Monday, September 11, 2006

and another thing: Circus Amok & public history

Another thing I want to do herein is to open up a space for thinking and talking across the various worlds and disciplines that interest and compel me. And hopefully to encourage more collaboration and more dialogue and more experimentation among my various co-conspirators and role-models and inspirations—teachers and performers and scholars and writers and activists and rif-raf of many sorts alike. Also to:

--create some fuel for a real movement to bring critical, engaged, complicated, and comprehensible history into the streets; and to

--consider those places where this is already being done.

Can I be any clearer, you ask? For sure. I'm all about clarity, and anecdote, and specificity. So, now, let me see, what do I got in my bag of tricks?…

OK, here: lets all go to the Circus together, for a minute. C’mon, don’t be scared. The clowns are all very, very, very nice, they’ll buy you a beer if you help them load up the truck… and the elephant is made out of papier mache. The scariest thing about this particular circus is how freaking HOT it is, and how little funding they’ve got.

Those of you out there in blogland whose phone numbers are saved inside my cellphone will know that I’m talking, here, about the great Circus Amok. (

This year, I had the immense privilege and joy of working with the Circus in the role of what Jennifer Miller calls a dramaturg. "Dramaturg" sounds a little too dramatic and a whole lot too turgical, and anyhow, I know very little about any of that. Actually, I was much more of a historical advisor. (If you are reading this post during the month of September 2006 and you’re anywhere near NYC, get yourself to the nearest park to watch the Circus during its one-month all-NYC parks tour. See the website—above—for schedule and details. You won’t be disappointed.) A one-ring extravaganza of the most glittery and grassroots kind, this year’s Circus was organized around the twin themes of immigration and Latin American politics. It was called “Citizen*Ship: An Immigrant Rights Fantasia in 10 Acts.” Miller called me up and said: can you help me figure out some way we can fit something about the history of immigration and naturalization into the Circus this year. And I replied: it just so happens, Ms. Miller, that several square feet of my PhD dissertation was devoted to the history of U.S. immigration and naturalization law. So I actually feel qualified—licensed, even—to speak professionally on such subjects. The result was that one afternoon in—what was it, Miller? June?—of this year, I went over to her place, and we sat around talking history. After that, we exchanged several thousands of emails and I visited Circus rehearsal a few times, and boom, before I knew it, there were professional acrobats and dancing teacups and glittery performers jumping around on pogo sticks and doing flips and standing on their hands to illustrate complicated features of the history of immigration and naturalization law in the U.S. I’m talking about ideas that came right out of books like Ian Haney Lopez’s brilliant work of critical race theory, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race. And in no time, audiences in parks from Coney Island to the South Bronx found themselves watching performer after performer step up to a microphone and talk about the racism embedded in the history of U.S. citizenship laws. And it worked—or at least, audiences didn’t stream madly out in frustration and boredom during these pedagogical moments. This, I think is in part because Miller choreographed it, and Jenny Romaine musicalized it, so smartly—and in part because it was wedged between an insanely hilarious fake-Heidi-themed juggling routine and a glittery acrobatics act. And in part because—what? That New Yorkers are ready to hear that the history of U.S. citizenship law was racially coded? I have no idea. But I am studying it. And I am trying to learn how public displays of history of this sort can be so powerful.

Now, I don’t have any illusions. I don’t think that the Circus is going to singlehandedly change the world, or that the brilliant combination of politics and history and entertainment that it features will mean that immigrants won’t continue to be attacked in the streets, at work, or in state and federal legislatures in the coming year. But I did watch something kind of beautiful happen at the Union Square performance last Thursday afternoon.

Because it was the middle-ish of the day, a fair portion of the audience for that performance consisted of West Indian domestic workers—nannies—with their charges, white children, in their arms. The central narrative thread that organizes this year’s Circus’s is a story about a West Indian nanny who abandons the white family that employs her. Lupita, as she is called, has joined together with a group of her friends and created a circus act. And together they have all decided run away to Argentina—where, as Lupita says, “You can be a circus performer and have health care!” It was impossible not to notice, throughout the totally bold scene in which Lupita tells her boss off, the surprised and delighted laughter coming from a section of the audience where a group of West Indian domestic workers were standing. I don’t know what sort of lasting effects this kind of encounter between circus and audience might have, but it certainly felt a whole lot different than it feels to watch some reality TV absently over a beer at the local bar. And ok, yes. It suggested the possibility of alliances across occupation and class and neighborhood in this city that so often feels hard-core and impossible.

And that's what I mean when I say "public history."
Are you with me, my fellow university-trained and -based public historians?



chumly said...

Tightrope dancers and trapeeze fliers, my cup o tea.

Lee Houck said...

I wonder sometimes what crosses the line between audience and performers. When you hear them laughing, I get it.

Wait, is there a line? Sometimes with Amok I think there is not. It's democratic that way. Part of what we try to do is say "We're you."

And welcome to the blogosphere! You're gonna crush me so beautifully with all these ideas. I love it.

Anonymous said...

eviatar prices guha spinach ndmc instantly player admin effusive solids habitats
lolikneri havaqatsu

Anonymous said...

Do You interesting how to [b]Buy Viagra per pill[/b]? You can find below...
[size=10]>>>[url=][b]Buy Viagra per pill[/b][/url]<<<[/size]

[b]Bonus Policy[/b]
Order 3 or more products and get free Regular Airmail shipping!
Free Regular Airmail shipping for orders starting with $200.00!

Free insurance (guaranteed reshipment if delivery failed) for orders starting with $300.00!

Generic Viagra (sildenafil citrate; brand names include: Aphrodil / Edegra / Erasmo / Penegra / Revatio / Supra / Zwagra) is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction regardless of the cause or duration of the problem or the age of the patient.
Sildenafil Citrate is the active ingredient used to treat erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men. It can help men who have erectile dysfunction get and sustain an erection when they are sexually excited.
Generic Viagra is manufactured in accordance with World Health Organization standards and guidelines (WHO-GMP). Also you can find on our sites.
Generic [url=]legal buy viagra online[/url] is made with thorough reverse engineering for the sildenafil citrate molecule - a totally different process of making sildenafil and its reaction. That is why it takes effect in 15 minutes compared to other drugs which take 30-40 minutes to take effect.
[b]Viagra In Kerala
Viagra Increase Blood Pressure
walmart viagra
Viagra Generic
safe site to purchasr viagra
viagra results pics
generic viagra with money order
Even in the most sexually liberated and self-satisfied of nations, many people still yearn to burn more, to feel ready for bedding no matter what the clock says and to desire their partner of 23 years as much as they did when their love was brand new.
The market is saturated with books on how to revive a flagging libido or spice up monotonous sex, and sex therapists say “lack of desire” is one of the most common complaints they hear from patients, particularly women.