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All Over Creation: Occupied World Seat

The doors to the theatre don't keep the world out, and that can be a good thing

By Robert Faires, Fri., Dec. 2, 2011

Quetta Carpenter and Mark Barnes in <i>360 (round dance)</i>
Quetta Carpenter and Mark Barnes in 360 (round dance)
Courtesy of Jeff Heimsath

I'm reasonably certain that the terms "occupy" and "Wall Street" never appeared in either 360 (round dance) or Guest by Courtesy, but that didn't stop me from thinking about the movement with which they're associated as I watched those plays the week before last. See, both scripts include characters who are, shall we say, privileged. If they don't, strictly speaking, belong to the 1%, they're within a ZIP code of the neighborhood. Now, nothing those characters did in either play directly evoked income inequality, investment malfeasance, or any of the related economic issues underlying the current protests. Still, the way these rich folk played the high status card with other characters, especially those far down the economic ladder, called to mind the notion among some in the moneyed class that when you're sitting on enough wealth, the rules that the rest of society abides by don't apply to you. Such people subscribe to F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation about the very rich, that "they are different from you and me." Given all that's been said about the Wall Street elite at the heart of the financial collapse – their irresponsible behavior, unwillingness to take responsibility for the crisis, and continued padding of their own bank accounts in the face of widespread layoffs, bankruptcies, and foreclosures – connecting the well-heeled heels onstage with those off wasn't a huge leap.

It's just that when I went to see 360 and Guest, I wasn't any more looking to make that connection than I think Steven Dietz or Hannah Kenah were looking to Zuccotti Park for inspiration when they wrote their respective plays. In both Dietz's updated and Americanized take on Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen and the Emily Post-inspired comedy of manners that Kenah conceived with co-star Jenny Larson, the class struggles seemed broader in scope, less grounded in the specifics of a set situation or time. But just because a work of art tackles universal questions doesn't mean that it can't be of the moment and relevant. In art, timeliness is not an either/or proposition. The world you live in can follow you into the theatre or gallery or concert hall and make its immediate concerns felt in even the most timeless of works. Which is what happened to me with these plays. As I watched them, the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street, which are so prevalent now, surfaced and invited me to look at them through the lens of the plays. What I saw were relationships, in all their messiness and necessity, between those with the most and those with the least. I had a sense of these people being bound to each other inextricably, and for the first time since the protests began, I had the thought that we can never have 100% unless the 99% and the 1% are together. I'd grown so accustomed to the politics of Us vs. Them, of demonizing the opponent, that I'd lost sight of the idea that we are, as a nation, "indivisible," and that our only way out of this morass is in union. As political insights go, it's not John Locke, but it was gratifying to think of something that went beyond rote talking points.

It made me realize how valuable it can be to have the world follow me into the theatre. I'm thinking of inviting it along whenever I go now. So if you see an open seat beside me, don't sit there. I'm saving it for the world.

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