Watching Antigone: The Most [Blank] City in America
By Andrew MortonTweet
Editor’s note: Andrew Morton is a theater maker and one of our 2015-2016 artists in residence. As part of this program, artists in residence attend UMS performances to inspire new thinking and creative work within their own art forms. Andrew saw Antigone, starring stage and screen actress Juliette Binoche and in new translation by award-winning author Anne Carson. Below is his response to the performance.
When I learned I was accepted to the UMS Artist in Residence program earlier this year, I was on a farm in Grinnell, Iowa, working on a new project about Flint, Michigan. I was in the middle of another residency program with Grin City, an arts collective and residency program with a focus on social practice, and I was working on an early draft of an outline for The Most [Blank] City in America, a community-based play I am developing for Flint Youth Theatre’s 15-16 season.
The project was born from conversations with colleagues at Flint Youth Theatre and members of the Flint community about creating a performance that would explore what it means to call a place like Flint, Michigan “home.” It also came from a collective desire to create something that might challenge the dominant narrative of Flint.
If you ask people to share a word to describe Flint, quite often the response is something along the lines of:
- And so on…
Far too many times the City of Flint has been, and still is the subject of sensationalist articles that focus purely on the violence, poverty, and economic woes that continue to plague the city. Most recently the city and state’s disastrous handling of the water crisis has meant that once again, Flint is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The people of Flint know the city has its fair share of problems, but they also know that is only part of the story of this place. As part of the research for the Most [Blank] City… project, we’ve had conversations with community members in schools, churches, community centers and parks, and we’ve asked people to tell us what other words they would use to describe their city. We’ve heard words and phrases like:
- “Secretly Vibrant” (one of my personal favorites)
- And many more.
With a team of local artists, I’ve been having these conversations for the last few months. In April 2016, Flint Youth Theatre will produce the performance inspired by these important conversations. A collaboration with two incredible Flint-based arts organizations (Raise it Up! Youth Arts & Awareness and Tapology), the performance will incorporate drama, dance, spoken-word, music, and hopefully more. As we begin to develop an idea of what this performance will look and sound like, we’re realizing that while we want this project to tell a different story of Flint, we must also accept that our community can’t ignore our problems. If we want to change these problems, we need to face them head-on.
I saw Ivo van Hove’s production of Antigone in October, and the play inspired me greatly as I continue to work on the project in Flint. Going into the performance, I was most interested to see how the Chorus would be represented, as I’m considering the idea of including a “Flint Chorus” in The Most [Blank] City… as a way to represent the people of Flint from both the past and present. Watching Antigone, I found myself drawn to the Chorus as they watched from afar, listened intently, and served as a voice for the people of Thebes. They empathized with the characters, but were also quick to criticize, show their despair, and change their views as the events of the story unfolded before them.
I’d like The Most [Blank] City… to be a conversation about the story of Flint’s past and the unwritten story of its future, and I hope our audiences (those who are from Flint and those who are not) will be able to see themselves as a necessary part of this conversation.
As part of the ongoing research for this project, last week I led several story circles (a common practice in community-based theater) with young people in Flint. One took place at a High School just outside of the city, another was with students in a dual-enrollment program at U-M Flint, and the other was with members of the student ambassador group at Flint Youth Theatre. While it’s my job to ultimately construct the shape and content of this performance, for this piece to be an honest reflection of the diverse voices of Flint, I believe that my main role in this project is to simply listen. Listening to the young people I met with last week, I heard their anger at the injustices in Flint. I heard their descriptions of how local and state elected official have failed them. I heard, for many, a strong desire to leave this community as soon as they can. I heard mourning for the lives they’ve lost. However, I also heard, despite it all, that many of them are still immensely proud to call this place their home and are hopeful about its future.
An honest story
There’s little to be hopeful about in Greek Tragedy. People often ask me why I stay in Flint, as often the perception is there’s also little to be hopeful about here. In Antigone, the city of Thebes is in crisis, as Flint is today. As Kreon attempts to bring order and structure to the city, Antigone is in mourning and she is angry. Much like the young people in Flint. Her anger fuels her to take action and challenge Kreon’s authority. Many of the young people I meet in Flint have a strong sense of justice and want to see their community thrive. They want to be part of the conversations about the future of their city but are often left out. They want to take action, but often feel that no one will listen.
We’re trying to do many things with The Most [Blank] City in America project. I don’t expect the performance to incite a political revolution in Flint, but I do hope it inspires some change. I hope it will tell an honest story of this place, one that celebrates the hidden beauty of the city but also asks the difficult questions about why we continue to struggle. At the very least, I hope it will provide a space for the elders and the leaders of this community to hear the anger, the passion, and the hope of the young people who still call this place their home.
Photos of Antigone are courtesy of the artist.