Ultimate Indulgences

Mid-conversation, the lights go down and Simone Weil appears, or at least her hastily-garbed doppelganger, a pacing scourge.  Her challenges carom off the walls with a lacerating ferocity.

She strides off, boots echoing into the silence …

DL: Thank you guys for coming.

Applause …

… and we’re done.  Salut.

Conspirators in Chains

We see Simone Weil’s vision of torture, the prisoners awaiting torture and certain death in the street …

DL: it’s a fairly classical torture scene –

CW: I’ll say!

[sympathy for knees is raised as a locus of both suffering and politics]

DL: Blasted is the other big hit of last year, along with Black Watch.

W11: how is political theatre different from political theatre?

DL: more importantly, how is the situation of being in a theatre political, period?

[précis of Blasted by Señor Krupp …]

DL: Blasted considers the audience as a mass, as a body – and it considers that classic off-stage dramaturgy isn’t enough.  it’s a different – more adversarial – take on the audience

SS: I liked it, but it didn’t fuck me up.  I spent more time thinking about what a cool thing it was to be pulled off onstage than on the larger political impact

K: (to DL) why do you get frustrated with that response?  why isn’t that a reasonable response to violence?

DL: I have huge questions about – on one hand I think it’s sophomoric, but on the other, Kane had real political aims

W3: I had read it before, and it did fuck me up royally – both seeing it and having it in my head afterwards.  maybe it’s just being sensitized by Tarantino movies, but seeing it on stage does make it much more vivid – it seems like we’re going through it as a culture

MD: I thought it was a tremendous production.  and though it did make the audience aware of their bodies, I don’t think it’s the only play to do that – other plays don’t reduce people to eyeballs.  there’s something that happens in a live space that’s fundamentally different from watching a film

DL: okay, but if you’re shattered by that play, is that what we want?

MD: who’s that “we?”  sarah kane?

DL: but in a play like Blasted there’s a difference stance toward the audience.  is there a difference with regard to that experience than another, less aggressive, less adversarial sort of play? There are a lot of different approaches – a Brechtian one where you want people to think critically, there’s a Blasted one where you leave people shell-shocked – many others – it says a lot about how you think of those people.

W12: now that there’s so much media available to people,  it’s not enough to just put it out there.  there’s a duty to make sure that people see it beyond a limited audience.  people should do what they expect their audience to do.  also, who knows what an audience has been through?

DL: but that’s the Weil thing again – who of us are going to fight in Spain?

W1: what are your responsibilities in showing graphic events on stage, such as rape – especially when there’s a chance there are rape victims in the audience?  but also, I don’t know if you can put the burden of audience interest on the artists – that doesn’t seem entirely fair.

DL: do you have to be an activist or do you have to perform and write?

W7: how often do shows paper the house?  it’s very hard to get anyone to come to the theatre, especially political theatre.

M7: it might be that the job of communicating is less of an issue now – it’s not enough to isolate a cause, because the laundry list of causes seems virtually endless …

PL: but what does theatre do well?  for some of these questions theatre isn’t the right vehicle.  it’s fantastic for conveying an in-body experience, but not for everything else –


And David wants to turn the conversation to Blasted … but CW has slipped off to the bathroom, so we’ll wait …

[sidebar on commodity culture/corporate culture …

corporate sponsorship, profit, non-profit, audience size, cultural cachet, art vs. theatre

it’s actually Totally Interesting, but it takes off at the exact time when I choose to refresh the page and drink my beer … and I fall horribly behind, and it seems impossible to catch up … so there.

Court Theatre

DL: this raises the specter of Mike taking his HTFA monologue to TCG – taking it to the council of elders … can you tell us how it went?

MD:the experience of performing it in the room – for these artistic directors and executives – was actually really hopeful.  the reaction was really warm – and it seemed like these people were able to respond in a way as individuals in a way that they couldn’t as institutional representatives

JH: what is it – what issue – is going to be enough to get these people charged up to do something after seeing a show?  what isn’t happening elsewhere in their lives, or on their stages?  what’s the theatrical topic that would get people moving?

CW: I feel like the HIV/AIDS crisis worked really well through theatre – that there was a wealthy class in the city who really responded

JH: Angels in America is another example.  it seems like the theatre that gets people active is often the less sophisticated, but AiA is a case where there’s a specific sophisticated audience being reached

EK: it’s local – it’s really speaking to a local constituency

DL: so we here tonight are speaking to a local community about local concerns, right?  can we go farther with James’ question?

