Using RC in My Work as a Performance Artist

I’ve worked as a solo performance artist for twenty-four years. I use personal stories to talk about liberation issues. A lot of my performances have to do with1 shedding light on identity issues, especially internalized oppression.

I also do a lot of teaching and workshop facilitating in which I try to draw out people’s stories on various topics. I use basic RC principles to create a safe place for this to happen. The workshops contain some RC theoretical concepts, but people tell their stories in an artistic context, in a theatrical performance. I base the workshops on the idea that telling one’s story can be an act of liberation, of self-empowerment and validation.

In April and May of 2013, I facilitated an eight-week workshop for Cambodian, Thai, Laotian, and African American teenagers in Long Beach, California (USA). The young people explored the impact of air pollution on their lives, on the lives of their families, and on their communities. Long Beach, because it has a large port, has some of the worst air pollution in the country, and the places most negatively affected are low-income communities of color.

I worked with ten young people, ages ten to early twenties. When you take on2 something big, like the environment, it can be overwhelming. It can restimulate powerlessness, hopelessness, and despair. So I played around with activities to get them thinking powerfully and laughing about it. The workshop led to a weekend of live performances. It was empowering for the young people to have their stories listened to with respect, to be honored for them, and to be encouraged to speak out. They got to show themselves and to use their bodies and voices powerfully and expressively (some of the basic goals we have for these workshops).

Every project is satisfying in its own way. Helping people get a bigger picture of themselves or giving them an experience they’ve never had before is incredibly fulfilling.

One of the first things I do is teach people how to do a mini-session. They learn to appreciate it. Occasionally discharge will happen spontaneously in the course of someone exploring a story. Then I present some theory about discharge being a natural healing process. I’ve learned a lot about the value of appreciation. I use tons and tons of appreciations. I explain that because we’re not used to giving appreciations, or receiving them, it’s significant to appreciate each other and ourselves. I also occasionally use speaking order.3 I try to make sure that the dynamics of any oppression are not dominating the way conversations happen.

I’ve learned from many mistakes. Here’s one: Oftentimes in leading a workshop I’ll be working with someone, exploring a story, and it’s like I am counseling the person. I’ve learned that it may not be helpful to push them farther than they’re ready to go. I’ve had experiences in which not the person I was working with but the people watching got restimulated. They felt that I was being manipulative and opening people up beyond socially accepted norms. Now I am a little more conservative and do more explaining afterward about the process of discharge.

I’ve also tried to inappropriately impose an RC structure on a pre-existing group, like tried to make the group into an RC support group, and that has blown up.4 The response has been, “What the hell5 are you doing?” I have learned not to be overzealous and am more considerate when entering into pre-existing groups and organizations.

Most of my mistakes have come from trying to push things too fast and too far. Things that work in the context of the RC Community don’t always work in the wide world because there aren’t the same agreed-upon ideas and assumptions. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way.

Dan Kwong
Los Angeles, California, USA

From an interview by
 Keith Osajima in July 2013

1 “Have to do with” means are about.
2 “Take on” means begin to take responsibility for.
3 “Use speaking order” means have people speak first who are from
groups that are more silenced in society, for example, people of color, young people, and poor people.
4 “Blown up” means led to a big upset.
5 “The hell” is a phrase that adds amplification.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00