Black Kat Theatre Presents 'Guide To The Bill Of Rights'
A humorous, musical journey through the first ten amendments
Black Kat Theatre uses humor to entertain and enlighten audiences about current events and politics. Its new show, "Guide to the Bill of Rights," provides a humorously informative journey through the first 10 amendments.
Black Kat Theatre uses sketch comedy to focus on contemporary politics. Director Tisha Tumangan co-founded the company back in 2006 during the "Bush Years." She noted, "we had no idea there'd be even more material as we moved forward."
This month the company is revisiting its "Guide to the Bill of Rights" show with a 2017 edition that references issues coming up in the news such as racial profiling, travel bans and getting through security at the airport. She cited the Federal Theatre Project’s Living Newspapers of the 1930s as inspiration.
What is a 'Living Newspaper'?
Living Newspaper originated in the U.S.S.R. at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and refers to a type of theater that presents factual information and current events to an audience, usually with the hope of urging some kind of social action. The term became familiar to Americans in the 1930s, when the Federal Theatre Project produced a series of Living Newspapers on social issues of the day, including "Triple-A Plowed Under," "Injunction Granted," and "One-Third of a Nation."
The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) employed both journalists and theater professionals who were out of work during the Great Depression. The controversy arising over the overt social commentary and political ideology expressed in the FTP's Living Newspapers is often cited as the cause for its disbanding in 1939.
Promoting a dialogue
Black Kat describes itself as "definitely not your grandparent's theater." While inspired by the FTP's Living Newspapers it also draws heavily on the style of comedy found on "Saturday Night Live." Black Kat wants to challenge traditional perceptions of theater by staging shows in alternative spaces (like bars and a warehouse), keeping the running time down to around an hour, and encouraging a dialogue between performers and the audience.
"We want people to feel close to the material," Tumangan said. "This is not traditional theater. What we do is not set in a dark room sitting shoulder to shoulder staring at the stage the whole time. This is really meant to make people feel engaged. So if you want to turn to your neighbor and say something to your neighbor about something you just saw or make eye contact with us on stage we want you to do that. We try to make a point after our shows of sticking around, talking with our audiences because we do want them to feel not only connected to the material but that they are being heard as much as we are trying to speak to them."
With "Guide to the Bill of Rights," Black Kat wants to specifically inform people of what's contained in the first 10 amendments. So the show is divided into 10 skits, each focused on a different amendment. The show uses both comedy and music to get its message out.
Tumangan added, "We really want to make sure people feel informed as well as having a good time. At the heart of it, there is a message. In this case, each scene is to inform us a little bit about each amendment so you can take something away."
Tackling politics through comedy can get performers into trouble these days. But Black Kat Theatre takes a kind of Scooby Doo, Schoolhouse Rock approach that makes their guide to the Bill of Rights breezy fun and readily accessible, without ruffling too many feathers.
Black Kat Theatre’s "Guide to the Bill of Rights" runs June 22 to 25 at the Women’s Museum of California at Liberty Station.