Dignity of Risk – Beauty in the internal dialogue. (Theatre Review)
The Dignity of Risk
Shopfront’s harness ensemble and ATYP
At the ATYP studio 9 August to 26 August.
Images: Tracy Schramm
It is the (anti)fashion right now, to question our perception of others. Often analysis of the problem surrounding this thought function is a presumption of unconsciousness in those who impose definitions of others. However, the current climate has redefined this problem as one of speech. It was Freud (in The Interpretation of Dreams) who laid the foundation for an expanded conception of thinking and truth. Freud and psychoanalysis hold that thinking is simultaneously a conscious and unconscious activity. Conscious thinking has been part of our culture for two thousand years, but it was Freud who brought to the surface the notion of the unconscious. This calls forth a two in one split mind. When we think, we engage in what Plato called ‘a conversation that the mind carries on with itself about any subject that it is considering.’ (Theaetetus 198E) Conscious thinking happens as an interior dialogue. This reminds us that the call for ‘Free Speech” currently invoked by those who want to perpetuate racism, homophobia and sexism, is really an internal dialogue that frees them from our imposition. The call for free speech today is really a demand to be allowed to govern the conversation one has with oneself.
If we are going to have a conversation with ourselves that strengthens an identity of sorts, we have to engage what Hannah Arendt calls ‘thought things.’ These include memories, things imagined, opinions, hypotheses, concepts and ideas. While one can weigh and measure a sensible thing, one will never see, touch or smell a thought. Because our thoughts are invisible we constantly prop them up with metaphors drawn from the accessible world of the visible. This is why philosophers say that thinking is a form of seeing. Thoughts are translated to things. Objects that support internal dialogue. To add to this complexity, our thoughts never happen in a vacuum. They are always mixed with the thoughts and opinions of others including parents, friends, teachers and society. This means we always try to make a differentiation between passive thinking and active thinking – speaking to ourselves guided by our self or guided by an other. This cry for free speech then, is a demand that marginalized demographics go back to seeing the thoughts of one superior group as preferable and allow that perspective to be ground in the tangible such as religion, law, education and the writing of history. The reason those young white men are so angry right now, is because we have reframed their internal dialogue and we have fashioned the tangible to support our perspective. Something like a monument becomes enormously important, because it gives us the right to talk to ourselves the way we want to talk to ourselves.
It is this notion the ATYP production The Dignity of Risk challenges. Written by the performers over many weeks, internalized conversations are brought to the stage and presented to the audience. The audience watches, seeing. Yet, we are being told how the performer sees themselves, and we notice that in a reverse of a need for the tangible, their internal dialogue shapes our perspective. Legislation, education and history can’t be written blankly, by their nature they are slaves to perspective, but the freedom to define ourselves and not have to be a ‘thought thing’ for the comfort of insecure others should be of paramount importance as we construct a new world. This involves great risk. The effort to see self without consensus. The risk to make errors with those observations and not have to give a lifetime in service of a mistake. One of the most powerful moments of Dignity of Risk occurs when Teneile English states that being a marginalized woman has given her a great advantage over pampered white men because of her school of hard knocks advantages. This can only be true, of course, if she is free to act under legislation and or religion. If she is free to see herself as she chooses, and not become a ‘thought thing’ for another ideology. Is it any wonder that she so eloquently states in the program “Risk means taking a chance in performing. It means keeping your dignity at the same time. It’s a risk just to perform.”
Dignity of Risk is a beautiful production. A group of young people being honest with their thoughts and feelings about, above all else, their internal dialogue with self. The warmth between the cast members washes over the audience such that we are swept up in the connection and solidarity of the group. This sense never becomes contrived however, as the work reveals the efforts (indeed the risks) each performer has taken in being willing to work to reveal the inner conversation. The witness is left with the Kantian ideal that concepts (universals) and intuitions (things sensed) are heterogeneous, and something must mediate their opposition if they are to combine to form knowledge. Dignity of Risk posits the risk inherent in a stand for the self-directed internal dialogue against the courage to call that stand into the world. Somehow we have to find a way to create ‘thought things’ that do not demand a life in service of someone else’s lack of risk.
Dignity of Risk carries the weight of its meticulous preparation and dedication to taking its own risks. It is astute and remarkably current. It’s a strong vehicle to facilitate conversation between adults and tweens, teens and young adults about topics central to our age such as freedom of speech and political correctness.