John Greiner-Ferris is the founding artistic director at Alley Cat Theater.
Do you ever get the sense that the problems in the world are just too immense? That there are forces at large that are so powerful and have so much momentum that any of us, as individuals, are powerless, or even worse, that we simply don’t count?
I know as a playwright I wondered what I could do about a world that I felt was rapidly moving away from my own values and how I would like to see our world. We writers tend to be an introspective, introverted lot, and so, like many writers, I kept to myself and thought and observed.
Before I explain what I came up with, I want to say that I did come to the conclusion that more than ever, the role of the individual in our society couldn’t be more important than it is now. Our individual rights and therefore our dignity as human being is being stripped away (and sometimes I think we’re just giving it away.) Individually, I pondered about what I could do.
And here’s what I came up with. Here’s what I can do.
I can write; it’s really all I know how to do. I can write plays that address the issues of today in what I feel is an intelligent, compelling, and thoughtful way. I can produce these plays. I can hire people, giving them the opportunity to ply their trades by helping me put on these plays, and while I can’t offer a living wage, I can continue to work towards being able to pay more than I have in the past. It’s a small list, I’ll grant you. But you try doing it. This list keeps me busy throughout the day all through the week, and keeps me awake in the middle of the night.
Plank, our first full-length production that opens this August, is one of these plays.
There are layers to that list, though, and I don’t want to delve into any of the layers except one. There is so much conversation in our country about diversity, race, and gender. Some have even blamed identity politics as the real or partial reason for the current political climate and administration. I don’t know about that. Again, just like same sex marriage, I see these issues simply as civil rights issues, and you don’t brush civil rights under the carpet. Maybe you can see how this relates to my conclusion about the importance of the individual and individual rights.
I do feel strongly about the need for diversity in the theater. Many of you who are reading this right now may feel the same way I do—birds of a feather and all of that. But maybe some of you don’t. If you don’t, it’s you I’m talking to right now. For many years, I was a contract editorial writer for a pretty good newspaper. Now, this isn’t my idea, but another columnist said that when you write, there are three things that can happen: 1) the reader will say, that’s what I think, I agree with you; 2) the reader will say, you’re crazy, and shut you down; 3) the reader will say, I never thought of that, I’ll think about it.
I’m going for #3.
Here are the reasons I value and promote diversity at Alley Cat Theater. It is a value I have in my life, and if you’d like to understand why, you can read my bio here. People have helped, and continue to help me, along the way, and I stand with one of the characters in my play, Highland Center, when it comes to helping people:
Not when I’m with you. I never understood why misery loves company, Hank. Why do people say, well, I suffered so you have to suffer too? I walked two miles in the snow so you should too? Shouldn’t it be if you suffered you don’t want anyone else to go through what you went through? Shouldn’t it be that we should want to stop suffering in the world, not preserve it? Hank, take care of Henry. Do your best, and don’t quit. Don’t run out on him. Hank, we all end up in the same place, the only difference is how we get there. A pine box, Hank. There. (Pointing to her headstone.) We all end up there.
So, here are my reasons for insisting on diversity at Alley Cat Theater: