Directed by: Alex Mallory
Produced by: Poetic Theater Productions
Featuring: Samantha Cooper, Dontonio Demarco, Natalia Duong, Edgar Eguia, Kenneth Heaton, Monique Paige and Nabil Viñas
When: 8 p.m. January 27, 2014
Where: Piggott Theater, Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University
When: 8 p.m. January 28, 2014
Where: Dunham Studio Theatre, University of California at Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. January 29, 2014
Where: College Nine/Ten Multipurpose Room, University of California at Santa Cruz
to where it was born: Stanford University
Takeo Rivera and Alex Mallory put on a play together while they were students at Stanford University, in 2006. The play, “Goliath,” is based on a real incident that took place during the Iraq war, though the characters and after-story are fictional. It was subsequently staged in New York, winning awards and provoking public dialog about war, veterans' issues, and masculinity. It returns this month with a tour of Bay Area universities, beginning with Stanford on Monday. We asked playwright Rivera and director Mallory a few questions about their work.
Virginia Bock: Where did you two meet at Stanford?
Rivera: Yup, we first met at Stanford. We worked closely together in Professor Harry Elam's “Social Protest Drama and the Politics of Hip Hop" sophomore college course. It was apparent pretty quickly that both of us were interested in the intersection of arts and activism, so after that class we ended up collaborating on a few small things before I eventually wrote “Goliath,” and Alex fatefully decided to direct.
VB: Takeo, what prompted you to write this play?
Rivera: There were three main inspirational sources. First the material inspiration was the killings in Mahmudiyah in 2006. Second the intellectual inspiration was a ton of feminist and queer theory I had been reading at the time. Third my aesthetic inspiration was my exposure to the work of Ntozake Shange and Anna Deavere Smith, as well as mentorship by Cherríe Moraga, and my work in the Stanford Spoken Word Collective. “Goliath” was a rare instance in which the words just came to me. I wrote the first draft, which still comprises 80 percent of the text, in one weekend in Green Library. In many ways, “Goliath” was trying to ask, and maybe answer, a question: What is the relationship between our social constructions, our expectations, our cruel strange attachments, and the violence we find ourselves capable of committing? Do small violences lead to unspeakable ones? This is a play that indicts masculinity, homophobia, sexual violence, the military-industrial complex, and it all converges on the mind and body of this one soldier like a scar.
VB: You were both involved with activism and public service while at university. Did your public service work affect your outlook, academic studies or career trajectory?
Mallory: The theater I directed was public service, and the public service I did was theater. Just a few of the plays I directed were “In Darfur,” “Cabaret,” “Goliath,” “Crossing The Line,” about a fictional second Korean War, and “Typical American,” which examined the Muslim experience only a few years out from 9/11. I brought that outlook into every class and every activity. I took sociology classes to learn about the roots of social justice issues and then would apply that knowledge and vocabulary to the theatrical work I was doing.
Rivera: One thing I say frequently is that my academic, service/activist, and artistic endeavors all inform each other. My experience doing various forms of service, as well as writing "Goliath," inspired me to become a rape crisis center advocate, counselor, and educator for two years. My experience working on the ground at the center conversely drove me back to academia, as I felt that I needed to go "further upriver" to understand the grave social problems and psychic pains of an oppression-filled world. And then my academic studies inspire my art, new plays, and so on. It's all very chicken/egg. Or perhaps egg/pupa/butterfly.
VB: What about now what role does public service play in your life now? Has your activism gathered steam?
Mallory: I would say that my activism has gathered steam because living and working in New York City has opened doors to affect community and change on a much greater level, and there are more people willing to give you the time in the first place. I now run Culture Project's Women Center Stage Festival, at one of New York's renowned theaters for its activism work ("The Exonerated," "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom"), and am responsible for bringing in artists with a great potential to impact our future, particularly women. It is extremely rewarding. For the last year and a half I have been working with veteran artists, looking for both healing and opportunities to share their stories, and have produced a number of performances by veterans and was the Senior Producer of the Veteran Artist Program's Arts & Service Celebration. My theater company, Poetic Theater Productions, which is producing "Goliath," is devoted to connecting and fostering a community of artists who are passionately creating relevant and accessible work.
Rivera: Since leaving the YWCA Rape Crisis Center, I've scaled back considerably in what can be conventionally described as "public service" I'm a Ph.D. student in Performance Studies at Berkeley now. But I consider it all one praxis; the "ivory tower"/"ground level" dichotomy is both wrong and highly problematic. In my studies, I follow Grace Lee Boggs' call to not act for the sake of acting, but to act philosophically, to thoroughly and critically engage and question the ways in which we think and understand the world in order to have a firmer grasp of what the problems of the world actually are. So even though I'm not necessarily "on the ground" to the same extent as I have been in the past, I consider what I'm doing now to be part of the larger project of social justice. The same goes for my artistic work; "Goliath" and subsequent plays are not agitprop, even if they're intensely and irrefutably political. They require introspection and self-interrogation in order to understand. As long as what I'm writing continues to spark thought and internal conflict, I think it constitutes public service.
VB: What is it like to bring your work back to where it started?
Mallory: It is quite literally a dream come true. And to bring it back not only to Stanford but to the very theater when it first started is fittingly poetic. I have no idea what kind of reaction to expect from this new audience, but I hope they will engage with it with the same intellectual and empathic curiosity that I have always associated with Stanford students.
Rivera: It's really exciting, if a little surreal. Alex and I are older now, and unlike when we were students, there's, like, no more young people on campus who know who the heck we are. Back then, "Goliath" was an exciting play entirely written by students' peers, so there was a lot of enthusiasm. Now "Goliath" has grown up, it's a professional piece, it's won tons of awards now, it's more mature on so many levels, so it has a new, different kind of appeal, and it's crazy to bring the play back to its primordial soup. We hope Stanford students still dig the piece now as much as they did back in '07.
VB: What do you hope people will take away with them after seeing the play?
Mallory: One the arts are a worthwhile professional pursuit: whether they make that choice or not, I hope they will celebrate those who do and continue to support their work. Two I hope they will engage veterans. On campus and in life. There is so much you can learn from these men and women if you just listen.