These Big Children

DL: I do want to do one more scene before we break – a different kind of scene, which shows a different perspective, that of the perpetrators planning the coup.  We’ve talked a lot about empathy with regard to these other scenes, using that – and character psychology – as an entry point.  This scene turns that impulse somewhat on its head, simply because what we bring to it – ideas about these men, or men like them – is very different …

[Jeff and Jon stride the Bell Tower for the Very Last Time!]

DL: it’s not a scene that needs updating or recostuming … but still, there’s injustice all around us.  We no longer yell at the stage, or yell when we leave … but Jaffier, he’s something of a perfect audience member … he hears about these atrocities, and he steps up to do something.  Which makes me wonder – when we’re in a theatre – if we’re doing enough?

Which is a good place for an intermission.

Go to the Arsenal

We see the first Violetta scene, a post-Bosnia imagination of the Sack of Venice …

DL: Does that feel less hectoring?  Is there more room?  Does the information change?  Relative to the 2nd courtesan scene, where some people thought things felt forced, does this strike you in a different way?

[The Exonerated, its post-perf collections for legal aid, the idea that somehow the show itself isn’t “enough”, the desire for authenticity, etc.]

CW: I would say that isn’t about trust, so much as a statement of gravity

EK: but aren’t we elevating it somehow, that the impersonation of “real people” is being held to be more serious than “normal theatre”

MD: well, there’s also a difference between a video, made of pixels, and a theatre piece, which is people in a room

DL: There is a tension between empathy and facts – does the desire to be moved trump the possibility of political action?

W7: it’s also about the audience?  what’s the context?  that would change everything, and is just as important as anything in the play, content-wise.

MD: What would it take to activate this room now?

M1: there’s still a lot of artistry in this – and with statistics – first, we want to know where they came from

EK: But I don’t need to go to the theatre to know that killing a gay man in Wyoming is bad

CN: But aren’t you curious about what conditions could let that happen?

EK: Not really.

PL: But it’s also about attention – you know all sorts of things are bad.  if something in wyoming is brought within your attention skillfully, you’re going to be more disposed to care

DL: Let’s go back to Mike’s question: we are the types to come to this seminar – some esthetes, some are activists, some are in between (or annoyed) – but could theatre enable some kind of political change, in this room?

AML: maybe – there’s no much relevance here, so much with Simone Weil, I don’t see why it couldn’t inspire all kinds of things.

W4: I think it’s telling that the example we came with – the exonerated – is about a powerful person seeing it, not about the masses

MD: but the masses are individuals – audiences break apart

MAD: yeah, there doesn’t have to be a riot for the event to have credence – the revolution could be quiet and take as long as evolution, it can take a long time

MD: though I’m in favor of revolution too

MAD: yeah, but the desire for people to see the change isn’t the best benchmark

W5: the difference between watching movies in a crowd and watching theatre.  an audience’s role in theatre is to socialize our wild natures.  the audience is crucial.  that’s where change happens.

DL: but that’s a utopian visision … the story of the yokel standing up to save Desdemona

SS: it’s also a recent phenomenon to not participate in the theatre – to shout or demand to see things again – that’s changed pretty recently to something much more constrained

M1: yes, we don’t think about people shouting “don’t go behind the arras!” anymore …

CW: there is a whole other world of theatre that people are ignoring, the so-called “chitlin circuit” – it’s a whole other social scene, with relatively clunky characters and dialogue, but hugely interactive audience and totally alive

DL: that raises the idea of partcipation – the model of what we want and how we’re trained …

The Jobs Aren’t as Nannies

The second scene plays out, the nakedness of the pathos enforcing a certain tone shift in the audience – or at least the understanding that outright laughter would be rude – but still any flick of irony in the scene finds a hopeful ripple around the table.  Lights up.

W5: her revenge got lost – the emotional basis of it.

MD: there’s something specific about having a list, in the first scene, it’s more emotionally evocative

W6: also in the second scene, there’s something mitigated about the ending – as if Venice can’t be completely destroyed, that part of the contempory vision means less scope.

EK: the second scene seems like journalism.  with the first scene, you’re dealing with values and morals that seem out of time, while updating just alerts to you a current problem, not a timeless one.

DL: Okay, but what does that involvement in the first scene inspire you to do – save 17th century courtesans?

PL: Does the 2nd version make you save 20th century prostitutes?

W5: well, the whole notion of being “ruined” in the first scene is outdated, and maybe we do need something to be updated

W4: I stop being sympathetic to the 1st courtesan when she starts in on her revenge against other women.  I don’t think the 2nd one is asking the mercs to do anything they wouldn’t do anyway.  I can sympathize with her because it doesn’t have the same consequences.

DL: every time you stage shakespeare this happens: are you doing it with ruffs, or updated (e.g. Ruined) – why make the move to update?

M1: when you update a classic often something is lost.  I think the first version isn’t as overtly political, but it’s more memorable.  You can’t brush it aside like you would a news story.

W5: too often people try update things by just finding a contemporary analogue, but that doesn’t necessarily carry forward the dramaturgy or the language, etc.  just focusing on the content leaves out all kinds of other things, the structure –

M2: Didn’t we just go through the Courtesan scene with taxpayers and AIG?

W6: the second scene takes away options.

DL: But doesn’t it implicate you?

