What is Happening Now: The People’s Republic of Valerie May 5, 2017
by Elissa Favero
Yesterday was a day. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the glibly named American Health Care Act, which, if approved by the Senate, would push back the Obama administration’s expansion of Medicaid and weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions, raising costs based on health history. For some healthcare companies, preexisting conditions include pregnancy and domestic violence.
Republicans, we learned, listened to the theme from Rocky in a meeting prior to the winning vote. Afterwards, there were reports of beer being delivered to the Capitol for a GOP celebration. In Seattle, the skies opened and the rain came down hard. Lightening flashed and thunder rumbled. Political spectacle and smugness experienced via a screen gave way to a meteorological show I could see blaze and feel rumble.
Later, at On the Boards, at the opening of The People’s Republic of Valerie, writer/performer Kristen Kosmas sat on a chair and said the word “being,” from Martin Heidegger’s 1927 book Being and Time, over and over and then over again. Other things started to happen on stage. A blindfolded man described a party, vulnerability, embarrassment. “What is happening now,” he would start and then tell just what was happening now, away from our own immediate view. Sometimes the voices of others would layer on top of his like synchronous affirmations. We understood that the performers were on a nearby asterism to train to see and to say what is happening now. Identities morphed as different performers assumed different roles. Others replaced Kosmas in succession and continued to say “being” over and over and then over again with what felt like a willful insistence on the present. The People’s Republic of Valerie is a performance about refrain and chorus, about words as gateways to the imagination, so that we can reimagine the present.
“In the bright future,” the seven performers spoke, in turn, as they came off stage and into the risers where the audience sat in the final moments of the production. The curtains closed behind them, and they called out in, around, and among us, describing this bright new world of care and fun and love as the lights beamed down brightly on us.
What is happening, as I see it now and say it here, is that we are obliged to keep track, to report to each other every slippery untruth, every distortion, every neatly wrapped unkindness and inequity perpetuated. But the reporting is not enough. We also need to make what we can of that bright future right now. “The future,” historian and public intellectual Howard Zinn writes, “is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Later, when I got home, my partner and I reviewed our days. I told him about the show. He told me about the party he had gone to that evening, the Italian-born architect he met. She lamented Seattle’s rising rents and home prices, neighborhood fights over density and design. This is what’s happening now, she told him, knowledgeable, determined. My partner, in response, told her about our own small eight-year-and-counting experiment in communal living, our shared chores and low costs, the way proximity has bred care and fun and even love. This is also what’s happening now, he told her, and told me again.
They exchanged contact information and agreed to meet up again, to describe and imagine more, together.
Elissa Favero is a art historian, educator, arts writer, and member of the 16/17 Season Ambassadors Writers Corps. Learn more about The Ambassador Project.