Alumni Reflections is a regularly-scheduled column where alumni from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre share what’s on their mind. This week’s article comes courtesy of Yiouli Archontaki (PTP 2014, MFA 2016):
In the beginning of July, I was in the United Kingdom for a few days (this was after the Brexit vote) while in transit to the United States. On Sunday afternoon, July 2, my friends and I got on the 121 London Overground, following the route from Enfield Chase to Oakwood Station. A middle-aged British lady boarded the bus along with us, and as she made herself comfortable, she had an empty seat next to her. As soon as I approached, she took her bag and placed it on the empty seat, silently signaling me to move away. And so I did. I moved away, and after she made sure that I wasn’t coming back, she removed the bag from the seat, making it available to someone else–maybe another British national. I wasn’t surprised. I’m not surprised. I am A Foreigner. I’ve lived in the United Kingdom for six years as A Foreigner and I’ve seen this behavior and others like it before, and now that Brexit is final, there’s even less pretense for some people to hide their real intentions.
On my way to the States, I got stuck in LAX for a day due to a combination of border control and my foreign identity. I was not surprised. I am A Foreigner.
And then came the news of Alton Sterling’s murder in Louisiana and Philando Castile’s murder in Minnesota. And I remembered the times I visited Minnesota over the past year, as A Foreigner. I had a great time with my hosts, but underneath even the best of intentions, I was always A Foreigner. I felt I could never become part of the closed, White, American circle because it is (in my experience) very difficult for Minnesotans to accept outsiders; it seems they are unprepared to interact with people with different accents, different features, different skin colors.
I remember the time I performed in a New Year’s Eve show in Minnesota–an experience from which I learned a lot and had a great time. My friend Bob (a Black guy; African, not African-American) and I were the only foreigners among a cast of twenty artists. Our audience was mainly, if not exclusively, White Americans.
As a theatre maker, I know that theatre has the power to challenge positive change, to provoke positive change, to teach and to direct positive change. So why not use it? If, for instance, Minnesotan artists want to change their community’s status quo in the wake of Philandro Castile’s death, then they must actively rethink the fundamental conventions of how theatre is made. Theatre producers can create positive change by casting Black artists, by casting non-citizens and expats, by creating space for diversity, by collaborating with non-White audiences and businesses on a regular basis, by writing characters and scenarios for non-White bodies, by providing equal opportunity. And as a result, they will see their audience expand.
There is, however, one “drawback.” This kind of work will likely be branded as “political.”
Therefore I say: please do not be afraid to have your work characterized as “political.” Political Theatre has many faces, and manifests itself in many ways. It is not a propaganda tool of the Hippies, the Guerrillas, and the Communists. It is the type of theatre that has the power to change society’s status quo through action, and it has done so from Aristophanes and Ancient Greece up through today. Here’s an article to get you started.
So: make a change, give equal opportunities, accept us. And as Jim Carrey said, “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”
Yiouli Archontaki is a theatre artist and architect originally from Athens, Attica in Greece. She is a 2014 graduate of the Professional Training Program (PTP) and a 2016 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Today, Yiouli is based out of Los Angeles, California in the United States of America. Learn more about Yiouli at yiouliarchontaki.com, or connect with her on Facebook.