When I first saw Our Secrets in 2015 in Budapest, it was a very different time. I was overcome by the powerful sense of ensemble and the exhilarating feeling of seeing theatre artists in a country quite different from ours working at the top of their game. This, I remember thinking, is what ArtsEmerson’s commitment to putting the world on stage is all about. The show included mastery of the form and a global aesthetic; it was culturally specific in content and a gripping tale that Bostonians would never get to experience if we didn’t bring it home. My response was not so much about its relationship to us; I responded to its aesthetics.
In preparing to write this greeting, I came across a recent article on Atlantic Media’s news site Quartz.com. Written by Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder, it offers a “20-Point Guide to Defending Democracy” against an authoritarian state. Among the points are quite a number that seem to be in conversation with Our Secrets. If these speak to you beyond the context of this play, you may want to read the whole thing.
Believe in truth. “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle…”
Establish a private life. “Remember that email is skywriting. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.”
Do not obey in advance. “Much of the power in authoritarianism is freely given. Individuals start to think ahead about what a more repressive government will want and then start doing it without being asked.…Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.”
Investigate. “Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles.…Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you.”
Stand out. “Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.”
Make eye contact and small talk. “This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.”
Learn from others in other countries. “Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.”
P.S. Follow this link to read the entire “20-Point Guide to Defending Democracy”
Our Secrets – JAN 19 – 22 at the Emerson/Paramount Center. Tickets are on sale now.