BWW Reviews: Kyle deCamp Chips Away at Accepted Realities in URBAN RENEWAL
In early October of 2013, Kyle deCamp and Joshua Thorson presented Urban Renewal at FI:AF on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Based on deCamp's experience growing up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago in the 1960's, Urban Renewal reveals the commonly kept secrets of an era through memories, perceptions, and politics couched cleverly in deCamp's unflinching personal narrative.
After viewing Urban Renewal this past October, I had every intention of writing a simple review of the piece and being finished, but as I wandered home from the performance, I could not shake the feeling of having been exposed to information that had been intentionally buried for many years - a veritable missing link. deCamp's willingness to draw the map, so to speak, of the last fifty years through her own story unearthed questions about my own identity, both as an individual and as part of the American collective, which I somehow felt unprepared, or perhaps unentitled, to answer. She had finally chipped away the surface of where and when and deliberately plunged into the vagueness of how and why.
I have to question why most of the history within Urban Renewal was new information for me. I am a product of the Midwest and a former resident of Chicago. I was educated in the United States, but the term urban renewal was not one with which I had been intimately acquainted through education or informed exposure. My experiences had made me aware of "dangerous" neighborhoods and "safe" neighborhoods. I knew that some neighborhoods used to be safe, and I was vaguely aware of episodes, which always seemed like the ancient histories of now unchangeable realities, that caused many a safe and thriving urban community in the Midwest to fall into rapid disrepair. While each city's story is eerily similar, the real cause, the history leading up to the each incident, has somehow been deemed a mystery.
A collective willingness to accept mystery as an explanation for anything will surely throw us off the scent of truth. deCamp tracks her way back to the scent trail of historical accuracy through the beautifully harsh lens and no-nonsense voice of an acutely unaffected, yet supremely aware, younger version of herself. In a seamless line of communication between the innocence of youth and the moments that stealthily settle as demarcations between what once was and what is becoming, deCamp not only reveals her personal history, she inches it alongside, under, and above the events that were, unbeknownst to herself, shaping her world. I could not help but long for the opportunity she had created to sit down with her young self and somehow, without ruining any of the goodness, explain what was really going on. It is a modest act of heroism, letting us into her personal narrative in order to clear up that which we have been encouraged to accept as a mysterious truth. In doing so, deCamp innocuously airs the dirty laundry of not only her generation but also the actions and expectations of the generations that preceded her own.
Through her stories, deCamp puts her life in relationship with the history of the world that surrounded and formed her experiences. While I was not shocked by the nature of her stories, I was pleasantly surprised by her frankness. As a Millennial, I feel I am part of a generation without a history, and while I have never understood or questioned this, my personal reaction to deCamp's honesty revealed a protectiveness that I had never seen as an impediment to finding my personal history until it was so overtly disengaged. In the dialogue of Urban Renewal deCamp discusses the racism, displacement, failure, distrust, abuse of power, drug culture, and human rights struggles that directly link the "dangerous" neighborhoods of present-day, Midwest cities that I have been primed to avoid without question to their lineage. In discovering their history, I discover my own: the situations my parents' generation has hidden in an effort to protect their children, the shame and guilt of my grandparents' generation, and even the generations before. In accepting mystery as an explanation, we feebly erase our history. What remains are the deepest, darkest, most difficult lines to hide: the lines of trauma, guilt, shame, and desperation. These are the stories that we speculate about but cannot answer because they are locked in secrecy in an effort to protect us, the next generation, from the trauma of shame and guilt.
After many weeks of reflecting, contemplating, and finally sitting down with deCamp and discussing the work, I am realizing that the feeling that has haunted me since leaving the theater stems from this question: Why didn't anyone tell me? Her journey had unloaded years and years of questions to which I really had no answers. For all practical purposes it was her story, but it was also our story. History. History, which my generation, myself included, assumes began and ended before we were born. We exist in a state of "problem solved" mentality. Everything that needed to be sorted out was sorted out by our grandparents, so that our parents could lead lives with greater opportunity and less difficultly which, in turn, would lead to our existence in a world where we have been labeled as "entitled" to opportunities that were inconceivable not so long ago. I wonder about our personal histories. Are we entitled, now that the road has been cut before us, to go back and track the sent of truth? Have we cultivated the courage to use our stories, especially our mistakes, to unveil the repercussions of our actions? Do we know our own experiences well enough to see them in relationship to the whole experience? Are we bold enough to chip away at our accepted realities to not only blow the dust away from when and where but to then lift the lid on why and how?