"Emancipatory Politics: A Romantic Tragedy (EP:ART)" in Baltimore
An Interview with Eric Bland

Indie Theater Now asked Eric Bland a few questions about his play Emancipatory Politics: A Romantic Tragedy (EP:ART).

Is this play political? Why or why not?

This play is political in the sense that our lives are always political, and in the sense that wanting to confront our lives as empowered agents within them is political. Politics expanded…politics as a social and economic (and moral) system in which a population creates a framework for normal interactions, for power structures, for means of dispensing justice and protecting liberties. The play inquires (at times obsessively, self-mockingly, melancholically) into alternative arrangements--in groups, in partnerships, and in individuals. And it expands upon Aristotle’s description of man [sic] as a political animal, engaged in structuring its living, its public existence.

Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Sure, I think authentic, reflective performance is necessary for a healthy democratic society. And “theater” can be stretched to “performance” the way that “politics” was stretched. Just as politics is always occurring, performance is always occurring, in any society, and a truly democratic society, in its sprawling multiplicities, desires open space for performance. (I had read Judith Butler’s "Gender Trouble," among a few other things, just before and during the creation of this piece; it was wonderful to be in the presence of such powerful, difficult, associative thought--though it’s generally very hard to find the time and energy for that. Butler describes gender and engendering as a performative act.) Having an actual theater, a formal room in which to reflect, aids in allowing a remove (a displacement), to elaborate an experiment (in this “laboratory”)--and it is an experiment, it’s a test, to see how the human being operates, to analyze, to confront in a controlled way while sensually observing the results. And in the way that science doesn’t lie…and more so expands the field of unknowns and diversifies (while uniting)…so does art. A democracy allows art. Wants art in order to grow. A true democracy wants this because its stake is in the people's growth and evolution, not in some status quo. The people’s, not the person’s (and thus in some instances it can be sudden and merciless in its danger to the individual: the Reign of Terror, Athenian ostracism). An autocracy/oligarchy/totalitarian regime (I’m being loose with definitions here), whether it is political, social, or moral, has stake in so much of the status quo and, hence, worries about art. Not simply because art can be provocative, but because art charts life, which changes, which is authentic, which evolves. Life is provocative and degenerate (and all the other good stuff, too, it smells and it revives). Theater, as an art, provides this social mirror extraordinarily well. It’s great because it’s messy, it's quick, it can be cheap-as-dirt, and its substance (the actor) most accurately reflects its observer. Both are made up of people-tude! Side note: if ever there were a nuclear Armageddon on a Tuesday, the film industry and the publishing industry (even the philharmonic and the arts supply store) would take time time time to rebuild. But there could be a play (language and a body in space, and/or their structured absences) Tuesday night. Some surviving ironist would do a monologue she vaguely recalled from "Much Ado About Nothing," whereupon the self-declared cave-dictator would totally freak out and try to arrest her.

Which political figure would like your show the best: Chris Christie, Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, or Al Sharpton?

Hillary. She would forgive the author’s errors. She would be kind. It’s hard for me not to see libertarianism as a front for a faux-moral, socio-economic Darwinism (an unforgiving, Hobbesian state of nature that conveniently begins Today, with all the historical and governmental advantage of yesterday misremembered yet carefully invested), and that’s not the ethos of the play. Though I’d be happy enough for it to be Christie or Sharpton. To build a bridge to Christie (and I’ve seen photos of Chris Christie’s christening, so I should know), I’ve often been enthused by the reaction to art from right-of-center spectators. Many times they bring less baggage to the experience and can be less protective, more open. I still would guess Hillary. She seems so empathetic. Burned so much that all that’s left of her is her own ultimate Freudian/gospel/biological truth. She can feel pain but in some sense she is now exempt from injury. She surely has desires and dreams, but nothing to prove. I really think she would be the least likely to destroy things. And that makes for a receptive audience member.

Who do you think has the right idea about theater: Brecht, Artaud, Shakespeare, or Aristotle?

Adrienne Kennedy, who once said, “I am just compelled to write scenes about what I think is going on in life. That’s all. I’m just compelled to do it.”

Is it more important to you to write about people who have the same political/social views as you, or people who have entirely different ones?

The great shame and embarrassment of theater (as a fine art) is that it is so synthetic. So collaborative and communal; so full of compromise. Very little purity is to be found there. Which of course is the source of its power and worth. Since I am the only person who has the same political and social views as myself, I think it is incredibly important to write about oneself. But it is equally important to write about what is not-oneself. The ultimate categories are the subjective (real) and the objective (sensual). In some sense, every play, from a comic book riff to a realistic account of contemporary India to a performance art self-immolation, is just the writer saying, “Me…Not Me…Me…Not Me….” And then the actors and directors and designers will write on top of that, again and again until the synthesis is complete. I doubt if people who attend the theater often acquire a social or political talking point (on occasion they might receive new information or facts). They go--if they are willing go-ers, a significant “if”--to mess with the self. With perspective. …And the obverse of all that.

posted March 7, 2014