Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Touchy, touchy

Or: How visceral is too visceral?
Or: What happened to immediacy?
Or: How many titles can he give one post?

Over on AWG, Don to the Hall relates some frustration with an audience member refusing to play along with the anti-rules set in Soiree DADA. It's interesting, but I basically agree with Don: the audience member can certainly choose not to play along, but on the same basis, Don can certainly choose to escort him out. I don't know that I would -- it does seem to provide a challenging obstacle for the DADAs -- but that's Don's prerogative.

But the part of the whole thing that struck me with the need to return to thoughtful blogging after the recent dearth thanks to shameless self-promotion is in Don's instruction to his DADAs for future (non-?)troublemakers:

If he refuses to move from your section, make him (don't
touch him, though - that might get ugly).

The emphasis is mine. Later, in the comments section, Regan touches on this point (pun only slightly intended):

On a similar note, the "no-touching" point that Don makes is very, very important. I recently saw a show in which the cast screamed at us to get into the theatre (which didn't really set a good tone to enjoy any of the pieces anyway) and one of the cast members actually shoved me through the doorway, nearly tripping over my girlfriend and the other audience members in front of me. Sometimes we try so hard to break down the fourth wall entirely that we don't realize that sometimes it's not just there to protect us, it's there to protect the audience as well.

That's an unfortunate occurrence, and, while I'm curious as to what show it was (and thus the reasoning), it sounds like the cast were entirely unprofessional about the audience contact. Which is no different than being unprofessional about stage combat. At the same time, are we really to a point where audience touching is disallowed from the perspective of the theatre artists as well? And if so, isn't that a signal that it's time for that stigma to be broken back down?

I was recently discussing the problems and possibilities of staging Fernando Arrabal's ...and They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers in today's environment. For those unfamiliar, the script calls for a completely dark room separating the lobby and the theatre. At the door to the room, the stage manager hands off each audience member (separately, splitting up any groups) to a cast member of the opposite sex who leads them into the theatre in a brusque hands-on manner. Arrabal goes so far as to suggest some audience members be carried over the cast member's shoulder. He also notes that if any audience members get nervous or upset that the cast member should be a calming force as well -- it's not all violence and scary; it's about getting the audience into a mindset without causing them to completely disassociate. Regan, Don -- are you saying in essence that this play is no longer feasibly produceable, albeit for different reasons?

As to Regan, protection of the audience is a tricky line to ride. There's a difference between being in harm's way and losing a line of defense by not being in control. An audience member who just got shoved with no warning is in harm's way. An audience member slung over a cast member's shoulder (a cast member who is intimately familiar with the space and has walked it with someone over his shoulder before) has little control and is probably uncomfortable and to a certain degree unprotected. If the latter is a place we're no longer willing to take our audience from time to time, there's a problem. I don't see "protection of the audience" (or "protection of ourselves", for that matter) as primary or even secondary goal of theatre. I know I'm distilling a different meaning than Regan intended, and I do understand the sentiment, but it's a word choice I can't pass up. Little risk results in little discovery.

Don's reasoning is harder to argue. Touching people who are unprepared to be touched can on occasion get ugly, and in today's court-saturated society things getting ugly often equals things getting expensive. My Arrabal-discussing friend mentioned having the audience sign a waiver, which is not a bad idea, but I hate the possibility that we've come to that. It's bad enough that nudity and foul language require a warning -- do we really have to say "Hey everybody, we might touch you during this performance, so don't freak out or anything!" Is physical contact now as taboo as the word 'fuck'? Or as simulated fucking? But I can't argue that to certain people the answer is yes, and physical contact in the theatre is opening a door to a potential (even if ludicrous) lawsuit.

But as an artist, I can't just roll over and say uncle. And I'm in a similar bind myself; I have a play I have written called Consent that I couldn't get produced to save my life. The second act revolves around an interaction with an audience member that most would consider violating. It is in response to the first act, in which an actor is put in a position most would consider violating at the hands of the audience. I don't give details because the Webbernets is a big place and these are details that work best if not known ahead of time -- an impossible task after a while, but no need for me to make it any more impossible. If you're interested, e-mail me for a copy -- it's a very short read. My big challenge in figuring out exactly how (or if) to produce this myself has revolved around this aspect of avoiding legal worries.

