Resistance is fertile: Artists activate in the Age of Trump

Peyton Berry’s “Incurable Activism” has two women differing on how much is enough in the effort to improve Black Lives. Photo by Stephen Anthony Elkins.
Peyton Berry’s “Incurable Activism” has two women differing on how much is enough in the effort to improve Black Lives. Photo by Stephen Anthony Elkins.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Divisive and downright ugly from the first primary to the final tally, last year’s presidential election had supersized portions of the key ingredients one would expect to find in a meaty theatrical drama: conflict, contrast, and the quest for power. With these elements still very much in play after November 8, the flabbergasted duo behind feminist theater company The Dirty Blondes had no question as to how they would answer the president-elect: cancel the production booked for January, and heed the call of an ominous new muse.

“We were planning to produce a show about Britney Spears,” said artistic director Ashley Jacobson, “but we decided to put all our resources toward supporting a political project.”

Embarking on that course correction didn’t take long: “I think we made the determination on November 10,” Jacobson recalled. “We had just cast the show and were going into rehearsals. I was in a little bit of a stupor after the election; surprised and scared and crying, ‘I can’t get my sh**t together for a show about Britney Spears!’ So I talked with [executive director] Elizabeth [Sarkady], and we said, ‘Let’s do something else.’ ’’

With 52 percent of white women having voted for Trump (a demographic both Blondes fit snugly into), “that was a reminder to look at the conversations we were participating in, and whether or not we were leading or listening. So we want to take a step back creatively, and support a space for particularly threatened and marginalized artists to speak.”

Playing the East Village’s Kraine Theater through January 15, “The Resister Project” came together over the past several weeks, as its 49 participants spent much of the holiday season creating nine new plays and seven solo performances based on their experiences before and after the presidential election.

At the helm is Miami-born, Astoria-based musical theater bookwriter Rebecca Aparicio, who is no stranger to the task of bringing disparate voices into harmony. The bluegrass band she formed with her husband, Alabama native and guitarist/vocalist Stephen Anthony Elkins, gigs weekly at Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails (367 Third Ave., btw. E. 26th & 27th Sts.).

“Our banjo player is from Poland,” said Aparicio of Wild Magnolia, “and our mandolin player is a Dominican from the Bronx. We have a Cuban girl, me, on the washboard, and a Japanese fiddle player.” The band is not the only collaborative project with her husband. They created “Pedro Pan,” a bilingual children’s musical based on the struggles of children sent, alone, to the US as a means of escaping 1960s Cuba (the show was a critical and audience favorite at the 2015 New York Intentional Fringe Festival).

As to how she became a producer on “The Resister Project,” Aparicio noted a call to action made on Facebook right after the election. “I had this idea that anybody who wanted to write or perform could have [a platform for] a cathartic reaction,” Aparicio recalled, “and I wanted it to happen before the inauguration.”

“So many took to it [social media] to vent,” Jacobson said. “This show came together because of that. At least it reminds us that there is some good in having such a large community at your fingertips.”

“I think it’s only going to become stronger and continue to be a force in how people get connected, artistically,” Aparicio said of electronic outreach, adding that after the production closes on January 15, “We plan on building a website and uploading the plays that were chosen and not chosen. The idea is that someone in another state can produce their own ‘Resister,’ and we can keep this project alive beyond our work.”

First things first, though. Last weekend’s launch of “The Resister Project” included Nelson Diaz-Marcano’s “Abbie Jones & That Jorge Kid,” in which a woman is torn between loyalty to her white supremacist brother and her Mexican boyfriend. Cat Crowley’s “Nasty Bitch Radio” is set in a feminist underground broadcasting studio — ground zero, the playwright noted, for a revolutionist response to “Trump’s dystopian America, where women are classified on a scale of 1-10.” Solo performers Julia Barclay-Morton and Hayden Kristal were also on the bill — and at the Jan. 7 show, ReEmergent Theater company (a community in collaboration with those emerging from prison) moderated a talkback session following a monologue by member Juan Carlos Hincapie, who was released after serving 25 years for a crime he did not commit.

A film about the Black Lives Matter movement gets mixed reviews before the screening even starts, in Esther Ko’s “With Allies Like This...” Photo by Stephen Anthony Elkins.
A film about the Black Lives Matter movement gets mixed reviews before the screening even starts, in Esther Ko’s “With Allies Like This…” Photo by Stephen Anthony Elkins.

Among this weekend’s Thurs.–Sun. performances will be Ricky Whitcomb’s “What’s On Your Mind,” which follows Facebook users from the time Clinton won Iowa to November’s very bitter end — posting, commenting, and doing plenty of unfriending. In Ashley Lauren Rogers’ “Fight or Flight,” Bear Spiegel serve as the lone cast member. “I’m not saying I stabbed you because we disagree politically,” says the non-binary Skye while tracing the roots of Thanksgiving Day toxicity with dad. “I stabbed you because the first thing that happened when I got in from New York, after a five-hour bus ride, the first thing you did was start chanting ‘Trump, Trump, Trump.’ ”

After the Jan. 12 show, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will lead the talkback. On Fri. and Sun., the evening’s playwrights and actors will engage with the audience — and on Sat., members of Smoke and Mirrors Collaborative will talk about their online and theater work addressing issues including HIV, national security, immigration, and the role of technology in forming human relationships.

Hopefully, these talkback sessions will keep us all from taking a page from Skye’s playbook, instead embracing The Dirty Blondes’ mission to help artists and audiences “participate in a dialogue that bears on their experience and pushes the conversation further.” It’s a goal of civil but unapologetic activism that Aparicio hopes will become the real takeaway from “Resister,” which she noted has evolved from a shared sense of frustration on social media to “a community that extended beyond anyone’s circle of friends, uniting individuals who felt that they had no voice in the post-Trump world.”

“The Resister Project” plays Thurs., Jan. 12 through Sun., Jan. 15, all shows 7pm, at The Kraine Theater (85 E. Fourth St., btw. Second Ave. & Bowery). For tickets ($15), visit horsetrade.info. Proceeds go to the American Civil Liberties Union. For artist info, visit thedirtyblondes.org.