Tag Archives: Torture

Conspirators in Chains

We see Simone Weil’s vision of torture, the prisoners awaiting torture and certain death in the street …

DL: it’s a fairly classical torture scene –

CW: I’ll say!

[sympathy for knees is raised as a locus of both suffering and politics]

DL: Blasted is the other big hit of last year, along with Black Watch.

W11: how is political theatre different from political theatre?

DL: more importantly, how is the situation of being in a theatre political, period?

[précis of Blasted by Señor Krupp …]

DL: Blasted considers the audience as a mass, as a body – and it considers that classic off-stage dramaturgy isn’t enough.  it’s a different – more adversarial – take on the audience

SS: I liked it, but it didn’t fuck me up.  I spent more time thinking about what a cool thing it was to be pulled off onstage than on the larger political impact

K: (to DL) why do you get frustrated with that response?  why isn’t that a reasonable response to violence?

DL: I have huge questions about – on one hand I think it’s sophomoric, but on the other, Kane had real political aims

W3: I had read it before, and it did fuck me up royally – both seeing it and having it in my head afterwards.  maybe it’s just being sensitized by Tarantino movies, but seeing it on stage does make it much more vivid – it seems like we’re going through it as a culture

MD: I thought it was a tremendous production.  and though it did make the audience aware of their bodies, I don’t think it’s the only play to do that – other plays don’t reduce people to eyeballs.  there’s something that happens in a live space that’s fundamentally different from watching a film

DL: okay, but if you’re shattered by that play, is that what we want?

MD: who’s that “we?”  sarah kane?

DL: but in a play like Blasted there’s a difference stance toward the audience.  is there a difference with regard to that experience than another, less aggressive, less adversarial sort of play? There are a lot of different approaches – a Brechtian one where you want people to think critically, there’s a Blasted one where you leave people shell-shocked – many others – it says a lot about how you think of those people.

W12: now that there’s so much media available to people,  it’s not enough to just put it out there.  there’s a duty to make sure that people see it beyond a limited audience.  people should do what they expect their audience to do.  also, who knows what an audience has been through?

DL: but that’s the Weil thing again – who of us are going to fight in Spain?

W1: what are your responsibilities in showing graphic events on stage, such as rape – especially when there’s a chance there are rape victims in the audience?  but also, I don’t know if you can put the burden of audience interest on the artists – that doesn’t seem entirely fair.

DL: do you have to be an activist or do you have to perform and write?

W7: how often do shows paper the house?  it’s very hard to get anyone to come to the theatre, especially political theatre.

M7: it might be that the job of communicating is less of an issue now – it’s not enough to isolate a cause, because the laundry list of causes seems virtually endless …

PL: but what does theatre do well?  for some of these questions theatre isn’t the right vehicle.  it’s fantastic for conveying an in-body experience, but not for everything else –


Torture 101 aka Guilt


The kneeling foursome.

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

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

The bottles on the table are half empty.

Comments on Blasted:

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

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

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

Theater as a question of bodies.

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

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

What about catharsis? Nietzsche…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we are at war!

It’s red blood!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaza Woman is about to speak: let her!

The bearded man returns, though

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about form?

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

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

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

Disempowering rituals?

You are disempowered by paying money to theater.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We really do come back to this later

Lights off–or it’s not theater, says DL.

Brilliant timing!

David cuts to Black Watch 3! ABout non-profit theaters–shushing Linda of NYTW….will it provoke her? Was it written to problematize exactly what she does and how she does it, the way she does it? 

Coriolanus even gets a laugh here–Coriolanus has already been mentioned by this crowd. It already has resonance. 

Do I have to go to Germany to do my job, (Linda)?

DL references the break–ActUp, debts, strikes, and Rachel Corey when it didn’t happen–as the most viable kind of political theater. Is it political theater only when it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do?

All in the Family comes up.

David protests “television?” is not theater.

Man says no, political theater–All in the Family–it transforms consciousness and culture. It gets regular people to talk.

