During the play series “Things We Do” at Oregon Stage Works, there were lively audience post-play discussions surrounding issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I met with director Peter Alzado and moderator Jeff Golden at the theater to discuss the nature of “talk-back” theater.
JG: I think this is a terrific use of theater. This is really exciting. I think it is timely (and not just for this topic) because most forms of media are trying to figure out how to be interactive. We are in a massive cultural shift from experts telling us how it is and lecturers revealing the truth to us and top-down transmission of knowledge and entertainment to interactivity. And you see it everywhere, most obviously on the Web. I think it’s healthy that we’re transcending division between audience and performer. It’s easier in some media than in others. I feel very strongly about this. It aligns with a new world where we no longer have a select group of experts who can tell us how to do everything. We have to solve what’s coming up collectively, with effort, and thought, and investment from everybody. That’s part of Obama’s “Yes We Can.” I see it everywhere. This was a really good way for this theater to take a step in that direction.
EH: It seemed that the audience was enthusiastic about the idea of post-play discussions.
JG: Quite a large percentage stayed, and stayed through the whole thing.
PA: I think that there is a hunger to have that kind of community involvement, and to have dialogue about provocative material and events, and to sincerely investigate them. And I think everybody feels more alive and elevated having participated in that.
JG: I come away with so much admiration for people of strong views that clearly are open to hearing something else. There were some people who were and some people who weren’t. There is a huge blind spot that some people on each side share. And there is openness and a sense of possibility and a sense of desired connection coming from people on both sides.
It reaffirms one of my basic beliefs in life as I have gotten older: The real philosophical or mental divide among people is not right and left or conservative and liberal. It’s fundamentalists versus people willing to think and entertain nuance and see different sides of conflicting values and hold conflicting thoughts at the same time. And you find some of each on all sides.
EH: Will you define fundamentalist for us?
JG: A fundamentalist is someone who thinks they have an absolute handle on the truth, and grey areas and nuances are at best a distraction to their line of truth, and who have a need to hold on to it very strongly. We are most familiar with the term in connection with religion. But it’s everywhere. It’s environmentalism; it’s capitalism; it’s socialism; it’s Israeli supporters; it’s Palestinian supporters.
There were very intelligent people in those talk-backs whose sympathies were one-way or the other but felt some empathy or some merit on the other side. Then there are some people that I’m calling fundamentalist, for whom there is no room for doubt or deviation.
PA: The issues that we discussed aren’t going to resolve the conflict there. But because people were able to dialogue about it, and to deal with each other respectfully and gracefully, I think everybody felt better about themselves and about the possibility of having a resolution to those issues. I was very pleased with the talk-backs and would like to continue doing that kind of thing.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She studied acting at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.