I was just in Portland, OR, specifically to see a play that my daughter stage managed at Reed College. The play, called In/Divisible is on Reed’s website at http://events.reed.edu/posts/2015-16/reed-theatre-indivisible.html
It was the faculty directed (and conceived) spring offering, and constructed by the players and
production staff in collaboration with the director. It was interactive and political and centered
around an issue that is highly charged, but not clearly split down party lines. The play, set in 4 “movements”, presents the content and background about Charlie Rangel’s congressional
bill on youth mandatory service (the bill that he has proposed every congress for about 12 years).
The players present actual information about the bill, a brief history of the US military, public
attitude and spending. And they mix up the factoids with vignettes that dramatize how young people can opt to enlist, how the public reacts to veterans, and what people think and feel about
voluntary service. Then after each movement, the audience (who is divided into Caucus groups)
debates among themselves parts of the bill, proposes amendments, argues positions with the entire audience and at the end votes for the bill.
I am excited about this play, because it reminds me of the power of theater. I went to two performances, and each night witnessed how people’s minds could (or would not) change on an issue. The people in my group said they noticed how the process was about more than just Rangel’s bill, but demonstrated possibilities in our democracy, and touched on what is going on right now in the national election front. I know my mind-changed, back and forth several times, not only about yeah/nay on the bill, but the issues that surround it. These include whether youth service of any type should be mandatory, if the draft is a good idea under any circumstances, and the greater issue of US military power at all.
So while I don’t do politics for a living, I do write papers and present them at conferences. So I am composing a paper about interactive theatre as a vehicle for political change.
Specifically, I am intrigued by the reflexive process that occurred in the caucus groups, how it was informed by the presentation of information from the acted movements, and how the interaction of the audience participants reshaped the information into opinion and small group activism.
The paper I envision is about how tenets and processes that are fundamental to phenomenologically applied research apply to democratic political process. I see specifically the role of reflexivity in the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election year. Spurred on by observing the dynamic of reflexivity in my theatre caucus group, the paper will examine the dynamic of reflexive exchange in political discourse.
Reflexivity involves self-referential processes but is more complex than a reflective stance. Although reflexivity can involve elements of explicit thoughtfulness, it also involves automatic, nonconscious responses. Reflexivity is both interactive and progressive, involving the setting and the players who subsequently and dynamically recreate their understanding through the reflexive process.
Thus what I saw happen in the 2.5 hrs of interactive theatre is playing out throughout the US around this election year. The candidates and certainly the media must know that in reflexive recreation sits the opportunity for participants to change their opinions and attitudes. I am refreshed at the possibilities that minds can yet be changed, even when topics are politically charged. It warrants further exploration.