It’s an unprecedented moment in the global theater community. We’re going on eight months without live performance. From virtual readings and reunions to archival releases, hundreds of theater makers are finding ways to adjust to a new medium. Theater artists are struggling financially and creatively, patrons are feeling restless, missing evenings out and chances to connect with folks about regional premieres and storefront gems. And beyond the big losses at the forefront of a world temporarily without live theater, Collaboraction’s Peacebook Festival reminds me with soaring clarity how ripe this moment is for storytelling and how sorely we are lacking in the communion and immediacy of well-crafted performance.
Collaboraction’s “We Still Dream” Peacebook Festival premieres two programs: “Essential Perspectives,” which highlights the work of five Chicago filmmakers in capturing stories of community resilience; and “Visions of Peace,” which showcases the work of five writers selected from over seventy-five submissions, produced in a virtual format by the Collaboraction team. Each of the ten pieces are strong responses to the intersectional circumstances with which many of us have become intimately familiar. Because Collaboraction has not only sought out firsthand accounts from communities of color, trans and queer communities and disabled individuals, but also allowed those artists to be at the helm of their own stories, together these pieces make up a moving and definitive snapshot of this moment in time.
In “Essential?…Tengo que trabajar/I have to work,” Jasmin Cardenas unpacks the experience of the Latinx essential worker with perspective and grace, highlighting both the privilege of those who are able to work remotely and the resilience of the unacknowledged low-wage workers on the front lines. In “Transfixed,” Syrian refugee Sami Ismat responds to the loss of his father and articulates the impact of the pandemic on those seeking asylum. In “This is North Lawndale,” Willie “Prince Roc” Round lifts up the stories of West Side residents with determination and pride.
The “Visions of Peace” collection includes a powerful and visibly personal monologue from Ada Cheng encouraging an Asian-American student to take up space in the face of racism, two gorgeous dance pieces by Black artists that bring palpable freedom, reflection and joy to a moment that is still wrought with anti-Blackness, a sweet story of overcoming told brightly by Matthew LaChapelle, and a complex deep-dive into generational trauma by captivating queer artist Luzzo.
In his “36 Assumptions for Writing Plays,” Jose Rivera encourages playwrights by instructing them, “in each of [their] plays, be sure to write at least one impossible thing.” As makers, impossible things raise our game. They ask us to problem-solve, to approach things in a way we’d never think to otherwise, to ask the unexpected of ourselves. What if, for a moment, we entertained that this pandemic was our collective one impossible thing? Not for the preservation of our seasons or our egos, but to use our artistic acumen to lift up the kinds of stories that need to be told right now? If “We Still Dream” were only a stopgap, a filler meant to build a bridge between March of 2020 and whenever we’re all able to be together in a theater, that would be fine and welcome, but Collaboraction and its artists rose to the challenge of COVID’s impossible thing and flew far. Is this theater? No, not exactly. But it is also special, relevant and encapsulating.
“We Still Dream: The 5th Annual Peacebook and Utopian Ball” streams October 17-November 14, full schedule at collaboraction.org.