An unflagging optimism underwrites this work. Has to. Couldn’t happen otherwise. Andrew Solomon in The Noonday Demon writes about how people suffering from depression actually see the world with more accuracy than non-depressed people, positing that thus, the defining condition of the human spirit is optimism, our ability to see or anticipate things as better than we logically know they probably are.
All this to explain why I found myself at the 10th Annual Radical Performance Festival in San Francisco on Friday night, with that squirmy excited feeling I always get waiting for a live performance to begin. Radical Peformance Festival. I guess I expected, I dunno, radical performance. Or radical politics. But no–not in form, content or organization. The most radical portion of the evening was erstwhile SF mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez “giving political context” to the evening by reading a late-60s Weathermen communique outlining their belief in using dope, guns and free love to fight hegemony. He followed this up with Sir Thomas More, Utopia, insisting (almost 500 years ago, mind you) on the inevitable, unavoidable corruption that always results from owning private property. (Matt received some 48% of the vote here, reminding me, yet again, that San Francisco is another planet entirely from the United States, leading me to ask again, um, why don’t I live there?)
Armando Molina, when we held a Voter Vaudeville workshop for Fringe Benefits a couple of weeks ago, brought in (via his fabulous wife Evangeline Ordaz) the legal concept of “on the nose”, that being a statement made to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Like saying, “The Bush Tax Plan is bad because it hurts poor people.” Most political performance, unfortunately, ends up being “on the nose”–general ranting/proclamation, sometimes embarrassingly ignorant and uninformed. It’s difficult to create political activist art, especially theater, that can communicate a complex issue both effectively, intelligently, with the specificity of great poetry.
At the end of the day, “on the nose” political theater preaches to the choir. And when the art itself is hastily organized, or lazy, when it feels like the audience is supporting the performers more than the other way around, well, it’s disappointing. But then, should I have expected any better? And yet, I always do.