From time to time, Don sends a call out on his blog asking where the revolutionaries are. I echo the sentiment. And it seems to fit here. If we make concessions because we might run across idiots and fearmongers, we run risk of playing to idiots and fearmongers. Sometimes we have to have hope in humanity, wish for the best, and just say fuck all and do it.



Also: Who searched for "erotic stories Fran Drescher" this weekend? It's too perfect to be random, but whoever it was, you made me smile...


GreyZelda Land said...

You know ... if you just say to the audience member up front before they put their money down and step into the theatre that there will be touching, would that stop any legal ramifications? Let me know if anyone finds out about that because I'd really like to know.

I once went to the HOUSE OF SHOCK!!!!!! in New Orleans (totally kickass and run by a former band member of Pantera) and there was lots of shoving, touching, people in my face, chain saw rubbing against my legs, etc ... but I knew that before going in because while I stood in line there were signs and scary voices telling me so. I could choose to go in our not. And in I went, baby. Rock and roll! Hail Satan! (Sorry ... House of Shock is too cool.)

Like getting wet by Shamu. You know where the splash section is. Or riding a whale for a publicity stunt ... you could get eaten or heavily bruised or drown ... it's a whale, after all. Or Gallagher smashing watermelons ... you know where to sit and bring a poncho. Oh, that Gallagher. But, does Shamu and Gallagher have to get their lawyers on call just in case? Or are warning words enough?

I think it was good that the Dadas experienced that in the first weekend so they know what to expect. That's live theatre, for good or bad. You can't control every single aspect of it, but now they know that something like that could happen and what to do about it.

I say produce what you want to produce but just look at all the angles and possibilities of what the worse case scenario could be and how you could possibly let people know about it up front without losing the fun of it all.

If you want to treat it like Toad's Wild Ride, you just have to let people know about it before they get themselves in too thick. I'm hoping Skriker will be a bit nasty, but we have to figger out how far is too far ... I'm all for theatre of cruelty, but I think we just have to let people know before even stepping foot in the theatre.


GreyZelda Land said...

Oh! and could you email a copy of that script? I always like brainstorming on such things, if you don't mind my feedback.



Paul Rekk said...

Good points all, and maybe it's enough if (for example) this were a Per Diem show to emphasize as a company that during a Per Diem show the audience may or may not be touched or poked or prodded because that's a very real possibility of live theatre.

Or maybe it's not enough legally. But it's enough for me ethically. And for some reason, that seems a little more important.

I'll send out that script to you tonight when I make it home, Rebecca - thanks for the interest!

Tony said...

Legal points aside . . . what happens if an audience member responds to a poke or shove with a punch in the face? There can be non-legal ramifications to remember before physically provoking random strangers.

Note: It actually happened at a show I saw in France. The "performer" was trying to provoke the wrong dude, slapped him and got belted. The show was crap anyway, but it ended worse that it normally should have.

GreyZelda Land said...

Slapping's pretty extreme ... in that case, if you must slap an audience member (although I don't know what I would do in that instance ... it seems a bit like dominatrix masochistic sadistic EXTREME theatre - there's a new one for the kids! Put THAT in your mission statement and smoke it!), I would think you should definitely let people know that if they don't want to get physically assaulted, then this show might not be for you.

Man, that show you saw in France was a definite slap in the face! (My, that was a bad joke. Sorry.)


GreyZelda Land said...

It makes me think of Waiting for Guffman actually ... "People don't like to have fire poked, poked in their noses." It's that "In Your Face Theatre" that Corky talks about. Heh heh.

Paul Rekk said...

Slapped? Wow...

If you are going to be physically violent to an audience member, they need to be warned of the possibility. And even after they're warned, the performer doing the slapping shouldn't only be ready to be hit back, they should be expecting it. I also don't see the point in physically assaulting an audience in such a manner, but if you can glean a purpose and play it fair like that, hey, more power to you.

But you're right -- when you invite an audience member through the fourth wall and they accept, you are as complicit as they are (and vice versa) and you lose many of the privileges normally held as a performer by taking away the equal but opposite privileges normally held by the audience.

Which can be exciting -- I think it very much is -- but it also demands a level playing field. If you don't give the audience a fighting chance, you're just a bully.