Tag Archives: institutions

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.


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.

Please, Gordon, a few tabs of the old Rumanian aspirin !

Interesting how many viewers are cradling their chins in their hands as the “boxcar outside of Venice w/ courtesan as prostitute” scene unfolds.

Then–another interruption—!–Is this Don Giovanni? Someone knocks, loudly: “Is this the Jazz Performance?” a woman’s voice asks. But it does not interrupt the scene—

As CW holds the audience in the palm of her hand…From up here, I have to wonder, why is the audience looking on so raptly at the jazzed up and simplified version of the courtesan scene? Why does it only count as political theater when the politics are spoon fed to us, writ large?

The young serious man says it felt “too close” theatrically–unengaged. He was unengaged.  Even though it spoke to him. DL introduces the topic of “Ruined.” What changes when you make the move of updating the scenography?

YM–We can see HOW they have updated it?

DL–Does that bring it closer to us?

JW–DAVID, (again, this audience member is fascinating in that he feels permitted to speak his mind, to use names, he seems perfectly at ease and perfectly invited to own as much of the discourse as he likes. He uses a sonorous tone when he speaks; he sounds as if he is acting. But he is not one of the actors–I know this, as a serial viewer; does anyone else? What permits himto break the frame? Why aren’t the others following his lead?) the adaptation was GAMED a bit by the transparent use of specific information. Becomes snag and smug-it feels like it is jabbing us with a point. Couldn’t things be drawn in subtley, a relationship that said something powerful and political.

BlackCladMan: Concurs that it feels didactic. Density of first scene, vs. cheap politics of 2nd scene, easy laugh.

YM: too polarizing.


Clearly, silence is intolerable here…DL nudges forward another question, revives dying pulse.

but YM: understands that the specificity if SW’s version is more useful somehow.

CW, J, enter in, steering us towards their views of the scene.

DL: Does sympathy matter?

Pert young woman answers–yes.

(Is it sympathy or empathy that matters? Isn’t it sympathy that’s cheap?)

JK weighs in, about the evocative vs. the heavy handed. Brecht, Brecht, Brecht. BCM. YM. Blue shirted woman.

Ah, the first  school girl has spoken! She feels more sympathy for the prostitute! Courtesan sounds like more fun, gives her  a “more nice feeling”–so she feels less sympathy, less sympathy. The sympathy she feels gets in the way in the second scene, she says; the first version of the courtesan scene, in which she does not pity the courtesan who can enjoy some of the pleasures of life, wealth, shelter, etc, is the one she prefers. It seems as if she is coming to the conclusion that the presence of sympathy, or of too much emotion and identification, stymies her ability to react as one should to Political Theater.

(How should one…? We do not know).

Hallelujah! The girls are speaking up about the girls.

YM intervenes, after DL rephrases the question.  And CW also becomes an authority–Shakespearey style. Again, noticing how the actors are more and more interested in acting as audience.


Note: Later, what I am noticing here is the tyranny of content. The discussion chases its tale over and over again about the literal questions DL asks, or that the material seems to be prompting us to ask. I am tired of these questions, I’m aware; I have heard them too many times. But for this Evening to work, the DL must be endlessly patient, as if he is discovering along with them. He can’t push too hard–out of frustration and boredom, I would, I would quickly jettison all this talk of content to the meta level, to the level of problematizing the entire forum, the presence of the director. How do you prompt people to think on the meta level, to begin to deconstruct the questions before them, the questions that seem obligatory to answer–to let them know that even as audience members at a theater, they have choices?

It may take an entire semester, or years of a corrupt regime, or the Second Coming before everyone catches on to the truths and lies of how much permission, how much power, how much agency they have in any given situation–as artists, as writers, as consumers, as citizens. But in the meantime, the process towards this realization is tedious, flawed, slow, easily blindsided, repetitive, chases its tail. Were there not a patient DL-type, willing to tolerate all of our twisted process, what would happen? We would not be aware there was a process going on at all, perhaps.We would chase our tails for centuries, and only get glimpses once in a while that there was Another Way, Something Else. And I am sitting up here in the Bell Tower, and I see it, but they don’t–but they can’t hear me. And if I save them, they will continue on, blissfully, ignorantly happy…Damn! Even in trying to deconstruct the form, you cannot get a way from the metaphorical cues the content offers you. It’s diabolical, as if my sense-making of the larger issues here, the conceptual ones, have been pre-determined by the content, the cheezy stories and words Weil has put into my head first. I unwittingly return to her language, even when I am arguing that her language, and the solidity of the story she has put before us, is the very obstacle to discussing all that is most important here. I am lead from concept to content like an obedient school girl.

