The “Fundamentals” of Art

As a child I often heard the phrase, “it’s a small world,” but simply brushed it off as just another insignificant cliché.  As our world becomes increasingly connected due to advances in technology and the growth of globalization, the world actually does seem smaller, microscopic even.  Thanks to the joys of Google Maps, I can locate any square foot on the face of the Earth and via Facebook, nearly every person on it.  Events such as the recession that began in 2008 have visibly showed how the actions of one nation can directly and indirectly affect another.  What does this have to do with theatre?  One word:

Everything.

As we become an interconnected society there is bound to be a backlash, one expressed by writer Benjamin Barber in his article Jihad vs. McWorld. Barber describes a world in which large communities are broken into small populations who use fundamentalist principles to combat globalization. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fundamentalism is defined as “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”  (In its simplest form, almost every person on earth has unwaveringly, at one point or another, felt the “I’m right/you’re wrong” mentality.)  Fundamentalism is on the rise throughout the world.  This idea of jihad or fundamentalism isn’t limited to foreign countries however, as it is prevalent right here in the United States.

In a society that grew accustomed to being the sole superpower, many Americans have begun to feel overwhelmed by our microscopic, interconnected worldview.  In reaction, we are seeing the rise of a kind of American fundamentalism.  One that is gaining traction in movements such as the Tea Party, which stands for a “strict and literal adherence” to the basic principles of our forefathers (the forefathers that supported slavery and the domestication of women).  They cling to each other, limit their ‘horizons’ and establish a mob-like mentality.

As the world becomes more globalized and its citizens become more polarized, what does that mean for us as artists?  First and foremost, our responsibility as artists is to shed light on darkness.  Fundamentalists are not stupid, they are merely blind to the points-of-view of others and it is our job to help them see.  Artists are at the heart of cultural conflict, wherein concerns such as women’s and minorities’ rights, class and gender issues and politics are defined and contested in the evolving and often embattled relationship between the state and society.

The state, more than anyone, knows the significance of propaganda and its power to control the masses.  The fundamentalist state, the one in which all art is state produced, is the worst scenario imaginable.  Artists are the first line of defense against this power, ignorance and corruption.  The art is our weapon, the issues our ammunition.  We strike culture in ways other people only dream of.  We understand the risks: humiliation, imprisonment or death.  We aim for the rewards: educating society, a counter-culture or perhaps our own ideological movements.  We are the conductors of change.

In Pakistan, for example, the culture is increasingly becoming more fundamentalist.  The result is a strict government and a society too afraid to act.  Rather than simply give up, one group is continuing to fight and bring to light the truth behind ‘reality.’  This group isn’t a political party; it’s a theatre company.  Their shows parody the state and enlighten the audience to their current situation. The troupe understands the risks of their actions but deems the consequences of inaction much worse.

Heads Up, since its founding, has slowly embraced a similar destiny: To question everything and alter the very perception of living.  Our calling is to upset the applecart, so to speak, and then directly engage the community.  As artists we shall never take anything at face value and shall continually strive to illuminate the concealed.  Our actions will ultimately have an impact, hopefully one that changes the entire world. Hell that shouldn’t be too hard considering “it’s a small world,” after all.

-TJ Jozsa
Assistant Artistic Director

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