CW: the room is often so full of discussion about theater, but the discussions become strident, hostile, theater is broken down–all the discussions become destructive towards theater.

What Linda is poking at…a play about Kabul is the politics of theater–theater about politics is political theater?

Bad theater. Hollywood? Clifford Odets. It’s exciting to be able to take things to task: is David Obama for Theater? It feels dominated by the few. There is sophisticated interaction–but it is not divided up well. I wonder what David Barlow is thinking. Or Zachary. Or Eileen. Or the many other faces I see out there. Why do some people feel as if they are allowed to speak, and others not? Why are the non-participants not speaking? What are they thinking? 


I left the theater and moved to Gaza. And I felt just as useless there! She says. It’s not only one event happens–even in action. Doing a political play that doesn’t get a result is not a failure–it is a moment in time.

You cannot measure the changes in peoples minds.

The notion that reality tv is theater–and that we are addicted, in this country, to theater.  There is a basic humanneed for theater–we cannot afford theater at 50 dollars a pop, but we can afford tv. It’s elitist to say that theater is only a live experience.

Talk to Iraqis, or see a play about Iraqis, or get up and move around–and a person gets up and moves around!

You are super unusual! Man walking around…so walking around in theater is a radical act. How bizarre that something not bizarre should be bizarre.

How do we behave when we are watching, how do we behave as a citizen in a public space–home theater, tv, vs. in a theater.

Insulting the actors.

Insulting the audience.

Locking the audience in the gallery.

TV directors making a “captive” audience so you are glued to a screen. What’s the difference between tv and theater?

There is no difference in the show, says Linda, when we do not watch the tv, what the audience says is irrelevant. We can affect the action as audience.  (We can?)

Bearded man has long comment. It gets impossible to take all of this in.

Let’s do Torture!

(Not live torture, he says)…Dang! Is this the point at which someone should jump into the ring bearing a broken beer bottle and say “Torture, let’s talk about torture”? Some crazed member of the audience?

We can come back to that later

I have cheated, and asked CW what the secret signal for SW’s transformation is. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will look for it.

The break is over, and all have returned.

And David makes the bold move of returning to a previous discussion (!) and offering beer (!) at the beginning of this act.

There is a din! A noise of imbibing, akin to the imagined tortures of Plautean slaves (sic). The man, DL, has a coffee and a beer in front of him. He is drinking from both. He notes the irony of the costly bottle openers, and the only affordable beer needs no opener…

He links to Linda’s comment about preaching to the converted, and gives a brief comment on what documentary theater is–and then foregrounds the closer world we are discussing now. Will BlackWatch 4 work without BlackWatch 3? I am not sure the links will be clear enough for the audience. What if the documentary “screens” gave the same rape of Venice statistics, while Violetta-as-Wall-Streeter talks?

Stalwart James stumbles charmingly!

David then, boldly, targets Molly–Complicated enough?

Molly says yes; her mind is so busy, she says, it is hard to not be involved intellectually as well as empathetically–as opposed to Rape is Bad.

David then steers in Linda–who says: what is the action of this? Linda says Brecht can’t be political theater viewed as successful–he is too philosophical. So is this, she says. too abstract. Act Up did something.

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.

A real polis destroyed by fake grenades?

Where does it leave theater if we throw grenades?

If you do something provocative you are an anrcho-hippy. If you go throught he channels–nothing happens. So what is theater? What is the venue? What is the stage we are performing on? What is the tableau? (mw)

Suddenly everyone wants to talk to MW. Do you think that audience members’ shifts and changes don’t count? DL performs the great listener, but he is off the hook in having to talk, for the first time. The reins seem to be in MW’s hands, and then moves from audience member to audience member…DL has volunteered the information of what we did last night–this too is privileged, meta-information, but the room does not register the reference to itself as an object of spectacle.

YM speaks yet again: he is so sincere. So sincere. So happy. Happy. Happier still. And the wholel time, the grenade is set up in front of him. Ok, if Eve Sedgwick were here…woudl she notice how when YM talks, he steers it back to the authority figure? To DL? Just when things were starting to spread out in terms of distribution of who’s talking.

