(We’ll have an update on Big Blue Door classes and shows soon.)
Back in the late 1990s before I headed off to New York to study improv and storytelling, I worked in the local theater scene. For a year I was on the staff of a major theater organization as a ‘dramaturg’ (a sort of literary manager). In my first staff meeting (which I remember as being on my first day but may have been at the end of my first week) my boss, the theater’s Artistic Director, presented a letter from the Charlottesville City Council asking for feedback from the local arts community. The city wanted support for a declaration of what we now call ‘marriage equality.’ Back then the world was quite different and this was an unusual thing to do. So my boss asked our advice.
The declaration itself was a mess. It had no legal standing (because it violated state law) and since this was before the phrase ‘marriage equality’ was popularized, the declaration described marriage as a ‘right.’ We all knew what they were trying to say, but rights in the Declaration-of-Independence sense are things people are born with and no one is born married, and guaranteeing rights in the Declaration-of-Independence framework is what governments are created to do, and no one thinks governments should find us spouses. The intention was clear but shouldn’t we expect more than intentions from public speech and writing? Also, should non-profit, public organizations advocate definitions of marriage at all? Particularly since it obviously would make no difference in the real world! It’s hard to get across how unlikely it seemed in 2000 that Virginia would ever allow same sex couples to marry.
But everyone on the staff agreed to support it anyway. And looking back, it was absolutely the right thing to do. Theater was one of the few areas back then where straight and gay people interacted more or less as equals. (Yes, good people have always tolerated those who were different, but tolerance is not equality.) So theaters needed to advocate for our constituents, and draw on the experiences of our constituents to advocate for a better society. By defending the legitimacy of same-sex marriage theater, could help donors, audiences, and themselves to realize that this was an issue that mattered to real people. People they knew. People whose artistic work was part of their lives.
I learned a lot from seeing marriage equality go from an idea that would never be accepted in the real world to an idea that seemed obvious. I learned that what you call things matter; that change that seems shocking often turns out to be no big deal; but most of all I learned that organizations need to share their lived experience when that experience is of benefit to the wider world.
Well, the arts are one of the few places in America where poor people and rich people ever interact as equals. Yes, there are huge class differences in the arts in terms of access and influence. But on specific projects and in specific contexts I have known people in radically different income brackets to work together without the poorer person automatically taking orders from the richer person. So it is vitally important for arts organizations to advocate for those of us who have lower incomes. One of the ways in which our society is most cruel and stupid to lower income people is medical care. Too many people whom I personally teach, coach, and perform cannot afford good medical care, cannot get any care without fear, and cannot get any care in a timely manner. Our employee-based medical insurance is a bad joke. Trust me. I do comedy and teach comedy. I know when a joke is bad.
Big Blue Door endorses Medicare for All so all our students, performers, teachers, coaches, and audience members can get the medical care they need when they need it. If you’ve ever been involved with Big Blue Door, even just watched a single show, you’ve seen people who need Medicare for All. People you know. People whose humor and artistry has been a part of your life.
Also it’s no big deal. Medicare for All costs less than our current system, brings us together as a country, helps small businesses, the arts, and independent contractors, and improves everyone’s health by making wellness visits and timely medical intervention possible. So join me in accepting the idea, and I promise you’ll be as glad you did as I am that I agreed to that city council proposal so long ago. In the future when Medicare for All has passed they’ll look back on us and wonder what took us so long.