Tag Archives: violence

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 –

The architecture of the conspiracy

David cues the Renault and Jaffier scene, in light of…I’m not sure what? Observing the unities? It sheds light on the notion of specificity in reference to terrorism.

I realize I am nervous that people can see me up here, (I know they can hear me typing)–and will they read this and note my critique of NYTW’s stance? The farce of Rachel Corey? The farce of holding a CC play and only inviting the rich and those who you can trust to agree with you to see it?

I wonder if the discussion will become more meta–there is much possibility here. We need a JQ in the audience for that.

More couples cuddling in the audience. Who knew this would be a Date Movie?


Molly finds this scene boring, straightforward–Gideon chimes in, to defend it; and now all the actors are stirred up. In fact, nothing is straightforward. Sometimes we identify with these conspirators, sometimes we don’t–do we know what to think? Does Weil know what she’s doing is the question.

DL is in comfortable terrain. He has the audience involved, he has argument. He hangs back and lets the discussion take place, and tonight, he can trust the audience–it does. He has helped it to have a life of its own. Instead of a test of endurance, he can actually forget that he is playing the role of the director–he has allowed the discussion in many ways to self direct. Over time, it will solve its own inequities. He is trusting in the object of theater being made here.

Jaffier as the ideal audience member: Jaffier listens to this painting out of the horrors–and the horror is so effective, and he decides to save the city.

Faint applause.

He decides to save the city because of what he has seen and heard.

A break!


That’s Natural, but It’s Wrong

The two perpetrators on top of the Bell Tower, Renaud and Jaffier …

DL: so that’s the opposite of sympathetic – does it activate your sense of social justice in a different way?

M1: I’m caught up with his rhetoric, even though I’m still waiting for an emotional punch – but I am waiting to find out where it goes, even though I don’t like him

W1: there’s a story arc, which we can feel, or also there are these facts that we get from a modern perspective – in all these cases it seems like the way facts get organized into fiction dictates the effectiveness

W5: also here there are no victims with faces

W4: I wonder about SW’s opinions of the state and its use of violence – I watch this and I’m like “wow, I hate the state too” – she really strips it down

DL: one thing that happens in the scene – people have compared it to neo-con tactics before the invasion of iraq – is that it does model a vision of effective political theatre: Jaffier is a good audience member, who takes in the information he gets and changes his behavior … but the question, for all of these is what we’re going to do?

M7: but do we need emotion?  people who are saying the courtesan is more emotionally real in one scene or another – I don’t need to be presented with a charming african to see that rights and reform is a good thing to happen?

M2: sympathy is just giving money.  is money action?

W6: and who goes to see this theatre?  how much are they paying?

DL: if we’re being skeptical about giving money being action, what should we expect?

M7: we should be clear that we are asking a lot, yes – but I think we should want to have change.  but, for example, I saw the R/J scene mapping onto Iraq, but the fact that the mapping isn’t 1-1 makes it even more interesting, it allows me to clarify the contours in our present circumstances

MJ: if the whole shape is drawn for me, there’s less participation – there’s more meaning in the scene the more I’m forced to invest myself in understanding and completing

LDA: are there any scenes that aren’t rooted in naturalism?  it seems to me that there are other forms that carry more power – the way that Rite of Spring caused a riot.  I see this last scene in terms of speeches I’ve heard in films or on the news …

DL: sure, but it’s also not 1917, and RoS was an expressionistic piece slipped into a venue where the audience expected something conventional – it’s not like it happened at La Mama.

M4: what about the Diggers in SF in the ’60’s?  they accomplished all kinds of things.

M8: for me, all these scenes, the fact that these are actors … it just gets in the way for me – all this theatre and acting – it’s very hard for me to see past.  I like the discussion, and would really prefer it without the theatrical baggage …

DL: well, in all of this we’ve been pretty much taking theatre at its word.  let’s take a break and then come back in the second half, where we can try something else …

See Everyone in this City as a Toy

Jaffier: “So there’s no going back.”

Renaud: (Smiles.) “Back … where?”

DL: Does that ring more true?

M2: It does seem to fill in the gaps – of perspective – that we feel in the Courtesan’s vision of things.

M7: I think the occupation that he’s describing is what the Nazis did in Europe (if not France) – e.g., destroying Tolstoy’s house – it was a very conscious decision to destroy their culture.

SC: it also tracks directly to Rumsfeld.

DL: Which raises the question, if you’re thinking about theatrically – what’s the motive behind this kind of updating, of wanting the piece to map directly onto present circumstances …

W6: with Godot in NOLA, Paul Chan spent a lot of time in that community – it was also about activating those people through the work – just getting an audience to the show was a big thing

CW: Even if it was a NY production that was brought there.

Emilia: I think there’s are an element of hubris to it – “I want to watch a piece about me – that reflects my perspective -”

CW: Or is it simply a desire to see something that you connect with?  for people in the 9th ward, that could be huge –

M2: it also depends on what the audience brings to it – what you project upon this depends on what your own media context is, whether you read the times or watch fox news …

DL: but also, what does a vision of 17th century venice offer to you, really?

Hanny: there was fascism in Venice, doesn’t that mean we ought to be talking about iraq pre-invasion as much as after?

