This is one in a series of stories marking the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown. The full package is here.
The following was performed as part of Jubilee for a New Vision: A Celebration of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Artists, held at New York City’s MCC Theater on Feb. 21. Lock Up Tha Theatre was developed in partnership with National Queer Theater and the Dramatists Guild of America as part of the 2021-2022 New Visions Fellowship.
A note from the playwright: “I said what I said. This is an excerpt from for coloured niggaz, or: who gon beat my ass? (you won’t, i’m too scary), a collection of micro-plays meant to be performed in the order a live audience dictates. We can all make a better theatre, myself included, so let’s stop talking about it and be the fuck about it, shall we, beloveds?”
The world don’t need your little theatre company
The world don’t need your big, bad non for profit but somehow the artistic director stay profiting
The world don’t need your controversy for controversy sake
The world don’t need your spineless morality and your inability to stick to guns you never learned how to use
The world don’t need theatre, you do.
The world don’t need theatre, you do.
Show me a theatre worth saving and I’ll be the first to put my life on the line for it
Trust, that I would’ve once
Trust, that I have
That’s not just part of the poem, I really have
Flinging myself at an altar I thought was worthy of sacrificing myself to
There have been so many performances where I could be a version of myself
Audiences love me under the right kinda lighting
They beat me when the lights go out
That ain’t a metaphor
And ain’t it funny how somehow when I’m up here and you’ve agreed to listen to me
In these conditions
In this social contract
You take all the lies as the truth, but the truth has to be a lie: I couldn’t possibly be so bold to say the quiet thing out loud, right?
I couldn’t possibly be right, because if I was, you’d know I’m not afraid anymore
And that I never was afraid of you
I never knew the city when Joe Papp used to run around in a truck, giving the world theatre the only way he could because the world needed it then
I never knew the city when August Wilson was sitting in the audience with you, listening to the world echo for every decade and giving the world everything he had because that’s what it needed
I never knew the city when you could walk up and down 125th street and meet a different Amiri Baraka at every damn step
I never knew the city before Lincoln Center built on the homes of all the people it loves to keep on stage and never in its seats and never, ever in its closest apartments
I met this city six months before the end of the world
I met this city in crisis and yet, she has never been kinder
I have never been more loved in this city than in this time of grief
And I have never wanted to stand right by her more
She don’t need my theatre as much as I need her
She don’t need any of our need to matter, to make a mark, to be important, to fight for a Pulitizer, to endanger our bodies for an Ivy League degree, to prove that our art form ain’t dying
I have seen so much death this year and in my life to know
Our theatre is dying not because of the world but because of us
We are killing our art every time we plot our careers over our people, over our city
We are killing our sacred craft every time we network for clout and shock and fair weather coin
We are killing the theatre because we forgot of its spine, its backbone, its morality
The theatre shapes us, we do not shape it
The theatre guides us, we do not guide it
The theatre is timeless, not of a forgotten time or of only this time
The theatre is change
The theatre is chaos
It is not a profit margin to make and it is not something to be seduced by or made a seductress of
You motherfuckers may have forgotten who the Theatre is
But I won’t
Actually, you motherfuckers know how powerful Theatre is, how dangerous it is
That’s why you wrap up freedom as something to grant
Never to protect
Never to deserve
How many more people have to die for you to remember the real role of theatre? 100, 000? 600,000? You pick a number that suits you best
That lets you sleep at night
For me, it only took one
And I haven’t been sleeping
I never really have.
Ayla Xuân Chi Sullivan (they/them) is a playwright.
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