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Dreaming in Multiplicity

Posted By Karen Jean Martinson, Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Like Harvey, I traveled to Scottsdale in January to participate in the 2014 Conference Committee Meeting. Under Vice President Sonja Arsham Kuftinec's leadership, we hammered out the final details of all-conference events including the keynote address, paid workshops, the plenary session, evening performances, and we dealt with general session scheduling concerns. Amid a busy day in which the conference became more and more concrete, Sonja wisely scheduled in ample time for discussion and reflection, moments in which we could "dream" our way through the conference theme. This space for imaginative, personal engagement called attention to the act of dreaming in all its profound possibility and provided a necessary check-in. Not only could we ask ourselves what we searched for in our dreams, but by asking, we could dream what our membership might seek in the annual conference. Through these moments, we could be sure that we were crafting for the diverse ATHE membership a conference that would indeed function a site of refuge, provide opportunities for resistance, and allow each of us to find a sense of renewal.

Because the meeting took place the weekend before the start of the Spring Semester, my dreams were of a decidedly pedagogical bent. What did I hope my trip to the desert might allow me to bring to the classroom? What does conference planning at an Arizona resort have to do with teaching at a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) located on Chicago's South Side? For my students, the DREAM Act and immigration issues are distant and yet the Dream Deferred is intimately known; for my students, borders are not international, though they are just as hotly contested, whether in the space of a few blocks or in the vast divide between North (Side) and South (Side).

What I want to bring back to Chicago State University is the opportunity for my students to dream in multiplicity, so that they can identify and capitalize upon connections across geographical space and cultural specificity. Chicago can be rather small at times, and our issues seem to play out predominantly in black and white. Performance can help us see across these stark contrasts and discover the deeper bonds that unite us. For example, last week we explored Political Theatre in my Intro Class. A group of two African American men, two African American women, and one Latina woman expertly staged El Teatro Campesino’s Los Vendidos, capturing both the quick-paced humor and incisive political critique of the piece while layering in an interesting and unexpected take on the assimilationist urges of Miss JIM-inez. The rest of the class, all African American, immediately felt how the play resonated with their own lives. Their comments revealed that they were shocked by how familiar these stereotypes felt to them, despite the foreignness of the cultural milieu. They were surprised to see how similar histories of exploitation, scapegoating, and tokenism have played out on the South Side and in the Southwest. Theatre in that moment brought recognition, just as it displayed resiliency.

My hope is that ATHE 2014 will foster partnerships that might bring my students into contact and conversation with students on different ends of country, students whose particular circumstances may be different, yet who are involved in the same sort of intellectual and social struggles as are mine. Too often, our dreams remain localized, when in fact a larger field of vision might better serve us. How can we make such radical connections real?

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