• Broadway Beat

“My Allyship Isn’t Performative,” says Actor Who Only Protests Through Comedia Dell’Arte

by Gwen Coburn. @sadgrlsongsgwen.

CHAMPAIGN, IL. – In response to continued systemic racist violence, local actor and theatre professor Jim Gregory vowed to fight injustice by producing and starring in a production of Goldoni’s 18th-century play, A Servant of Two Masters, as part of his continued practice of protesting exclusively through comedia dell'arte.


“My protests are technically performances, but theatre is inherently political,” explained Gregory, while pulling on a pair of brightly checkered pantaloons over his dance tights. "As a white, straight, cis-male ally, I have a responsibility to use my privilege to fight oppression. For me, this takes the form of a classic Italian comedic opera. But that doesn’t mean I’m a performative ally! I’m simply a classically trained actor-citizen lending my greatest strength to the cause.”


Anna Harris, who has directed the last four of Gregory’s “protest-pieces,” feels "representation" is the keyword.


“I am always careful not to center my whiteness in our demonstrations,” expounded Harris, Gregory’s tenured colleague who recently watched half of a TEDtalk on the theater of the oppressed. "When the actor puts on the reproduction Venetian masks that I’ve imported through Amazon, they are representing the everyman, who knows no race. I myself cannot speak for marginalized peoples suffering from a racist system, but the silent and long-suffering clown Pierrot definitely can.”


Mindy Williamson, who leads the on-campus organization for social justice, wasn’t sure that message was coming across.


“Honestly, this had nothing to do with our organization,” said Mindy, who had to miss the one-man version of Goldoni’s classic masterpiece as it conflicted with a community hearing on defunding campus police. “Professor Gregory offered to donate the ticket proceeds to our student activist group, but after he paid that Trader Joe’s sign artist to paint the sets to look like the street of Venice, he only ended up making $14.50.”


Gregory, whose Instagram picture has been a black square for the past two years, admitted it takes more than just one theatrical production to create meaningful change.


“There is still work to be done. That’s why next season I’ll be fighting the man with a scathing production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière. We have an obligation to raise our voices and cry out against oppression, or in my case, to silently pantomime against oppression.”