Charles Banaszewski -- Chuck B., for the phonetically challenged -- is about to embark on his grandest theatrical production yet. But for now, on a Tuesday night at Casey Moore's pub in Tempe, Banaszewski is preparing for his role as empathetic bartender.
Banaszewski, a buff and bespectacled 32-year-old upstate New York native, quotes Brazilian dramatist Augusto Boal as he fills the patio bar's beer wells with buckets of ice and Coronas.
"Boal refers to this banking method of teaching, where one person has all the power, deposits the information in the mind of the student, and then expects the student to take it all in and create change," says Banaszewski, a protest artist and grad student in ASU's theater program. "It's an ineffective way of teaching people."
Got a better idea, bartender? "You have to empower the audience to be more involved," he says. "Engage them in a way where they become the teacher, and [the actor] becomes the student."
Banaszewski's got it figured out. It's a philosophy that's guided his performances with the Arizona Surveillance Camera Players (AZSCP) since 2001, a group he leads that stages protest art in view of inconspicuous Web cams along Mill Avenue and in cheeky bars. Sometimes, he'll hold up a cardboard sign that reads "Act Normal." Other signs call out "Big Brother," but the most effective sign reads nothing at all: B., wearing a shirt that says "ProTESTor," holds a blank canvas high above his head that invites the spect-actor to become part of the show.
"People will ask me, 'What are you protesting?' 'Well, am I protesting?'" Banaszewski responds. "I protest a lot of things -- war, people who don't recycle, threats to our First and Fourth Amendment rights. I ask them, 'What would you protest?' And that's how I learn from the audience."
It's an empowering experience for the audience, B. says, one he hopes will achieve even greater heights on First Friday, June 4, when AZSCP, along with local art co-op SOS, presents Pro-Test-Or-Re-Actor at the Icehouse in downtown Phoenix. The understatedly interactive, multimedia experience is for one night only.
"So, about the show," Banaszewski says, as he plugs in the Christmas lights that decorate Casey's patio bar. Staged in the Cathedral Room of the Icehouse -- an open-air space Banaszewski likens to a genuine street theater venue -- Pro-Test-Or-Re-Actor sets up in the four corners of the room with a stencil artist; a "propaganda station" that asks such deep questions as, "Where do you see yourself in the world?"; a security guard with a surveillance camera; and an information table dedicated to such icons as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, John Lennon, even Jesus Christ -- "people that stood up against power," B. says.
On two walls, SOS photography and paintings (from artists Adam Hand, Mike Loney and Matt Barsch) will hang, and an SOS video titled 4 Questions will be shown. All the while -- in the center -- four street performers will play out an improvisational sketch, in silent protest.
"It's definitely the biggest show I've put together yet," Banaszewski says.
In the meantime, another round, bartender.
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