Saturday, May 15, 2004

Politics, Theater, War, Abu Ghraib, it's just a thematic clearing house over here!

I wanted to return to the subject of theater and politics. This is largely due to an e-mail conversation between myself and good ole George Hunka about my last play (First You're Born) his plays, politics and art in general etc. At some point he wrote that he looked forward to seeing more about this on the blog, and I thought i'd start by adapting a few of my e-mails to him into a post. Let's see how it works:

A lot of really serious shit has been hitting the fan in the newspapers lately. The War in Iraq has turned into (what I believe Atrios called) a Chomskyite nightmare of American power. Nick Berg's beheading was a grotesque reminder of the cycle of violence we're engaged in. The war in the Central African Republican rages on, largely thanks to child soldiers. Simply put, it's easy to think "ah, welcome to hell, nice handbasket you got there!" And as artists, isn't it our duty to respond in some way?

There was a point in the midst of First You're Born where I was basically like.. what the hell am I doing? Rome is burning and I'm fiddling about with this romantic comedy, this stupid little trifle in the midst of all of this carnage!

But then I took another look at the play and said... you know what, the audience may or may not get this, but this play is about surmounting your alienation by connecting with other human beings in a real way. And that theme of seenig the humanity in everyone and finding joy in that is very relevant to today, even if it may not look it on the surface. This is why in the set design we isolated the characters in their own apartments (past productions had them share the same space) and why the dream sequence is about them busting out of their worlds by stepping through the walls of their apartments. I wanted the audience to feel these characters getting over themselves in as powerful a way as possible.

The next play I'm thinking about doing a workshop (or, if resources don’t allow, a reading, sorry 13P! I’m developing this play!) of a new play by one of the actors in the show. It's a very Pinteresque, quiet pause filled piece about morality and redemption. Or really, it's asking some big time questions like in the absence of an objective morality (i.e. a divine one), is redemption even possible? This is an important question for us to grapple with in these times.

I guess what I'm saying is that right now my interest lies in finding what is topical about the themes in plays whose literal subject matter isn't topical itself. Some find this cowardly, but you know what, I'm an artist, not an essayist. I use Parabasis to talk politics overtly so that I can ask questions in my theatrical work, not answer them. Theater that answers questions isn't trying to explore or discover or illuminate anything. It's agit prop, plain and simple. How many plays have there been about crazy Gulf War I veterans this season? How many of them have been any good?

The only really topical play I know that I really love is Caryl Churchill's "Mad Forest". "Mad Forest" (which chronicles life before during and after the Romanian "Revolution" and features, amongst other things, a vampire and a talking dog) was written immediately (like two months) after the Romanian Revolution as Churchill, director Mark Wing-Davey and the cast traveled to Romania to work their Joint Stock research magic on the community there. If the "Mad Forest" of the Iraq War came along, I'd do it, and I'm glad current-events plays are out there. I just don't feel like as an artistic community we have enough of a perspective on the thing right now. It's happening to us, and we're perpetuating it, and I'm trying to do theater so I can say "hold on, slow down, what about this?" and see what happens.

This doesn't stop me from being on some level disappointed in myself. I am inundated with politics, and yet I'm not doing work that is a direct response to our political realities of our day. Instead, I'm doing plays that are thematically related to the issues affecting us in this day and age. Some days, I don't really know if that's enough. I don't know if I'm shirking my duty to do socially responsible art.

These are the days when I start thinking "what if I opened my own space?" What if I just had a space where I could just throw anything out there. Sam Shepard once was interviewed, and talking about La Mama he said that one of the great things was you could write a play on Monday and they'd show it on Saturday. What if there was an environment that existed so that the more politically motivated of us could serve as like a "rapid response team" and just throw things at the wall and see if they stick. Try to create interesting, vibrant theater out of today's newspaper and see what happens.

Well, I don’t have the kind of money to do that, so then I got to thinking… What would that kind of theater even look like? Who would be the people who did it? Who would write it? What would its production values be like? It would be a great experiment to try. Just say "for these two months, I'm going to do the Rapid Response Team" group, and we're gonna perform every Monday night at the Kraine Theater and we're going to perform a new play or group of short plays based on whatever is in the news that week."

And the more I think about it, the better an idea I think it is. If you could get a team of writers, actors and designers together, and just really dedicate yourself to it for a couple of months, you could all do some really fun and interesting work. Of course, I feel like I have a lot of ideas like this—things that would be really interesting and fun to do but I lack the logistical resources (or know how) to make them happen, and then the next hair-brained scheme comes along and this one vanishes. Anyone wanna help me raise money for it?

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