Performances of Plays and Music

Drama and music have often played important roles in political and social movements. Normally, music and drama serve as popular entertainment, but as parts of a non-violent movement they can also be used to make a point to the general public, or to inspire people already involved in the movement.

Sometimes this is simply a matter of writing a song about a certain issue. The purpose is to bring the issue to the public’s attention, but there usually is no explicit call for popular action. Some examples of this include “Biko” by Peter Gabriel, “Jimmy Newman” by Tom Paxton, “Neun und Neunzig Luftballons” by Nena and “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy. The music helps to make the issue visible to a wide range of people, but there is a risk that the message of the music gets lost in its entertainment value.

Drama can also be used to educate the public about issues and movements. Sometimes these can be plays that are written specifically to be performed in a theater in front of an audience that is there to see the play. An example of this was the controversial “Cradle Will Rock,” produced briefly by the Federal Theatre Project in the United States in the 1930s.

A theater and stage are not always necessary though. Back in 1990 in Washington, D.C., at a march organized to protest the first war between the United States and Iraq, scores of people walked in formation wearing brown robes and clay masks, representing the innocent casualties of war. One potential drawback to theater as an educational device is that, if not planned well, it can alienate the audience rather than educate it. In this example, while some of the other marchers appreciated the performance, many onlookers were put off by it.

Music can also be used to encourage people already involved in a movement. During the American civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Give Peace a Chance” helped to keep up morale for people involved in the movements, but such songs have been around for much longer. “La Marseillaise” and the “Internationale” have both been used to inspire people engaged in political struggles.

The key thing to keep in mind is the purpose of the music or play. If it is intended to educate people and win them over, then it may be more likely to be successful if it takes the sensibilities of the audience into account, as long as it can do so without contradicting the aims of the movement. On the other hand, if its aim is to inspire people already involved in the movement, then the sensibilities of the target audience are likely to already be the same as those who are writing the song or play.

Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.

Also check out The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part One / Part Two / Part Three.

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