Tag Archives: Black Watch

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


Is the theater really dead?

The knives are drawn!

They were drawn before the intermezzo, and still are unsheathed.

DL defines documentary theater and introduces it–it embraced the contemporary confusion of information and expanded the audience na-na-na [sic]. This is a new tear he’s on. The director is directive here, he’s the bridge between the one cue the audience and actors seem to understand universally, along with tickets: intermission—and the “performance.”

SO,  quickly, documentary theater is about the bad things that happen. The bad things! We must imagine that Venice has not been Saved–here is some documentary theater for us to chew on. (Gum is gone). It’s BlackWatch, the depressing one.

*** SW has left! She will not get to see SW. AML still here, loyal.

As C speaks the first Violetta as Blackwatch monologue, “they put our men on busses”—we hear an echo of what happened in the Lebanon, at the Saabra Shatila refugee camp, as described in the Bashir documentary. We hear many echoes.

  The girls, the schoolgirls, are twisting their hair. The virginal white bags arrayed upon the table in front of them, uniformly. They are even whispering amongst each other. A Last Supper of all girls.

 DL for some reason looks strangely hypnotized by the Blackwatch scene.

 BCGHM, sitting next to David, is smiling–proudly almost as a father watching his daughter win an award, proudly beaming, as Violetta speaks of being raped.

DL asks, at close of scene–Effect?

But once again, YM must tell us that he has not been engaged.

The long haired man “cares” about the woman’s story, not her numbers. And that is what we want. A story. To be changed by a story. It definitely sounds as if he has been sitting there simmering all night. Why didn’t he speak up earlier?

Someone seems to have said “That’s all about you as the viewer”

* Did she really say that’s all about you as the viewer? No, she said that about the interviewer–but she could very well have said this to the man who just spoke with such emotion. NYIntlW speaks, too, sounding smart, about the effective use of testimony in documentary theater: Gideon finally chimes in, about Investigation. And the effect of that raw testimony. Real actors, and real testimony.

 This lead us to wonder, as this discourse doubles back and moves ahead on itself–why do we teach? Why do we educate? Why do we bother? It takes infinite patience, and we can see this on DL’s face, the desire not just to seem but also to be interested in these discoveries as if for the first time, but the restlessness of wanting to chime in with one’s own agenda. The mind is impatient and willful–how does he control his? And not dominate? As that tension between desiring to be interested and desiring to further stimulate the mind moves back and forth, he encourages someone else to talk. Aha, there it is again–we teach because there are moments, glimmers, when we are surprised, when the conversation does unwittingly, but not without its wits, teach us.

Kara, the first name of the night, (no wait, there was a Josh back there before the break, which I forgot to note) speaks eloquently, at length, referring to the 2 or 4 hours we have been here; she notes our passivity in making and watching.

 The Pert one says you can’t have theater without audience… The brilliant comment followed by the pert cliche.

Then we hear strongly from DL–Weil’s whole problem is how can you be the one NOT suffering? How can you know there is suffering going on and not suffer? Today is the 3rd of April, the anniversary of the Cheju incident, a civilian massacre in Korea in the 1940’s

…Please define for us in Weil’s terms: suffering?

 Colleen spars with Michael! I have been re-naming him JW, but it is MW. He who is willing to start an argument–for its own sake? MW says how do you know I am not sitting here doing something? MW: How do you know what I am thinking? This goes back to the scene so uncannily wherein Violetta asks how can the interviewer know what “she” has experienced, what is the point of  “his” gesture towards belief in her suffering. How can we know what anyone else is thinking? The interviewer from the scene, like Colleen, would like to try to know; Violetta says impossible. MW is well aware that we cannot know what is in other people’s heads, but we can at least respect that Something is there. That empathy is possible. That we can try to understand how to begin to understand by means of representation (language, theater, etc).

 MW goes back to questioning the notion not just of a political theater, but of a political act–what would a political act be? A grenade at Atlantic Yards?

CW offers Brooklyn at Eye Level. As her grenade thrown at Atlantic Yards. Her politics intersecting with theater.

She offers witness testimony that the people who came to the performance at the Brooklyn Lyceum represented many classes, interests, points of view (though Ratner did not attend). She also concedes that while this series of events was collaborative and well attended, no doubt many of the atypical theatergoers in attendance were there to see “themselves” as represented on stage.

  *Digression: What is so odd about that? One of the reasons I continued to attend this second iteration of Venice Saved is to hear whether my point of view and the information I had contributed, my research and my interactions with David and Gordon, whether any of these were still “on stage.” Some little part of my mind still part of what is being performed: I came to see myself, in whatever transformed state.  We go to any form of entertainment to see parts of “ourselves” in varyingly metonymic ways: the part that is our words, the part that coincidentally reflects something about our human experience. This is the very basis of theater. If this is political, too, then by definition theater must be political in that it relates to the polis, the city.

So why isn’t that enough? What is political theater? Is it something like womenly women? Manly men? Violent violence? What theater  isn’t political theater? MW seems to think, according to DL, that “the numinous could” we feel upon leaving the theater is not enough. What if the “numinous could” is all that we have, though?


 But no, this is wonderful Colleen, conceded Michael—and by this he means Venice Saved. According to this audience member, Venice Saved: A Seminar, this evening, is the most profound experience of political theater he has experienced.

