Theatre is no stranger to outrage. The subjective art form lends itself to interpretation, which is inextricably tied to personal experience and self-knowledge. In Ibsen’s day, when Nora walks out on her family at the conclusion of A Doll’s House, some critics praise its progressive stance. Others burn down the theater. Today audiences have cooled slightly in their active response, but not in their passion and reaction to the plays themselves. Today we have Facebook, where the realm of outrage lives and, hopefully, extends beyond into action. Anyone that keeps up with The NOLA Project on social media (our preferred marketing outlet-it’s free) has seen the sudden and stirring responses evoked by our production of Gabrielle Reisman’s play ‘Catch the Wall’ now playing at Dillard University. Or maybe you haven’t. The reaction began on our Facebook event wall for the show and was later removed (censored some call it) when a highly personal email was copied and pasted into the public forum. I felt the action was offensive and disregarded the basic trust implicit in a personal email. And as a response, our marketing director, by my request, made the event’s wall private, thusly deleting the original thread. We then proceeded to create a Facebook group for a forum discussion that could last well beyond the show’s closing. The inability for us to recover and copy the deleted comments outraged some, and that is something that as Artistic Director I must accept, take responsibility for, and move forward from.
But what pleases me despite the bruises to the ego is that we have here a play that inspires these passionate responses. And I welcome you to continue in this discussion. Does a white playwright have the authority or even the right to craft a play about the experience of black characters? Does a white director have the ability to comprehend and direct this play? And does a company composed of more white faces than black have the ability to embrace and attempt to produce this play?
Some have also questioned the motivations of the playwright and the intent of the production. Is this a white playwrights personal perspective of bounce music and public education in black communities? Or is this a call to action and social change? In essence, why do we produce theatre? To what end?
For me, and this is a lesson passed on from Stella Adler, great plays are about ideas. And the best plays pit two difficult and equally valid ideas directly against one another. Take William’s The Glass Menagerie and the struggle to define life as better lived for one’s family or for one’s self. Miller plays often deal with the difficult ideas of doing what is morally right versus what is socially and economically correct. Now to place Gabrielle Reisman amongst those legends is certainly premature and possibly grandiose. But my point is that the best plays have no easy answers and the productions of them often spark immense debate and argument. It is why they are perpetually produced, over and over again for consideration and reconsideration. They live with us far longer than the two hours we spend directly with them. And perhaps they move us to action. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they change our mind. Or perhaps they just needle something in us that isn’t very comfortable.
You can charge that The NOLA Project, or Gabrielle Reisman, or Chris Kaminstein, or anyone involved in ‘Catch the Wall’ oversteps his or her boundary and rights in producing ‘Catch the Wall.’ But if we choose to avoid the challenge and potential backlash, we do our community a much greater disservice.
I think Troi Bechet, a fabulous actor in our company said it best when she said that one thing this debate makes crystal clear is the need for more artists of color in the New Orleans theatre. We need directors and actors and designers and writers of color, and they need and deserve avenues of expression. I hope that The NOLA Project can be of assistance and in partnership here.
Please, if you haven’t seen ‘Catch the Wall’, go. Your thoughts, for better or worse, are valuable. If we inspire thought, serve the artists of our community, and keep interesting and new theatre thriving in the city of New Orleans, then we accomplish our mission, and I can hold my head up high.
Artistic Director, The NOLA Project
Join the discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/555780277775654/