Theater: A Revolutionary Tradition

November 18th, 2016

From its early origins, Theater has always reflected and been shaped by a community’s needs and world views.

Sanskrit drama, originating in India, began as religious plays utilizing song and dance. Native Americans used a combination of dance, costume, storytelling, and music to perform ceremonies of celebration and mourning. In Greece, tragedy developed from community songs sung in praise of gods. In the majority of origin stories, whether China’s Beijing Opera, Japan’s Kabuki, Yoruba Theater in West Africa, and other forms of theater evolved from community beliefs and involvement.

Theater articulates social problems and brings communities together like no other art form can. Theater makers throughout history have challenged the dominant culture and established ways of thinking, and continue to do so today.

In the late 18th Century French theater played a large role in the revolution. It was utilized by various political institutions to illustrate party beliefs. For example, the play La Chaste Suzanne caused riots because of its perceived counterrevolutionary message.

In 1881, Ghosts-recently produced by ArtsWest-was banned from public performance because of its scandalous content. Many of Ibsen’s other works disrupted the European and American social structure because of their examination of women’s rights.

In Russia, during the early 20th Century, Vsevolod Meyerhold not only used theater to push his political beliefs during the Russian Revolution, but he revolutionized the way theater was made by experimenting with new staging methods.

During the 1960’s, as part of the Black Power Movement, the Black Revolutionary Arts Movement was formed, dedicated to creating art exploring the African American struggle against white oppression.

Feminist theater arose in the 1970’s during the Women’s Liberation Movement. It recognized how women have been marginalized throughout history. Artists such as Paula Vogel, Caryl Churchill, Carmelita Tropicana, and Suzan-Lori Parks explored female experiences through their writing and through performance art.

The LGBTQIA community employed theater during the height of the AIDS epidemic to illustrate its devastating impact within their community and the reactions to the AIDS epidemic by heteronormative society.

In the 21st century, theatres are seeing these issues depicted frequently onstage in more connecting, intersectional ways. The question is no longer what is the experience of a woman, but what is the experience of a queer woman of color living in a low socio-economic community.

As these questions begin to take center stage in the American Theatre, ArtsWest looks to explore such questions as well, not only through the content we produce, but through the casting, design, and staging of our productions.

ArtsWest has joined the revolution happening on stages all over the United States and is determined to strengthen its involvement in the future. With your assistance, ArtsWest will meet our community’s needs and produce work that reflects our diverse community. Help by joining the revolution yourself and making a gift to ArtsWest today.

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