Monday, August 21, 2006

One Woman's Journey...To the Fringe

The Fringe NY festival is this week, and I was looking through the hundreds of listings for something, anything that might be worth seeing. Sure there were a few "one woman's jouney to understanding her past" and more than a few "hilarious looks at America's obsession with sexual repression" and even an in-depth look at "what if Shakespeare had written The Godfather?" but I was looking for something a little more. I found a listing for a docudrama for Fear Up: Stories from Baghdad and Guantanamo and dragged Zach into the city on a weeknight in hopes that it would be that something more. I like docudrama. I like it a lot. There is something about the use of primary sources that appeals to me because it reminds me that we have all the drama we need in our world already, the art is framing it in a way that makes us look at it freshly. It takes some of the ego out of the artist because in docudrama the artist isn't giving their take on situation, they are presenting someone else. They are serving someone else's story. Kind of like This American Life on stage. Not fully journalism. Not fully theatre.

In this respect, Fear Up didn't disappoint. Most of the sources they used were from interviews with the Tipton Three after their release from Guantanamo, blog posts from an Iraqi woman during the invasion/occupation of Baghdad, and a journalist's interviews with military personel. It was a facinating blend of stories and perspectives and the artists did a great job of weaving together the strands from these disparate stories. I was very struck by the fact that none of these stories or ideas were fully new to me- I've heard some version of them before, but they were still incredibly important to see and hear again. We don't do a very good job of reminding ourselves of what is going on in the world. We don't remind ourselves of what we are responsible for, of what is being done in our name. And despite any interest we may have in hearing/seeing these stories, they aren't being shown or told. It's going to take a lot of small voices, like this play, to drown out the bland, cacophanous mediocrity that is blasted at us all day long, telling us that we don't really need to worry about the war, what we should be worried about is our blond girls disappearing from our homes or while on vacation, or the Arab men on our subways that the police don't have the balls to take down. I don't think this is a conspiracy. I think that the 24-hour cable news is giving us what we are asking for- we want to be scared by an external boogeyman rather than be scared by what we are doing to ourselves.

So, all this being said, I thought the performance was to the point and artistically moving. But on the subway ride home we began to discuss the one thing that this docudrama definately was not- objective. This play had an agenda- to examine the innocent lives touched by a war that is aimed at the wrong people. To challenge us to ask what price is acceptable for the spread of democracy abroad when we cannot practice what we preach. Beyond these high-minded objectives, there were a couple places in the play that went too far. There were cheap shots at Republicans, and the military personel were almost all presented with Southern drawls (even Rummy, odly enough). But most of the shots were not cheap shots. They were deep and perceptive shots.

Is it a bad thing that this play was not objective? We all might acknowledge that nothing is objective, that all news and art is biased by the experiences and perspectives of the person who creates it, but we still hold our opponents to that impossible standard. I rail against the skewed covereage on Fox News, I bemoan the corporate interests that are portrayed as God's own Truth, I crow over the especially blatent fearmongering that is evidence that these people are only serving their own interests. I stop listening as soon as I identify their agenda as something that I don't agree with (or, if I keep listening, it is so that I'll have fuel for a later rant). So why is it okay that this play had an agenda?

Zach and I talked about this all the way home- about taking a stand, about the line between journalism and art, about preaching to the choir, and I don't know if we got too far, so this won't be a completely satisfactory end to this story. I think that one thing we did agree on, however, is that our stand against this war has stopped being a partisan issue. It is now a moral issue. And, somehow, that justifies standing up and shouting from the rooftops that OF COURSE we have an agenda because this issue isn't about our ideas or politics, it is about our souls. Unfortunately, the people running this war feel the same way. They don't hear our arguments and our tirades because they are fighting this war for ideological reasons, just like we are fighting against it. And that brings me back to the theatre, because I keep believing that the way to fight this battle is not with logic, but with art. We need to be fighting with the tools of the soul. So, thank you Fear Up for giving me more than an evening's argument about war. Amongst the self-indulgent one-woman shows and SNL wanna-be's, you brought to the Fringe some art that had that something more.

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