Offer The Chair [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Indeed, the effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made clear to the audience that if they don’t change the world, no one will change it for them.” ~ Augusto Boal, Games For Actors And Non-Actors

Many of my pals in the theatre turned their noses up at me when I began doing work in corporations. They thought I was yet another theatre artist doing improvisation-games with the terminally neck-tied. I was not. My work was more in the tradition of Augusto Boal than Keith Johnstone. Some of the best plays I’ve ever facilitated, some of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve directed and witnessed, happened in board rooms, classrooms or conference spaces. Here’s how I know: the actors and audience were one-and-the-same. Their play was personal. When they left “the theatre” they did not leave the nice story behind and end the evening with a cocktail. They were disrupted. They had seen something that could no longer be ignored or deflected. The hard work was about to begin.

People yearn. People entrench. People plant their flags and claim the most ridiculous territory. I’ve seen teachers come to blows over an overhead projector. I’ve seen lawyers undermine colleagues to gain dominion over a swiveling chair. And, the chair or the projector are never really the issue. The issue is usually an abstraction. Pecking order. Boundaries. Alliances. People have killed each other over a pair of shoes. It’s not the shoes but the status the shoes represent. Abstraction and illusion.

People are generally unconscious about the reasons beneath their passions. I’ve met a score of dedicated meditation practitioners who meditate to control their thoughts rather than realize them. Once I led a group of teachers through the ritual they enact each morning before the arrival of their students. The question was, “What are you preparing to do in your day?” Their answer was unnerving and revolutionary: they were preparing to control the kids. Teaching and learning were secondary.

We are witness to a country-wide communal piece of theatre, an unconscious play. The issue is not the mask. The issue has never been the mask. The issue is, I suppose, people feeling out of control, imposed upon. Fearful. They are, with their bare faces, making a stand. Drawing a line in the sand. That “no one can tell me what to do” might as well be “I am losing control over my life.”

And, as is always the case, as with the office chair and the overhead projector, refusing to don the mask does not really address the real issue, it merely deflects it. The energy and action is focused on non-sense. And when non-sense rules the day, the action taken actually brings about the thing-most-feared. Loss of control. The pandemic continues, the children are being taken, the economy suffers, the community fractures. It’s a lengthy list.

The lesson in the office chair wars and the overhead projector games is always the same. No one wins. Everyone loses in a toxic tug-of-war. The chair might be yours today but it will be theirs tomorrow. The game only ends when one of the players offers the chair to the other or the projector becomes a reason to share. The same will be true of the mask wars. People will die, the pandemic will continue until the mask becomes a generosity. Then, low-and-behold, the virus will abate and real control over our destiny will be within our grasp.

I hope that, like the lawyers or teachers who were brave enough to walk into the real story, to stand face-to-face with a dysfunction, that we meet our story and ask, “Why would so many sacrifice so much over a little piece of cloth?” An overhead projector. A pair of shoes. A chair that swivels…

read Kerri’s blog post about MASKS