W4: the first one is more emotional, but the second is more political, more Brechtian

DL: some people cite the 1st scene as Brechtian because of historical distance, with the 2nd as more political relevant – it’s two very different views of political theatre.  People who do these adaptations obviously think that the former isn’t enough – they think you need this information.

MAD: but Ruined seems different from updating Shakespeare, which seems to be the impulse of artiustic directors not trusting their audience to make the connection themselves between the play and their lives.  Ruined seems much more about a writer’s imagination, whereas the updating Shakespeare is about people not understanding or distrusting imagination’s role.

PL: Also, with the updating, there’s an enormous contempt for the past – that people can only take it in as costume drama, as estheticized spectacle.

DL: can’t you also say that the urgency of the present overwhelms the spectre of the past …

[further discussion of Ruined, defense of Lynn Nottage, it doesn’t depend on Mother Courage, etc.]

DL: Granted.  Another angle on this, trying to bridge the tensions between these two  views is documentary theatre, which has its own conventions …

Nothing but Commands

The actors have been introduced in the short scenes, then we see Jaffier’s monologue and finally the first scene with the Courtesan.  The mood in the room is a little tricky – the comic nature of the first scenes still simmers under the surface into this last scene, so that there are snickers of ironic apprecation to the Courtesan’s revenge

DL: Does this speak to us today?  Does it have any relevance?


DL: No?


DL: Okay, well what if we did it like this …

[and this takes CW by surprise!  so quickly!  back into the white!]

DL: Okay, it’s 100 years after SW’s birth but this doesn’t feel relevant to anyone … so we update it to the 21st century …

[he describes the circumstances for the second Courtesan scene …]

Short and Jam-Packed, Our Watchwords

As this is the last time these four presentations – David, Colleen, Gideon, and James – are flying by, it’s perhaps worth it to comment on just how much information is being laid out in front of the audience in such a short amount of time, and in what manner.  Each of the four provides a new layer – or two – of context, both about Simone Weil and about Venice Sauvée, often taking their pass at similar bits of information, not unlike different fighter planes strafing the same piece of ground from different altitudes.

Some of this is about simple accretion, about spacing out facts enough for the audience to be able to take them in.  Is it only 7 numbers that most adults can hold in their heads without difficulty?  With area codes did that sphere of comfort expand to 10?  With dramaturgy in the theatre does it expand even more?  What sort of mnemonic devices with regard to plot and character have we all internalized from the hours and hours of narrative that spool through our senses throughout our lives?

When Gideon is talking about Weil’s views of the city and state, are we thinking about MD’s characterization of the Obama Inauguration as political theatre?  When we hear about Weil’s anguished exile in New York, are we thinking of Euripides’ banishment from Athens?  When we hear James talking about Weil’s obsessive tinkering with her text, do we think of the notorious struggles that plagued Christopher Durang after the critical drubbing of Laughing Wild?

Probably not.  But what about when we see two soldiers in conversation with a prostitute?  Are these figures essential building blocks of stories, or do we need to look even more deeply to our assumptions, to scrape off the letters or numbers that have been painted on each side to the wood grain beneath?

Stations on the Hive (Lazzi)

The last minutes are ticking by as more and more people are being fitted into the space – extra chairs around the table and against two walls on platforms – the participatory etiquette of these latter seat always thrown a bit in doubt, as their occupants are outside the light and beyond the strict pale of the seminar’s esthetics.

But now we’re starting.  The music cuts out while David is stranded in the middle of the white box.  He announces the night’s activity as the seminar’s “season finale” where political theatre will be defined the Very Last Time …

And now he’s worked his way around the tables to the black brick wall, lump of blue chalk in hand, asking for definitions …

W1: Brecht

JB: Hey, that’s the earliest Brecht has ever come up!

DL: and that’s the great thing about Brecht – you write him down and then you can forget him!  But okay, why Brecht?

W1: Because he’s one of the earlier proponents of what seems political –

W2: Actually Euripides would be earlier …

CW: Snap!

W3: I just saw a play by Christopher Durang –

DL: But all these people are writing differerent things –

And now MD raises the idea of all theatre being political, which DL tries to encapsulate by writing “CATS” on the wall, which MD takes issues with – or with the snark -and they go back and forth on this in a slightly spiked, slightly joshing fort of way

MD: also political events – the inauguratio, for example

W4: theatre that asks for action from the audience

W5: is there a difference between political theater and social relevance?

M1: is it about trying to make people act politically, or is it insisting on seeing art and experience through a political prism?

DL: Okay … what about results?  Hold that thought …

And we dip here into our programed part of our program …

Tonight Every Question Will Be Answered

It’s the 13th and last official performance of Venice Saved.  The jokes are flying, the mood is just a little giddy.  Outside spring has a descended with a venegance, sunny and breezy and light, so much so that it seems odd to be indoors in a windowless theatre.

Last night’s show is being exhuberantly rehashed, with various audience members being given off-the-cuff nicknames – Plastic Bag Guy, Mr. Hamas, Crazy Angry Lady, Miss Ivebeentogazawellactuallyjusthewestbank – but the mood, however punctuated by head-shakes, is still bouncing and upbeat.  As always, the cast marvels at the rules each audience adopts for itself about when and how people participate, and the spectacle of individuals working themselves into a lather.

And over what?  This is exactly what the cast can never quite understand, because they are in and not out, and the audience is out alone.