How outdoor theater ignites social change: Amy Christian at TEDxAcequiaMadre



what can that possibly have to do with social change well I've been exploring how beauty absurdity and both physicality like what you've just seen when it's shared in our public spaces addresses a universal need we have to share and celebrate our humanity these transient public moments of human connection can inspire engage and ultimately spark change I'm Amy Christian and I work with wise vol exa Co our mission is to ignite imagination build community and promote social justice through the arts and accessibility is something we're really dedicated to because we feel that if we're to affect change in our world we have to open the conversation to everyone so we bring our public spectacles outdoors into our common spaces where it can be shared by all so high school started in the 80s and at the time I was a political activist we were planning a protest for a nuclear weapons lab when we thought we could spice it up with some visuals so we built a bunch of giant puppets in a basement on Haight Ashbury actually and we built this big colorful procession to the gates of the lab and we got there and of course we got arrested that was business as usual at the time but what wasn't business as usual was that the next morning the front cover of all the local papers had big pictures of the puppets on them and we thought people have been protesting here for decades and no one has ever paid attention so what could possibly be happening now what we thought we'd better keep experimenting with this idea so we brought our outdoor theater to public events and community celebrations and protests all over the Bay Area and the same thing kept happening to us instead of calling security people would come up and ask us questions and it was like we had found this this little golden key to a back door somewhere like you could pass through and suddenly people were willing to lay down their guard for just a moment of human connection across political lines now this wasn't a new concept at all the name wise bull is based in the medieval tradition of court jesters who could broach subjects to the king that would get others beheaded and the jesters the full would sort of make fun of himself and he'd mix in some I dazzling skills and and in this way he would ease the tension around taboos subjects he could offer perspectives to the king new and different perspectives without alarming him to fury and I call it the can opener effect because it's like you're using all or beauty or laughter as a sort of can opener of the mind well next we decided that we'd see if outdoor theater could bring a whole neighborhood out to reclaim their public space so we started in the street this was an outdoor theatre festival in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco and this is known as a bad neighborhood of course but really it's full of hard-working immigrants and families and elderly and the highest percentage of children of any neighborhood in the city so the festival offered an opportunity it brought people down into the street to share an inspiring and beautiful and often hysterically funny arts experiences neighbors stood side by side and laughed and cried and gasps but most importantly they really met each other and we watched how over the years outdoor theatre offered this opportunity for people to really recognize their common goals and struggles and to develop a sense of place and belonging in their neighborhood well while this was happening in San Francisco here in Santa Fe Y's full New Mexico was being born out of a trip to Chiapas we brought our performance to two small indigenous Zapatista villages in support of their struggle for autonomy often the people there only spoke their indigenous tongue and the theatre became our common language but it amazed me always how they really understood what we were doing and what we were bringing and our support through just this simple puppet and clown circus we shared laughter and food in tense situations and had little moments of release we brought their stories back with us in this creative bridges of understanding between cultures but the moment that really struck me about the experience was when we were resting between shows we're lying on the floor of this room and these two little boys are looking through the window curious at the foreigners and the one little boy says me Ana those Gringo's and the other boy says no no some green ghost some payaso payaso so I was like that's it clowns it's like superheroes leaping tall cultural and language barriers in a single bound but that's it because when a clown falls off their chair we all laugh no matter who we are where we came from what language we speak we all see ourselves and each other in that moment of connection all of this inspired us to take our work to a professional level where we can reach wider and larger audiences so we create inflection inflection look two points of change where you choose either armor up against the unknown or lay down your fear for a moment of vulnerability and possible transformation flexion really toward outdoor spectacle on a grand scale right here in the u.s. it had a soaring truss and aerial still acrobatics and it reached thousands of festivals from Miami to Seattle in Quebec to El Paso all different kinds of audiences and flexions daring physicality really leap the bounds of possibility and inspired our audiences to see that anything can happen that change is possible and that each and every one of us can be the person that makes that change happen now a flexion enticed countless people from their daily path into a threshold arts experience and here's how inner lives we're kind of moving on these wheels and patterns we're on these tracks and that's we just get from one place to another without really having this to step into our conscious mind have you ever arrived home from work and you're sort of like you have no recollection of the journey home we've all done it right so you never really have to step off your track that whole time you were on the wheel you were in your unconscious mind kind of going back through your day and we all go through our daily lives this way all the time so one day you're on your way home from work and just walking along and all of a sudden Kabam in front of you there's this giant moving structure and there's a stilt walker walking past you and you look up in the air somebody's dangling by their toes and you're like oh no they might fall you just stepped off the wheel your conscious mind has grabbed hold and you along with all of the innocent bystanders around you are experiencing a theatrical world you're you're responding with joy or our laughter but you're also responding with into all of the strangers around you you're engaged together in a transient collective ritual we don't have a lot of those anymore in our culture right this is a shared vital and conscious moment of human connection this brings me to our newest work seesaw the work the wise pulls creating right now as we speak here in Santa Fe seesaw explores the human of migration our innate search for home and balance and connection like the tradition of the wise fool seesaw offers an alluring entryway into a very taboo subject it combines daring physicality with giant kinetic sculptures so the artists are inhabiting this ever-changing environment every time one person moves it affects the balance and possibly the safety of another this will disarm our audiences and still them with Wonder and compassion and ultimately open doorways for people to have new dialogues and perspectives around the immigration debate accessibility is the key to works like seesaw and any outdoor work the NEA has done studies that have proven that outdoor arts events are seen by the widest and most reflective cross-section of our society and Acacia this is that many of those people are people who will never be lowered through a theaters doors so if art is going to affect change it has to affect the breadth of our society it has to move beyond traditional arts audiences and engage everyone in the conversation this is what wise ful does by offering works like seesaw offering fleeting moments of connection for people to really see each other see themselves in each other and have a moment of bonding beyond just our intimate selves into the greater picture of humanity so I'm asking you today to join in a movement towards collective towards public accessible theatre you can do this by acknowledging it as a vital and valid art form in our society you can do it by supporting the creation of new works such as seesaw with your engagement your resources by telling other people you know to bring such works to their communities and like spaces at universities and ultimately by you yourself showing up participating and engaging and outdoor arts events that build understanding through shared live experiences thank you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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