Tag Archives: Ethnodrama

195: Hidden

12 Jan

Hidden by Michael Rohd and Laura Eason is another play in the Ethnodrama anthology. This one explores the themes of Anne Frank’s diary to look at how they relate to contemporary US culture. Interviews and research were conducted in much the way that any playwright would when writing a play on a particular subject.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

I find it a little difficult to see what makes Hidden an ethnodrama and wonder if any play that uses interviews with real people as a basis for the play’s development would then be classified ethnodrama …

Perhaps because it was always intended to be a play (as opposed to being academic research that was later turned into a play), I found Hidden one of the strongest plays in Ethnodrama.

The play begins with a monologue from an elderly survivor of the Holocaust. She describes how she was separated from her mother in Auschwitz and sent to a work camp in Germany, peeling potatoes in an SS kitchen for the gigantic German woman who saved her.

Hidden explores the bystander phenomenon physically and through the text. There’s a harrowing account of the murder of all the Jews in a village in Eastern Europe.

JONO: So one day, my father gets me up early in the morning.
RYAN: Now you have to remember, this is Eastern Europe
JONO: He tells me to be quiet, to follow him.
RYAN: the late 1930s
JONO: There’s a gathering of other men, and boys my age. And women. The women are here, too.
JONO: I hear the sound of sleepy footsteps. I see the breath of hundreds of my neighbors making a cloud of mist as they wearily, curiously trudge towards the centre of town.
RYAN: You cannot judge my friend.
JONO: And suddenly, I see my friend, and his family in this crowd. And I realize, this crowd – they are all Jews.
RYAN: You cannot hold him accountable.
JONO: And I – I am standing in a mob of gentiles.
RYAN: He was a boy – barely a young man.
JONO: The men around me, workers. They have guns. The women, stones.

Together, the townsfolk kill their neighbours. Wiping out 60% of their community in a single day.

Scenes like this one are contrasted with contemporary scenes where bigotry, racism and patriotism are shown as they affect us now. A girl describes her terror at driving in the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood and finding the road blocked by a van that’s stopped in the middle of the street.

JENN: And there are these two guys, two black guys, just standing outside it talking really loudly. […] I’m trying not to panic, making sure all the doors are locked, trying to figure out what to do and suddenly, I see a couple other black guys join the first two. So, now it’s a group of like 5 or 6, all talking and laughing.

The guys try to get her to drive past but she’s afraid and when two of them walk towards her car she panics and drives the wrong way down a one-way street to get away. Instead of it being seen as an over-reaction, her classmates and teachers tell her she’s lucky to be alive.

While Hidden is most definitely a ‘message play’ and tells rather than shows its stories, it contains powerful messages and some strong and moving scenes.

Publisher: AltaMira Press (Published in Ethnodrama:an anthology of reality theatre)

Cast: 3M, 3F

194: Street Rat

11 Jan

I found Street Rat in a book on Ethnodrama. The play was adapted by Johnny Saldaña, Susan Finley and Macklin Finley from the ethnographic research of the Finleys into young homeless people living on the streets in New Orleans in the mid 1990s.

graffiti rat by Banksy

Street rat by Banksy

The play uses the research, the interviewees’ words and also the poetry that Macklin Finley wrote about the experience. As a play, I found it at times didactic and a little clumsy but this is likely to be a result of trying to turn interviews into theatre without including the character of an interviewer.

When characters articulate their politics and beliefs, it comes across as answers to an outsider’s questions but is presented, unconvincingly, as dialogue between young people.

TIGGER: I know plenty of f*cking straight up prostitutes. They’re cool as hell, but that’s not something I’m going to do.

ROACH: It makes you compromise yourself. People who do it have to be comfortable with doing it. Sometimes people get caught up in it, when they aren’t comfortable doing it, but they do it anyway. That causes so many problems.

The inclusion of Macklin’s poetry worked really well in some instances but in others felt perilously close to self-indulgent. The authors saw it as a Brechtian narratorial device, and it works best when it is making comment on the action, like the following example which followed the dropping of small change at Roach’s feet.

MACK: Three pennies
fall like
rain in
the thunderous
silence after.
Remorse is
a court word
holding no
tender in the
lives of men.

My response on reading Street Rat was that the poems shouldn’t all have been included in their entirety: sometimes one stanza says it all and extending is unnecessary. There were also too many poems so that, by the end of the play, I was becoming frustrated with their inclusion.

For an ethnodrama (a play that ‘consists of dramatized selections of narratives collected through interviewing and participation observation’ Denzin & Lincoln) Street Rat feels as if it has barely scratched the surface of the lives of its subjects. The poetry is real and sincere, but it is the poetry of an educated man, visiting the homeless youth, rather than being their stories.

Publisher: Altamira Press (in Ethnodrama: An anthology of reality theatre)

Cast: 5M, 4F