Me: I am serious about silliness.
I believe in the liberating power of humor and play. I’m a performing artist and writer, and I believe in the ability of the human imagination and the human creative spirit to overcome oppression, and to respond to changing circumstances with fresh ideas, novel viewpoints, original forms, and unforeseen approaches. I use words, mime, clowning, storytelling, slogans, puppetry, song – whatever works, basically – to engage the imaginations of my audience, and encourage them to think a little differently about the things they witness in the world. I believe that social transformation occurs when…
(sound of approaching footsteps)
Voice 2 (breathless): Hey, have you heard this?
Me: Uh, excuse me, I’m…
Voice 2: No, this’ll just take a moment, just listen — (clip of Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
Me: Wow, that’s incredible –
Voice 2: Can you imagine that, music like that coming out under apartheid? Man, no way the Afrikaners could hold out against that kind of spirit…
Me: Yeah, it shows they’re, they’re – indomitable…
(more approaching footsteps, sound of banging pots and a parade)
Me: Uh, hi, what are you doing?
Voice 3: We’re marching on the capital…!
Me: With pots and pans?? And those huge puppets?
Voice 3: Yeah, it’s what we’ve got, and we’re going to use it.
Me: You might get killed…
Voice 3: Eh – You can smash a pot, dump out the contents – but you can’t kill the recipe, you can’t kill the aroma! Let’s go, everybody! Let’s have some fun!
(sound of parade fades in the distance)
Me: Where did they say they were going?
Voice 2: Buenos Aires, I think. Or maybe Budapest – or Manila. Okay, sorry to interrupt, you were saying something?
Me: Uh –
Voice 2: Hey, why don’t things like that happen here?
Me: Overthrowing a government with pots and pans, you mean? I don’t know – maybe because sometimes protest here seems more like a temper tantrum instead of a celebration – and who wants to join someone else’s temper tantrum? But if you make it a party –
Voice 2: Like Demolicans and Republicrats?
Me: No, no, no, a celebration. I remember I was part of an antinuclear group called the Clamshell Alliance, back in the early ’80s – while they had that peaceful, celebratory spirit in their protests at the Seabrook nuclear power plant, things went pretty well for them – but when the hardliners got control, and things got more confrontational, the cause suffered and people weren’t drawn to the issue as much.
Voice 2: What did you do?
Me: There was no joy there anymore – so I started wearing my whiteface to the protests, and interacting with the folks on the sidewalks or stuck in their cars…
Voice 2: Entertaining them? So that the spectators were less annoyed?
Me: Yeah, that was the idea.
Voice 2: Did it work?
Me: To an extent, I think so. I managed to raise a few smiles where there weren’t smiles before.
Voice 2: Responding to heavy issues with lightness – does that make things trivial?
Me: I hope not. Listen to Stephen Colbert or the “Billionaires for Bush.” They’re making very serious points, but in ways that make the ideas more palatable without make thing issues any less important. And this imaginative, creative ability isn’t only for pointing out problems – I believe that in order to come up with workable solutions to our problems, we need our creative imaginations to be working as well as they can be. Otherwise, we’re stuck with solutions that are old and outmoded.
Look around right now – at the same time that the old social order is deteriorating, I see a new wave of creativity emerging, based in large part on the capabilities of the Internet. That guy was right – you can’t kill the creative spirit, though despots have always made that a high priority.
(sound of approaching Dixieland band)
Voice 2: Right. Hey, nice talking to you – I gotta go. I know somewhere else where that spirit lives.
Me: Where you going?
Voice 2: New Orleans, of course. Bye.
(sound of band up and out)
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