Tag Archives: empathy

Immediate Concerns

DL: Coming back to the question of what can provoke action or engagement … how close to home does the material need to be?  Let’s try something a little more local.

[Violetta as the bond trader …]

DL: You know … let’s being it Even Closer …

[Violetta as literary manger …]

DL: Let’s bring it EVEN CLOSER … does anyone want a beer?

[confused silence]

DL: I’m not acting!  And we don’t have styrofoam beer – who wants one?

[beer is distributed]

DL: what about the recent trend – at least at ps122 – of handing out beer.  “Beer is the only thing that makes it bearable …” but if we are conceding that theatre’s audience is so small that its effect is small, are we also conceding that the mechanisms of theatre are too complicated?

MD: I have a problem with the whole design of these scenes.  these scenes start with a woman who’s been raped, and then you’re using the same frame to show these next scenes makes them seem impossibly more petty and I don’t agree with that strategy at all.

DL: I think it’ s more about the strategy of documentary theatre

MD: but I think decision to stage them the same way skews things

DL: what about this kind of theatre where the actual making of the play that presents social injustice is founded on social injustice

MD: there’s a huge difference between theatre as an art form and actual institutions – political theatre can still happen, even if a given institution might be problematic

CW: but what institutions are dedicated to fighting injustice?

DL: but they do present these works, like nickled and dimed –

W9: what is your mission statement and what did you do – on SW’s 100 anniversary – to get funding for this?

DL: yeah, but compromise gets me hot

W9: well, why is that okay for you instead of these institutions?

DL: but if ps122 or I are acting in bad faith that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the instutitions

MD: these institutions also chose to sell out their core beliefs and adopt a corporate model

W9: as long as you admit your own complicity

JH: admitting it is the first step

PL: in this conversation we keep talking about the political as if it were change, as if it were revolution – but it seems like it’s more commonly characterized as recognition, which is a different exchange, with different results

M3: sometimes preaching to the choir is necessary – to be reminded that the struggle is worth it, to sustain engagement and action

MD: there’s also political theatre of the stastus quo – works that are about keeping things as they are, that you’ll be moved, but not too much, and you’ll stay a subscriber and go home happy

M4: I don’t believe the Illinois Gov was changed by the exonerated so much as he detected in it the evidence of a social curve, a momentum that allowed him to make a statement or a public stand – precisely because it’s being backed up in public.


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?

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.


Radical Empathy

From the corner of my eye, I notice Colleen making the moves to go, while DL is getting to the more interesting connections between Simone and the Doing of Things.

Blasted comes up–David knows the angle to play, to the other “teacher” here, the BlueShirtWoman…He talks about the Weils riding the bus w/o socks (they did leave their shoes on). Do you guys now about Blasted?

JK talks about Blasted, so the theater students can follow.  The switch from a Classical Style to a literalism, as HH Munro would call it, the Schartz-Metterklune Method. Ultra-realism. We can’t stage a Blasted scene here–you can only do it when there is a proscenium, a border of unreality to stage the reality reality. Sarah Kane started to write this violent obscene-scene after tv…

After watching Bosnia on tv? Is vomiting in response as good as giving money? We all must witness what has happened on earth: to turn away is a moral and also an aesthetic failure. Arthaud, Blasted, Kushner. Levels, degrees of poitical theater: different realtionships to bodies and seats!

Bodies and seats. The way I am going to make you learn is by fucking you up, or guiding you quietly, or…?

Or is it about the author’s psychology, offers Kara, which leads us back into an interior space.

In part it depends on the times; casting can be political, too. That any number of things can be politicized.

It is significant that J speaks this. No one comments on this–though he seems to be inviting it.

“I don’t enjoy Sarah Kane.” The difference between radicalization and alienation: we are back to this old argument. Do we really want to activate the citizenry?

Do we?

Are we really back here again?

Am I going to be okay getting down the ladder? Am I drunk? Beer: half gone. On table: beers almost all gone. Lubricant, indeed.

Weil is trying to experience it as REAL-ly as possible.

I should have eaten more than rice crackers…and Colleen is gone from the table! That means this is about to end! Just as we are getting interested!

DL discusses the concept of radical empathy as transcending statehood, and entering into the space of the personal and mystical.

The impact of theater, says MW, Bodies and Seats…the most effective political theater has a certain opacity and poetry. It is about transmitting something beyond distraction, placations, and opiates. Angels in America reached people–that is a political thing.

