Tag Archives: authenticity

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 –


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 …

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.

Simone Weil or Jesus

Boom, Colleen apears in what can only be called one of the most obviously stagy fright wigs ever seen–lights go! Tis dark.

Who hath dimmed our lights, the lights of our conversation that was at last growing? People are smiling.

How we love to be fooled!  Fooled into thinking that we were having a discussion. Some look on with what looks like sheer hatred. “Do you want Simone Weil or Jesus?” she asks.  

CW IS SW, wig and all.

The lines do not have quite the resonance they have had on other evenings, because we have not, inevitably, hit the same scenes in the same way–of Jaffier’s opening speech in the Bell Tower, of the intricacies and pathos of SW’s hunger—with the same force as on other nights. We have hit on different things which could resound here. Like the many endings, depending on the theater, imagined by Kieslowski for the Double Vie de Veronique, Weil’s closing monologue here would have to be freshly written every single night in order to hit the tenor of each particular discussion….She could have a repertoire of monologues.

We need to conjure her up every night, perhaps, in order to both save her, poor befuddled philosopher girl, and to do her justice. She, SW, is Venice Saved, VS, unsaved. The extreme and willing suspension of disbelief we experience in this final speech, where we are moved to radical empathy despite ourselves, and despite our recent and intense interest in our own selves and our ideas, our ability to be entertained and to be moved, to be changed by what we have seen, this late in the game. is the moment that makes Venice Saved a Seminar political, theater, and art.

SO much clapping.

The clink of a beer into the recycling bin.


Obsessively tinkering with Happiness

Now J waltzes in, in a too smooth to fool us that it is not scripted hand-off;  again, we are regaled with more literary historical insights, sounding detaching, and sounding authoritative. I am starting to suspect that many of the audience members are students by day; they are obedient and impassively listening, their faces blank. This is the download of information the hegemony of the direction offers us: this feels like a lesson about a political role model. Are we to ask whether this “part” is political theater? The download model of information? Why not just distribute to us timelines of SW’s life, and few pages of her bibliography, turn up the lights, and MAKE US READ for these interludes, instead of actors “working” for us, tutoring us? Paolo Freire, where are you? (Reading–what am I thinking–we watch so our eyeballs can stay still, and rest after the dreaded process of reading. Are we avid readers–no, we avoid reading. I am not reading this, just blabbing-blogging it. SW couldn’t seem to stop reading and writing in her life… ).

Only one person is taking notes. A woman. With pencil–no, with the pen from the swag bag–on yellow legal paper. She is wearing a scarf.

Ah, rape! CW interjects into the discussion, with what seems to be an unstaged interruption–and more pens approach papers, without rustling.

The first scene of the play: JK and JB –some of the gum-chewing stops, there is laughing, there are smiles–it feels like an interactive experience again, as opposed to a static one. The hierarchy between audience and the theatrical frame is re-established comfortably, even if the stage is on the same level as our own feet.

Violetta expresses her happiness: the interplay between C and C is subtle and funny, though it is not clear that the audience can see the nuances. Are we supposed to like this? Isn’t this…dreadful? Some of their faces seem to be saying? Etc? How willing are they going to be to question this play, if they are conditioned to respect whatever is in front of them.

When Jaffier’s speech, which is serious. Serious. unfolds, there is now laughter too–a little bit in the beginning; and then secret laughter along the table. That is, the audience is still holding the leftover cue to laugh from the previous scene–they knew that laughter was approved, so they aren’t sure if it is okay not to laugh now. It is the laughter of “oh yes we get it now” except they do not get it, or they would not be laughing!  They would understand this speech as it is–and not laugh. Somehow, tonight’s rendering of this speech gets lost somehow, its words don’t take root.

At last, the courtesan scene. And DL says “kill the lights” as if he did not say it every night…we are offered all of the talismans of the belief in theater. Oh, wow, we are “in” on how it’s done, they are showing us “the real thing.”

And then–miracolo!–the cell phone! A cell phone rings! “You going to get that?”  someone asks–even more shocking, the ringing acknowledged!

Then  JW interrupts, loudly–“Hey, what’s that book under your chair?”…whoa!

The room is destabilized–the courtesan scene has stopped. We do not know where to look for our entertainment–to the actors, stilled, or to DL, cueing us, or to the tension between JW and members of the audience. Are they going to keep chatting? IS this allowed to turn into a sleepover party? What would happen if that audience conversation kept going, and overthrew the tyranny of the script? Would we watch? Or leave? Revolt? Submit?

Is this a meta-interruption?

Is this staged?  Or real?

Hey! We are here to DISCUSS

Before the heavy stuff, bathrooms, audience! Levine begins, we hear the tremble in his voice, the professor who must engage a motley class–and how do we get these “students” to talk.

A pert young comment–“Farce”–breaks the silence to the usual question: What is political theater?

And why is it that when we are asked a question, we do not want to speak. Even with the coaxings of the professor DL, who cajoles us–“I can listen and write at the same time”–anything to appeal to the room, to get them to talk, to answer back.

The chalk is a vague blue this evening.There is chalk on the wall: Theatrical Revance (sp?), theater that wants to cause social action.

Anyone else want to be heard from, he asks, coaxing–details? Narrow this down?

–David do we want to define political theater as it purports to be, or as we find it to be? JW breaks the barrier–by addressing Levine straight on. Interesting why he feels free to do this, and the rest of the audience sits back, shy. All are invited to speak, no? Perhaps it is his sequins which empower him. Note: sequins/democracy/political theater.

At this point, when there is something besides our own discomfort to watch, the audience sits back, relaxed. Now they need not speak or not speak, and listen, as David is the one who delivers the information about SW and the play. It is easier to be taught. To be told. Not to have to ask questions. How much more comfortable when the authority takes the heat of exposure.

Eyes are dutifully fixed upon Levine–;sequin man–JW–is turning his head to stare at him directly.

DL turns it over to Colleen and eases into his chair. Relief? Ours? His. When there is something to watch, and when no one has to talk but the people who have been given a script (even if they collaborated on its making) we know waht to do. Nothing.


Note later: Is listening the same as doing Nothing?

Playing Blog-ghost

Tonight the blogger of Simone Weil’s Venice Saved Seminar is being played by Mary Di Lucia in the role pioneered by Gordon Dahlquist and in the spirit of Cymoan Veil.

We are in the Bell Tower!

Fire in the Bell Tower on the i-pod …the House is open! In fact, it’s Electric 6, High Voltage.

All the blood connections are here tonight. Zeppelin now whispers, scratchily.

While Mariluetta dances, the imp!, Levine paces in blue t-shirt, unlit cigarette btw teeth. A bevy of audience sprawls along the table, unfolding swag from bags, bouncing glowing electric objects. SW bounces one, entranced. And a voice calls “Gordon…Come!”

It’s like being Pip, in the crow’s nest. What’s going on in the diamond spangled depths? I see the reflections of Ahab, and the footprint of God here as well, in the murk of Creation, of ART being created. What happens once we all fall in? Into the belly of the whale.

Only one coffee on table (Mud); 4 waters; a sprite. Reports have reached our ears that we are out of buttermints with Christian wrapping.