'Citizen Josh' tells an intensely personal story, but the team’s hoping to make a connect with India with this comic monologue

Quixotic Projects (U.S.A.)

This is a play for those of you who think politics is someone else’s job. This is a play for those of you who love diving into the thick of influential political debate. But most of all, this is a play for those of you who don’t give a damn.

‘Citizen Josh’ necessarily tells an intensely personal story. After all, it features just one actor — Josh Kornbluth aka Citizen Josh. Kornbluth’s what they call a ‘comedic autobiographical monologuist, which basically means he’s funny, and he talks about himself. Fortunately his thought processes are not just fascinating, but they also use personal experience to take a long, hard and honest look at the bigger picture.

Kornbluth calls this piece “a passive person’s serendipitous journey into political activism.” A part of his quest is, “as the child of communists, to find a way to my own set of beliefs.” He says: “But what I can’t shake from my bio-political DNA is this: The last shall be first. People who are poor, who suffer, need to get their hands on the levers of power.”

In this production, Kornbluth uses himself as an example to show how anyone can become politically active. And since he’s a pretty funny guy, it’s not all deadpan idealism.

Although the piece has been staged successfully in America, there are changes being made for its Indian debut. For one, Kornbluth is desperately trying to get through a pile of Indian novels and non-fiction on audio books. In his blog, he also says he finally resorted to a “time-honoured solution practiced by my peasant forebears: I Twittered and I Facebooked.” Since then, based on reams of advice from Indian friends – old and new – the script has been tweaked and is all set for India. The team’s hoping to make a connect with you, India and our particular brand of politics. As Kornbluth writes to us, “I can’t wait to learn more about India’s practice of democracy — that great, improvisatory experiment which calls on all of us to have faith in one another, despite all the obstacles!”

Citizen Josh is staged with the support by the U.S. Consulate General-Chennai.

Director’s cut: David Dower

Citizen Josh is comic and irreverent, but seems to have a serious underlying purpose of encouraging people to become political and civic activists?

Absolutely. Over the years together we’ve always tried to create pieces that model the journey we hope the audience can or will take on their own after the show. Josh is an inherently funny man, and as you say an irreverent man, so that’s going to be the voice of the plays. But the purpose is at once serious and naïve — we continue to hope and believe that we can move people (including ourselves) to improve the world. There’s scant evidence that we’re doing that, of course, but we keep at it!

Does theatre really have the power to influence change? Can it sway public discussion to a degree that impacts on political thought, and hence action?

You know, there’s a lot of recent evidence that theatre can do that. I think about ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and ‘The Exonerated’ as recent examples. Laws and policy have changed as a direct result of these pieces being in the culture. Performances of ‘Citizen Josh’ at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, spurred people in our audience to become poll workers and go door to door to turn out voters for Obama’s campaign. Since they were knocking doors in the ‘swing stage’ of Virginia, which ultimately went to Obama, they were in the middle of action that mattered. Our question, though, is whether these people sustain that activity and remain engaged citizens.

Are there specific challenges related to working in monologue format? Is Citizen Josh’s uniquely autobiographical voice what makes this production so compelling?

I think the key in successful monologues is finding an authentic voice. Josh presents as a “Hapless Everyman”, which I think makes it accessible. We wind up feeling that if he can find a way to plug into his role as a citizen, then each of us can. This character is essentially true to who Josh is — a bit of a bumbler, an open-hearted optimist, and a curious man. Josh is also smart, rigorous, and deliberate, but we tend to bury those qualities in the structure and the process of making the pieces in order to keep the voice of the play a funny and engaging one.

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