Tag Archives: Wall Street

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.


OK, you wanna talk about finance?

On to Blackwatch 4, the Wall Street version of the documentary theater set-up.

DL: OK, so who do you guys blame for what is happening on Wall Street?

Jon blames Christi!!  The truth comes out!

Jeff blames Alan Greenspan.  But also de-regulation.  Which Greenspan initiated.  Black t-shirt guy – was Greenspan the man on the tower orchestrating the downturn (a la Reynaud and Jaffier)?

Mary’s lawyer friend – points out the differences between the first three scenes, in terms of who can you blame.  How hard is it to pin it on someone.

DL:  In all the scenes, everyone’s got their reasons for what they do.  Which lines up with audience member who says that it’s probable that Greenspan was acting with the best of intentions.

Christi doesn’t care if Milton Friedman is nice in his personal life or a dick. But his philosophy has had a negative effect.  The results of that philosophy speak for themselves.

DL: But how do you want to see it played out in theater?  Do you not want to see a nice play about Milton Friedman?

DL:  Brecht’s problem is that the tropes in drama of “this is the cycle of humanity that can’t be changed and it’s hopeless” or “this is an evil person with this human side” is capitalism’s way of putting the man down, making sure you don’t feel like there’s no point in trying to upend the system.

When Theatre Cares Too Much

While we’re still kicking around the “who cares” question, both with regard to the inherent qualities of the text and to the sympathies engendered (or not) by acting and staging, we take a moment to look at another Violetta scene, with a more contentious journalist, and a relatively unsympathetic “victim” …

DL: Which of the talking heads did you side with?  Was one of them right?

[general kicking around follows …]

DL: But it’s interesting that we have a piece of documentary theatre where people disagree about the circs …

W7/BD: But I think that’s because the issue is confusing.

DL: Okay, let’s see a scene most of us can understand …

Back from/to the Street

Intermission is over, the tables re-filled, the beverage-on-table figures entirely skewed.  We launch directly into a new documentary scene, were Violetta is transformed into a bond trader … a scene that ends with laughter.

L: is she  sympathetic?  she knows everything …

Man 5: she is – she didn’t work for Goldman Sachs …

Woman 6: does it matter if she’s sympathetic?  We ignore sympathy all the time, don’t we?  Also, if we provoke the wrong thing in a person – if we make a person angry, when they don’t know what action to take, what have we done?

L: does this raise the same question that Simone Weil raises – how do you know what to do with your body, with your time?

Woman 1: but she’s not an equivalent victim – she’s middle management, she’s also culpable.

Man 4: Yeah, for all her trouble, I think she’s all right – she wasn’t raped.  It’s nowhere near as harsh.

Man 6: but you have to think beyond her – the whole system was raped – in many ways it’s much worse than 9/11.  she’s just a symbol, but all of us have been effected, raped by this system –

W1: I think that’s a loose definition of rape …

W7: would someone like a victim of Madoff be a better voice, a more equivalent voice?

L: but let’s say as a common basis, “political theatre should somehow make us more humane, possibly through the mechanism of sympathy” – story of Liddy testifying, death threats to AIG, etc.  The thing is, everyone knows who the victims are, would not “the wall street” project greater humanize these other figures?

Man 1: why are we focusing on the individuals?  aren’t they somehow interchangeable?  why isn’t theatre able to focus on the system, beyond individual blame?  Maybe Brecht was right about this – why not show systemic issues – reverse the terms, making the most obejctionable person speak for good, and vice versa, to expose the system.

W6: but who’s the audience?  doesn’t that change everything?  isn’t knowing your audience vital in terms of thinking about theatre?  The merchant of venice as a popular play in both israel and nazi germany.

W1: and staging matters hugely – we’re only addressing text, there are all kinds of other aspects of theatre – movement, music, staging, etc. that have huge import in determining our experience.

L: okay, but the effects of these things are constrained by something else that is systemic …


Violetta returns as an abject bond trader.  What happens when the crisis is located in our own city?

“It pays to be a friend of Hank Paulson or Tim Geithner.”

Levine: so it’s closer … we don’t have to argue about the relative tragedies of Sarajevo or Paris or Berlin or Rwanda …

But so far in these scenes we haven’t seen anyone we know, who’s been impacted, who could affect a change …

Violetta, Bond Trader

Levine: If it’s closer to our own world, does that make the events more immediate?

Violetta reappears, a laid-off bond trader interviewed by a journalist, offering her own skeptical insights into the Wall Street Bailout …

Levine: does that also make you want to run screaming?

Well, less so … it wasn’t as … maudlin

Aren’t we tired of so many actors portraying victims who they’ve interviewed, channeling that air of authenticity – “once again it’s someone else’s pain, and I’m going to feel bad and confront the forces of history … this theatrical construct seems played out … the idea may be beautiful, but I can’t get past the falseness.  It’s a narrow emotional world.”

Colleen: do you feel bad for Hamlet?

I feel a lot of things of Hamlet.  You’ve divided things up – this is an easy post-modernist construct.

Gideon: someone mentioned Blasted – does that offer a different model?

Another Slice of Reality

As an expansion of documentary theatre, another version of this scene, with an altered set of circumstances: a Wall Street bond trader, laid off, presents a more skeptical view of the financial crisis …

But is this real documentary?  The style might originally come from people who have really gone into communities and done interviews, etc. – but then the style becomes repeatable?

How does going out and getting the information yourself change the experience?

Is it possible that it’s difficult to empathize with a bond trader? There’s a difference between being a victim of rape and being an unsympathetic financier.

What is it about straight facts that gives more authority?  And is there something about the first people to do a piece that carries a weight that gets diminished in subsequent productions by other companies?

Is this the same argument between fictionalized memoir, e.g. James Frey?  Isn’t it true that we hate art, hate fiction?