Interview: Bedlam Theatre’s Maren Ward discusses “Because We Still Live Here”


Bedlam Theatre’s wizardry, blending avant-garde art with determined activism, is in effect once more—this time with the upcoming Because We Still Live Here, a mixed-medium evening about the aftermath of the Republican National Convention. Sarah Palin or no, it’s safe to say Bedlam will not be lauding the G.O.P. for including everybody—regardless of race, creed or gender—in the mythologically vaunted American Dream. It’s also a good guess Bedlam won’t be paying homage to how police forces protected and served the living hell out of the public.

Maren Ward, founding member of Bedlam Theatre and co-artistic director (with John Bueche) explains that she and fellow organizers Molly Van Avery and Dana Jeffries are borrowing the titular phrase from the RNC Welcoming Committee, who themselves borrowed it from the old Patrick Swayze flick Red Dawn, in which American guerrillas rise up to resist an occupying force that’s stomping democracy to death under its boots. Beset by overwhelming odds, bloodied but unbowed freedom fighters hold out against impossible odds. Why? “Because,” Swayze’s character intones with steely resolve, “we still live here.”

So, you can bet your last money Republicans won’t be tripping over each other in a mad scramble to snatch up Because We Still Live Here posters and playbills as cherished memorabilia. The evening is billed as “Creative reflections on RNC week, tactics for social change and visons for a transformed Twin Cities as Bedlam Theatre [offers] creative reflections (stories, songs, videos, theatrical reenactments) on personal experiences during RNC week.” Said reflections are “followed by a facilitated creative dialogue focused on carrying the momentum forward.” Among those who will be on hand for the occasion are Vets for Peace, Seeds of Peace, MN Peace Keepers, Rebel Clown Army, Reclaiming Community, Code Pink, Missile Dick Chicks and Honor Dakota. It happens Thursday, Sept. 18th through Saturday, Sept. 20th at 7:30 p.m. each night. There’s a suggested donation of $10, but Bedlam’s longstanding policy is to not turn away anyone who just doesn’t have the jack. Show up, offer what you can afford, and more than likely you’ll get a seat.

“The land Minneapolis occupies was never paid for by the United States according to the treaty of 1805 with the Dakota people. I would like to see that happen.”

Maren Ward gave this interview just as she was heading into a week of tech rehearsal before opening night.

Would you get into specifics regarding “presentations being followed by a facilitated creative dialogue focused on generating visions for a transformed Twin Cities”?
It’ll be an evening in two parts. First, there will be a series of creative reflections by artists and activists, detailing moments and emotions from RNC week. I expect a narrated slide show from Vets for Peace, a skit that explains the motivations of a contingent in the Monday march. “Honor Dakota Treaties” and the reclaiming of Coldwater Spring that took place that week, reenactments and reflections from the Rebel Clown Army, and a spoken word piece from the Minnesota Peacekeepers. Polar Bear versus Sarah Palin, created by Mina Lierwood. A visitation from folks who made bicycles for out-of-town guests, a written reflection from Malia Burkhardt, who worked with Code Pink on “The March on the RNC.” That first part will be somewhat performative, informal, allowing for spontaneous storytelling.

The second part?
Will be facilitated by myself, Dana Jeffries, and Molly Van Avery. Presenters and audience members will participate in creative exercises, using techniques from Theater of the Oppressed and other community-based models. [Theater] is an amazing way to build community, as can be protest—and [theater] can often make great protest. It’s all connected. The most inspiring part of the week was that so many people were active in different ways, talking to each other. So this event seeks to build on that, provide connections and [facilitate] an ecosystem of change.

How’d you, Molly Van Avery, and Dana Jeffries come to be the ringleaders?
I anticipated the aftermath of RNC week since [the convention] was announced. [I] was part of a conversation of folks struggling with organizing around the RNC, having been burnt out by organizing for mass actions for years and not feeling energized or effective. Also, wanting to understand more what we’re working toward. The war, racism, environmental justice: issues that bring us together in a concrete, community way.

“I’m still reflecting on the impact of 12 police cars outside the theater ‘just checking up on things.'”

Just how should the Twin Cities be transformed?
I’m hoping a lot of different people [will answer] this question at this event. One thing that has been on my mind…is that the land Minneapolis occupies was never paid for by the [United States] according to the treaty of 1805 with the Dakota people. I would like to see that happen, and to see the truth told in schools and state brochures about the genocide that took place in this state. To transform and move forward, we must look back and deal with that.

Bedlam hosted its own RNC, Radical Neighborly Conviviality.
We had the Nonsense Company from Madison performing an amazing theater piece about torture, Bedlam’s YXY satirical newscast, David Rovics, Roy Zimmerman, Emma’s Revolution, Jim Page, Missile Dick Chicks, Bryan Bevell performing Wallace Shawn’s The Fever, the brand new documentary Red State Road Trip, and Politaoke—political speeches done karaoke-style. We were able to lend the resource of space to groups seeking to make their participation in the streets as vibrant and creative as possible. That was great. We experienced some police scrutinization on one evening, and two people who were at the show and attempted to leave on the LRT were arrested, then released. They brought inspectors in and didn’t find anything to write us up about.

I’m still reflecting on the impact of 12 police cars outside the theater “just checking up on things.” On the energy. While it ultimately passed—and was nothing compared to what folks in the streets in St. Paul experienced—I had to keep telling myself we aren’t breaking the law by having political music and [theater], making puppets and signs. It’s part of the big picture of well-funded repression that went on, which we’ll be continuing to process for years.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.