Crumbling Infrastructure

In our quest to peel back the layers of our social world, artists experience immense pushback.

People get rattled when they see someone express something they’ve repressed in themselves. Raw emotions can be particularly prevalent when watching theatre: an art form that reflects the intimate ways we interact with each other. It shows both internal processes as well as the external social order. Characters can speak to us as if speaking in their own heads, and that, coupled with how they behave in their environment, reveals profound truths about human nature.

In that way, theatre is political.

My previous post mentioned Sonya Renee Taylor’s interview on Brené Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us”, and I’d like to bring in another element of that conversation. Taylor uses the image of a ladder to talk about systemic structures in society: deep-rooted expectations placed on and perpetuated by each of us. Systemic structures are always presenting obstacles that prevent us from radical self-love, in which we understand our innate divinity. We are all worthy of love but we are told in many different ways how we are not.

The structures in place that dictate what is “wrong” and what is “right”, what is worthy and what is not, are completely imaginary… Fabricated by those in power and continued by those who wish to climb to the top. But we each have this ladder inside of us and are constantly gauging our place on its rungs.

What happens when we recognize that the ladder is fictional? That our constant comparisons to others are perpetuating harmful hierarchies? What if we simply refused to follow the rules of this imaginary structure embedded in each of us?

The ladder disappears, and the systemic structures crumble.

That’s the true beauty of theatre. It can reveal where we are all placing ourselves in comparison to others and how futile that practice really is. It can show us where we “use” that ladder in our daily lives then take it away, causing revelations on how we wield power.

People become mentally untethered when they see that despite their best intentions, their actions are tied to something nonexistent. They cling to the belief that hierarchy is innate and that love is conditional. Discoveries of the truth can happen in the theatre and it can happen when the marginalized speak up: when they draw attention to the theatrical performances in our day-to-day. Gay people, for example, constantly have to place themselves on a lower rung than straight people. Any attempt to defy the ladder and refute its existence is blasphemous to the social order.

When queer folks recognize that the ladder people have been building their lives around for years actually doesn’t exist, they face immense backlash. Heaven forbid they upset a straight person: someone considered higher up on the ladder. When that structure’s taken away, people who find comfort in standing above others for so long begin falling, with nothing left to hold onto. Thus a queer person calling out the system that fails them sparks fear in everyone else who is just now realizing their social standing is actually a performance that perpetuates harm.

Continue calling out the ladders. It may cause chaos but it gets us closer to the truth: we are each innately worthy of deep and complicated love. Comparison to others simply builds self-worth upon an imaginary scaffolding that is bound to crumble.

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