Hand grenades? Fake Theater Hand Grenades—they have been discovered in our swag bags. Perhaps what we expect from political theater is something quantifiable, something tangible with which we can continue to interact with the polis which exists outside of the theater. But  we have so much time for this. Why not a time-bomb instead of a grenade? Theater, a single performance event, exists in the polis and also within the constraints of time. The polis and its history also exist within the constraints of time. The hyper-intense time spent inside the polis-within-the-polis of the theater of course must effect the polis at large. However, the effect is over time, and not necessarily immediately quantifiable.

The “numinous could” which so bothers MW is key here. Sven Birkerts would weigh in that we want it, and we want it now: we want to see it now, write about it now, forget about it now. But theater’s political effects may only be felt over a long time—and that is just; a polis is slow to educate, a history, a political life, the place we live in as we live in it and attempt to change and enrich it all must occur over time, a long time. We cannot have immediate results: when our theater is rich, active, varies, and weaves inside and outside of the life of the polis which contains it, then it is political. In some way, we can only perceive the strength and potency of this numen afterwards. To engage in political theater may de facto feel as if the experience now is not good enough, not enough, never enough.

 Later, when the point is brought home to us, we perhaps that part of who we are as a political people was inextricably bound up with the theaters of varying intensity in which we participated. There is a link here to Augustine writing, many years after the fact, “I wept for Dido, but not for myself.” But there is just not enough time to explore it here.

Three Bertolt Brechts Walk into a Bar …

And we’re back!  In the interval beer has magically appeared.

DL: You may remember our cliff-hanger ending to act one … “Who Cares?” ringing across the land … and it’s a slow answer.

Brecht cares, for one – even though he never shows up on the board.  You like the first Courtesan scene because it shows you timeless human truths … but Brecht would say that’s only a tool to keep people down.  Instead there are only the circumstances of a given time, which are always subject to change – not eternal.

But does the American theatre about Brecht?  Not much … more in art contexts.

Who else cares?  Moises Kaufmann!  The rise of documentary theatre in the last two decades, and is pretty much the default mode today … my contention would be that if other modes weren’t somehow less urgent, it wouldn’t have been developed.

So let’s look at documentary theatre, which – since it requires a victim – will make the assumption that Venice has been sacked …

[when the dramaturgs are introduced, a car alarm erupts outside the door!  the outrage of a city expressed!]

JOURNALIST: A lot of people have also spoken about mistreatment of women –

VIOLETTA: Mistreatment?

JOURNALIST: Rape. About rape used as a weapon of terror.

[Slight pause.]

VIOLETTA: What about it?

DL: So what does all that information do?  All that extra context do?  It’s a fairly straight monologue, but you’re tossing in this contextualization … does it change the way you listen?

W2: it does make you think about how the information gets out there – about how the media functions, and why.

DL: Do you question her story?

W2: no, because the way it’s acted.

M6: I sympathize with her more, because she’s a real person to whom something happened – while we’ve all seen newscasters present information – about iraq, where ever – and it puts me in my living room, in the familiar experience of being distant from the story, from the experience.

W5: what would it be like if you mixed up the scene – had the actors take different positions, make the talking heads more active, etc.  I do think we could think more critically about the acting and directing choices that you’ve made …

DL: Okay, let’s say I am a director of “Play X”, and I’m worked up about the fact that no one cares about Venetian women (except Nicholas Kristoff) and I’m staging it to get people to really care … but that doesn’t seem to be enough, so I’m also going to take out a collection for a charity …

W5: I have a small question about acting choices for Jon Krupp: a pause in the Violetta scene, and cleaning your glasses in the Renaud/Jaffier scene … my question is about those humanizing acting moments, how do those arise, what impact to they have?  Do we care about your emotional responses – if we’re talking about political theatre, don’t these micro-level choices add up to a sort of ideology?

DL: Well, a rehearsal room is a microcosm of a certain kind of social contract.  The way we’ve been working is that the actors make choices, I tell them what I like or don’t – but the basic style has to do with naturalism, with a kind of rote even-handedness.  I don’t tell anyone to be sympathetic or not – I assume everyone is going to try to be sympathetic, that they’re “merely” going to inhabit their characters.  But there is a supposedly behind all those assumptions.

M7: But doesn’t it also beg the question of who‘s political – the talking heads, the journalist, the victim?

DL: The form certainly assumes that political content, but it’s often muddled by the fact that the audience is usually on one side, and watching with an assumption about what they already think.

The Third Path

A third way of dealing with this kind of material is a documentary approach.  Venice Saved is about a state catastrophe that doesn’t happen, or one that turns into a personal catastrophe.  To look at this in that way requires the assumption that Venice was sacked after all …

Levine: what does the extra information do?  You can imagine this as a two-person scene, or even a monologue, but there’s an extra element of context, what does this change?

Does it prevent us from being lost in the personal dramatic elements.

There are also different points of view in the context …

Levine: but it would seem like having sympathy for people is a basic part of political theatre?  Does this help?

I want it to be mediated, worked through, not this self-conscious presentationalism & condescending …

Levine: does it add to the sympathy when her human story is being haggled over?

It’s useful in terms of telling the story, but it pulls back from the emotion.

It also makes it possible to see the victim in a different, more flexible light.