Retrenching Even Further

We see Violetta interviewed again, translated into a poor Literary Manager …

DL: Yay!  Laugh at the institution that doesn’t even feed you!

FH: Judith Malina would say that revolutionary times provoke revolutionary art – you can judge a society as how they treat artists

DL: So these aren’t revolutionary times?

FH: Students at CUNY are really disengaged from the issues that you would think would effect them – they look to Jon Stewart, which also means that on some level they don’t actually take them seriously …

Hanny: How many of us here are connected to theatre?  [many hands raised] Brecht was writing when theatre was pop culture – now we can’t say that.

[sidebar on the Ohio Theatre’s closing]

Hanny: it seems like there are two angles to political theatre: what I’m saying is so important that you owe me your attention, or what is happening is so important that I owe it my effort … and it seems like the former is what always happens.  I think that theatre does need to be able to pay its own way – it does need to earn its own place in the market, in the world.  Political theatre is less important when it’s no longer popular culture …

DL: if we’re going to concede that theatre has a smaller audience than TV, people still continue to make political theatre or political art – yet people still continue to do it – do we need to justify it?

SC: you can make an argument for intimacy – that you’re getting a much more powerful experience – that really does separate what theatre can offer from mass media …

DL: okay, but maybe that notion of intimacy, of theatre as a medium of physical immediacy, brings us to another possible view on things – Blasted

A Lovely, Empty Building

And Violetta the Dramaturg gets a round of knowing laughter, and applause …

DL: So okay, what about the two talking heads do you agree with?

JG: both, really – I agree with James’ critique of the institutions, but I also think that there are things that could be done to make theatre more interesting.

DL: Like what?

JG: Like this – not that public conversations are the answer –

DL: Right, this is going to broadway!

[sidebar on advertising for theatre]
W10: well, ours isn’t a theatre-based society.

DL: okay, but this is a dark question – so revive me – but, okay, we were talking about the prevalence of beer in downtown theatre.  everyone does it – isn’t it over?  and my friend said it only makes it bearable, because already everything’s happening in such stretched circumstances.

EK: story of divulging the plot of Take Me Out to couple, the news of it being about a gay ballplayer ruining their entire evening …

DL: quote, “Joe’s Pub is connected to a theatre?”

W7: Well, what’s happening with all those people energized by Obama – has the action from it followed through, the calls for national service, the scope of people who heard that is huge, but have people taken it up? I think it takes a lot to move people, even now that push has come to shove, and people are angry, but still there’s a lot of passivity.

M9: does the problem go beyond political theatre, that it’s more a question of an activated citizenry?

DL: it raised Simone Weil’s idea of engagement – the constant amping up stakes – she’s eccentric, but she is also bringing suffering into people’s homes by example.

W1: But it’s single – it’s only touching a few people, and it’s from the aristocracy – compared to the factory workers in Illinois who refused to leave their workplace.  There’s an idea of collective action that seems much more forceful.

M2: there is an element of SW as a dilettante

M8: saying SW’s only dramatic work also misses the point that her life was also an act of drama – however futile it might have been.

M2: but we’re sitting here – she wrote a play, and that’s a powerful statement about the power of theatre.

W11: was she really thinking about theatre or was she just writing a play?  is doesn’t seem to me that she was necessarily interested in theatre as such – she was interested in various behaviors and power and politics.  but this whole conversation has been posited about question of an audience and a stage, and I don’t think that has to be connected to her intention.  is she just inhabiting a genre with a set of contraints to examine a political problem?

M10: I’m not here because of SW, I’m here because of the theatrical event.

[the unarmed parachuting nurse brigade story is laid out …]

DL: the point being that SW was inherently theatrical.  the idea that she’s a rich chick who gets saved is the same complaint made to political theatre in general – that we dip in and then duck out.

JG: So many revolutionaries have come from the ranks of the rich or the bourgeoisie

An Adolescent Desire for a Clean Slate

Violetta the bond trader …

DL: Is she sympathetic?  Which of those TV screens do you agree with?

W1: Well, it’s a question of memory –

JG: Yeah, you’ve got a room full of theatre people …

DL: okay, let’s do something that you can relate to …


“Who here has trucknutz on their car?”

“Who here has a car?”