Tag Archives: spectacle

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

Go to the Arsenal

We see the first Violetta scene, a post-Bosnia imagination of the Sack of Venice …

DL: Does that feel less hectoring?  Is there more room?  Does the information change?  Relative to the 2nd courtesan scene, where some people thought things felt forced, does this strike you in a different way?

[The Exonerated, its post-perf collections for legal aid, the idea that somehow the show itself isn’t “enough”, the desire for authenticity, etc.]

CW: I would say that isn’t about trust, so much as a statement of gravity

EK: but aren’t we elevating it somehow, that the impersonation of “real people” is being held to be more serious than “normal theatre”

MD: well, there’s also a difference between a video, made of pixels, and a theatre piece, which is people in a room

DL: There is a tension between empathy and facts – does the desire to be moved trump the possibility of political action?

W7: it’s also about the audience?  what’s the context?  that would change everything, and is just as important as anything in the play, content-wise.

MD: What would it take to activate this room now?

M1: there’s still a lot of artistry in this – and with statistics – first, we want to know where they came from

EK: But I don’t need to go to the theatre to know that killing a gay man in Wyoming is bad

CN: But aren’t you curious about what conditions could let that happen?

EK: Not really.

PL: But it’s also about attention – you know all sorts of things are bad.  if something in wyoming is brought within your attention skillfully, you’re going to be more disposed to care

DL: Let’s go back to Mike’s question: we are the types to come to this seminar – some esthetes, some are activists, some are in between (or annoyed) – but could theatre enable some kind of political change, in this room?

AML: maybe – there’s no much relevance here, so much with Simone Weil, I don’t see why it couldn’t inspire all kinds of things.

W4: I think it’s telling that the example we came with – the exonerated – is about a powerful person seeing it, not about the masses

MD: but the masses are individuals – audiences break apart

MAD: yeah, there doesn’t have to be a riot for the event to have credence – the revolution could be quiet and take as long as evolution, it can take a long time

MD: though I’m in favor of revolution too

MAD: yeah, but the desire for people to see the change isn’t the best benchmark

W5: the difference between watching movies in a crowd and watching theatre.  an audience’s role in theatre is to socialize our wild natures.  the audience is crucial.  that’s where change happens.

DL: but that’s a utopian visision … the story of the yokel standing up to save Desdemona

SS: it’s also a recent phenomenon to not participate in the theatre – to shout or demand to see things again – that’s changed pretty recently to something much more constrained

M1: yes, we don’t think about people shouting “don’t go behind the arras!” anymore …

CW: there is a whole other world of theatre that people are ignoring, the so-called “chitlin circuit” – it’s a whole other social scene, with relatively clunky characters and dialogue, but hugely interactive audience and totally alive

DL: that raises the idea of partcipation – the model of what we want and how we’re trained …

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.

Naked Topicality

DL: does it feel more distant if you know what they’re talking about?

M8:it’s in the air and topical, so I feel more confident about spinning it my own way, even if the theatre is still in the way, maybe I can get past it …

Dan: for me what it does politically isn’t important

M1: there’s an assumption that the dynamic of engagement begun in the theatre needs to continue as the audience leaves – change can happen in many other ways, and over different periods of time

DL: but that’s what we mean about taking theatre at its word.  there’s a way in which theatre’s claim to political value is undone by the rules of the event – that people are checking their involvement at the door, sitting in the dark, paying $50 for a seat, etc.  Given that there aren’t riots any more – and that it’s more a limited audience in the first place – isn’t it entirely constrained?

M4: aren’t there ways to get people involved politically without it being a riot?

JK: Brecht?

DL: But isn’t Brecht really subsumed in what we’ve been doing – aren’t people asking for something larger, a real change of terms?

M4: what about the Living Theatre – the audience was forced to enter an ontologically changed space for the duration of their performance ….

W8: did SW write this for actors to do stage this?  was she connected to the theatre?  do we have to make this assumption?  To me, her life story seems more interesting than her play …

CW: I think it’s interesting that she used this form at the same time her own city is being threatened –

JB: she didn’t try to write a play after working in a factory

CW: yeah, is there something about Paris being in peril that made her employ this very human and intimate form?

DL: does anyone want beer?

[people do, and despite a heroic effort, CW’s attempt to continue speaking is completely swallowed in a roar of rattling ice, beer, muttering]

DL: does everyone have their democracy lubricator?

CW: what about the example of the groundlings in elizabethan england – which was a repressive society – taking active part in the performance, as opposed to our own time? we might be more democractic, but the audience is totally passive …

Kids Who Couldn’t Know a Thing

We return to Violetta, after the putative sack of her city …

DL: that kind of approach gives you an actual story – your own media confusion, the way those stories get constructed, is built into it.  what role does sympathy play in a good piece of political theatre?

M1: a larger question is perhaps if it has to get a reaction.  it is enough to have some inner impact?  what about seeing someone other than a victim?

DL: okay, that’s a good question – let’s follow that up …

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 …

Ongoing Testimony

It’s a gloomy overcast Sunday, the dog-end of the weekend, and the house is more sparse than normal.  Strangely, the fewer number of bodies is not reflefcted in this evening’s beverage count: 5 coffees, 3 waters, 2 sodas, 1 tea, 1 lemonade.

In the booth, Eileen has one eye on the N. Carolina-Oklahoma game.  Right now it’s half-time, with NC up by 9 …

In the house is also our very own Nina Mankin, who served with Team Venice Saved as a dramaturg until various circumstances, both local and international, intervened.  We are thrilled to have her back at the table, with every confidence that she will stir up the bees.

And as the clock ticks down The Stooges have been bumped in favor of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the lead-in number.  This can only augur big, raw happenings.