Community + Theater = ??? (Or, Not Brooks or Hughes)

Recently I have seen Brandeis take two very positive and encouraging, although separate, steps in the right direction. Now I wonder whether Brandeis students and faculty will have the vision and open minds necessary to look around them and recognize how they might be able to make an influential change within their community.

Last Spring, for the first time in at least the three years that I’ve been here, Brandeis hosted a successful Festival of the Arts. It included not only the old standbys of Culture X, a capella, and improv comedy, but multiple performances by on- and off-campus theater groups,  a couple creative and risky thesis project plays, and performances and workshops by Brandeis professors.

In the last two semesters I have also noticed an increased allocation of resources, if not of money then at least of time and effort, toward the expansion and growth of projects that involve community engaged learning. For example, there are now Community Engaged Learning representatives for many departments. I have also noticed multiple Sociology class projects that are geared toward the dilemmas and needs of the Waltham community. (I know, I know. You’re saying, “Well, what do you expect from sociology?”, but you just wait and before you know it you’ll see similar projects coming from the history and biology departments. Who knows, maybe one day even the econ. students will even catch up and get off the bran van somewhere other than moody st.) Community Engaged Learning at Brandeis even has a webpage here.

Multiple artistic performances on campus in the past couple of years have shown that Brandeis students and faculty are ready to take chances for the sake of creating beautiful, valuable and important works of art. Specifically, Free Play is constantly putting on original shows that their own members have written, or finding new ways to explore plays that have already received rave reviews, like by performing them on multiple levels of the Rose Art Museum among a staircase, a pool and crazy paintings. The faculty of the Theater Department have encouraged students and audiences to go beyond their comfort level in rehearsals and performances, by inviting groups like Double Edge Theater to come to campus to work with undergrads and grad students.

Now that a discovery has been made about the value and necessity of engaging with not only the global community, but the community just beyond the limits of the Brandeis campus, artists at Brandeis have the opportunity to create astounding art that is groundbreaking in its social implications. Last year a Sociology class project documented the income levels of Waltham city residents in relation to their education levels, in order to determine how closely the two were related. The class even created a 3D model of their results and displayed it in Shapiro to make Brandeis students more aware of the socio-economic conditions of the city we spend most of our time in, yet barely know.

However, the data could not convey how the residents of Waltham who immigrated to the US from Haiti or Pakistan feel when they pass Brandeis with their kids knowing that they will probably never be able to go here. No diagram can represent how the janitor on your hall feels each week when she realizes how much she can send back to her family in Guatemala, or portray the expression on his face when he realizes that he has to clean up after the kid two doors down from you because, after his crazy night in the mods he just couldn’t make it all the way to the porcelain prince in order to let it all out.

Only art can portray such powerful emotions, and of all the arts only theater can utilize all other forms of artistic expression to create one cohesive performance which has the potential to both educate a community about the conditions and issues they live with, and empower a group of people to take charge and change their community for the better.