We won a New York City Arts Corp Grant to reprise the production of Vaclav Havel’s one act play, PROTEST, which I’ve performed off-and-on for several years now, in a production for The Alliance for New Music-Theater, directed by Susan Galbraith, and also starring actor Drew Valins (who’s unwittingly become something of an American expert in performing the iconic role of ‘Vanek,’ across from my ‘Stanek’). We’re performing for three nights in two different private homes in NYC: ‘apartment performances’ that recall the ‘apartment performances’ that were the only way to see Havel’s works, back in 1970s-era Prague, because they were banned from being performed in theaters, by the Communist government. These upcoming shows differ than past performances we’ve done–either in theaters or in private homes–both by how much Covid 19-era precautions limit the number of guests we can invite to see us, and by our preparations to adapt the play to a film version. We brought a camera into the rehearsal room for these upcoming live shows to play with ideas for our film, and a camera will be present in at least one of these upcoming evenings.
Finding myself increasingly pessimistic about the future of American democracy, and the more I find myself not knowing what to do about it, I find myself more grateful for this little play that won’t go out of my life, because it MAY–just may–be the best model for how I can best contribute to efforts to walk us out of this dystopian crisis. Havel’s writing is all about the distortions to the human mind and spirit created and enforced by oppressive ideology and its ideological enforcers. In the context of 1970s Czechoslovakia, that was Communism and the totalitarian policing of daily life by government hacks. In today’s context, oppressive ideology and the enforcement by ideological hacks comes from Trumpism and the GOP–most acutely–but also from the ‘woke’ left, though I’m heartened by a lot of evidence that progressivism is rediscovering its commitment to diverse thought, as well as to diverse ethnic and gender identity, and so I take the dangers of Trumpism far, far more seriously. I don’t have the political skill set–or the patience with the mind-numbing group think to which activists are prone–to be a political ‘activist,’ and there are too many writers who write and think better than I do to want to enter the ‘debate’ at a quasi-journalistic level, but I am an artist, meaning that I believe in simply 1) paying attention to daily life and 2) drawing attention to the experiences of daily life that make us who we are, and create the metaphysical condition of the possibility of change in laying down the infrastructure of hopes and expectations for a better future, that otherwise go consciously unnoticed, or are consciously suppressed by us. Havel does this work of revealing what we know about our daily lives but are either too distracted or frightened to say, and when we perform him, audiences momentarily light up in recognition (making the talk backs we always do quite a ride, sometimes). For the moment, by performing this one little play by Havel, I get to help in the work of reclaiming our shared humanity, and makes me think about how I may continue that work, when we’re done with this little show–if we’re ever done with it.