David V. Mason
I’d like to write about something else, but it would be irresponsible.
More than one hundred and twenty million citizens of the United States of America went to the polls in early November, 2016, to elect a new President. Probably not a single one of these people anticipated the outcome. For many the consequence of all that voting was disastrous, cataclysmic. The refutation of half a century of progress. For many others the end was triumph. A dream come to life. The affirmation of age-old rightness.
For still others the election was a shrug of the shoulders. What’s the big deal about the same-old same-old?
In a previous issue I ruminated briefly on the future of theatre and religion. So many of us like to do such things—ruminate on the future, make some predictions, try to anticipate what will be. The pastime is no doubt inspired by the security so many of us enjoy. One can afford to imagine a future, whether joyful or frightening, when one’s time is not much occupied with concern over the present.
I will confess, anyway, that the world this election created does feel new to me. Those of us who inhabit privileged demographics and have enjoyed the luxury of speculating about the next thing, the time that is coming, the future, have crashed with arrogant clumsiness into the very serious business that our childish imaginings have ignored.
The future is right now.
So, what of the study of theatre, performance, and religion in this right now future?
Almost certainly to distract the country from the admission of fraud that paying millions to settle the lawsuits against his so-called university represented, the President-Elect used a bit of his time to castigate Hamilton’s Broadway cast for what he perceived as an insult to his VP-Elect.
“The Theatre must always be a safe and special place”, tweeted the man-who-would-be-president. We can ask, of course, for whom the theatre must always be safe and special. We can also ask why the theatre must be safe and special while the world in which theatre exists can be so hateful and ugly. The rhetorical questions make for lively online traffic.
But let’s keep the rhetorical carping to a minimum. This election has given us an obscene conflation of online and material worlds that seems only to obscure rottenness’s rampage through the not-virtual country. I wouldn’t dare suggest that the Internet does not provide a needed, necessary space. Nevertheless, the transformative powers of theatre and religion emerge most forcefully in the contact of bodies with each other, in the sharing of real space, real action, real time. Artaud, the mad genius, sets us straight on what theatre must be, and religion, too. “In our present state of degeneration,” howled the madman, “it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds” (99).
Very hard to argue with the maniac while the Standing Rock Sioux and other such gods give their flesh to water cannons and the unfeeling elements. Surely that performance, cruel in its theatricality and pure in its religion, can transform this world. Perhaps only that performance can.
The now future we inhabit calls for new performance, theatrical and religious, for and with the threatened and the marginalized, in person, in presence, in real space in which the sight, the sound, and the touch that makes identity are minimally mediated. The future, if there is one, demands that we play now, right here, for all that we are worth, to make of the present that we all share that thing we can imagine for the future.
These pages of Ecumenica examine some topics of renewed urgency. Weston Twardowski and Craig Prentiss take us back to the early years of the last century, to the last period, perhaps, in which western culture hoped to make itself great again. Twardowski considers the dramatic critique of naive anti-Semitism in Austria. Prentiss reveals some ways in which African-American playwrights worked to reconstruct identities imposed on them by the machines of slavery. Rosemarie K. Bank, Marvin Carlson, and Robert Wigh show us new books about drama produced by Indigenous North Americans, popular entertainment among global Muslim populations, and theatre collaborations in defense of ecology. Performance reviews in this issue from Steve Earnest and Shelby-Allison Hibbs concern performances of the traditional avant garde in Europe and the USA. Shahnaz Khan reports on a documentary theatre project involving transgender individuals in Pakistan. Nariman Afshari assesses an Iranian transformation of Ta’zieh that challenges the suppression of political dissidence.
Ecumenica asserts its commitment to the world and all its difference. For what it’s worth—and I hope that it’s worth something—this journal recognizes the old and new suffering that recent developments in the USA have torn raw. Ecumenica aims to affirm the million and more identities that inhabit the earth, however and whatever they may be, and to chronicle the ways in which they transform themselves.
We are published in the United States, and we may have a difficult time seeing out. But our editors, who are not all U.S. citizens nor residing in the USA, inhabit multiple identities and multiple points of view. In the coming year, we plan to populate Ecumenica’s pages with more scholarship generated outside the USA, concerning topics of import to more of the planet’s populations, and to find newer ways to think and to speak of religion and theatre in a time in which religion and theatre are needed more than many of us realized.
Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958.