Michael Shank
Artistic Director of Politics for Barefoot Theatre Group
EVENT: He's directing Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Labor Temple.

Why do you think theater can be effective as a political tool? "It's pretty much the only art form that can rally the masses in an agora--which is Greek for 'public forum or meeting place'--to raise the consciousness of both audience member and actor. Unlike any other art form, it's participatory, a mirror of community where everyone plays an active role. If everyone's playing their part, then a revolution can happen."

Was your consciousness thus raised? "I was recently in the Philippines, working with a theater group. They were all acting for free in cities where bombs were going off. I was overwhelmed with their willingness to risk their lives--a circumstance unfamiliar to political theater in the States."

But which came first: your theatrical or your political inclinations? "I was born with an empathy for anything or anyone that's been oppressed. I saw theater as the most effective medium to give voice to that."

Do you know anyone who saw a play and thought, "Wow, I'm leading my life the wrong way"? "Certainly with actors during the rehearsal process--an awakening happens for anyone who's willing to be vulnerable to it. Are you wearing a headset?"

No, I have the phone cradled under my chin. "Ow, that's oppressive. That could throw your back out."

Who's oppressing me in this situation? "Big corporations, AT&T, for not providing cheaper headsets."

Do corporate bigwigs pay much attention to theater? "Only if it serves their purpose--in a Broadway tour, something that would be produced at a place like the 5th Avenue, where they could provide comp tickets to their clientele. The antithesis of that is our theater serving to empower local organizations and union groups in their fight for justice and truth. I can't tell you how many union guys show up, not only at auditions but rehearsals, eager to take part in the process."

Wow, you can say "fight for justice and truth" with no irony at all. That's impressive. "I know, I know [long pause]. Certainly in light of the new administration, it is going to be a fight, there's no ambiguity or irony in stating that."

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