Why a play? Why theatre?

One of the things I thought was really powerful was that while many of us talk about the systemic issues with housing, we often talk about these things in a really abstract way. Hearing these very personal stories, albeit fictionalized, but obviously relating to very real experiences, kind of turned that abstraction on its head. So, we get a sense of the very real material and emotional effects, and the relationships that are built but also suffer as a result of some of these issues.

— Audience member, When My Home is Your Business.

We make plays because we think theatre is uniquely well-suited to redress the lack of “parity of participation”[1] in social life. Theatre facilitates an encounter between performers and those attending (the ‘audience’). Theatre creates a space where we exit our day-to-day worlds and enter the world of the play. In TSDC plays, this ‘world’ is not the private worlds of the performer-advocates’ lives. TSDC’s fictionalized and collective play narratives always take place in the larger public world. They are based on ways of being in the world, ways of presenting oneself in the world, and ways of experiencing the world that is an expression of the worlds of the performer-advocates and of people with experiences similar to theirs. The play is an uninterrupted time-space in which performers can say and show how they experience their world and their visions for how they want the world to be seen.

What we find particularly compelling about this kind of publicly framed play is its capacity to turn the issue of recognition and misrecognition in the context of public discussion on its head. Performer-advocates are not being asked to navigate the communication protocols and expectations of the institutional worlds they must interact with in order to access resources and services, or those they might be invited to participate in (advisory panels, policy or City Council meetings, speaker panels). Instead, they are the ones doing the inviting. They are the ones who say to the audience, “Let us see the world this way, let it be spoken of with these words.”[2]

  1. See “Nancy Fraser On The ‘Parity Of Participation’” by Robin, Varghese, 3 Quarks Daily, Aug. 3, 2008.
  2. This is a paraphrase of something Michael Warner wrote about in the article “Publics and Counterpublics.” Public Culture 14(1): 49-90.


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Transforming Stories, Driving Change Copyright © by Helene Vosters, Catherine Graham, Chris Sinding is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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