Six months or more after most Occupy camps were evicted, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the fruits of research and art that have germinated since. There’s going to be more–research articles, books, documentaries, novels. Each will depict a facet of a remarkable time in history, but none will tell the whole story. Most will focus on Occupy Wall Street; so far there seems to be less being produced specifically about Occupy DC.
Tent of Dreams: An OccuPlay, however, is an admirable effort to grasp the heart of what Occupy DC at McPherson Square was like. It takes a look into the inner workings of the camp, from the moment a naïve, aspiring livestreamer arrives at McPherson in Fall 2011 to the eviction which took place on February 4, 2012. The play took its name from the blue tarp thrown over the statue of General McPherson in defiance of the National Park Service, just when eviction seemed imminent.
It was good to see “our story” on stage. Playwright Emily Crockett and director Emily Todd believe in Occupy and put their hearts and souls into this production. They researched, interviewed, and put in the hours at McPherson.
Emily Todd said that she listened to Occupiers’ personal stories and couldn’t believe what she heard. “I mean, what the fuck is this? I would have had these expectations of Cuba. That’s why we thought this conversation had to happen.”
“Occupy absolutely changed my life,” said playwright Emily Crockett, a reporter for Campus Progress. “It changed the focus of my attention and reporting and art for the next 9 months and surely will continue to. It inspired me to believe that a true positive shift in our culture is possible and is even upon us.”
Committed actors put in passionate performances. Dannielle Hutchinson, who played the Anarchist, said, “It was one of the more challenging roles I’ve played.” Kelly Keisling, who ironically played both the Cop and the Dirty Fucking Hippie, related the difficulty in moving to a fixed script after improvising for the first two months of rehearsal. “[Emily Crockett] was the one inserting facts, and we [the actors] were the ones inserting drama,” he said. And he must have experienced one facet of Occupy firsthand; he said the collaborative writing process “ran long like a GA [General Assembly].”
My favorite device of the play was the mainstream media journalist, played by Alexia Poe. She does a stand-up in news-speak while police brutally push Occupiers out of the park, an effective contrast. Throughout, she and others repeatedly ask, “What are your demands?” They never quite hear the answer. Yeah, get a clue.
Occupy DC watching itself on stage is bound to get a little meta. It’s only appropriate that part of the first performance was livestreamed, and the second was live-tweeted. The audience for the play though really isn’t Occupy DC, it’s the general public who had only vague impressions of the tents which proliferated at McPherson Square.
Audience member Jennifer Shieh said, “I biked past McPherson all the the time but didn’t actually stop and talk. I had the intention to stop and be a “tourist” [referring to a line in the play], but it never happened.” Her friend Ben Lu said, “I learned a lot. I didn’t realize how organized it was, and how many processes were in place.”
At the end of Tent of Dreams–the aftermath of the February 4 eviction–a character speaks an aspiration for taking the park back. In reality, no matter how much emotion was invested in McPherson, no matter how much grief was experienced when the camp was violently wrecked by Park Police, few now want to “take back” the park. Occupation is a tactic, not the substance of the movement. The hopeful note is a good one to end a play on and shows that Occupy DC didn’t collapse with eviction, but the reality is grittier. Well, the whole thing is grittier, and smellier.
At the same time, the aspirations of Occupy DC in actuality are even loftier, symbolized by the Tent of Dreams. Fact is, the movement lives on, just in a different form–fractious, flawed, idealistic, iconoclastic. What comes after the moment when Tent of Dreams ends is just when it gets most interesting. It’s subtler and more complex, and it will be much more difficult to depict.
View more photos of Tent of Dreams here.