Tag Archives: Blasted

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 –


Torture 101 aka Guilt


The kneeling foursome.

I can’t remember–did Weil write this scene? Or did Gordon? How on earth did she envision such violence? Gordon has adapted it.

Scene is over. DL introduce Blasted/Artaud….Jon’s rundown on Blasted.

The bottles on the table are half empty.

Comments on Blasted:

It was not a theater where you could get up and walk around, the eyeball eating of Blasted, the references to Bosnia. This is not enough! The horrors of war–so Sarah Kane–she shot them?

Jess watched Blasted–people walked out of Blasted. She watched. 

To throw shit at the audience as a way to activate the audience–Molly’s critique of this supercilious and boring perspective.

Theater as a question of bodies.

What good is that? That masochism. To make people pull a lever for democrats. Molly is heartfelt.

Grand Guignol. When does it stop being fun and start being political theater?

What about catharsis? Nietzsche…

Zachary starts up–he speaks! He talks about the bewilderment of going to Blasted. Zachary talks about the programmatic nature of the Kane play’s justification–it did not activate him. He had respect for the actors. He felt put off by the experience. 

There was a content expectation–were we paying, at Blasted, to be induced to vomit?

The beautiful foreigner felt that her body was invaded through the state, by watching Blasted.

Someone says–then, why not go to a therapist?

She says here, in the US, she feels people do not feel “it,” she wants to feel her role in it.

DL seems to cotton to the idea of the woman being penetrated by the shock of Blasted. Did you feel empathy or disabled, able to act?

Molly says that the beautiful foreigner sounds like Simone Weil. You felt like you were at war–you felt the pain of others. It is obscure as to whether Molly means this as a compliment.

Yes, she also felt the pain of the person sitting next to her.

But why would you want to feel at war? Molly is deft with her edge. 

Because we are at war!

It’s red blood!

We need the theater….so we can feel things.But I wonder, do we really have to feel everything, all at once, for it to be real? Isn’t numbness also a feeling?

Thank God–the hand signal has passed! The discussion, while fascinating, and while evolving somewhere interesting, is still somehow strangely exhausting. I am aware, as Audience, that I want someone else to control the form, to give my brain and my flying fingers a break, as much as I have Radical Empathy for the discussion. Only the Director’s resumption of his directive role, and his Hand Signal–the unbreaking of the hierarchical frame between performance and audience–can relieve me of the strain of trying to control what I cannot control. 

I’m a journalist–so what would make her not get that feeling from journalism? The journalist is acting as therapist to the beautiful foreigner–we are very concerned about how the beautiful woman feels. How can we help her feel?

Fascinating to think how far-reaching the triumph of the therapeutic has penetrated–even to the journalist.

The Times reports on it, but we do not feel it, I do not feel it, even when I see the images. I had to see the images from other journals–Finland, Czech, Germany, all the languages I speak, beautiful incognita continues. 

Why not Al-Jazeera. The journalist’s rejoinder. Hmm, maybe not so interested in being Beauty’s therapist after all…

Clearly more refined people don’t all feel it the same way, the subtext here.

Bearded man also weighs in about how some people feel some things, some don’t.

Gaza Woman is about to speak: let her!

The bearded man returns, though

–what do the people in power think? How do they notice us? How do we get power to pay attention to us? How do we get to them? Ask them to-make them–read our blogs? How can we act like those people? The people with power are different from us.

Ah yes, as the Beautiful Foreigner is different from us, too. Ukepay.

Gaza speaks–the value of feeling the presence of the Other sitting next to you.

The purpose of political theater is to go into a room with people who think like you and who are experiencing it with you..

Religion is political theater! There are even envelopes there so that we can give money if we are moved, like a Caryl Churchill play!

But religion does that through guilt. Has guilt come up at all in relation to this experience. Do we look at these images for purposes of suffering? Apprenticeship to suffering? Guilt? 

DL rephrases: people go to see political theater out of guilt or to experience the pleasure of guilt and the pleasure of safety. A psychological and emotional and ethical double bind.

The conversation evolves: guilt and action. What kind of action does guilt inspire?

Guilt can inspire a sense of connection: Guilt has caused something. Can bad faith be useful? Can guilt cause the good?

We speak of layers of guilt. Who came here because they felt guilty–does it influence production as well as spectatorship?

What about form?

