November 12, 2011

Discourse and community organizing in indie theatre

Previously, I talked about the need for community organizing in indie theatre and what that means. I mentioned that transforming the landscape of indie theatre will require a different way of engaging so that everyone can fully participate.

I want to parallel two recent experiences that bring into sharp relief the need for a new way to navigate discourse in the indie theatre community. The first is the Audre Lorde Project's QTPOC Occupy Wall Street Town Hall meeting. The second is Gwydion's Playwrights Wish List.

At ALP's Town Hall, there were a few things that stood out about the process: 1) the participants came from all walks of life; 2) everyone present participated and was fully engaged; and 3) there were differences of opinion but not debate.

I believe this has to do with the way the town hall was set up. First of all, there were ground rules for discussion which everyone agreed to abide by. They were:

  1. One mic, one diva
  2. Step up, step back
  3. Check your privilege

With these 3 simple rules, it set the stage for this town hall to be a place where the community could listen and share, just to get a lay of the land and see where people are. After sharing those rules, we broke up into 6 groups. We did not have our choice of groups; we just counted off. In retrospect, this was probably a good idea because it gets rid of habitual ways we have of interacting in a familiar group. Each group had 1 or 2 facilitators.

Once we were in our groups, we went to our assigned spaces, we selected a note-taker and reporter (for the report-back). Then we asked 3 simple questions for us to ask about QTPOC involvement at Occupy Wall Street. Not leading questions, just open things for people to share. If I'm remembering correctly, we were asked:

  1. Are you involved with OWS? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think QTPOCs are marginalized at OWS?
  3. What can we bring from OWS to our own community organizing?
  4. (Bonus) What did you want to get from the town hall meeting?

We were given about 30-45 minutes to talk about these questions. After that, we reconvened, and each group gave a 5-minute report-back that shared the general feeling of the group plus some responses to the questions. Then we had a few minutes for general feedback and to fill in info gaps about what happened in our group breakouts.

It was an amazing experience because I felt empowered and connected in a way that I rarely feel in everyday life. Let's be clear here; I was not controlling anything. I was just one participant in a group. Yet I felt more powerful there than I did in situations where my control is more or less absolute. Isn't that something?

Over Twitter, Gwydion and I chatted briefly about how we could import this model to the virtual world. Since then, I've been thinking a lot about his Playwrights Wish List because that's exactly the kind of thing we need more of in the theatre community. It hits almost every single one of the community organizing principles. Granted, it's going to be tough to sustain that effort since Gwydion took upon himself roles that are usually spread out among at least 3 other people (facilitator, note-taker, report-back). However, comparing the success of the town hall meeting with the success of the Playwrights Wishlist, I noticed that they had a few things in common.

  1. An explicit invitation to a specific group
  2. A clear understanding of what we're there to do
  3. Willingness to allow individuals to speak for themselves, asking for clarity where needed
  4. Responsiveness to the group needs and concerns
  5. Commitment to follow up in the future

Those are just off the top of my head. What other things would you add to creating a truly participatory model of discourse when it comes to organizing in the indie theatre community?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this. It's really important to keep these organizing principles transparent and well-understood. You've done a way better job than I ever would have, and I really appreciate it.