Friday, July 6, 2007

A Tribe Called...

Assignment: Go read Scott Walters' recent blog on theatrical tribalism. Then come back.


So, how was that for you?

I am deeply in love with the ideas Daniel Quinn (and Walters) entertain. I raised some questions in his comments about the birth of the tribe primarily from a selfish standpoint, as the Anti-Anticipation that I've been bandying about recently is not only a creative launching pad near and dear to me, but one that I would love to see, and ultimately picture, as a tribal atmosphere. In attempting to subvert expectation, there is the realization that I, too, have lines that I am not even aware could be crossed, and to truly be a creative force in which every production plays by its own (and a different) set of rules, other voices, willing to challenge and be challenged in return, are necessary.

The Buckminster Fuller quote bears repeating:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
It seems to me that this statement encourages an even greater expanse of (quasi-)tribalism than Quinn is bringing into light. For my money, the greatest artistic formulations of modern times have all sprung from tribes or groups with one foot in tribalism, but not only because they worked together as a group of like-minded artists of equal footing, but also because they were willing to work apart, while still maintaining the same rapport and the same artistic ideology. Rather than the introspective tribe of Quinn's description, in which a circle of individuals moves inward to form a unified creative cauldron, I prefer the idea of the artists banding together looking outward, flinging themselves (at times in multiplicity, at times solo) out at the world, leaving their common mark on everyone who comes into contact with them. It is less communistic than Quinn's idea, but it has been extremely prodigious, in my opinion:
  • The Surrealists, despite the attempted tyranny of Andre Breton, were influential enough to spawn one of the most misused adjectives of modern times (their namesake)
  • Dada, which managed to spring forth numerous successful tribes internationally all in one go
  • The Nouvelle Vague, one of the rare instances of critics putting their money where their mouth is -- and to great effect
  • The Factory, the greatest example of artistic tribalism, as well as the idea of a 'boss' vs. a 'leader'
  • And dozens of other smaller, but equally revolutionary tribes: the Vienna Aktionists, the Panic Movement, Oulipo, and on and on

These are my artistic heroes. These are the individuals of the last century who have encouraged thought and progression in their respective forms. This is where I draw my inspiration and what drives me to create work that I hope can inspire in the future. And, thanks to Scott's post, I just put two and two together that these are all examples of (liberally defined, sure) tribalism.

I need to find me some other tribe members


EDIT: And, in true serendipity, I finished this post just in time to see Rebecca's encouraging comment on my last post. The times, as they say, are a-changin', and there's a big ol' grin spread across my face.


Tony said...

What do you really want to do?

That question would be my best advice when looking for a tribe to start, or to join. And it's not really as easy as it seems. Is there a point that you say mission accomplished and move on? Of course that changes over time.

I'm a big believer in, for lack of a better term, build it and they will come. Perserverance Theatre in Juneau is an incredible example of what can happen. It started with Molly Smith rounding up people in a Juneau bar who wanted to be in a play.

Some of the best advice I've ever read is from Ben Cameron's final speech with TCG:

* Do not assume that you have to have some prescribed conditions to do your best work.
* Do not wait.
* Do not wait for enough time or money to accomplish what you think you have in mind.
* Work with what you have right now.
* Work with the people around you right now.
* Work with the architecture you see around you right now.
* Do not wait for what you assume is the appropriate, stress-free environment in which to generate expression.
* Do not wait for maturity or insight or wisdom.
* Do not wait till you are sure that you know what you are doing.
* Do not wait until you have enough technique.
* What you do now, what you make of your present circumstances will determine the quality and scope of your future endeavors.
* And at the same time, be patient.

Paul Rekk said...

What I really want to do... that's the $64,000 question. I could write pages and pages about the specifics of my ideals for the theatrical form (and might very easily be persuaded to do so for anyone interested), but what it really boils down to is that I want to see the theatre in my head on the stage, which isn't happening otherwise.

Mission accomplished? Never. If there ever comes a point where I am content with what has been achieved (which is, while unlikely, a possibility), the spirit of the pursuit would demand that the next wave of artists take what I have created and upend it. Comfort and stagnation are closely related, and no matter what changes or new approaches I hope to bring to the table, there is no, nor will there ever be an endgame to art. My aim is that no artist ever assumes that an endgame has been reached.

Thanks for the Cameron snippet -- it was a great affirmation. I am just now in a place where I am teaching myself not to wait, and every one of those is a helluva lesson.

Scott Walters said...

Quinn's personal example of a tribe was when he and his wife started a community newspaper, the East Mountain News, in New Mexico. First, there was just the two of them, and they put out a few issues together. Then, a retired newspaper photographer called them and asked if he could work with them -- he said he could do everything except sell advertising. They said that unless they sold more advertising, they wouldn't be able to make it. He said he'd sell advertising. Then a writer contacted them and asked if she could work with them: "Can you sell advertising?" "I can sell anything." This is the rule about new additions adding to the income in some way. And so the four of them did the newspaper. They only printed as many copies as the advertising would pay for, and they split the leftovers equally. No salaries or wages.