What about morality? Linda invokes Simone–they are on a first name basis, but she has sentimentalized Weil’s life. (No, she was not a political martyr! She was a very ill, hysterical, bright, tortured woman.It is we who want to shortcut through this and adopt her as an easy-bake do-it-yourself create your own political martyr. Read the Cahiers before you invoke sweeping claims like this about Weil!)

Elizabeth want s to talk about duty, and how it motivates us as a concept–the citizenship issue, as particular to Americans. A journalist is not a stenographer.

We move to discussions of what’s the difference. You feel something, but rarely do we ever feel empathy. If you see someone suffering, you feel waves of feeling, but you do not feel empathy. The empathy is an effect (or is an erasure) by virtue of form. 

Disempowering rituals?

You are disempowered by paying money to theater.

What about to therapists. Are we disempowered by paying money to therapists? Are we disempowered by paying money for nourishing food? For iPods? Would barter be any better?

The question arises: Is Weil a journalist? The life gets in the way of the work: she can’t get out of her own way in order to write a better play–but who cares, when it is her commitment which was important. Makes me think of Hitler’s paintings.


Molly’s swain interjects: Can we talk about the scene we saw? (Many minutes ago now…)

And, in another radical move tonight–David allows us to swerve backwards in the discussion, another first–he is openly transgressing the predictions made earlier about the patterns of his own directorial behavior.

The word “waterboard” was used to make us feel implicated, guilty. We are Venice.

What if there were a scene where torture is needed (what does he mean?) 24. A few people raise their hands as having seen 24, violence. 

Can we please get a nuanced view of torture, asks the general from West Point.

This conversation could go on and on, and could continue to engage and amuse and challenge us–it feels as if, tonight, there is so much to explore. Many of the forms constraints have been disregarded, and the organism, the polis of this room, has been able to populate itself with a richness of ideas. This is the point at which we could continue, for another few hours–what would happen if we were allowed to do that? What would this conversation become? Would all of us speak? Would I forget to write?

How Can We Not Admit to Anything?

The spectacle of mercenaries chained together, awaiting torture and death …

DL: in a retrograde, conventional way it’s a great scene – through basic stage mechanisms, you feel bad for these guys who, earlier, you knew to be killers.  one of the things that theatre has going for it is that you are in the same space, that it’s an atomized experience as opposed to tv – and even negatively, the comment that nothing makes you more ready to scream than something like Impressionism on Broadway.

[the examples of Black Watch and then Blasted, the latter of which is described by Mr. Krupp …]

W8 makes the comparison between the lives and afflictions of Sarah Kane and Simone Weil …

W10: for an American audience, do they know how to do anything other than throw up or give money?  is the problem more with an audience that can’t imagine any other course of action?

DL: if you’re an artist, where do you situate yourself on the spectrum of direct action?

W8: what about theatre that isn’t explicitly political?  what about just art or just dance – what’s the problem with regard to theatre?

DL: when people say political theatre or political art – is it anything more than a marketing ploy?

W1: also, giving money or puking – it’s an ejaculatory vision of response, it seems really limited

MJ: yes, there’s a whole range of reactions that are intensely human that we should allow for – the act of compassion at the end of Blasted, for example

W10: there’s a category of response that’s also not about you or your feelings, but about whether the kid in Bosnia might be able to pull himself together – that the object of your attention is still there, despite your reaction

M1: certainly it can all be an excuse

MJ: or that you tell yourself that merely feeling something is the equivalent of a political act …

Finding Our Niche in Trauma

Blasted as an epitome of a kind of intimate theatre, which ends up raising a range of new political questions with regard to Black Watch – in a sense it’s Artaud to Brecht … does it seem like this is a way of really digging into what theatre can do?

CW: even though there’s a lot of disagreement about what people thought about it

Emilia: It’s also just thing kind of work that defines – and creates – a notion of community, which is in turn feeding into political impact

W1/Tara: isn’t it like journalism?  what’s the difference between this theatre and what I would find in a journalistic account?  the description of these pieces as “realistic” just makes me wonder what the intent is.

CW: a lot of documentary theatre is actually really more complicated – both in terms of synthesis, but also in terms of actual art – there’s music, there’s a complicated narrative.  the story of The Civilians’ Brooklyn at Eye Level and the way it did actually bring together a really large and conflicted community.

M10: when we say something is political theatre, what are we hoping to get out of it?  this isn’t 1969 – what would we imagine a real political theatre to be?

