Radical Inconvenience and Radical Empathy

Can we draw any conclusions about the Bonjour Chien story as it nudges the spectator, as SW did ?Life as political theater vs. political theater? asks DL.

Linda, who did the Churchill play, and is here from NYTW, the controversial, is pointedly asked by a respectful DL: What did you want to get out of the audience?

Linda says–we just wanted to respect Caryl’s wishes.

David doesn’t believe it:

Surely you wanted to do the spectator some good, Serene Majesty?

Linda says “it’s” about the relationship with the artist. So NYTW is about the relationship with the audience. Interesting to know.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Linda invokes what she calls the “conversation” with NYTW and Rachel Corey. And Caryl Churchill. Sounds satisfied, sure, and justified. 

Now where are the voices which were so critical of NYTW last night? Why are we all being so polite tonight, even David? Where is the openness? Linda drags in the large topic of  Israel–what would Israel say?

Is it possible to pay the royalties and not stage the play? Why stage the play then? Why have to endure the 7 Jewish Children Play–funneling money to Hamas. Oh Israel–the conversation opens up. A strong and intelligent critique of the play; the sending of money to Hamas. A lot of us here are critical of Israel. Inbal Djalovski, where are you? With your radical politics, with the school we are talking about opening in Gaza? Send specifics, send people, not money.

ACG says we are talking not about political theater anymore, but about politics. Can political theater be anything more than interrogatory? Is there any substitute for a logical discursive: I do not consider this theater (he sez) it is a seminar.

A chorus ensues! I can’t even track it!

But we are in a theater right now!

But we have paid our admission!

No, it’s Just a Seminar. And now political theater is any old gathering that talks about politics.

Young man says political theater is supposed to plant seeds.

What is enough? Does political theater make us do something?

Molly talks about the personal politics of transformation: Radical Empathy.

I want to be a good artist but also have fun and eat burgers.

Who did she help by starving herself.

Political theater is notoriously boring: we get hit on the head. South Pacific, West Side Theater are also political.

Linda says— when it happens.

David has to intervene, to let a considered man raise his point, and David wends that back to “updating.” West Side Story with Israelis and Palestinians.

Theater and art–art is political no matter what–it sounds like Matt Dillon whispering down there–

James brings up the Importance of Being Earnest in Singapore.

We listen to the white-bearded one. How interesting. There are many people speaking, but many people here not speaking, too.

This is smart…but it does feel a wee bit like a French tv show with no commercials and 4 versions of Philippe Sollers.

David slaps on a scene!

When we need a break from this! Well tim’d!

**********Meta Comment on NYTW, A Play for Gaza, Sarah Kane and the effectiveness of the Absence of the Play, etc…

Not to sound disrespectful, but there is a larger irony here which we learned about last night, and which became radically clear to me, at least as a listener, tonight. Last night, there was some intelligent, and severe critique of the easy, sloppy politics of the New York Theater Workshop in reference to its recent benefit for the Caryl Churchill “Play for Gaza.”  From what I understand, while the spirit of this play is to give voice to the disenfranchised, and to somehow “inspire” activism–most readily by Churchill’s own caveat, i.e. the play may only be performed if no admission is charged and if, instead, the audience is directed to donate to a non-profit trust which directly benefits Gaza–it cultivates the antithesis of what theater can potentially do in collaboration with its audience. In this instance, NYTW undermined the very politically salvific nature of theater it presumed to promote, i.e. despite the seemingly liberal politics of its do-gooding stance in staging the reading of a play for no money, and for inviting audiences to take the action of donating for a cause. 


Because, to paraphrase what someone said last night, the NYTW only invited a very select audience, an genteel audience of whom they could be sure–presumably sure of their financial potential as donors, and sure of their political views. While there was a “discussion” after the play, a carefully moderated one, this discussion had no surprises, of course. Everyone agreed, everyone politely discussed their levels of nuanced agreement, no one is embarrassed, no one is uncomfortable, and no one is offended. Perhaps, in situations such as this NYTW event, because of this surety, people feel both so guilty and simultaneously absolved for having the “right” political views, they of course give money, maybe even more than the NYTW imagines they would have had the conversation….

…been open to a general public?

…been allowed to occur without careful moderating, selection, discreet censorship? Had there been real risks and real generosity in allowing a spectacle to take place, and allowing the audience to experience authentic discomfort, confusion, disagreement? Had non-profit theater organizations been able to imagine theiaudiences more generously…

The nature of Venice Saved: A Seminar is that indeed–the performance is uncomfortable, tedious, at times disappointing, at times maddening, but it only ever is what it is in the truth of the moment. A group is engaged in varying levels in a process of performance and also of politics. The fact that the form, and the direction, of Venice Saved: A Seminar allow for the “unknown” to  occur leaves open the possibility for theater to turn into reality, for politics and art to create a genuine, resonant effect. There is an acknowledged and an unacknowledged hierarchy present in Venice Saved: A Seminar; however, there is also a willingness to trust the performers, the audience, and whatever other varying conditions collaborate with the performance of the play–brilliantly appropriate because it too is open ended; SW’s play, too, is a fragment which has de facto trusted history (and us) to “read” and to understand for Weil what she may have meant.

Venice Saved: A Seminar is political theater while the NYTW-model of political theater does not trust the “polis,” the audience, does not allow them to struggle, does not tolerate their process. The New York Theater Workshop staging of “A Play for Gaza” is not a “workshop” model, but a “showroom” model.  Political theater in a democracy must be about the work, the process, the experience of a work, an audience, and time as they collaborate and unfold. As Venice Saved at PS 122 is.


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