The point is that they didn't spend a lot of time making sure they had a common vision of what a newspaper should be, they just created a newspaper together and shaped it as they went. They were four people who wanted to do a newspaper -- period. When Quinn suggested, when money was a little low, that they turn the newspaper into a shopper, which would be more lucrative, everyone said no -- because they wanted to do a newspaper, not a shopper. The money was secondary -- important, but secondary. If it was primary, they would have done a shopper.

You love theatre. If there are a couple more people who also love it, and who are willing and able to contribute their energy in whatever way is necessary to keep the theatre going, then you're on your way. Negotiate as you go.

I agree with Ben Cameron: work with what you have right now. Don't have a theatre, and don't have enough money for a theatre? Then find some place else to perform -- a community center, a retirement home, somebody's living room. Scale your work to the resources available. This is how Commedia dell 'Arte worked, and to some extent Shakespeare and Burbage worked (although they employed wage laborers to play the smaller parts, so it wasn't a pure tribe.) This isn't a new-fangled idea, but something we've forgotten.

I also like your idea about looking outward, too. This is how Steppenwolf and Mabou Mines works -- their members always return home. But initially, they worked intensely together.

By the way, I think a tribe could extend beyond simply doing productions. For instance, you might hire yourselves out to businesses to help with training, with team building -- use Boal techniques to help people brainstorm solutions to problems. Write grants to collect oral histories, and then occasionally use those oral histories to create new work. Do podcasts and audiobooks. Expand as desired, but always make sure you have enough people who extend the income base.

David Moore said...

Hey Paul, it's exciting to hear your enthusiasm, and I wish you the best as you pursue these initiatives. (I'm avoiding using the word "dreams," on purpose -- dreams are great and necessary, but they tend to seem unattainable. Anyway, I'm splitting hairs...)

I'm also interested in your description of how you want to work, because it seems quite different from my own process. Perhaps it's because I have a tendency to distrust groups, perhaps it's because I tend to begin working on a project and then let the project dictate the form... but your approach seems (from my limited perspective only) to be very "outside-in."

I realize that you're purposely (and, I think, rightly) withholding some details because they're still germinating --and I can be particularly thick when it comes to theory -- but it sounds as if you're most interested in developing a style of working and a particular aesthetic, and that the stories (or not-stories) told and/or theatrical events that are presented will be borne of that environment.

Is that the case? Again, I'm not judging -- especially since my "approach" mentioned above is simply my current approach -- different from how I worked several years ago and certainly likely to change many times again (in fact, I HOPE it will continue to evolve. I'm just interested, and want to make sure I'm reading you correctly.

Paul Rekk said...

@David: You're right, I am woefully withholding a lot of information, and frustratingly so, because the people that I know are reading this blog are the ones that I would love to share the information with to get feedback and a dialogue of sorts. It's the people that I'm not aware might be reading this that are causing the hesitation. It's just so damn public.

As far as my process, it sounds like you're reading me more or less correctly. This Anti-Anticipation stuff I'm talking about right now is very much it's own subset in my mind -- an open-ended anthology, perhaps -- in which the means are created primarily in service to the end. It's actually quite Oulipian; the goal is still to create compelling, many times even traditional theatre, but to do build it off of a mold that removes, limits, or greatly alters one or more of the basic elements of theatre (anything from plot structure to lighting to marketing). So while the story is still very much a part of the process -- in many cases, anyway --you're right that the starting point is the self-appointed limitation, at once for the sake of finding new solutions and to provide a new definition of what is 'required' for theatre in the audience's eyes.

My work outside of that subset seems like it leans a little more towards your process, or just the opposite of mine, in which the story germinates first, and then I adapt it to the form, which is still very often driven by a sense of theatrical deconstruction, just not quite as extreme.

I hope that made the slightest bit of sense. I have a habit of using words as camoflage, so call me on it if I didn't answer your question.

Slay said...

In the long quotation from Ben Cameron up there, he's actually quoting at length the last page of Anne Bogart's book "A Director Prepares". So, if you like what he says there, get the book. It's full of gems like that.

Slay said...

Here's another Anne Bogart gem. When I was almost ready to start my first company of my own, she told me, essentially, don't wait. So, I asked, "What do I do first?" Her advice was "Tell everyone."

It turned out to be brilliant advice. I told everyone I could that I was starting a company and it brought all kinds of good fortune to me.

Paul Rekk said...

If it looks like a duck and smells like a duck...

Well, hell, here goes nothin', I guess.

David Moore said...

Got it, Paul... and thanks for taking the time to respond.

And sorry about this delayed/brief acknowledgment of your reply... I've been on vacation for almost a week, and haven't had much access to the Internet. Yesterday was spent whitewater rafting -- my primary focus was squeezing as much fun out of the adventure, without actually drowning. :-)

I'll catch up with things when I get back to Chicago at the end of next week. But all good thoughts, as you head toward this newest adventure.