DL: isn’t this Weil’s whole issue?  All of this is geared to making people aware of an injustice – can you actually make people aware of it in a way that takes their awareness to a new level, to action?

W3: as opposed to Sarah Kane, who’s a British moralist.

DL: when you see someone doing performance art, you may be stunned or impressed, but you don’t usually feel empathy.  but the same “events” on stage move you in a different way.  Can we compare, for example, Dustin Hoffman’s method acting for Marathon Man to Weil’s attempt to work in factories to raise her own awareness.

W5: but I think she’s doing that work for her own soul, not for a performance

Emilia: there’s no one-size-fits-all for political theatre – I’m happy if there’s an epiphany of “O I didn’t realize that” – a slight change is enough, it doesn’t have to be someone going out and setting bombs or staging protests.

W1: it’s about whether something’s persuasive.

M8: but it seems like the Civilians show is about showing a broad view, not persuading people

M4: and also, the Exonerated was also only part of a large communal campaign to change the death penalty – a piece of theatre also exists in an environment.  it doesn’t have to decide whether it’s fictional or real.

DL: or maybe it does …

Closer to home

Blackwatch 3 – non-profit theater.

What happens when the theater you’re watching contains topics and characters that you have greater access to in your own life?

Does anyone want to see a play about that?

Nina – my honest feeling when this scene started was “oh god, please, I really don’t want to see this.”  When asked to choose, she says it would be harder to see a play about non-profit theater than, say, “Blasted.”

DL – “Blasted” raises the same issues about character advocacy.  How do you feel after doing that show night after night after night – either as one of the victims or as one of the perpetrators.

Lady of the young theater major couple – the political point of “Blasted” was lost because it was such a gross-out fest.  Her friend saw the people indulging in this “horribly audacious piece of trash.”

DL – Is this a Brechtian model for audience reaction – keeping your distance and commenting on the gore in a very removed fashion.

DL moves on to talk about virtuoso suffering, in terms of Reed Burney in “Blasted” and Christi as Violetta post-sacking.  Another example is Heath Ledger playing the Joker.  What’s in it for the audience?

DL – And then let’s extend this to an analysis of Simone Weil and her consummate method acting in her life.

Mary – Why isn’t this political theater?

Colleen – we’ve never said it wasn’t.

Staged Suffering

Blackwatch vs Blasted

DL – Blasted is like a dare, “i’m going to throw as much stuff at you as you can take”

-It’s interesting to think of these two in the same breath, Blasted is not JUST about how much you can take – Blackwatch at the end is a play that is very romantic and about the honor of military service

DL – But they were the hits, radically different approaches and radically different politics – but when we talk about bodies in seats… it’s usually never spelled out but, “seeing, participating, experiencing THIS will be good for you and make you a better citizen”

DL – Let’s give Weil the last word

“The Impact Is Important”

DL: earlier somone talked about theatre where people are ‘strapped down’ – another model of political theatre is something like Blasted

M12 offers an awesome first-hand account of the Soho Rep production of Blasted … with different reactions: “what the fuck!” “I know where she’s coming from!” “I didn’t care!”

DL: but what does it mean if you leave a night like that and “loving it”?

W1: Do you carry that story around in your head with regard to horrors in the news?

M12: I think you take it in even more, because you’ve got this poetic window into those kinds of experience.

DL: it’s an artaud model as opposed to brecht, if you’re being assaulted – and you’re paying for it –

CW: post-theatre stress disorder?

M11: We’ve been debating between ‘propagandart’ and theatre that allows for more points of view … but Weil’s essay on the Iliad is all about the cycle of violence, and how both sides lose.  What I’m getting out of this is her pacificism – that war is horrible, that nothing good is going to come of this.

W11: what is it that she was tinkering with?  she wasn’t debating the same questions that we’re debating here.  how does the formal artifice influence the politics?

M4: she didn’t just want to suffer, but she also wanted to see herself suffer.  after 9/11 I crossed over – I wanted to breathe what was in the air – I have a flashback of hearing the news – it’s a kind of private theatre, a perpetual state of emergency, that seems like a relevant echo.

M13: it seems like all kinds of gestures – a song, or the violence of Sarah Kane – can break through the surface.  the old theatrical forms don’t reach us anymore, it seems.

DL: the apparent contradiction of watching “real” suffering in performance art and feeling no empathy, and watching “unreal” suffering in theatre and feeling tons of it …