Week 5 Response

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play Fairview is spectacular because Drury knows how to play to specific audiences very well. If catharsis is “the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions,” then I do not believe that Fairview offers a catharsis for every audience member, but rather that the play functions differently for white audience members and audience members of color.

For white audience members, I believe the play’s function is to prevent catharsis. Specifically, I think the ideal white audience member for this play is liberal, aware of social issues and all the “woke” terms, “worldly,” and probably not vigilant in watching for how they systematically and personally hurt people of color in their daily lives. The majority of the theater-going audience is like this, going to see a race play to affirm their “wokeness”, to learn through watching black trauma. This play functions by preventing the catharsis that usually is given to white audience members by transferring the hyper-visibility of the black body on stage to the white body in the seats. Maybe white audience members can find a catharsis in walking to the stage at the end and possibly releasing the shame that this play projects on them. There is certainly a feeling of discomfort and shame that is maintained for white audience members who stay by their seats, for they now have the hyper-visibility that people of color feel always.

Conversely, for audience members of color, maybe this play functions to provide a much-needed catharsis that is not accessible in daily life: the ability to expose white privilege and the hurt that is done through white hands, especially those that believe they are “not the problem.” This play affirms the experiences and thoughts of people of color and allows them the space to speak, exist, and breath without fear of or concern for white guilt and white retaliation. Drury truly knows how to affect her audience.

One thought on “Week 5 Response

  1. Hi Ruva,
    The split function here is indeed to deny catharsis from some audience members who partially depend on theatergoing to signal “wokeness” but part of that consumption is instruction on black pain through the labor of its re-performance. Sibbles Drury figures out how to structurally deny what black performance has provided – historically for white audiences it had confirmed happy compliance with the terms in which they have been oppressed, and later black performance, to find success in the commercial realm, had to comply with the forms of performance that dominated the stage. Forms that broke away – like Shange’s choreopoem – were attended less by white audiences but found strong support from Black audiences. But these forms – whether dominant or resistant to the dominant model – focused more on what happened on the stage than how the audience could receive (or not receive the information). If there was a catharsis to be denied, the brilliance of Sibbles Drury’s work was that by moving the white audience to the stage, they were no longer able to see or hear what transpired in the audience between the spectators who remained and the actors who engaged them. I can’t speak to how those in the audience felt at that point – and this goes to your point. Maybe the stark reversal of terms felt like a catharsis – although it seems like catharsis itself as a “purging” might not be the best term given its coercive nature in restoring a kind of status quo. Here Boal then is useful, for the breakdown in theatrical structure allows new possibilities to happen and shifts the burden of the labor of exposure. Will the terms of performance just be replicated by those who talk and gaze from the perspective of the audience? Or can a different and better conversation occur when both the possibility of catharsis is removed and the terms of the gaze – hypervisible performance in dominant forms – is exposed as a coercive mechanism?

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