Tag Archives: Simone Weil

Ultimate Indulgences

Mid-conversation, the lights go down and Simone Weil appears, or at least her hastily-garbed doppelganger, a pacing scourge.  Her challenges carom off the walls with a lacerating ferocity.

She strides off, boots echoing into the silence …

DL: Thank you guys for coming.

Applause …

… and we’re done.  Salut.

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

Thank you for coming. Write back soon, PS Simone Weil

Simone enters. 

People laugh.

Two people are leaving.

Again, we feel the need for a different speech–her speech tonight does not (nor should it) address all that has transpired here. I think SW’s real response would be much more nuanced, much more gentle. I do not think she was so bitter towards others. Tonight she may have said something different.

Do you want your art to be exquisite?

We have not talked about the city–the city that must perish.

Thank you for coming.

Silence.

**************

Weil might ask: What is a Seminar without a series of papers submitted? What is discourse, politics if it does not generate a conversation in kind? What is art if it does not inspire more art? Empathy between art and audience? The generosity of this two weeks of Venice Saved: A Seminar inspires in this writer, and no doubt others, a desire to respond generously in kind with a series of written records–monuments in writing–of this fabulous and not only fabulaic performance.

Clapping.

Orderly leaving.

All are beaming down below.

Torture 101 aka Guilt

Damn!

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?

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. 

Why?

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.


“P.S. I kept a list”

The courtesan’s demands are specific; her bodice is moiling, she protests.

Does this speak to us today?

Terrorism is when you don’t target your revenge, responds ACG. That’s what terrorists do, it’s not specific–and it’s ineffective.

Man in intensely orange shirt–color of jujubes?–says we have experienced this desire for revenge, we can identify.

Is this dated? Is it terrorism–no, it’s not just scaring the f* out of them. There’s nothing wrong with identifying with people’s suffering; to be obsessing over it the way Weil does is bizarre. Like Weil. The courtesan’s revenge is seemingly political, but it is mostly about her, too.

Do the specifics of SW’s scene matter to us? The story seems to be effective in its setting, a fitting scene. And now David introduces the boxcar scene, quickly I think–perhaps because the audience already seems to be pretty clear about the effectiveness of this scene. The men who have spoken, that is. The Rumanian aspirin story, while detailed, is not detailed in the same way as the courtesan scene. It’s an entirely different scene here that Gordon has written–but no one ever mentions this. They compare them easily, without specifying how very different in their seeming analogies these scenes are. They are set up almost to fool us, to fool us into thinking they are alike. Will anyone notice this tonight? Or will they allow it to wash over them.

When she says “rooms without windows” like this–does it occur to anyone that WE are in a “room like this” right now? Why does no one make this analogy.

*

First version puts more pressure on the two guys; a much more brilliant scene, better dramaturgy.

The guy in Binghamton yesterday had a list.

Sex-trafficking allows me to identify the political agenda, the feminism–the sides are taken, so I can sit back. The first leaves us open not to know. We don;t know which “side” we are supposed to be on in the first one (Molly).

We are more intrigued, says woman in Venetian-candy stripes, by the allure of Venice. We are thus more on the spot.

DL invokes the Exonerated. It gets us to DO something in the world. What does the first scene get us to “do”? We can’t “do” anything about Venice in the 17th century.

Who wrote the second one? someone boldly asks–Gordon, volunteered. So is SW a better dramaturge than GD?

Interesting how this information is available to us, if only we would have asked.

DL asks, invoking Ruined: why are people making the second scene, if we know it’s not good? Not effective?

Where is pleasure in the theater that makes us want to do something? Molly is impassioned, angry, impassioned.

A lot of -ations are invoked. The Boston Tea party was an act of political theater and an act of terrorism. These are all allegory.

What’s the difference between theater and social work? Why not just go into social work if you want to DO something–who wants us to DO something?

Molly is getting “asked” to join the table. Somehow the powers that be are always too far in the background, in the spirit of transparency and clarity–David seems to be creating a distraction, stopping the increasingly heated up the debate–but, shocker, no, he goes back to Linda, who is arguing about the personal stakes we all have, and that poetics of individual needs is what gets us to act. Director yielding to the tug of the audience’s pleasure? Radical.

Someone mentions Empathy. An easier exercise of empathy, for better or worse, in the second scene.

They are talking about the act of re-inventing these scenes, these translated scenes of empathy and of re-creating the tragedy, which is more about the performers than the audience. More about creating than witnessing–that is political theater.

Does Molly get it that in this moment, she IS creating political theater, though? That she is NOT a witness? But a maker?

Linda invokes Simone–her play is a play–the performance of her life. Her intent is to live this play in her life; the erotics of anorexia. Radical Acts of Empathy. Except Weil had no choice–she is mentally ill, out of control, not playing a game. She has no power.  Is Simone Weil a spectator? No, she is creating an act of ultra-poesis somehow–but what about the audeince? The crowd?

An example of a woman starving herself to people around her–shocking. Is that theater? SW cared nothing about the audience.

Thirst comes up. 

 

David talks about Sylvie, what she said about Weil. What it was like to entertain Simone Weil, how disruptive and inconvenient for her guests. Bonjour chien! She was inconveniencing everyone around her constantly without worrying about anyone else. The theater in your own home–the Radical Inconvenience of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom, Dad, I am fine. I want to be worse

The monologues begin.

The audience is polite, attentive…they look serious. Unmentioned that DuPlessix Gray herself is a self-described anorectic, too: how much does that influence her reading of SW? How much of this reading of her is convenient to our reading of her?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN INSIDE HER BODY TO BECOME A LABORER. The stultification of human beings by labor, the putting of the body on the line, seems to resonate here when we know that the actor who endured Bauerntheater is here. How is he different from her?

They seem to be taking it in with less laughter than less night, though they were more active at the beginning: someone is eating candy, the bag is crinkling loudly. Is it warm in here? Is that why people seem a tad less animated? Slumped, chins on hands? David is the only one who looks perturbed: he frowns throughout this. When Gideon starts speaking, DL turns his frowning gaze there, too: is this the burden of the performance he is bearing? Is anyone aware that he is watching his handiwork and judging it as we watch him? He chimes in some comment about Jane Jacobs, mumbled, as if he is fine tuning the performance even as it is already set, and already taking place. Like my mother mouthing my words back to me as I speak them when I am a child, learning to speak to her.

DL is laughing tonight, smiling–if this is his endurance test, as Gideon mentioned before, then tonight the burden seems less heavy on him. How does or will this affect our performance experience? Our entertainment?

J does not mention that it is also the Pentecost while Weil is fleeing the Nazis and writing the play, the events of which take place during Pentecost. Expecting marriage, and receiving rape: how does this echo with SW’s experience? Is she Venice? Is Paris Venice? Is her unworthy soul as it awaits the salvation of a Christian god on the eve of a Pentecost from which she is excluded Venice?

The introduction of the characters elicits participatory and hearty laughter from this audience; the actors are reacting to this energy–you can see that the performances actually pick up the energy offered to them, and re-project it. I will hazard a guess and say that this audience for whatever reason “gets it”. They are alive! And DL reflects this too.

She is weak and lies unarmed at my feet–is Weil writing these lines, performed by JB as Jaffier, and thinking of her own soul? Of the endless tantrum and agony that is her intellect battling with her psyche?

A man in the audience puts his arm around the woman sitting next to him! That is how much energy there is in Jaffier’s speech–Jaffier as Jeff who seems ten times more sensitive than the sun ce soir. Du Venise.