Peter Brooke, in his book The Empty Space, teaches that a theater is just that -- empty, devoid, even -- until people create in it. As beautiful as that is (and as much as those involved with this event may agree) there is a harsher, far less poetic battle for literal empty space -- for housing -- going on in this very city. Occupy the Empty Space believes housing is a human right. Unfortunately, the 1% has turned it into something barely accessible -- if accessible at all -- for far too many of the 99%.
As a result, on March 18, 2012 New York artists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street staged a theater festival + direct action + housing rights education/outreach in the main hall of Judson Memorial Church.
This completely free event included 15 new plays and eight teach-ins by well-known activist groups, including 040, NLG, Time's Up! (there will be a Time's Up! bike ride to the event at 1:30 starting from Zuccotti Park), Picture the Homeless, Queer Rising, and more.
Sarah Duncan, a playwright and one of the original two organizers of the event, recalled:
There was a Twitter conversation months back, hosted by The Arena Stage's Howlround. The conversation was an open question, a discussion with playwrights as to how we as writers could respond to the Occupy Movement with immediacy. Other art mediums seemed to be faster at creating and being visibly part of the movement, where as plays take (or tend to) much longer to cook. I told the facilitator of the online dialogue "Challenge accepted!' and went to Zuccotti the next day to ask Occupiers what, above all, they would want to see a play about. The seed was planted, and grew into a much larger tree than I anticipated. But that's more than alright--to risk sounding hokey, the bigger the tree, the larger the shade, the more people fit under the tree. Our, (as Kate often says) leader-full tree.
"All the best activism is theater," notes Benjamin Shepard, an organizer of Occupy the Empty Space and member of Judson Church. "This is a space where performers have long taken their theater to the streets, re-staging what life could be like in New York City. We've had villains such as Robert Moses take on heroes such as Jane Jacobs, the Freedom Riders, and ACT UP. Each preached about the need for a different kind of stage, in which everyone has a voice, not just those with the access to power and money. Occupy the Empty Space continues this tradition of engaged theater."
"What attracted me to the occupy movement, initially, was it's horizontal nature," noted Kate Foster, playwright and other original organizer of Occupy the Empty Space. "There was no climb, there was no pyramid of who was in charge -- everyone had the power and the capability to make something happen. Sarah and I have taken that model -- a model for a leader-full movement -- and applied it to the theatrical process. How can we celebrate everyone? How can we stay non-commercial and still selective? How can we be selective and equally inclusive? It's a valuable conversation to have, not in just in terms of this event, but in the larger context of the theatre community and entertainment industry."
Duncan explained the idea behind the title:
The title, Occupy the Empty Space, came from the title of the Peter Brook book, The Empty Space. But really, it's fitting on more than a theatrical level. Space is so valuable these days, and yet it is often abandoned or wasted. In NYC there is a 'lack of space,' or so it seems--but really, there is plenty of it. Apartments, parking lots, all sorts of shelter and open areas--but they've been purchased by large corporations who aren't doing anything with their real estate except separating valuable resources from those who need it.
Some of those that performed at Occupy Empty Space included the following: Granny Smith Monologue, by Heather Violanti Performed/Directed by Monica Hunken
He is Gonna See Stars, by Lavinia Roberts Directed by Jeannette Turner Performed by Anna Agostino and Ana Holly
The Retreating World, by Naomi Wallace Directed by Ismail Khalil
Turquoise and Clover, by Matt Kelly Directed by Christine Drew Benjamin Performed by Lucas Milliken, Elizabeth Burke, and Amanda Berry
Arab Spring and Revolution 2.0, two plays by Paco Madden Directed by Rachael Hayes Performed by Bandar Albuliwi
How to Stop the Empire While Keeping Your Day Job, by Dan Kinch Directed by Trent Anderson, Assistant Directed by Alex Davis Performed by Dan Kinch
Democracy, by Caridad Svich Directed by Shawn Tristan Performed by Mariana Carreno King
Deconstructed, by Sarah Duncan Directed by Erin Williams Performed by Ali Rose Dachis, Tapanga Hope, Karen Koontz
Corporations are People, Too, by Dean Poynor Directed by Barbara Harrison Performed by Leal Vona
Zombie Killers Brigade, by Damian Sebouhian Directed by Sarah Simmons Performed by Chris Harcun, Ariel Burke, Samantha Cooper, Lorenzo Landini, Ben Cerf, Blake Bishton
Posh Pill, by Kia Corthron Directed by Sherri Kronfeld
Captain Corporate Personhood, by Adam Sharp Directed by Monica Hunken Performed by Ara Morton, Zachary Dobson, and Elizabeth Bennett
The Princess and Her Peas, by Daniel Glenn Directed by Michael Feld Performed by Claire Moodey, Sasha Winters, Joe Therrien, and Blake Bishton