Can Socially Conscious Theater Make A Difference?

In Power Struggle on Broadway: Escapist vs. Socially Conscious Shows in the 2016–17 Season, a piece I wrote for HowlRound, I point out that there were more socially conscious than escapist plays and musicals that opened during the Broadway season just ended. To which a reader in the comments section replied in effect: What difference does it make?

That’s more or less the question I pose at one point in the video below to Robert Schenkkan, playwright of the new anti-Trump play, “Building the Wall,” which is being produced all over the country — including at New World Stages in New York City beginning May 12th.

Tamara Tunie, who co-stars with James Badge Dale in the New York production of the two-character play “Building The Wall”

Below the video: Shows that have made a direct and tangible difference.

Shows That Have Made a Direct Difference:

Waiting For Lefty, the Depression-era play about a taxi driver strike, by Group Theatre playwright Clifford Odets, was performed all over the country in support of labor unions.

Waiting for Lefty

Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1967) by John Herbert led to the creation of The Fortune Society, which helps ex-convicts find jobs—a success story written up in a recent memoir by its producer, David Rothenberg, entitled Fortune In My Eyes.

The Exonerated by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, based on transcripts of wrongfully convicted prisoners on Death Row, is said to have influenced Illinois Governor Ryan’s blanket commutations of the state’s death penalties.

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler inspired a global movement known as V-Day that fights to end violence against women.

The Laramie Project by the Tectonic Theater is said to have helped lead to the signing of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill; the theater company was invited to the signing of the legislation at the White House.

The Normal Heart, when produced in 1985, led mainstream newspapers such as The Christian Science Monitor to mention HIV/AIDS for the first time anywhere in their pages.

The Justice Cycle, six plays including Los Illegals by Michael John Garces, the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, led to a theater troupe of day laborers, Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras (Day Laborer Theater Without Borders), that educates day laborers about their rights.

8 the Play, based on transcripts of the trial that overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in California, helped move the conversation forward, arguably helping to change the American public’s attitude.

 

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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