Social and Political Responsibility Roundtable (2005)

Friday – April 22, 2005
New York, NY

This roundtable was held at the NTCP offices in New York City, New York. Justin Woo, NTCP intern and Rutgers University senior, led the discussion. The participants explored how to balance pursuing one’s artistic goals with politically and socially responsible goals in a post 9/11 world.  The roundtable was off-the-record; therefore, the following report is a summary highlighting the issues, ideas, and themes conveyed without attribution to the participants.

Guest Artists:
Alan Muraoka – actor/ director

Mildred Ruiz – actor/ spoken word artist

Steven Sapp – actor/ spoken word artist

Student Participants:

Nandita Chandra, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Cristopher Davenport, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Shireen Deen, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Salisha Miller, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Tatiana Suarez Pico, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Jackie Svagarik, Actors’ Studio Drama School

Opening Questions (posed by Justin Woo):

“How can we increase public awareness of intolerance, governmental corruption, and corporate malfeasance in order to battle complacency and inspire change?

How has your community work affected your artistic work and vice versa?”

Comments, Themes, Issues:

“Even if you leave your home neighborhood, you ought to return and give back to your community.”

“How can we make non-traditionally cast theatre commercially viable but still maintain artistic integrity?”

“The performing arts allow audiences to viscerally experience tragedy and oppression, rather than just read about it, as in Hotel Rwanda”.

“We need to investigate what we can do as performing artists to make the world a better place.  I don’t feel whole unless I’m doing something artistic and socially responsible.”

“There is an underground, independent circuit where it’s more possible to tell stories that challenge and break stereotypes.”

“For artists like us, there may be only one possible slot in a theatre’s season where we would be considered.  The competition for that one slot is enormous.  Certainly there need to be more opportunities.  But also, a change in thinking is needed that takes us out of that one box that we’re put in time and again.  The boxes need to be there so that we can recognize excellence in our own communities (e.g., the Latin Grammies), but we need to go beyond them as well.”

“As performers/ artists doing work that is in a new theatre format (e.g., spoken word, hip/ hop), or provides a new experience (such as seeing an established show cast in an entirely new way, or from a specific cultural point of view different from the original), our challenge is to communicate to the audience that they’re in safe hands.”

“As artists, we always have to respond to our own art.”

“How do we use art to address social issues without losing the audience – how do we make these issues more accessible?”  The response was, “You don’t write an idea – you do the research and throw it out the window.  You write and develop the character who relates to other characters, and so on.  The more specific one is in the story telling, the more universal it becomes – e.g., A Raisin in the Sun.  Ethnically, we have a lot of dimension we can add to stories that are already known, as well the dimension we add in telling more of our own stories.”

“In telling a story, you must work through your own biases and imagine yourself/selves in different ways, not in the stereotypes the media provides.  Self-identity is important, but there isn’t a system to imagine oneself as a Latina lawyer or an Asian rapper, for example – we must go beyond our own limitations and use our imaginations.”

“We had the opportunity to go to Poland twice, to do Ubu: Enchained.  We worked with a Polish company.  I went to two concentration camps, but only one Polish actor wanted to go – her grandmother had died there. After the experience, the whole perspective on the work we were doing changed – we created a cultural bridge.  Here we were, black, Latino and Polish performing a story about a king who enslaves his people.  Later, we brought the Polish company here – they stayed in The Bronx.  Americans are asked how they feel, but Polish people are not used to this.  One of the Polish actors said, ‘You made me open.  Not good, because I have to go home and I won’t get work.’  Eventually, he left his company because the system couldn’t support him in his newfound understanding of who he was.”

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