The initial impetus behind this work was the idea of physical restraint. Physical restraint by a person of authority or a person in power. When I received restraint training as a public school educator, the majority of it was training in de-escalation. Training in how to avoid a physical confrontation. Training in how to help a person in your charge calm themselves down. Training in how to respond so that an escalating individual sees you, yes, as an authority, but not as a threat. And when we learned physical restraint techniques, the focus was on how to keep the person you are restraining safe. How to avoid injuring them. How to restrain them, yes, but also how to hold them in a way that makes them feel safe. How to restrain them in a way that communicates to them that they can trust you—that you mean them no harm—that you care for their wellbeing.
I think about this training every time I watch another video of a police officer using aggressive force against an unarmed, usually black, person.
After watching one such video this Fall, I began to wonder if I could explore the physicality of the restraint training I received while teaching in public schools to make a statement. Could I use the platform of the stage to make an offering of an alternative to the techniques, or lack there of, that are employed by police?
I struggled with the beginning stages of making this piece. I questioned my voice. I worried about the risk of the work being an act of performative allyship. (Even reflecting now, I think, “I mean, isn’t it?” It’s an act of allyship and it’s an act of performance). The performers in the piece are white – me and my roommate and dear friend, Katie. Given the necessary safety precautions related to Covid-19 and the physical contact necessary in order to include the restraint techniques I have learned, I felt that this was the most responsible casting choice. Making a piece in response to state sanctioned racial violence with only white female performer-collaborators was surrounded by complexity. (However, a whole new set of complexities would have surrounded the piece had the cast been more diverse). The complexities remain, even now as I watch it, after the making of it.
I strongly believe that issues of racism and police brutality should be talked about, wrestled with, and critiqued by white people even and especially when people of color are not present. However my main concern laid in how to represent the statement we were making. I felt that I, as a white women, would be overstepping my bounds if I were to represent the experience of racial violence in performance. When making work in general, I am very resistant to depicting trauma that I have not personally experienced, and am careful to avoid triggering any traumatic memories for those watching. In response to this concern, I decided that we would only represent a compassionate approach to de-escalation and restraint—that we would critique and make comment by demonstrating an alternative to the methods employed by police. It makes the reference and message in the work more abstract (which, I acknowledge, is a choice that we as white performers are privileged in making).
When I watch the piece out of the context of conversations about police brutality, I see a complex relationship between two performers. I see a togetherness and a conflict. I see space and closeness. I see patience and compassion. I see intimacy. I hope that these are present even when the piece is in the context of critiquing police brutality.
I am in a period in which I have been and am continuing to question my participation in systems of privilege. Systems of silence. Systems that allow me to get paid to go to grad school to focus on art-making while others are jobless and struggling; while others have no choice but to protest because they can be harassed, can be killed for the color of their skin. How can I make art when I am aware of these systems? I have no answer for this other than to honestly acknowledge that movement is the way that I make sense of the world. Moving with other people has been the primary way that I have been able to form genuine connections with people who are different than me. Movement does what my words could never do.
I am thinking about the complexity of what it means to be a white artist at this moment in time. I still very much feel like I’m stumbling and making mistakes. I am humbly attempting to figure out how I can transform my approach to the world and how I can be a white anti-racist artist. This piece is one attempt, and I’m still wrestling with how I feel about it.
May we move toward a more compassionate and ethical method of keeping our fellow citizens safe. #abolishthepolice