It was fitting enough that the opening performance of the Occupy DC focused play Tent of Dreams: An Occuplay was being staged at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent.
Even more fitting was the Fringe gods’ (Fringods?) choice for it to rain hard enough during the 15 minutes leading up to the play to result in drops of water landing on early arrivers through the tent. Hot enough for me to be comfortably sweating by the end, the bare setting of this play helped simulate what it must have been like to occupy McPherson Square over the last year. Except, of course, for the whole “being arbitrarily kicked out or arrested by the police” thing.
This phenomenon inadvertantly drove home one of the key points of the play, which is that I am (and you are) involved with the Occupy movement, whether we like it or not. Even if you’re a K Street Lobbyist, a bystander, or a journalist from the mainstream media (all played at various points by a multi-tasking Alexia Poe), the issues that the Occupy movement have owned are ones that are relevant to all of us.
In the small pamphlet I picked up at Fort Fringe—which slickly instructed me to fold into a crease in order to “pitch a tent”—I read that the play sought to answer the question of whether or not Occupy matters: convincingly, I left Tent of Dreams thinking not only that Occupy mattered, but that the movement and its issues will only become more relevant in years to come.
My impression was due, in no small part, to a well-crafted script and passionate execution from the occu-players. While Districters have known for a while they can get a good pizza from 2 Amys, they can now find solace in a good drama from the 2 Emilys who teamed up for this play.
Remarking on the play’s progress, playwright Emily Crockett explains in the program that she was covering Occupy for Campus Progress when she became “hooked by the sense of community and purpose,” while director Emily Todd told me after the play that the whole thing was “really meta,” in the sense that the play functions as a teaching tool for the key ideas and principles of the Occupy movement—yet it is still a play, first and foremost. Both Emilys have taken the time to take their real-world passions and transform them into a dramatic setting, and should be applauded for doing so.
The character archetypes for Tent of Dreams arose from the actors surveying the Occupy movement and creating characters that they themselves could identify with. This was an excellent decision, as everyone in the play seemed very comfortable in their roles.
A facilitator named Jamie (Aubri O’Connor) has an incredible stage presence, and she should: she’s trying to organize something that could turn into chaos in the blink of an eye. An anarchist named Christiana (Dannielle Hutchinson) is not shy about voicing her opinion, embodying in several moments the necessary outrage that inspired both the movement and the play. Jacob (John Brougher) is a compelling personality who one day wants to become a preacher. Razz is simply a “dirty F*ing Hippie” (Kelly Keisling, who also doubles as the play’s cop, Officer Rush), and the homeless guy named Abe (Ed Klein) is sometimes a voice of reason, sometimes a voice of non-reason, and always entertaining.
And then there’s Lydia (Joanna Stevens), “a newbie” doing her independent journalist thing. She is the character literally in the middle of it all as the play’s figurehead for non-mainstream journalism. You could say she is loosely based on the story of Emily Crockett, in that both arrived on the Occupy scene to “cover” the story before realizing that they were not separate from the scene itself.
Early in the play, Christiana brings this dynamic to light in a moment of tension between the two characters when she exclaims, “My life is not a story.” Through Lidia, the play also does a good job of accounting for some of the initial criticism of Occupy, including the hypocritical attitude towards newcomers: the old “Everyone is welcome…but why are you here?” problem. Regardless, we are inclined to root for Lidia as we see her iPhone her way from an unsure twenty-something to a sigificant part of the Occupy team, filming live coverage during an encounter with the po-po.
Cast members frequently interrupt the play’s action with the phrase “mic check” and follow it with important statements about the Occupy movement. Mocking the call-and-response rhetoric of religious settings—we learn early on that “mic check” is Occupy’s alternative to “Our Father”—these help pace the play and define Occupy’s key tenets, all the while fostering audience participation.
Since this is a movement trying to gain support, encouraging the audience to repeat the various statements was a great way to demonstrate the Occupy goal of appealing to consensus, and the mic checks were a great avenue for all characters, even the police officer, to achieve this affect. My favorite was, “Mic check! The mainstream media doesn’t have a liberal bias: it has a mainstream bias,” because it acutely summed up one of the play’s main critiques: that too many members of our mainstream media were and continue to be unprepared to give Occupy a fair and balanced shake in their coverage.
View at your own risk: this play will challenge you, your politics, and your actions. Sure, you might be part of the 99%, but are you also part of the 98% that doesn’t really care either way? The 98% is the name Tent of Dreams comes up with for the numerous Americans that display a nonchalant attitude towards the Occupy movement’s key issues. Why is this the status quo, the play asks, when Occupy is explicitly committed to things getting better for everyone?
Mic check! Tent of Dreams: An Occuplay is not an exposé of Occupy’s worst, most outrageous moments. It is not trying to recruit you into the Occupy ranks. It is a play with a concentrated setting, sharp writing, and stellar performances. And it will definitely keep you occupied.
Tent of Dreams: An Occuplay has 5 performances, ending July 29, 2012, at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent, Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Ross rates this 4 out of 5.