Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Did Mr. Rogers & Big Bird Change Your World?

On this trip there has been an issue of whether or not education and advocacy can make a difference for the poor (what the nonprofits term "under-served" but really it just means poor and usually sick people). They are talking specifically about mass media and communications. I would extend that argument beyond just film & tv and even think about theater.

Can tv/film/theater change the world?

Some of the people I’m traveling with I think believe that it can’t. And by itself, maybe it can’t. But can it make a difference?

There’s a new term out there which I just read about in Time magazine called filmanthropy. It refers to a new niche in independent film which caters towards social reform and community outreach on a grand scale. Think films like An Inconvenient Truth and Supersize Me. And there is debate about whether these films really raised awareness or simply strengthened true believers, basically preaching to the converted.

But this makes me think of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Most people in the U.S. grew up on these programs on PBS, as well as many others. Did we not learn how to behave on these shows? Didn’t we learn to interact with other people? How to count? How to sing? How to do some of the simple things we take for granted right now? All while being entertained by muppets singing to us or making jokes. And I think…that’s real change. Change that's hard to measure.

And I think about our work in the theater. Brecht believed that the purpose of theater was not just to entertain but to educate the audience, to show them they have choices, that they could empower themselves instead of being pulled by outside forces. Boal carried on that work to even further extremes.

Now, I don’t think all theater should be overtly political or educational, but at its core it makes an impact. It is political because all art either falls into one of two camps; endorsing the status quo or questioning it.

I like to think that I question the status quo, but sometimes I’m not sure. And questioning things is a social and political act. And it’s the first step towards real change that can be measured.

Maybe its just because I’m over here seeing things in India that most people don’t get to see that makes me reexamine some of the things I’m doing with my art. It’s obvious that art can’t heal a sick person, but it still can feed the soul and educate the mind. And to me that’s just as important.


Jenna said...

Theatre might not be able to heal the sick... but it can certainly ask the question why are some people sick and others aren't?

Dennis said...

Absolutely. I totally agree. It raises consciousness and awareness and can point to problems that might otherwise go unnoticed. And that can change the world.