An old saying goes that those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That was the major theme of the “You’re Damned to Repeat it” show put on by Performing for Change on Saturday, Dec. 2 in the Gonzaga Auditorium. Performing for Change, a social justice performance troupe, led an audience through American history discussing different social injustices. The performance seemed to include a number of disjointed skits, news audio clips and spoken word performances threaded together by an over arching narrator reading a book, supposedly telling of the history of social injustices.
The messages conveyed in the various spoken word performances were obviously personal to the speakers. One performer, Joselyn Ordonez ‘18, spoke about how hard her mother works to provide for her and teared up multiple times trying to defend her mother from people using the stereotype that immigrants are not hard workers.
The different skits provided meaningful insight into these injustices and exemplified that simply listening to them cannot result in a solution on its own. By seeing a black woman, portrayed by PFC Director Kayla Craig ‘19, get rejected from a job just because of her hair, it invokes a more visceral emotion than just hearing stories about it or simply reading a news story. The skits allowed the audience to experience these problems first-hand, which some of them might never have been able to do because of their various privileges.
The aftermath of events, such as the Charlottesville Riots, Chechnya concentration camps and a host of other devastating occurrences, contributed to the inspiration of PFC’s show. PFC realized that many of these events paralleled with larger events in history like the Holocaust or entire towns rioting in response to schools attempting to racially integrate.
“We wanted audience members to realize that they have the power to change history, to challenge systems of injustice. College students have been at the forefront of almost every social movement in this country, and it’s completely within our power to continue that,” said Craig. “We hoped to inspire audience members to go out and make change in whatever way they could, even things as small as signing a petition or calling their representative.”
The audio clips — aired as disembodied voices speaking of various injustices and atrocities across history — though insightful, were a bit unnecessary. It seemed like filler material used while cast members changed costumes or arranged props backstage. I feel that, if they wanted to share news stories about the topics covered, a performer could’ve come on stage and discussed a particular story instead of having the audience look at a dark, empty stage for up to three minutes.
There was some audience participation in the performance, which allowed the audience members to have a vested interest in the topics covered. By taking part in these activities, members could more fully understand the ideas that were being shared during the performance. The first instance was a kind of “Mother May I” game, where a few audience members were brought up on stage with some of the cast members to play by asking “Uncle Sam,” portrayed by Ordonez, if they were allowed to take steps forward. Each person asked if they could take steps forward and, each time, “Uncle Sam” said no. This skit lost some of its meaning since no one was allowed to move forward. I believe that this was meant to invoke similar ideas as some recent viral videos, where people were asked to step forward if statements about privilege applied to them; however, since no one moved during the performance, the meaning was lost.
The second instance of participation was more effective than the first. The cast members built up a wall of hate and ignorance, reading off stereotypical, hateful and ignorant statements that were written on blocks as they built this wall up. Then audience members were given balls to throw at, and try to dismantle, the wall. This successfully and creatively supported the idea that even though you are but one person, when gathered in numbers, people can accomplish amazing things.
However, the performers did not use the space well whatsoever, which could be due to the fact that cast was only comprised of five actors. PFC had the entire Gonzaga stage to work with, yet only used a small portion of the upstage area. Additionally, there were about 30 people in attendance, which seemed insignificant when compared to the mass of empty seats that surrounded them. It would’ve been a better use of space had they performed in the Black Box Theatre, as they did last semester. The Black Box would have allowed for a better stage presence, and the number of people in attendance wouldn’t have seemed as insignificant.
The show was also not well marketed. OrgSync reported that the show would begin at 8:30 p.m. but in reality, it began a half hour earlier. I arrived around 8:20 p.m. and noticed no one was waiting outside, and I heard noises coming from the stage. I thought it was one final rehearsal prior to the show. After waiting around five minutes, I noticed a number of people seated, so I entered into the, now half over, performance. Although the time was accurately advertised on posters and social media, the mixed messages made for a confusing night. It also ended earlier than billed, over an hour and a half earlier to be exact. Had PFC advertised a more accurate time frame, more people may have been persuaded to attend, since seeing a large 8 -10:30 p.m. time frame probably turned people away who wanted to go out on their Saturday night.
What the performers had written, and the content they delivered to the audience was very well done and well spoken. The topics were handled in a respectful way, without seeming too preachy in execution. The performance itself could have used some improvements that would have helped create a more cohesive narrative for the audience to experience. However, it’s important to note that in the time leading up to PFC’s performance, four members decided to quit the performance, leaving the cast with about half of the members they initially planned for.
Craig explained that, “even though we lost a few people, they still helped shape the show into what it became. We’re a resourceful group, and the things that needed to be shifted around to accommodate a smaller cast were shifted around efficiently as soon as possible. As much as we missed those people, we still went out and put our best work forward. And I’m very proud of what we accomplished that night.”