Staging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater

By Sonja Kuftinec | Go to book overview

PREFACE

pproximately halfway through drafting Staging America, two hijacked Aplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Like almost everyone I knew, I began to reassess my work in relation to this event. I felt compelled to contemplate this project, which examines the negotiation between theater and identity, within a violently altered context, to ask again what I was doing, why, and for whom. At the same time, my thoughts about community and contradiction informed how I perceived and understood the events that continued to unfold. The country seemed united in its horror and grief. Americans came together across racial, social, and geographic boundaries, joined by shared images communicated through the mass media that Benedict Anderson cites as essential to the construction of an imagined national community. 1 Within these media, printed or downloadable American flags reinforced a sense of mass symbolic association. On a more personal level, I witnessed stories of individuals compelled to connect through voluntary efforts. I heard of a college student who drove all night from Boston to New York just to “give water to firefighters, lift rocks, anything.” Testimonials on television, radio, and the Internet heightened these perceptions of communal sensibility.

But as reliable theorists of community point out, affinity depends upon a sense of not only “us-ness” but also “them-ness.” More complex and difficult stories emerged from the youth I work with at Seeds of Peace, an organization that advocates coexistence among Middle East teens. A Muslim student at Phillips Exeter Academy wrote of her public prayer for peace in Arabic, which was followed by another student's muttered remark, “Great, first they bomb us, then we have to listen to them pray.” Another student reported being slammed into her locker for supporting Arab Americans in her Midwest school. In the days following, some Arab-looking men were removed from passenger planes due to the discomfort felt by fellow passengers and flight crew. In light of these contradictory events, the importance of examining the complex relationship between inclusion and exclusion that helps

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