DL: the oft-stated desire for someone to write ‘a decent political play from the pov of the right.’  the updated version is something to make people think that they do something in their own world, but showing them their world in the play.

[Seven Jewish Children @ NYTW – and Geoffrey Scott is in the haus!]

DL: does the requirement for a donation push the play into the area of propapanda?

W8: although I approve of it – I think it is propaganda

GS: there are many ways that Caryl Churchill wanted people to handle this.  we didn’t actually pass around the hat, but provided information – internally there was discomfort within the organization with requiring a donation.

DL: but doesn’t that neutralize the political content?  doesn’t it contain the possible results?

GS: we thought that if you required a donation we would exclude people who disagreed, that it would actually prevent a possible dialogue, by allowing sections of the audience to excuse themselves

DL: can political theatre have any kind of salutary effect without a talk-back?

M4: the play can’t make the decision for me, with regard to action – that has to be up to the audience

DL: doesn’t that set the bar pretty low for art?

M4: but that might be a good thing.  don’t we know what those conversations – about advocacy – are like already?

W1: more people are likely to read an article about one person dying in the Tsunami than one about a thousand people. if something is localized in an individual it’s easier to understand.  I think political theatre has a hard time because it seems like it’s always going for the cause first and the person – the individual stories – second.

DL: that’s a great point to pause on … and we can come back with a couple common responses to that very real problem.

“The Impact Is Important”

DL: earlier somone talked about theatre where people are ‘strapped down’ – another model of political theatre is something like Blasted

M12 offers an awesome first-hand account of the Soho Rep production of Blasted … with different reactions: “what the fuck!” “I know where she’s coming from!” “I didn’t care!”

DL: but what does it mean if you leave a night like that and “loving it”?

W1: Do you carry that story around in your head with regard to horrors in the news?

M12: I think you take it in even more, because you’ve got this poetic window into those kinds of experience.

DL: it’s an artaud model as opposed to brecht, if you’re being assaulted – and you’re paying for it –

CW: post-theatre stress disorder?

M11: We’ve been debating between ‘propagandart’ and theatre that allows for more points of view … but Weil’s essay on the Iliad is all about the cycle of violence, and how both sides lose.  What I’m getting out of this is her pacificism – that war is horrible, that nothing good is going to come of this.

W11: what is it that she was tinkering with?  she wasn’t debating the same questions that we’re debating here.  how does the formal artifice influence the politics?

M4: she didn’t just want to suffer, but she also wanted to see herself suffer.  after 9/11 I crossed over – I wanted to breathe what was in the air – I have a flashback of hearing the news – it’s a kind of private theatre, a perpetual state of emergency, that seems like a relevant echo.

M13: it seems like all kinds of gestures – a song, or the violence of Sarah Kane – can break through the surface.  the old theatrical forms don’t reach us anymore, it seems.

DL: the apparent contradiction of watching “real” suffering in performance art and feeling no empathy, and watching “unreal” suffering in theatre and feeling tons of it …


And somehow, while your narrator was drinking his own beer, we’ve managed a segue into Sarah Kane’s Blasted

DL: the theatre version of locking everyone in a gallery and making them break the glass to get out is Artaud, it’s Blasted, which puts your body in a totally different situation – you sitting there.  Would you rather have some kind of Clockwork Orange thing where you were forced to watch these horrors, or would you rather just pay your money outside?

M5: But Blasted is a great play!  You’re talking about the graphic high points, but it’s a great play with all kinds of subtleties.

M4: We’re thinking on a small scale – for one all these performances are sanctioned.  I mean, NYTW’s gesture with doing the Churchill play is their public penance for pulling Rachel Corrie, which is the most important piece of political theatre –

CW: Non-theatre.

M4: Right, non-theatre, but it’s the most political theatrical act in the last 5-10 years.

CW: I also think NYTW is preserving their relationship with Caryl Churchill, too.

M3: That also re-enforces the institutional inertia.

DL: And that’s where you start wondering about the politics about actually making theatre itself.

Neo-Cons Shackled Together

An examination of consequences: we see four conspirators in chains, outside the prison, awaiting torture and execution …

In my heart I have borne a secret empire
In this prison, before daybreak, in a moment,
The two hands of an executioner will become my universe

DL: Maybe because suffering is something Weil’s fluent in, she makes these guys symnpathetic in their last moments.  Any sense of vindictiveness you might have seems mitigated by watching them suffer.  This seems like good 20th century dramaturgy, to have complexity in villains.  But does this sympathy undermine the politics?

W2: Shakespeare does it – e.g. RIII – that’s good drama.

DL: But is it good politics?  What does empathizing with the bad guy do?  What do you want out of it/out of your theatre?  Is agitating against an obvious villain more effective?

W5: isn’t this about laws?  isn’t this about the Geneva Convention?  We don’t only engage through empathy – we have ideas, we see here cycles of violence – and since politics is about power, it seems naturally political.

M4: who cares if the text seems political, inherently?  we can all read something into it – what do you as artists get out of it, or how do you want an audience to respond?  all of these themes apply to the greeks as much to brecht.

DL: Fair enough.  And “who cares?” is a really good place for an intermission.