From the Executive Director

The Márquez Factor

By Teresa Eyring

In late May, when Gabriel García Márquez returned home to Aracataca, Colombia, for the first time in more than 20 years, he rolled ceremoniously into town on a train painted with yellow butterflies. Aracataca is the place that inspired Macondo, the village in One Hundred Years of Solitude that rises and falls over seven generations, has epidemics of insomnia and memory loss, experiences political conflict and violence mirroring Colombia's history—and where one particular character is always accompanied by a swarm of butterflies.

As the story goes, when Márquez was writing Solitude, he shut himself in a room for more than a year, smoking up to six packs of cigarettes a day. His wife and family tended to him, along with everyone else in the community, who helped by bringing supplies and good will. They apparently sensed that Márquez was in the process of creating something magnificent.

In addition to being a beloved master of storytelling, Márquez has spent much of his life as an activist in his country and beyond. He's been called upon to help facilitate a peace process in his civil war-torn native land, where his effectiveness relates to many things, including personal conviction and the force of his stature there. A 1999 New Yorker article described Márquez as "the one person who could stand between the two sides shooting at one another and say 'no more,' and everyone would listen."

After reading about Márquez and his homecoming, I had this thought: If Gabriel García Márquez were a theatre, what kind of theatre would he be?

Undoubtedly, it would be an extraordinary generator of tales, presenting fantastical stories of family and community, alongside expositions of power-mongering and political injustice. It would be an organization that the whole community wants to assist to make sure that next masterpiece comes to fruition. This theatre would leverage its collected influence to affect social change, at times garnering controversy. It might even be a theatre that could stand between two sides shooting at each other, say "no more," and everyone would listen.

At TCG's National Conference in June, a similar topic arose: What do our theatres and theatre artists truly represent within their communities? How does the work we create relate to current circumstance and what matters? And, further, wherein lies the energy of activism?

Over lunch at the pre-conference convening on theatre education assessment models, Susan Nicodemus Quinn, education director of Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, advanced a compelling point of view. She believes education directors are the activists in theatres today. They are fighting for the resources and attention to engage kids, many of whom come from poverty, transience and other dire situations. For some of these young people, exposure to theatre will change—even save—their lives. Walnut's "Adopt-a-School" program, shepherded by Quinn for the past eight years, creates deep three-year partnerships with urban schools. Every student receives theatre and arts instruction every week. Many of them create plays and attend professional productions. While some of the students, particularly the older ones, are reluctant to engage, enough kids get fired up about having their voices heard through theatre that the positive impact becomes irrefutable. For its current adoptee, Laura Wheeler Waring School, the Walnut Street staff even converted a school storage space into a tiny theatre that belongs to the students.

David Snider, producing artistic director of Washington, D.C.'s Young Playwrights' Theatre, remarked that in his view, young people are the activists. With respect to war and other current issues affecting our lives, kids are voicing their reactions with passion and purpose. And playwriting gives them a means of expressing their point of view in authentic and direct ways. Given the chance, they write incisively about politics and leadership, as well as stories of family and community.

These perspectives point to the ways that theatres and theatre artists can leverage their stature and their resources in order to inspire dialogue and change within their communities.

A co-production between California Shakespeare Theater and Intersection for the Arts exemplifies this notion. CalShakes has achieved a certain critical mass and level of visibility through what it is essentially a traditional outdoor theatregoing experience. However, through its New Works/New Communities Program, the theatre brings diverse groups of people together to create and experience new plays inspired by the classics. The company partnered with Intersection for the Arts and Campo Santo, its resident company, on a new version of Hamlet, generated in collaboration with citizens and community organizations of Oakland. Penned by Naomi Iizuka with four co-writers, Hamlet: Blood in the Brain resets the play in the drug-ravaged world of Oakland in the mid-1980s.

The show performed both at Intersection and at Laney College in Oakland, accompanied by day-long workshops for young people. And it sounds as if its metaphorical power was as close as you can get to a theatre "standing between two sides shooting" saying "no more" and having everyone listen.

It is inspiring to see how theatres and theatre artists can function as master storytellers and conveners, while also sending activist tentacles into the world to bring about dialogue and positive change. Many are doing so while pushing the art form itself—much like Márquez.

So, next question: If Miles Davis were a theatreā€¦.