to show that the scourge of poverty infects whole societies, not just individuals.

As with most theater, on this the producers, the company of actors, a designer and I are working for free. The production currently has no budget and no resources other than the rehearsal and performance space provided by Son of Semele. Why, you might ask, would we want to travel from our day jobs during rush hour to the theater every night and on the weekends to rehearse and perform a piece of theater that will, in the course of its 10-performance run in a 35-seat theater, be seen by a total of 350 people at most and not get paid?

Because we have something to say. And the theater is a good place to say it.

The play, like the book, begins by illuminating the consequences of an unregulated home loan industry; we then follow the collective Okies as they are swindled by used car dealers, forced to beg for bread to feed their children, denied pay for work they have already performed, and kicked off the piece of land–the Hooverville–they have chosen to occupy.

People will not believe that the words of this theater piece were not written about current events. The problems these families face and the conclusions they draw are separated from those of the Occupiers only by time, not by sentiment. Our collaborative process of creation is not quite as egalitarian as Occupy’s General Assembly–I lead the company as adapter and director, my husband co-produces, and the text was written a while back by a more skilled wordsmith than any of us could ever hope to be. But together with the actors we are turning the narrative of the book into a company-created playworld with the intention of historicizing the Great Depression and revealing its commonalities with today.

We believe that there is power in telling stories and that awakenings can happen when people witness the real human struggles of poverty, hunger and oppression, if only in performance. In this piece, we hope to embody the spirit and goals of the Occupy movement, to reinforce the necessity of collective action, and to warn the powers that be that revolution is coming. For where the people come together, as the novel says,

[T]here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. [T]here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning–from “I” to “we.”

Check out our tumblr of images from the Depression and from Occupy and add your own (in pairs, please). And come see the show in LA: January 11, 12, 13, 28, and 29 and February 8, 9, 10, 25, and 26.

In the meantime, check out these stories:

Facebook acted like they were going to remove their rape joke pages, but then they didn’t.

Things are bad for brown people in Alabama.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to repeal DOMA. Senate Republicans will no doubt filibuster, but this is still a step in the right direction.

A big woman persuaded her trainer that her size is not what matters, her health is.

For the record, I asked for legal permission to do the adaptation and I was not denied it.

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