- A Note from the Editor
The week after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, I passed a sign on my commute to work that contained only one word: “Resist!” I couldn’t get that word out of my head, wondering what actions count as resistance and prompting me to focus the 2018 special issue for Theatre Topics on “Theatre and Protest.” The idea of protest certainly felt ripe: protests in the streets of my town with shouts of “This is what democracy looks like”; thousands of people flooding cites worldwide in women’s marches; and individuals gathering at airports to thwart the implementation of Trump’s travel ban. On the eve of his inauguration, theatre companies across the United States, from Broadway houses to community stages, participated in the Ghostlight Project “to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone—regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation” (Alick et al.).
I noted as well that this special issue would mark fifty years since 1968, surely a revolutionary year. From the civil rights and feminist movements to opposition to the Vietnam War and consumerism, 1968 marked a worldwide escalation of social conflict and rebellion. The theatre of 1968 both reflected and fed such protests. To name but a select few: in the States, Hair premiered on Broadway; the Living Theatre returned to America with Paradise Now; Larry Neal published his celebrated essay “The Black Arts Movement”; and the Yippie movement enacted the “Festival” at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. In Paris, artists, students, and workers joined together to occupy the Odeon Theatre; in Czechoslovakia, playwright Václav Havel published a manifesto calling for liberalization; influenced by the Black Arts movement, South African theatre practitioners used their art in the struggle against apartheid; and Pilar Campesino’s Verano Negro premiered at the Teatro Estudiantil de la Universidad de México (foreshadowing the massacre of unarmed students by military police later that year).
Pondering this history in conjunction with the current moment—anti-immigration sentiment, refugee crises, the dangers of global warming—and my position as both a theatre professor and practitioner, I wondered what kind of actions would occur as 2018 unfolded: Would theatres be shut down? Would students take over college campuses, like they did at Columbia University in ’68?
But about six months after Trump’s inauguration the sign on my commute to work had changed. It still contained only one word, but the sign now read, “Persist!” And six months after that, as I worked on fine-tuning this special issue, the sign no longer contained any words at all, but only a peace sign. What had shifted for this protester to become a cheerleader, to then be rendered speechless? I am currently unaware of any artists shutting down theatres; antithetically, the lead actor of the upcoming Pretty Woman: The Musical lately commented, “I think with the state of the world that we’re in right now, art sometimes has to go to the other side. So, a great story like this—a fun, beautiful fairy tale—is just what we need at this time, when life is so heavy” (qtd. in Duboff). My students told me that they did not attend the Women’s March this year because they had rehearsal, feared crowds or their own safety, or could not afford to take the day off from work. I thought more about those signs. Clearly, protesters were still resisting and persisting, but in my daily interactions, people seemed anxious, fearful, and beaten down.
Recently, however, I gained new inspiration about theatre’s capacity for resistance. My department produced Pia Wilson’s Down Neck, a family drama about the 1967 rebellions in Newark. To [End Page ix] provide context for our audiences, we organized a salon that featured scenes from various plays dealing with rebellion (Detroit ’67, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992), followed by remarks from Newark scholars and longtime married couple Junius Williams and Antoinette Ellis-Williams (fig. 1). The two spoke of four words connected with rebellion: anger, fear, hope, and vision. To...