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Privilege and the creative process
Here’s what happened. I RSVP’d for this show that Billy Mullaney is doing at the Southern Theatre at 10 p.m on Monday, July 16 called "The Only Story I Can Tell is My Own — A One Man Show with Eleven Women." The pre-requisite for seeing the show is that you have to meet with him beforehand. Since I was considering writing about the piece, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by doing the meeting and thereby gleaning information about the show.
We met at Spyhouse, and I asked him if it was all right if I took notes. He began to tell me about the process for creating his show. It was a rather lengthy explanation. The process started after the closing of the artspace collaborative 1419, and a new collaborative was formed called Myndworm. As opposed to 1419, which allowed anyone who wanted to be part of it, the new group started with just two guys, who then each made a list of people they would like to work with. The people who appeared on both lists were then asked to make lists of their own, until everyone in the group was on everyone else’s list.
The good part about this set-up was that everyone in the group wanted to work with everyone else. The bad part was they all ended up all being white, college educated males. One of the member proposed that the group do a show about white male privilege, but Mullaney said he worried that doing such a piece would have an adverse effect, since the authorship of the piece would be based in privilege, and he was worried that, if it was well received, there would be a danger of feeling satisfied that they eradicated their own privilege, which clearly would not have been the case.
So instead, Mullaney is doing this one-man show, with eleven women. Part of this process involved a survey that Mullaney wrote, and that each of the women in the cast had to fill out. They rated different activities that Mullaney proposed to be part of the show on a scale of one to seven. The activities were all things that Mullaney wanted — and so the cast and director embarked in a negotiation process, negotiating how comfortable they were with doing certain things. For example, while they decided not to have nudity on stage, it was agreed that Mullaney would be on stage watching nude women off stage, so he would see, while the audience wouldn’t.
When he was telling me this, I started to feel my whole body tense up. It seemed like such a jerk move. It seemed like exercising power for the sake of exercising power. Maybe I recalled certain of my own experiences being a performer, and feeling manipulated by male authority figures myself. In any case, I started to argue with him. I never do this when I’m interviewing someone. I generally remain impassive, allowing the person to explain themselves and asking questions as objectively as I can. But in this case my emotions got the better of me.
Apparently, I’m not the only one. One cast member has already dropped out, and he said that two people have refused to see the show after speaking with him about it.
“Have you ever thought about what would happen if you used your powers for good?” I asked him. He looked at me, surprised. Clearly he believes that his project is for good.
I realized at some point that the discussion I was having with him itself was part of the show, and perhaps the most important part. In some ways, perhaps what he is doing — looking at male privilege in a very methodical, very deliberate way — is better than ignoring it entirely. After all, almost any given play that you see is in some way reinforcing the patriarchy, in that it doesn’t call it to question. I started to think that even though I was so furious with Mullaney’s methods, at least they were an attempt to stir up these uncomfortable layers of power that usually we all take for granted.
I feel like I have to see the show now. You can’t just dismiss something without seeing it. If you’re going to have an opinion about a piece of work, you have to know what you are talking about, or else you’re akin to the ultra right Christian protesters who demonstrate against plays they haven't even seen. But even that makes me angry —that I’ve been manipulated into seeing this show, if for no other reason that I can be satisfied that it is wrong.
Photo by Melissa Hesse, courtesy Billy Mullaney