How Do the Arts React to Oppression & Political Unrest? (Past, Present & Future) By LARRY MYERS ♠♣♥♦ In this first of a series, reviewer/professor /playwright Dr. Larry Myers explores issues and offers thoughtful perspective on topics confronting us in the arts. It’s a new Revolution Cabaret he talks about that is evolving in theater and cabaret across the country, Trump-eting a response to the current climate of political uneasiness and distress.
DR.MYERS INQUIRES: How do the arts react to this in 2017? Kind of as they always have:
Accompanying the current political unrest a new Revolution Cabaret is evolving. A resistant, defiant entertainment characterized by curiosity and detached cynicism; it is defining the new America. One is reminded that a vibrant strand of theater flourished in concentration camps. Dogmatic suppression and persecution pressures many into vivid expression.
Cabaret as an art form began in Paris (where the word meant “wine cellar”). Painters, poets, composers, actors met to present challenging new art. This counter culture phenomenon arrived in Germany as a reaction to decades of restrictive authoritarianism. Weimar Germany was a period of social liberalization. The post-1929 economic revival greeted “kabarett.” This cabaret welcomed LGBTQIA citizenry and others voicing dissent. The Weimar zeitgeist has come to represent liberalism, Left wing liberals of the 1960s embraced these core values.
Prominent among theatrical thinkers was Judith Malina, a protégée of German genius Erwin Piscator and his wife, Dr. Maria Piscator. The Piscators fled the Nazis and established The Dramatic Workshop at The New School. I assisted Dr. Piscator in instituting Dramatic Workshop II in the 1990s. I replaced Herbert Berghof, who had passed away. He had been slated to take over from Judith Malina, who was touring Europe. It was The Living Theater which brought the German sensibility to America. They meshed the Piscators’ philosophy with Bertolt Brecht via Antonin Artaud. It was a poetic workers’ theater heavy on audience participation. They saw theater as a utilitarian art form which must alter man. The specific Piscator credo informing their works was “Think as you feel.” Erwin Piscator hired both Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler as acting teachers for his school.
Piscator returned to Germany, and both his acting teachers began their own schools. Erwin Piscator had worked in Germany with ingenious expressionistic stagings of majestic German history. With the fascist regime, he worked on a much smaller scale after leaving traditional theater. Labelled a communist during the McCarthy era, his works are ignored. This theatrical theory of drama to improve mankind flourished in the 1960s and ’70s with the flower power/ free love post-Beat hippies. A Neo-Beat now arises responding to the War on Terror and the extremism of Trump. As people are assaulted by monstrous realities without access to decode impressions, a new need for theater arts arises. An art form which parallels the cyber world of alternative news, fake news, and 24/7 conversation creates a new aesthetic. Theater offers a secret language of paradox.
Cabaret creators are aware of the arts’ power to articulate in an ironic, informed, enlightened manner fearless responses to a toxic “Reality-TV” culture. My personal brand of Neo-Beat Cabaret involves both Found Beat and Gay History.
In California and New Jersey, my new Found Theater Project arises. Found Gay History happens in San Francisco. The Bay area will see the premiere of Lesbian First Lady (about Rose Cleveland, sister of twice-elected President Grover Cleveland) and First Gay President (about President James Buchanan’s niece and her friend, the niece of Rufus King, alleged lover of Buchanan). Just as Germany explored feminist identity, these are a post-Women’s March pair of one-acts. The Starving Artist Café Theater in Ocean Grove, New Jersey will premiere Albee, Kerouac & Tennessee at San Remo Café. Edward Albee endorsed my Playwrights’ Sanctuary, writing a personal letter to be given to each theater artist. This drama explores the legendary safe space/ Bohemian hangout and examines how Jack Kerouac was instrumental in the creation of Off-Broadway.