The Emperor's New Identity

June 8, 2015 / by Paul Bedard, Hangar Theatre Fellow



We’ve now been at the Hangar Theatre for two weeks and it’s already been a busy, charged, thrilling time. In the first week we moved in, met our designers, made our designs (for TWO shows), and presented those designs. In the second week we met the actors, auditioned the actors, trained the actors, and here we are on the first day of week three and just a couple hours before the first rehearsal. My kids’ show, Ahrens and Flaherty’s The Emperor’s New Clothes starts rehearsal today and unbelievably opens in just 10 days. This process is so fast and reminds me every second that being decisive is a primary job of the director. There is sometimes space to change your mind, but never room for indecision. Red or blue? Loud or quiet? Naked or covered in a cement?

One thing I am perpetually torn up about is the relationship between social change and theater. Can theater BE the change? Or is theater the preface to the change, a kind of thought-unifier that enables people when they leave the theater? I’ve read so much about the plays that sparked riots, about visionary writers and directors like Brecht, Havel, and Boal. Our world is so pressure-cooked. Am I doing enough? Am I a self-involved artist, like in Calderón’s Neva, staring at my toes in a rehearsal room while the revolution rages outside?

For Emperor’s New Clothes, we’re looking at identity and how clothing is often one of the first ways we experiment with identity. Emperor Marcus is an nervous 14-year-old emperor who is petrified of letting his people down after his father and grandfather were (and appeared) so mighty and strong. The great little play lands with Marcus crafting a new image of emperor. Instead of mighty and strong, Emperor Marcus will be smart and clever. Like children who break away from the images of their parents, largely the first identities we conform to and rebel from, Marcus creates an identity totally new and finds pride in it. He is a pioneer of identity.

I wonder often how many ideas the world is missing out on because conformity (and capitalism) snuffs them out. How many artists never came to be because we forced them to get “real jobs”? How many great teachers never happened because we don’t respect teachers with an adequate wage? How many scientific advances never happened because we don’t respect research and academia? How many ideas are just lost in this “land of the free” because we’re only free to make the choices that generate and protect capital?

I don’t kid myself to believe that this Emperor is going to start a revolution of 8-year olds and their parents, marching the streets of Ithaca and declaring their true identities and the end of capitalism, but hopefully we'll stop at least one future identity from being lost. I do believe we can have real impact in preparing these kids for their identities to be questioned. Until we have a world that celebrates diversity and humanity in all it’s beautiful weirdness, we’ve got to be prepared and be strong. 


The company of actors here have a mission statement:

We, the Hangar Lab Company of 2015, seek always to stay on the edge of growth. We will bravely risk who we are now to grow into the artists and ensemble we will become. We will bring positivity and joy to the unexplored areas of our communities. We will fail forward, and thrive in the unknown together.

Pioneer on!