Contributed by Zohar Tirosh-Polk
One of the reasons I wanted to be in the theatre is that theatre was an exciting and courageous place to be. Tony Kushner could write about a man dying of AIDS while talking about Jewish Guilt, Mormons and Reagan and how stinky politics is and homophobics and Ethel Rosenberg and disappointment and the heart and what it yearns for, all in one play. Theatre was the place Paula Vogel could talk about things no one talked about then and where you could fall in love with that uncle too. It’s where Edward Albee wrote about aspects of relationships I didn’t know existed, and aspects of myself I didn’t want to know. And it was the place Stephen Adly Guirgis struggled with God, heads on, right in front of us. Theatre was alive and thrilling, it was dangerous and kicking. Theatre was an opportunity to be heard, to make a difference, to reach out and touch something, to create an impact.
The truth is that in the last few years I haven’t been feeling courageous, at all. Everything around me seemed to be getting worse. The Iraq war happened despite all our collective efforts. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict continues to deteriorate and the peace I grew up hoping for, was nowhere to be found.
So I froze. I felt numb and speechless. What else was there to say after I said it again and again? If I wrote another play about Israel and Palestine and the checkpoints and the army and the settlers would make anything better? Change anyone’s mind? Protect a child from getting hurt/ shot?
Besides, isn’t it just easier to settle for a comfortable and cozy night in front of the TV where real courageous writing is happening (and aren’t those writers mostly playwrights who need to make money anyway?) and watch The Wire or Homeland and feel like I am involved and I do care?
My husband Andy told me about a sermon he heard at All Souls Church recently. The Pastor spoke about Mohamed Bouazizi. Mohamed was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in order to protest the harassment by the government and the confiscation of his goods. He became a catalyst for the uprising-turned-revolution in Tunisa and later for the whole Arab spring. The pastor likened him to a modern-day Jesus.
Last Saturday, at the Tibetan rally in New York City, I learned that over fifteen monks and nuns (and one mother of four) set themselves on fire in the last few weeks protesting the Chinese rule in Tibet and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. The last monk set himself on fire this past Wednesday. In Palestine, a few prisoners have gone on hunger strikes in order to protest their administrative detention without a charge.
So many people stormed the streets this past year. Pictures from Tahrir Square were breathtaking and scary. What’s happening in Syria is terrifying, and having been in Israel at the tail end of that wave of the social justice rallies back in September, I saw it up close, something new was happening. Something new might just be possible.
Now, just to be super clear: I’m not advocating setting ourselves on fire. Really, I’m not. But it’s not a bad metaphor for theatre: a momentary explosion of energy and beauty and expression and protest, never to be seen again.
If theatre is partly there to inspire people to take risks and be just a bit braver, then, what if the opposite was true too? What if theatre could be inspired by the people? Could the theatre learn from them about speaking truth to power and fighting for justice? This year it seemed courage was outside, and I needed to search for it there, in the city squares and where true acts of courage where taking place.
In the last months, my collaborator, the wonderful playwright, Anna Ziegler, and I have been in the process of creating a theatre company that will focus on a new and courageous artistic exploration of Israel and Judaism. There was just more to do and we need to figure out how to do it.
And so, we’ll get off the couch.
Here we go.
PS. Here are a couple more things I think are brave and important:
Mari Brown and Deanna Pacelli’s incredible theatre piece: Twelve Feet in Twelve Minutes. Deanna and Mari went to New Orleans numerous times over the last six years and conducted interviews with many many Hurricane Katrina survivors. Read more about it here:
Israelis and Iranians are saying no to war on-line and over Facebook:
Zohar Tirosh-Polk is an Israeli-American playwright. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.