- “After Orlando” in Ithaca, New York: Rethinking Efficacy in the Aftermath of the Election
When a coalition of artists and activists based in Ithaca, New York, decided to co-produce “After Orlando,” our shared purpose was clear. Our city prides itself on being a progressive oasis in a largely conservative region. However, each of our producers—Carolina Osorio Gil (director of Cultura Ithaca), Angie Estevez Prada (Teatrotaller member), Godfrey Simmons Jr. (co-artistic director of Civic Ensemble and a faculty member in Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts [PMA]), and I (Civic Ensemble’s artistic producer and a PMA doctoral candidate)—had personally and painfully experienced the limitations of that narrative. We agreed that After Orlando had the potential to incite the necessary dialogue about the discriminatory forces that linger beneath the surface of Ithaca’s claims to inclusivity. Moreover, we felt that our response to these issues was gaining urgency amid the reprehensible rhetoric that characterized the 2016 presidential-election season. We therefore committed ourselves to producing two staged readings immediately following the election: one at a kava bar downtown and the other in an auditorium on Cornell’s campus. Both performances featured a multiracial, multigenerational, predominantly queer ensemble of sixteen directors and performers from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and the surrounding Ithaca community. Collectively, this ensemble reflected the multiple intersecting communities whose concerns inspired our co-production of After Orlando. We hoped that these artists would bring their lived experiences to our slate of plays and that this synergy might raise key questions about local ideologies. However, the shock of Donald Trump’s victory altered audiences’ reception of our performances and transformed the focus of our post-show discussions.
Although our planning focused primarily on the event’s capacity to provoke conversation among our organizations’ diverse constituencies, we also wanted to allow for multiple affective modes of response. We therefore planned a series of pre- and post-show events that we believed could engender a sense of community, while also eliciting a range of intellectual, emotional, and kinesthetic responses. As a result, we envisioned the first performance as a site for communal, corporeal response, facilitated in part by a pre-show reception of Columbian street food from Bici-Cocina (Osorio Gil’s bicycle food-cart), and a post-show dance party hosted by DJ Taino. We imagined the second performance as a space for critical conversation, which we hoped might be prompted by a pre-show spoken-word performance by Karen Jaime (PMA faculty member) and a post-show panel. In both instances, we aimed to create a flexible structure that could address the local concerns that had inspired our production.
However, when audiences began to stream into the kava bar just fifteen hours after Trump’s victory, we knew that our planned pre- and post-show events could not sufficiently respond to the shock and outrage our audiences were experiencing. We decided to address the election directly by altering our opening remarks and offering space for dialogue between the performance and dance party. The standing room–only audience was nearly twice the size we had anticipated, but the pre-show conversations were remarkably subdued. Friends and colleagues said that they had come to the performance because they did not want to be alone, but also expressed uncertainty about how to discuss the anger, frustration, and fear the election evoked. As producers, we shared their uncertainty. [End Page 181] In our impromptu curtain speech, we welcomed our audience into the space, acknowledged the shock that many were experiencing, and invited everyone to stay for the post-show conversation and dance party.
Our slate of plays, including Chiori Miyagawa’s Not, Arturo Soria’s Pulse, and Riti Sachdeva’s AFTER (a kinda litany or something), raised difficult questions about how we care for one another in the aftermath of a tragedy, the persistence of prejudice in our culture, and the possibility of preventing future incidents of hate-based violence. In our free-form post-show conversation, audience members raised similar concerns, but they generally did not address the Pulse shooting directly; instead, they testified to the ways in which the production’s grounding in...