postcards from berlin #7 [affirmative art]
ROMA ARMEE (r. ronen) @ maxim gorki theater berlin
another yael ronen piece, a devised creation. ronen was approached by a couple of queer/feminist roma women to create a piece, and it opened the gorki's new season.
the piece has huge energy and exuberance, and the cast of performers (majority roma & romani traveller, with 2 ensemble members) are really exciting and electric onstage.
the piece didn't do much for me on a political level. it was a pretty straight-up manifesto of "don't discriminate against us / we're here we're queer / hear us roar." i thought there was a missed opportunity to delve into the systemic issues--the very real and socially-acceptable racism that most europeans feel toward roma, and the systemic and cultural issues that make it a brutally hard cycle to break. in many ways the roma get similar treatment in europe to indigenous peoples around the globe. but the piece decisively chose not to engage with negative representations, for reasons they laid out in the piece.
which robbed it of a bite that i think would have been tremendously exciting.
that said, it has me thinking about the need for affirmative art, especially for peoples/cultures who experience high levels of marginalization. i've pondered this when faced with some canadian work as well. i'm totally bored by affirmative work, but that might be a product of the fact that i don't experience marginalization as acutely. social stability creates a place from which one can be more critical--athenian drama's shift from tragedy to comedy after the start of the peloponnesian war comes to mind. during a time when their well-being was threatened they turned away from tragedy. these days it seems we need late night talk show comedy more than ever, with north korea prepared to level a major metropolis and 45 openly antagonizing pyongyang to the brink of a nuclear holocaust.
the audience the night i attended was rowdy, whooping, cheering, speak-it-sister-ing. the empowerment they felt from seeing themselves represented and reclaiming identity on a state theatre stage was palpable. it did seem to do legitimate good. maybe i'm just not the right audience for a piece like that. on some levels i think it's great that berlin's got at least a little theatre that doesn't appeal to a gay white germanophile. i don't believe that all theatre (or art) all the time needs to have an intrinsic universal appeal.
that said, a competing thought rumbles in the background that this perspective could also be a bit patronizing. who am i to say what groups whose experience is so different from mine "need" from their theatre--and i don't mean to suggest that the desire for affirmation comes from marginalization-induced fragility. so i'm unsure how to position a reaction to something i found a bit superficial and unchallenging when i sat in the middle of an enthusiastically cheering crowd--at least without turning these comments into a kind of self-flagellating privilege confessional that actually reinforces a negative hierarchy or makes uninformed blanket suppositions about connections between a given group's experiences of oppression and a taste for a certain kind of art. it's also eminently possible that other individuals don't go to the theatre hoping to emerge in a swirling vortex of doubt and call it a satisfying experience.
...like, identity politics and stuff folks, amirite?
for more on the show click here.