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Class Acts Theater

Until 2005, Class Acts was: a collective theater troupe encompassing improvisation, play, satire and progressive politics. We offered a a safe space to collaborate on ideas, create theater pieces, and to have fun. We employed movement, words, humor and a sense of irreverance to critique social structures and advance social change. Our weekly meetings included improv games, brainstorming, rehearsal and feedback/discussion. We performed at political rallies, conferences, festivals and on the street.  

Ashcroft Zone - click to see larger
Ashcroft Zone - click to see larger
( from "The Ashcroft Zone" 2003)
Occupation Drillteam - click to see larger
(from "Occupation Drillteam" 2004)
Occupation Drillteam - click to see larger

The Class Acts Theatre Troupe was founded in the early 1990s by Andrew Boyd, sponsored by United for a Fair Economy (UFE), as a creative way to get the message out about social economic inequalities and issues. The group combined activism and theatre and performed at many rallies, conferences and festivals, targeting economic issues, such as Corporate Welfare. The members varied over time, but usually numbered between 5 and 6 core members and performances were often monthly or even twice monthly at this time (connections to the UFE were helpful in this regard). Because of the tight performance schedule, most of the skits performed were of the Drill Team format.

In 1999, Boyd left the group to pursue other opportunities, and the UFE funding was dropped. Class Acts became an independent group, still focused on political activism, but diversified. Class Acts worked with a charity group to develop a piece on childcare reform and did a satirical game show on gentically modified foods ("The Splice is Right" on Cambridge Community Television) for example. See the skits section for summaries of some of the pieces (including two I was involved in writing).

I joined the group in September 2003 and really liked it a lot at first, but when one of the long-term members moved away and another new member (who joined at the same time as me) also left, things started to get a bit difficult. We did have a number of other new members circulate through (besides Matt and Laura who'd been around a while and me, of course), but never found anyone very reliable. So we struggled through most of 2004 and took a break in early 2005 and then decided to disband (none of the remaining 3 had the energy to carry it through - it worked much better with 5 or more people [4 was critical mass for most performances]).

Here are highlights of our last performances:

May, 2004 Occupation Drill Team + Improv games May Fire Arts Festival
The Esplanade
Boston, MA
April, 2004 Occupation Taxation Drill Team Taxday Protest
Central Square Post Office
Cambridge, MA
February, 2004 Occupation Drill Team Mardis Gras Whimsey
Zeitgeist Gallery
Cambridge, MA
December, 2003 Parody X-mas Carolling (lyrics) Streets of Cambridge, MA
(Harvard + Central Sqs.)
November, 2003 The Ashcroft Zone

Her Ra!
Wheelock Family Theatre
Boston, MA

Class Acts has a variety of regular performance pieces, or skits, that we use. All are original pieces written and performed by Class Acts members. The most versatile and commonly performed piece is a Drill Team, which can vary by subject. Summaries of our documented skits are as follows.

Media Monopoly script.rtf (skit I wrote mid-2004, but we never performed after that)

The Drill Team
This is a call and response piece between a loud, obnoxious drill sergeant, and the drill team (of about 3 – 6 actors) that s/he orders around. The piece relies largely on sight gags, in that we all dress the same (black suits, white button down shirts, and ties), and the soldiers respond to the sergeant simultaneously. We have dozens of versions of this script because it’s very adaptable to many issues (Welfare reform, the war in Iraq, free trade, and tax cuts to name a few). Every script has some standard gags: The drill sergeant leads the team onto the stage, with everybody yelling, “boom chugga-lugga, boom chugga-lugga, boom chugga-lugga boom! The Drill Sergeant then orders the team to “fall in,” and the team marches in place for a beat. Next the drill sergeant orders the team to “present shades,” and the team simultaneously puts on dark sunglasses, usually followed by the drill sergeant ordering the team to “present phones”, and the team simultaneously taking out cell phones and puts them to their ears. After the standard gags, there is a short basic script that consists of the drill sergeant asking questions/making comments about whatever issue the script is focused upon, and the soldiers answering (usually one at a time at this point) in character. The script always ends with a call and response song between the sergeant and team, followed by the sergeant leading the team off stage with another series of “boom-chugga-lugga’s.”

Occupation Profiteering Drillteam script.rtf (I co-wrote).

There Was an Old Woman
This piece is a parody of the “Old Woman in the Shoe,” nursery rhyme focused on the high cost of housing. The piece has 2 narrators who tell the story in nursery rhyme form, and 3 other actors (who also talk in nursery rhyme form) who play a low-income tenant, her tenant-organizer neighbor, and a housing bureaucrat at the local housing authority.

The Splice is Right
This is a parody game show with a game show host and 4 contestants: Bessie the cow, Jane the consumere, Rajiv the farmer, and Joe Monsanto. Using the backdrop of a game show, the piece makes references to “chromoroters,” and points to the ties between the genetic engineering firms, and government/those in power (during the piece, the game show host and Joe Monsanto switch places.) In the past when we’ve done this, we’ve had access to a giant cow costume for Bessie’s character.

The Race to the Bottom
A tragicomedy about the impact of globalization on poor countries as well as on the U.S., this piece features a U.S. State governor and a Latin American military strongman competing for the investments of a ruthless corporate CEO. Economic superhero Supply Side Man, a sidekick of the CEO, instructs the governor and the general on how to make their respective domains attractive for investment. A Latin American worker, a U.S. worker, and a U.S. single mother on public assistance become the experimental subjects on whom Supply Side Man tests his theories, with results that surprise him and end in tragedy.

Forum Theater pieces
We have performed pieces based on Augusto Boal’s technique of the Theater of the Oppressed - in particular, a theatrical tool known as Forum Theater - a number of times. This technique entails a group of actors performing a piece with particular relevance to the daily lives of the audience, depicting some oppressive situation that they encounter. After the first run of the performance, the audience is invited to participate, first one at a time, by taking the role of the most oppressed person in the piece. The piece is re-run, with the audience member trying to work towards a different resolution. If they fail, the piece is re-run again, with a different audience member intervening. In this way, a large section of the audience gets to participate, and practice real-life organizing skills. We have performed forum theater on issues of scapegoating of immigrants, and on low income tenant’s issues.

The Ashcroft Zone
Another tragicomedy, this piece is a commentary on the “National Security State’ in post-September-11 America. It features three roommates: a Muslim immigrant graduate student, an environmental activist, and an apathetic Average Jane (or Joe). All three of them, for different reasons, have chilling encounters with law enforcement and end up jailed for supporting “terrorism”.