Sanctuary! Sanctuary!!


I should call this entry “Observations from an Asshat,” for reasons you’ll understand later.

Because Stage Right Theatrics is getting more and more attention, more and more people are hearing about us. I’ve been getting messages from people all over the country thanking me for doing what I’m doing. One kind lady from North Carolina said, “I was so happy to read about your festival and the pro-life, conservative, and patriotic themes of the plays. God bless you and all involved with the productions for standing strong and being a voice for those of us with traditional values.” Local theatre folks, however, are not so enthused and I am regularly lambasted on Facebook. Oh, well. Such is the price of fame.
Recently, one of the great unwashed of our local theatre scene had this to say about our second annual Conservative Theatre Festival, which was featured (reluctantly, I might add) in a local newspaper: “The entire notion of a ‘conservative theatre festival’ uproots a lot of the folks who find sanctuary in theatre. The outcasts, the oppressed, especially LGTBQ folks. Also, this guy just seems like an asshat.”
Theatre as sanctuary has possibilities, I believe, if we consider the ancient connection between theatre and religion. In the religious sense, “sanctuary” refers to the place of worship, but carries with it a place of safety; who would dare enter a church to cause harm to person hiding within? For example, Quasimodo, seeking sanctuary at Notre-Dame Cathedral, did so with the understanding that he would not be attacked inside the church. Is this what the oppressed believe theatre can do: protect them from the hostile forces of the world? Sorry, theatre has always been a mechanism of resistance and upheaval, so it is fitting and proper that the complacent will not find comfort there. And while it is a fact that the left controls the current conformity of theatre, that is an historical aberration. Sanctuary and theatre are polar opposites: one guarantees safety, the other perpetuates disorder. Those who seek sanctuary in theatre do so with great risk.
As for conservative theatre “uprooting” the outcasts, I’m not sure how that’s possible. Outcasts by definition are those uprooted from conventional society. Conservative theatre cannot uproot those who are already displaced. What this person is truly saying is that conservative theatre creates a hostile environment in an environment (theatre) that by nature is hostile, another improbability. And in the literal sense, we are not keeping anyone from theatre as a concept or an institution. Locally, there are many (too many, actually) theatres that the oppressed may find suitable. Those theatres will simply regurgitate the progressive point of view that Stage Right Theatrics tries to counter via the same mechanism the Left has artfully played: the theatre.
Another thing that bugs me about this person’s objection to conservative theatre is that he/she positions him/herself as the voice of the oppressed. I wonder if the oppressed know they’re oppressed without the Left (particularly their politicians) reminding them. And what is the benefit of self-diagnosing oneself as “oppressed”? I wonder why this is such a badge of honor among our cultural spokespersons. I see this phenomenon all over, especially in the arts, where misery seems to have deeper value than joy. I also wonder if the lives of the oppressed are always so atrocious. Are the outcasts beaten daily like Beckett’s Gogo? And how is it that the marginalized groups have such currency in the arts if they are subjected to torment on a daily basis? I’m sure it has more to do with progressive hyperbole, manifested most recently by Nancy Pelosi’s labeling of the tax bill as “Armageddon.”
The armchair sociologist who was critical of conservative theatre also had this to say: “I’m not suggesting they don’t have the right to perform their pieces. I just (and every other person I know) won’t be there.” This makes me think of a couple of issues: 1) the Left loves to grant permission for things they have no control over. Our rights—in this case free speech and free assembly—are guaranteed in a document the progressives find worthless (unless it can be used to promote their agenda): The Constitution. We do not need anyone’s permission to put on plays; 2) his/her decision not to attend the Festival (tolerance, anyone? Diversity?) sounds a little like the famous quote erroneously attributed to film critic Pauline Kael: "I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon.” What Kael did say is, to me, a distinction without a difference: “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken.” The bottom line is that this person, like Kael, lives in an insular, protected world, surrounded by like-minded group-thinkers. Together they form a sanctuary for each other and, I imagine, the oppressed.
To be honest, I don’t give a fig if this person or his/her friends are not coming to the Festival. The joke of it all is that he/she wrote it as if the ground were to shake (uproot?) and my company will collapse unless he/she is there. Their absence will provide more space for the people, like my supporter in North Carolina, who embrace traditional value and are the truly marginalized in the world of theatre.
About the only thing the writer got right was that I’m an asshat. I wonder how he/she knows, though, as I have never interacted with him/her in my life. I guess people like this are allowed to name-call; after all, conservative white heterosexual males are probably all asshats anyway.