(How aware am I that all this is going, all this great discussion—and DL has engineered the next level of hierarchy to be sprung upon us. There is Colleen, gearing up for our pleasure, and his–for Art. For the dictates of a form which require a performance to END. The director can encourage us to interrogate the form, to defy it, but he also must enforce its formal properties–he knows it must end, and mush as he shows even his mother to her seat in a courtly way, so he too is seeing us home, to the end of our evening, in a courtly way. Whether anyone is aware ofi t or not, we are being lead just when we most feel we are free to discuss ).

The film Milk vs. the documentary comes up

–you are talking about budget, speaks the Lady Poet. You love Milk. I can’t believe the movie is better than the documentary…despite the fact that it is a confection, a budgetary confection.

Why is this a space where democracy must reign?

Democracy reign?

Eisenfaust–in Germany, the director has an absolute power. Does democracy produce great art? (Everyone is talking now that virgin blood and beer have been spilled)…

This is a democratic space. vs. We love that it looks like a democracy. vs. It looks like a democratic space, but some have paid to be here, and some are being paid, and some are being told where to stand….

Should politiccal theater be burdened with replicating democracy, with doing anything?

The fallacy that democracy means everybody equal: cheap transition, to torture. In the Venetian Republic.  Which scene?

GHBCM has unpacked all the levels of hierarchy that are operating here…in case anyone missed them (and did they catch them this time).

And David slowly explains the scene, when the girls don’t follow. Interesting nod to collaboration, reaction, democracy? I’ve never seen that here before, the director openly adjusting to make it easier for the audience. What am I saying? Isn’t that all it is?

In my heart, I have borne a secret empire! Damn, I’m even starting to remember other people’s lines, despite myself.

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.

Political theater: working and not getting paid

Where is the bathroom?

Meanwhile, I’m aware, as a serial audience member, and, tonight, as a separated, maniagraphic audience member, that what interests me most in this performance, over time, is its variations–variation in response, variation in crowd, variations in performance, variations in beverages, variation in physiological and atmospheric conditions. Venice Saved in relation to these is static. It is an thing around which these conditions accrue and fluctuate, and these are the Effects which are of significance.

The same thing, over and over, speeches, a list of questions, of pivotal moves, of chalk, of words, of Now Back to You Colleens, of Fun Facts–the exact, refined, machined objects to which the audience feels free to respond, and which the audience can clearly detect as theater–are not interesting almost at all the second time around. Let alone the fifth. The static elements of the performance or of the dramatic work do not hold my attention. Not even the charms of DL can hold one’s infinite attention. How do the actors stand doing the same lines night after night after night? How is it even possible to have a discussion with any kind of real passion unless there is a moment of disruption, wherein the unexpected occurs–jarring the expectations of the actors, etc, so that they respond differently.

I suppose that for the audience, as in any learning process, there is an excitement to uncovering their own purchase upon the experience: oh, these are the limits; oh I am beginning to understand and have my own opinion. Oh, that guy in the sequins isn’t an actor. Oh, he’s his ex-lover! That’s his mother! Wait, this play is a satire, and it’s actually a really really bad play that was arbitrarily chosen because the copyrights ran out! &c… But how interesting is that for the rest of us who are “staging” that wonder? The politics of that sort of theater (or this sort) is a lie somehow: by the end, the audience has had an encounter, an experience of novelty of some kind. They’ve quantifiably learned something. They have explored the contents of the gift bag and compared to to what’s in the other gift bags. They feel as if they are learning at the same time they feel (or perhaps do not feel) entertained. They are given the illusion that they have done work, but they have not. Who is actually working here???? Please, someone, read this and write back!   What a strange topsy-turvy hierarchy. Even the one embedded in the act of writing alone in the dark in a room full of people.

Maybe a real political theater would enact an opposite kind of tyranny–not the tyranny of the audience’s pleasure and entertainment, the tyranny of getting people to show up and stay, but rather the company pleasing only itself. The company amusing themselves at the expense of the audience. Instead of wanting to be approved of by the audience, rather to cultivate the dislike of the audience? Oh, that makes no sense: I sound like someone who has just discovered the term Identity. Or Deconstruction. This discovery may be interesting to me, but it is deadly boring to anyone who has been working on this for years, and I almost feel ashamed revealing my own dorky and naive intellectual processes. I am participating right now, by revealing the banalities of my reasoning process, in making an audience attend the same bad play night after night…this one just happens to be in my mind.

No, I’ve got it! Stage a play where there is only ONE audience member. That audience member does not know that no one else is “audience,” but are all semi-scripted actors. The entire night’s performance is a painful coming-to-awareness of the fact that he alone is the audience, the only actor who is not being played. Paid.