Monday, January 23, 2012

Meet the R&D: Mia Rovegno - A Housewarming Gift

Today's post is from Mia Rovegno, one of the playwrights in our R&D Group and the director of our most recent Occupy Wall Street cabaret at Joe's Pub earlier this month. The writers in the R&D Group are contributing posts that will give insight into their processes: what they're thinking about, what material they're working with, how their research is informing their writing. For more info about the R&D Group, Mia, or her project, please click here. And here is Mia's post!

Whether I like it or not, every project I work on is inevitably informed by whatever events happen to be swirling around my life at that moment. So I guess it’s not surprising that in the midst of writing a piece centered on American identity and the ways in which the dislocated and relocated search for a sense of “home”, I find my mind occupied by the insta-community that sprang to life on September 17th in Manhattan’s Liberty Square: The people of Occupy Wall Street.

For past couple of months at The Civilians, we’ve been conducting and transcribing hours upon hours of interviews from various Occupy events to create what we hope can be a kind of living document of this unique historical moment. I’m all for the pursuit of defining more ways in which art and activism can collide in the American theater without having to pull out the self-congratulatory soapbox or the factoid-y power point presentation. And working with The Civilians is a refreshing reminder that it is indeed possible to pull this off. Artists can be topical AND entertaining! Audiences can feel feelings AND learn something! Not to mention that all of us actually are capable of humbly checking in with our humanity without self-flagellation or hoisting our politics onto some pedestal. Seriously. It’s possible.

Case in point: Last week I had the privilege of directing a fantastic group of actors in an evening of theater featuring the diverse, powerful stories of this leaderless movement in a different kind of forum: The Occupy Wall Street Cabaret at Joe’s Pub.

I admit it can sometimes feel awkward to do more documenting of the OWS movement than actual occupying itself, and I tend to find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I question what can feel like my peripheral, objective participation in this critical community effort. I wonder how my creative work can offer an effective contribution to this movement. I look for how my dialogue with this cultural moment might reach beyond creating a forum of validation and catharsis for people on the inside of the movement. I ask: How can the work be impactful to those on the outside—those who don’t feel inspired to occupy Zuccotti Park, who won’t drop everything to Occupy The Highway from NYC to DC, who won’t be photographed at the barricades linking arms in a human chain, risking possible arrest or injury? How might visibility and credibility outshine the demoralizing impact of denied constitutional rights and police brutality that can so elusively steal the focus from the myriad messages of the movement? So many questions! I don’t know the answers.

But maybe the answers can live somewhere in the act of holding a different kind of space for the vital immediacy of this movement. An intimate space of quiet and undivided attention. Of celebration and reflection. Confession and testimonial. Where voices are heard, amplified, and perhaps even underscored. Maybe it’s a space where a community gathers to wrestle with the layers of contradictions one always finds within any intelligent, articulate, political discourse. Or a space that values the ephemeral moments that tend to be forgotten, without a photograph or a youtube or a blog post to prove they ever happened in the first place. A space where artists offer themselves as conduits for these voices to be heard. A kind of artistic home, perhaps, that can shapeshift between being a tent in Zuccotti park, a living room in Omaha, a general assembly in West Palm Beach, or a candlelit cabaret table at Joe’s Pub.

I want to talk about one of the most inspiring threads of the Occupy Movement that shifted my paradigm of what I thought “home” could mean in America. I’m talking about Occupy Our Homes, a group fighting to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners facing eviction in homes at risk of foreclosure. Vacant, foreclosed homes have been reclaimed and occupied in an effort to popularize the idea of housing as a human right.  And this effort is spreading like wildfire, nationwide.

Below is an excerpt from an interview transcript performed at our OWS Cabaret, describing the experience of an NYC actor who joined forces with Occupy Our Homes:

“I went to the occupy homes yesterday in Brooklyn ... Occupy worked with a bunch of community groups from um from East New York.  Because East New York has the most foreclosures -- five times the amount of foreclosures than New York State has. It's – the, the bankers have gutted it. They have gutted that place.  I mean every other house is vacant.  So what OWS and these community groups did was, um, uh, get together, pick a family, pick a foreclosed home -- it wasn't their home, but it had stood empty for three years, and occupied it, went in with a crew of carpenters, people who were cleaning with this family, and ... had had them occupy the house.”

Now there’s a beautiful definition of this thing called home: An impromptu community of strangers taking shifts to help occupy a house so a family can safely keep a roof over their heads. Below the interviewed party describes the most epic housewarming party one could ever imagine:

“There were probably about five, six hundred people there.  With signs, and banners, and and a brass band, and so we, we stopped at several houses on the way ... um, and the people would come out and talk to us. And say 'I'm in foreclosure.  I've been in foreclosure for two years.' And then they would tell their story, and we would people's mic it, you know. And then we arrived at our final destination.  With this family, people brought gifts, because, um, like one of the councilwomen said, she's like 'We brought house warming gifts cause that's what you do.  When you move in’.”

If you are interested to see what a housewarming like that looks like, I’ve included a link to a video of this amazing convergence in East New York:



This is another posting from occupyourhomes.org with some great footage of the children discovering the huge crowd of supporters and the brass band outside their window:




In the R & D piece I’ve been developing, some characters have emerged that are no doubt inspired by the heavy amount of OWS dialoging that’s been happening. In one scene, Occupy The Highway cyclists and fulltime RVers meet and discover an unlikely kinship in their reclamation of the open road as their home. Whether I’m writing about ex-deadheads and anarchists sipping beers and arguing politics in an RV lot in Tucson, or a councilwoman bringing housewarming gifts to a family occupying a vacant house in East New York, I suppose I’ve only just begun to peel back the layers of what it means to try to find our way home in America today.

If you missed the OWS Cabaret, you can check out the video here!

Post by Mia Rovegno

2 comments:

  1. This is really cool Mia! I'm a theatre artist, but also a teacher of history as well. I find it fascinating how theatre is shaped by whatever is going on in the world in order to make a statement to change lives and shape ideas.

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  2. Wow, Fantastic Blog, it’s so helpful to me, and your blog is very good,I’ve learned a lot from your blog here, Keep on going, my friend, I will keep an eye on it.

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