With protests multiplying around the country, this is a good time to be Sara Warner, whose research area is theatre and social change.
“I study the art of activism,” says Warner, associate professor of performing and media arts in the College of Arts and Sciences and recently named a Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellow at Cornell. “I’m particularly interested in the way political actors use performance in experiments for social justice, and in the way that stage actors use the theatre as a laboratory for reimagining notions of community, citizenship, power and responsibility.”
So when Warner received a Facebook message from performance artist Holly Hughes in November, she was ready. “Holly has been at the forefront of the culture wars since the late ’80s; she fought Jesse Helms for artistic freedom all the way to the Supreme Court,” Warner says. “She wanted to channel her anger and disappointment over the election results into something productive, so she reached out to Lois Weaver and to me with the idea to start a very loose collective of performing artists and activists called ‘Bad and Nasty,’” a reference to Donald Trump’s “bad hombres” and “nasty woman” remarks during his presidential campaign. The collective now has more than 1,700 members and continues to grow.
Warner is co-producing with Ross Haarstad a political cabaret at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre on Feb. 19 as part of a Bad and Nasty nationwide day of protest, with numerous events held in proximity to Presidents’ Day. The event will serve as a benefit for Planned Parenthood and Ithaca Welcomes Refugees.
“The events fit perfectly with the desire of the people to take to the streets and to have their voices heard, and to look for creative forms of expression,” Warner says. Warner intends the “Not My President's Day Cabaret” to be “fast-paced and energetic” – and a lot of fun. Participants will take the stage for 7-10 minutes with songs, readings, dramatic performances, original spoken word and more reflecting the participants’ sentiments as well as a desire to put events into a historic context by revising and re-visioning earlier works, according to Warner.
“It’s really important for us to have a diversity of voices reflective of the world in which we live,” Warner adds. “We see protesters moving beyond the rhetoric of single-issue struggles and identity politics to think broadly and intersectionally about liberation for all people. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement shows us how feminism is intimately linked to racial justice, environmental health, prison reform, gun control, immigration issues and transgender rights.”
For her cabaret contribution, Warner will be reading excerpts from radical feminist Valerie Solanas’ 1967 “SCUM Manifesto” along with Jayme Kilburn, a graduate student in performing and media arts, and Mary Jo Watts, a Bad and Nasty collective founding member. PMA assistant professor Rebekah Maggor will read from “Comedy of Sorrows” by Ibrahim El-Husseini. Also sharing the stage: PMA graduate student Honey Crawford and faculty members Aoise Stratford, Carolyn Goelzer and Godfrey Simmons Jr.; and Ithaca College theatre faculty Saviana Stanescu, Chrystyna Dail and Jennifer Herzog, among others.
“The power of theatre is that it allows us not only to imagine a different world but to dramatize, in the public sphere, the social change we want to create,” Warner says. “For me, that’s what this cabaret is. If we can put it on stage, then we can make it happen in the real world. It’s a very utopian and perhaps coercively optimistic view, but I believe it.”
Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.