By Nora Schüssler, dramaturg and writer in the German PHONE HOME team.
I’ve been following the U.S. election campaign and it makes me wondering about what the world considers important right now? It has become apparent that the times we live in are far from boring to say the least. In fact, there seems to be uproar around the world – not just in Europe, not just in the U.S., not just in Syria, because everything is connected to everything else and the refugee crisis is a world phenomenon that shows us how globalization has become a reality in every sense of the word. The U.S. election campaign shows me how afraid people are even when their country is economically and socially stable. However, the facts don’t interest a majority of people. Instead, what matters to the republican presidential candidate is his supporters’ feelings. It’s facts versus feelings.
Why is this curious? Well, I am a theatre artist and I deal with feelings all the time. Emotions play an important role on stage and even though German theatre tradition, coming from Brecht, expects theatre to activate the right part of the brain as much as the left, feelings cannot be avoided when you stage a play. What I find curious about the current situation around the world is that everyone seems to be really invested in his or her feelings. Instead of checking the numbers and the facts, we prefer reading articles about the one refugee family, that have lost their cat at the Greek shore and found it again a couple of months later in Sweden. The journey of the cat moves us to tears while the hundreds and thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea barely make us shrug. Is it because the deaths become abstract after they have reached a certain number? Or are we simply tired of bad news? Movies and TV take advantage of our love for stories we can emphasize with. They often use simple plots that create emotions and leave us with a cathartic feeling. The same thing works for journalists and – in the case of the U.S. election campaign – politicians. They know that strong feelings result in actions while intellectual and rational arguments result in silence more often than not. Thus, they use feelings like fear of terror, love for your family and friends, or, in some cases, antipathy against the Other, the Foreign, the Strange. In contrast, theatre people deal with the stories behind the numbers that are supposed to evoke emotions whilst making sure that the Other is reintegrated in the world they create. They don’t want to be affirmative about the current political and social situation, but they want to create an alternative world with their imagination. By showing another reality, they can criticise what seems to be wrong with our world. At the same time, they want to be accurate about facts.
Isn’t it strange that the tables seem to have turned? While politicians don’t care about the truth anymore and journalists prefer writing about soppy stories instead of getting their numbers right, theatre artists want to make sure that with their imagination they build a world that not only mirrors our reality but also broadens horizons and shows how the strange things we fear can be reintegrated into our world instead of being pushed further away.