But DL is ready for Blackwatch 3. Formal theater: is there still room for it to be political?

And it’s the funny version, just when YM and BlueShirt Woman are starting to get sincere. Why? 

DL says to them, as they are ready to achieve Venice Saved nirvana,  “hold that thought,” essentially, and flips the tv of the entertaining scenes on. I have to wonder if he cues the evidence scenes, interrupts them, when things get broing for him: he is the mind organizing this in the moment, the one who can decide how to shift the discourse. The limit even he has, though, is that there is only a short list of scenes he can improvise from. Eventually, he will run out of defenses, amusing scenes, shifters–We know he’s not going to get back to the conversation after the scene; why does he interrupt, worse than a cell phone or door knocker, just when the audience is starting to get too interesting?

Oh, but there is also BEER, the universal lubricant of democracy.

—so when it gets tedious, the director can amuse himself? Is the audience aware that their sincerity is  at times tedious?

** Everyone has beer. Even the Girls.

“Take a look at what just happened for a second.”

Every night I think to myself, I should have the beer thing over here, and tonight one of the actors brings up the beer. And suddenly everyone has the beer and I am kind of sitting here. And the idea that we are all equal is a total lie. If youa re trying to get an idea across about injustice, what does it do if the frame of the institution, the venue, is corrupt.

Amazing swerve towards directing the audience and the conversation, DL!

Blue Shirt talks to Sparkly shirt: “The bombs are in our bags. The grenade. The Caryl Churchill.”

NYTW not staging plays. (We can go back-again–but we never go back); he is speaking about the inequity here between audience and medium, the insidious hierarchies, and proceeds to continue to benefit from it. He controls the conversation–and only pretends that the audience has a say in this, a stake in this conversation.

There is butt licking: the free event of 7 Jewish Children, and its fake freeness, as presented for anxiously over moderated People We Can Trust at NYTW.

Beer is good. G has lifted one up into this pirate’s shack, one for Eileen, one for me. Twist off. Those girls–are they really old enough?

Sitting in the dark, paying fifty dollars: if not in a theater, then where do you go to make this thing happen?

Constance is talking about performativity: Levine loses control of the floor!

He raises his hand! He waves and raises his hand to get the audience’s attention!

What is performativity: what is performativity? Modelling a different kind of spectatorship, one which addressed the insipid passivity of the audience. This different way of arranging spectatorship gave voice to the disenfranchised: women, says Gifted YM.

You are teaching people to sit down and shut up: the pedagogy of theater.///Performance art teaches people to model another kind of spectatorship. Go to the New Museum and talk to Iraquis


No one says anything to this obvious one. Do we get a gold citizenship star for doing that? The young woman in kerchief speaks again. She sees herself in younger generation: she MENTIONS THAT NONE OF HER PEERS HAVE SPOKEN, and that she does not want to interact–SHE CAN’T TAKE IT ALL IN. IS THIS REALLY a DEMOCRACY? Everybody participates–the younger generation has to learn…

So this is your Drama Civics class, CW asks.

We are trying to take it in on an equal level…but (democracy is messy)–(beer spills) You have to reach a certain point—

But is participation encouraged. I yell: Process! No one hears the woman in the Bell Tower: the polis, like democracy, like this performance, must be able to tolerate and value a variation in levels of process!

The young woman feels she cannot participate: it’s hard when you do not (yet) understand, she says.

Your degree of intimidation is what is undemocratic. You do not FEEL as if you participate.

I put it to you that you ARE participating.

You spoke earlier and you were the only one. And it is interesting (The Poet) speaks. What does this have to do with democracy….

I don’t want everyone to speak in a lesser way just for me–that’s not the way that it should have to be.

DL says, “I have no reason to say this, but “we should do torture”–who’s up and who’s down and who gets to talk.

What is called democratic  isn’t.

He has every reason to say this–it’s 10 o’clock and he wants to get out of here by 10:30!

How Can We Not Admit to Anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M1: certainly it can all be an excuse

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