The morning after the election, I felt sick. I bet you can relate. But there was no time to wallow. I had to pull myself together to do an interview with the Hartford Courant about CONNetic Dance’s Nutcracker Suite & Spicy. With emotions running high for everyone, I found some solace in my quirky production of the classic ballet. One of the things this production does best is to bring together an incredibly diverse group of dancers. In this way, it truly and beautifully represents Hartford, as well as the country as a whole. Sadly, I quickly realized the idea that diversity is not only good, but something we should strive for, is not exactly universal.
A few days after the election, two dancers in our production of Nutcracker, who have been part of the cast for years and teach in our Hartford Public Schools outreach program, opened up about two separate incidents in which they were shouted at and verbally attacked for their race. This broke my heart. These dancers inspire me. And these sad incidents that affected people I love, respect, and who challenge me creatively, made me realize that our little production had taken on a new importance.
Hartford is a wonderful city filled with a beautiful mix of people and there is no one who should feel isolated here. We need to remember that art brings us together like nothing else. It is a source of inspiration, and has always been a means of protest. From Spirituals that hid messages for slaves seeking freedom to the protest songs of the American labor movement, from PussyRiot to Nina Simone, people have always used music as a form of expression in the face of oppression. From John Steinbeck to Richard Wright, writers have always turned to novels to help us understand the people and world around us. And with that realization, I knew that, for the foreseeable future, all the art I create as choreographer, comedian, and writer would now be shining its light in the direction of resistance.
Right before the new year, I learned that the Women in Comedy Festival, held annually in my hometown of Boston, MA, was doing a new Rachel Bloom Short Film Challenge. The guidelines of the challenge were to create a short film, written, directed by, or starring a woman and the short’s opening line had to be “You Can’t Do That.” With political outrage constantly bubbling under the surface, I decided to take this opportunity to create something that speaks to the issues of rights not just for women, but for immigrants, the environment, the LGBT community, and those depending on the Affordable Care Act and more.
My collaborators, Adam Sarette and Christian Daniel Kiley, and I created a comedic musical number addressing all of those issues in a fun, upbeat song which references classic musicals. The short, which features a diverse ensemble of professional comedians, singers, and dancers (including some members from CONNetic Dance), was filmed the day after the inauguration in Stamford, CT, and launched online in early February after being submitted to the Festival. I guess my instincts to funnel my outrage into art were right, as we earned our Festival laurels and were selected as finalists from the many submissions. Now we are looking forward to seeing the short on the big screen at the Brattle Theatre as part of the Festival coming up on April 22, 2017. The short is also being considered by the NBC Universal Short Film Festival which seeks to find creators who work on topics of diversity and inclusion.
It may go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t, we found solace in the humor. For many people, the policies of the current administration are no laughing matter. Nonetheless, laughter remains important, because we need the strength of spirit to keep pushing forward and to work for what is right. I’d never created a short film before, just shorter YouTube videos and sketch comedy pieces. This “You Can’t Do That” project, with it’s music, choreography, and large cast was a huge undertaking. But because everyone was so eager to lend their voices to the resistance, it hardly felt challenging to accomplish. And I am excited to continue down this road. Next up, I am working to create some comedic video content for IndivisibleCT and the amazing Nasty Women group.
We all need to use our rage, our fear, and our love to create art. Write, draw, sing, dance. Whatever you need to do to keep going and to inspire others to get involved. Art is the solution, not part of the problem.