[CW describes The Civilians …]

MAD: but there’s also a difference between the way the movement works in Black Watch and the way music works in The Civilians – that the latter tends to undermine the political/social effects, where the former tends to highlight them in a more Brechtian manner

[discussion of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson]

DL: is it really a political play?

W10: it’s set in the White House, and there’s a lot dealing with native Americans – I bring it up because were talking about dumb emo music theatre, because it’s really speaking to an audience of young girls, who love it

M5: there is this basic need to entertain as well – it’s a baseline we ignore at our peril, it’s why people come, it’s why people show up

DL: how do politics and entertainment go together?  no one’s brought up any kind of pied piper idea of using theatre to seduce people.

M5: will ferrell’s piece on boradway –

DL: which is really turning the heads of … everyone who already hated Bush anyway

M5: but there were a lot of people who voted for him – he was popular for a very long time – and not just the one show, there was a lot of anti-bush buffoonery througout the administration

DL tells the story of Babylon Is Everywhere – a right-wing script where spectacle trumped justice … if this thing tonight was advertised as a talk on the 3rd floor of NYTW there would be two people showing up, one with about 40 plastic bags …

W: there are different circumstances, and different levels of courage. how much are any of us willing to put ourselves on the line as audiences of performers?

DL: that’s the Simone Weil question.

G: so often you’re giving the message to people who already have the message

DL: is it a question of guts?  what would an artistic director need to do?

MAD: part of it is the bravery of telling your own story and the stories of others – when you perceive yourself to be a victim of injustice, and how that ignites your bravery, and when you’re in the position of empathy with other people, and how that gets framed – plays like Norml Heart, it did happen, though it’s hard when it doesn’t seem like it’s your own story being told – it makes me think of NYTW and Rachel Corrie …

[précis of the My Name Is Rachel Corrie incident …]

DL: which leads to the 7 Jewish Children thing – where so much context has piled around it to reduce any volatile reaction …

MAD: but that can also makes people feel cared for, so they feel more willing to participate

M1: if it’s not insoluable, I don’t want to see it – too much political theatre dumbs things down and actually lets the political value out of the room

Immediate Concerns

DL: Coming back to the question of what can provoke action or engagement … how close to home does the material need to be?  Let’s try something a little more local.

[Violetta as the bond trader …]

DL: You know … let’s being it Even Closer …

[Violetta as literary manger …]

DL: Let’s bring it EVEN CLOSER … does anyone want a beer?

[confused silence]

DL: I’m not acting!  And we don’t have styrofoam beer – who wants one?

[beer is distributed]

DL: what about the recent trend – at least at ps122 – of handing out beer.  “Beer is the only thing that makes it bearable …” but if we are conceding that theatre’s audience is so small that its effect is small, are we also conceding that the mechanisms of theatre are too complicated?

MD: I have a problem with the whole design of these scenes.  these scenes start with a woman who’s been raped, and then you’re using the same frame to show these next scenes makes them seem impossibly more petty and I don’t agree with that strategy at all.

DL: I think it’ s more about the strategy of documentary theatre

MD: but I think decision to stage them the same way skews things

DL: what about this kind of theatre where the actual making of the play that presents social injustice is founded on social injustice

MD: there’s a huge difference between theatre as an art form and actual institutions – political theatre can still happen, even if a given institution might be problematic

CW: but what institutions are dedicated to fighting injustice?

DL: but they do present these works, like nickled and dimed –

W9: what is your mission statement and what did you do – on SW’s 100 anniversary – to get funding for this?

DL: yeah, but compromise gets me hot

W9: well, why is that okay for you instead of these institutions?

DL: but if ps122 or I are acting in bad faith that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the instutitions

MD: these institutions also chose to sell out their core beliefs and adopt a corporate model

W9: as long as you admit your own complicity

JH: admitting it is the first step

PL: in this conversation we keep talking about the political as if it were change, as if it were revolution – but it seems like it’s more commonly characterized as recognition, which is a different exchange, with different results

M3: sometimes preaching to the choir is necessary – to be reminded that the struggle is worth it, to sustain engagement and action

MD: there’s also political theatre of the stastus quo – works that are about keeping things as they are, that you’ll be moved, but not too much, and you’ll stay a subscriber and go home happy

M4: I don’t believe the Illinois Gov was changed by the exonerated so much as he detected in it the evidence of a social curve, a momentum that allowed him to make a statement or a public stand – precisely because it’s being backed up in public.

Zachary Taylor Is in the Haus

At the table, and brown-bagging it like a champ.

White Light! White Heat!

As we re-settle ourselves into the booth, Eddie Argos speaks for us all:

“I can’t stand the sound/of the Velvet Underground!

I can’t stand that sound/Second time around!

Once is enough!”