Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Result of Not Telling Our Own Stories

"We know now that, if we don't express ourselves as individuals, if we keep our stories bottled up inside us, eventually we will get sick. The stress will manifest as disease. The human body is, after all, an integrated system.

I suggest that, in the same way our bodies are made up of cells that constitute a living organism, a community is made up of individual people that comprise the organism I call the loving community. Communities are alive and need to express themselves just like people; if they don't, they get sick, just like people. The proof of all this is all around us. As cultural life has become more and more consumer oriented, living communities have manifested more and more disease.

This is because communities have become fragmented into individualized consumers and have lost their ability to collectively tell their stories.

Theatre, like all other forms of cultural expression, used to be ordinary people singing, dancing, telling stories. This was the way a living community recorded and celebrated its victories, defeats, joys, fears. As the Cartesian or mechanistic model took root, and later as colonialism spread across the planet, coincdingin with the mechanization of capitalism, this primal activity of storytelling also evolved in a mechanistic way. Like many other things we can think of, cultural activity became commodified. It transformed from something that people did naturally 'in community', into a manufactured consumer product. Today a vast majority of people buy theatre buy dance, buy paintings, buy books, buy movies; the list goes on and on. We now pay strangers to tell us stories about strangers. But when do we use the symbolic language of theatre, dance, etc., to tell our own stories about our collective selves?

What is the result of the living community's inability to use primal language to tell its own stories? Alienation, violence, self-destructive behaviour on a global level. Living communities have fallen into a stupor, hypnotized by a steady diet of manufactured culture."
David Diamond
Theatre for Living: The Art and Science of Community-Based Dialogue

This is one answer to why it is important that there be more plays by women, by poor people, by people of different races and sexuality, by people from rural areas: because if the stories don't get told, the community becomes sick.

It also raises a serious question about the commodification of the arts, and its effects on art-making itself.
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Anonymous said...

Something we can agree on again, Scott. This book will be on my shelf soon.

Scott Walters said...

Phew! I thought we were doomed! Diamond's book is an adaptation of Augusto Boal's, but abandoning the dualism of Boal's Oppressor / Oppressed model in favor of a systems approach based in the work of Fritjof Capra.

RVCBard said...

*founds Theatre of the Broke*

And in response to one part:

But when do we use the symbolic language of theatre, dance, etc., to tell our own stories about our collective selves?

I presume this is a rhetorical question. But it does raise some interesting inquiries: How do we diagnose the illness? How do we convince the patient they're sick? How do we cure (or at least treat) the disease? What are the consequences for failure to act? In theatre terms, how does it affect people aside from the women, ethnic minorities, lower class, queer, and/or rural people whose stories aren't told?