Excerpted from the final Because You Are Here (BYAH) performance script
Written by Donovan Olsen and the cast of BYAH (with alterations for this context by Tia Kramer)
Context: The Because You Are Here performance arose from a class which aimed to act as a collective response to the here and now. At the same time that we, the class, committed to collaboration, risk-taking, civic responsibility, and co-authorship of a socially engaged theater piece, we remained conscious of the ever-changing political landscape that surrounds us. While we are artists and students, we were seen as whole people and asked to bring forth our knowledge and experiences as such.
Six weeks ago, we gathered as a group to list our concerns regarding this project. They were numerous and nuanced and each concern we listed seem to spawn new and valuable considerations. Considerations that we vowed, as individuals comprising a larger collective, to bear in mind through the rest of our creative process in preparation for this show.
We worried that we would misrepresent voices. That we would let context go by the wayside. That the performance you are seeing here tonight would overshadow the process that has led us here. We worried that our focus on audience criticism might get in the way of our ability to take action. We questioned how best to honor the ten people we interviewed. And how to leave space for the millions of stories we are not telling here tonight—including the stories of at least eight people who wanted to be interviewed for this project but, for various reasons have not yet been—each with their own complexities and urgency and need to be heard.
We asked whether we were giving ourselves over with the same vulnerability we asked of the people we interviewed. As we raised this concern, Walla Walla resident Afrika Brown shared with us the following wisdom, informed by the work and writing of James Baldwin. She said,
“To stand and say that you will be the witness to another’s story makes you vulnerable because you are being trusted to tell a person’s story. You now bear some of the responsibility of the story. But in that place of vulnerability there is power because you can ensure that the story is not forgotten.”
How would we make this project into something that could endure?
The image above lists the values we wanted to prioritize in the making of this work.
Below are some of the questions and concerns we raised that November day. We decided to use these as guides. In this way, our concerns marked a path for our creative progress INSTEAD of becoming hurdles that might stop or prohibit action.
How do we emphasize that this show and process is relational?
Will it be accessible? And to who?
Can we create a performance that is for the interviewees AND the privileged Whitman community AND the HISPANIC/LATINX community? Is that impossible?
What if we don’t satisfy our interviewees?
What if we misrepresent voices?
How can we honor all the people who want to be interviewed by have not been interviewed?
Will we be able to illuminate the the struggles of the immigrants we interviewed while also sharing their strength, value and importance in our community?
How do we include collaborators in the final stages of the process without creating arbitrary pressure on the creative work or the collaborators themselves?
What if we won’t/can’t adequately maintain relationships with interviewees?
Have we, the artists, recognized our own vulnerabilities ENOUGH? Have we made ourselves vulnerable enough?
What role should language translation/interpretation play in this project?
What if we translate too much of our content into English? What if we translate too little of it?
How can this show benefit the COMMUNITY and not just those of us who are creating it and Whitman College as in institution?
Which collaborators have we not fully engaged? If wrong doing was done can it be mended?
How do we cope with the fact that we can not produce a show on this topic that is somewhat ethically problematic? Can we be ok with that imperfection and still proceed?
If we don’t do this work, who will?
What if we allow context will go by the wayside?
How might our own bias’ and blinders (those we have because of our privilege and context) create a problematic framework for this show?
What are the consequences of our our actions? Do they impact our egos or the people we have interviewed more?
Can we do no harm?
Who is the target audience? Who is OUR target audience? Who are the interviewees’ target audience?
What format or form does the play need to meet the requirements of Harper Joy Theatre? What are the limitations of HJT? Can these be addressed?
How can/could we bring in partnerships beyond those we have already engaged?
How can we expand the audience, the people who are actually in the room, beyond the typical Whitman Harper Joy Theatre audience? Can we get people to the theatre who do not normally come to the theatre?
If we put effort into expanding our audience and making the show accessible, should we continue that effort for other shows and shouldn’t that impulse go beyond that effort.
What if we don’t have the time to expand our audience and the accessibility of the show? If we won’t do the work to actually be effective, will it happen?
What are the barriers that might prevent Whitman campus to see the show?
Is childcare a barrier for our intended audience? How can we provide child care for the show?
Is language a barrier for our intended audience? If we provide Spanish translation for the show will it be utilized?
What if we cater to an audience that does not know Spanish while advertising to an audience that has to get by on a language they don’t feel comfortable with?
What if there is unexpected backlash to the show? What if that backlash hurts our co-creators and/or the people we are trying to share the stage with?
What if we over emphasize the performance and not the process?
What if work gets critiqued as an end product rather than a process? What if the perception of of the show by “others” is over emphasized?
What if audience members are so bent on critiquing this that they won’t receive it? It is easier to critique than to receive?
Can we guide and help the audience to be generous?
How can we avoid getting stuck in our heads?
How do we create a project that endures beyond the show itself?