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October 19, 2023

The Power of Plays to Navigate Political Uncertainty

Two elaborately costumed actors take a curtain call.
Two elaborately costumed actors take a gracious curtain call after a performance of emotion and power.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Introduction

Theater comments on politics and society. Plays speak truth and connect deeply. In times of upheaval, plays become more powerful. Theater helps navigate complex issues, inspires action, and promotes understanding.

The Power of Empathy

Plays have a remarkable power to create empathy. When we watch a play, we are transported to another world, where we experience the lives and emotions of the characters. This allows us to connect with them on a deeper level and understand their struggles. Through this connection, we can begin to see the world from their perspective and develop empathy for their experiences.

One example of a play that creates empathy is “The Laramie Project” by Mois├ęs Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project. This play tells the story of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming. Through the play, we come to understand the impact that his death had on his family, his friends, and his community. By giving voice to the people who knew and loved him, the play creates empathy and helps us understand the effects of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community.

Another example is “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage, which tells the story of a group of factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania, whose jobs are threatened by globalization and automation. The play presents the perspectives of both the workers and the factory management, showing the challenges both sides face as they work towards solutions. Through this empathetic portrayal, the play helps us understand the complex issues facing workers in our society today.

The power of plays to create empathy is essential in times of political division and uncertainty. When we are faced with complex issues, it can be difficult to understand the perspectives of those who hold different views. Theater can provide a safe and constructive space for us to come together and empathize with one another. Through this process, we can begin to find common ground and work towards solutions that benefit everyone.

The Power of Dialogue

Plays are powerful dialogues because they offer a unique space for communication and connection. Theater provides a safe and creative space where people with different backgrounds and perspectives can come together to engage in constructive dialogue. This is particularly important in times of political uncertainty, where polarization and division can lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

By coming together to share our experiences and viewpoints, we can find common ground and work towards solutions. In theater, we have the opportunity to see the world from different perspectives and understand how people with different experiences and backgrounds view the world. This can help us develop a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of complex issues.

Theater can also create a sense of community and belonging. When we come together to watch a play, we share a collective experience and connect with other audience members on a deeper level. This can be particularly powerful in times of political upheaval, where the sense of community and belonging provided by theater can offer a much-needed sense of comfort and hope.

The Power of Imagination

Theater is powerful because it can take us to new worlds and inspire us to imagine a better future. When we feel overwhelmed, theater can give us hope.

For example, “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner explores the AIDS crisis and has magic. It shows us how love and identity are important. It encourages us to imagine a world where everyone is respected.

Similarly, “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare takes us to a magical island with a sorcerer and his daughter. This play challenges our ideas about the world. It inspires us to think about a better future.

Conclusion

The powers of empathy, dialogue, and imagination are essential to the power of theater to help us navigate political uncertainty. By creating empathy, sparking dialogue, and expanding our imaginations, theater can inspire us to take action and work towards a better world.


"Why We Need Theater in Times of Political Unrest" by Howard Sherman, published in The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/02/theater-in-times-of-political-unrest/516287/
"Theater Has the Power to Create Change in the World" by Victoria Myers, published in American Theatre: https://www.americantheatre.org/2020/06/05/theater-has-the-power-to-create-change-in-the-world/

Kushner, T. (1993). Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Theatre Communications Group.

Nottage, L. (2015). Sweat. Theatre Communications Group.

Shakespeare, W. (1611). The Tempest. First Folio.

Kaufman, M., et al. (2000). The Laramie Project. Vintage Books.1

1. The citation for "The Laramie Project" includes the names of the writers in addition to the title, as the play is a collaborative effort by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

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