Monday, September 22, 2008

Block Par-Tay!

So there were some last minute adjustments this weekend. I was informed late Friday afternoon that I had won passes to Hideout's Block Party. There was a moment's hesitation while I considered the fact that not only did I have a show each night, I also had tickets for a matinee each afternoon. But only a moment, because the second I checked the lineup and saw Ratatat's name, it was no contest. By the time I noticed Tim Fite, Hercules and Love Affair, Mucca Pazza, and Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, the deal couldn't have been more sealed. And that's not even counting the headliners that I couldn't see because of Dracula.

So I gave away my Dr. Egg ticket and let my Threepenny reservation go to waste in favor of a weekend that proved to have just as many if not possibly more theatrical lessons. No one that I was looking forward to disappointed, but I was especially pleased with Ratatat after rushing straight from my show to catch the last half of their set, and Tim Fite, who's urban backwoods meld of hip-hop and autotherapy had me wanting to nod my head in busted beat agreement, if only I could figure out what exactly that entailed. And everyone got free watermelon (some more airborne than others), as if we even needed an added bonus...

But, naturally, the best part was the discoveries. And in particular, the band that stole the weekend (except maybe for the zombie Thriller dance party, which I hear I would have loved, had I not been Draculating): Monotonix, the loudest band in Israel. Setting up in the parking lot among the crowd, the trio literally threw themselves headfirst into their set, lighting pieces of their equipment on fire, crowd-surfing in a trashcan, leading the audience on stage until it reached the point of near collapse (believe you me, I can verify this), standing atop a large hardfoam elephant on multiple occasions, playing atop an audience-built human/bass drum pyramid, sitting atop said bass drum hoisted by the crowd while playing drums hoisted by other crowd members, leading an anti-rain dance that may be the most chaotic thing I've been a part of lately, and often dousing themselves and others with beer grabbed from random bystanders. Also, this all took place in the span of a twenty minute set, the first five of which was spent trying to figure out just what the fuck was going on by all but the most rabid and prepared fans. It was the most joyous maelstrom in the world, constantly two inches from going completely south, but held together by the scotch tape and popsicle sticks of everyone having too damn much fun to fuck it up.

It wasn't until later, when me and my friend were discussing the set on our way to Dracula that I realized that the whole thing only appeared to be ready to run off the rails because we were weighing it against how these things work in polite society, and that a level of enjoyment that rampant is so much more adhesive than I had given it credit for. Anyone within the 20 foot radius that was striking distance for the band were ready, and more likely eager, to be involved in the Monotonix live experience. The group (musical and audience) was so chaotically gleeful that it would have taken serious effort to actually piss them off. It was, as we termed it on the drive, a happy riot. Sure, the whole things was said and done in twenty minutes, and while people would have taken more, everyone tacitly understood that twenty minutes was about right -- that these things end as soon as they begin, and the wisdom is in accepting that and enjoying the full twenty as they pass. And then we scattered. But we were all smiling.

The natural progression is why not theatre? Where is the theatrical equivalent to Monotonix? Or Ratatat, who while less frenetic, inspired just as much dancing and joy with nary a lyric and the sparsest of stage banter? And as I formulate those questions I realize what I'm actually asking for isn't the actual crowd ebb and flow; that music is by its very nature a more physical art form and will more likely result in these guttural reactions. No, what I'm seeking is a theatrical equivalent which can bring an audience to the same point of abandon. What I want to see is an audience who is completely unabashedly reactionary to their enjoyment of a work, despite or even compounded by the fact that those reactions are every bit as influential on the tone of the show.

The stumbling stones to this atmosphere are obvious: we've set up and thus made concrete the idea of the performance as a place of right and wrong choices, a place where not only is there a correct series of events, but even worse, the performers have, through weeks of browbeating the right path, trained themselves to glide over 'mistakes' and unexpectancies as if they don't occur. As this renders the gaffes no less noticeable, it also serves to entitle the audience to condemn the work, which isn't a problem until the realization that the condemned are the ones writing the laws by which they are being hung. And that, by embracing uncertainty, they could be exploring the rules instead of working in fear of them.

But that's a different discussion. The whole thing relates to the topic of audience inter/reaction in the fact that, by placing an entirely too strict magnifying glass on our own slip-ups, we render the average theatregoer (even those otherwise involved in the industry, most definitely including other actors) petrified to become a part of the show. Not only is the audience aware that there is, in theatre, a right and wrong answer, they also know that they don't have the slightest idea where to find that answer. Heaven forbid they fuck up, or even worse, cause a performer (someone who has been spending weeks on this!) to fuck up because of the inability of the audience. After all, everyone is watching. And they'll know if a mistake is made.

By crucifying ourselves by the side of the road, we're also serving as a warning to all passersby to not make the same mistake, which is why audience interaction is such a dreaded concept to many audiences.

So how do we fix this? What can we do to making the theatrical environment more inviting for play? There are a number of companies trying approaches to a certain degree of success -- WNEP's DADA work, the promenade style strongly embraced by Sean Graney and others, the mega-promenade of Dog & Pony's As Told By The Vivian Girls, the self-aware uncertainty of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (I imagine, that is. As I was reminded in my chance run-in with Bilal this weekend, I still haven't gone.) They each have their weaknesses, too, of course (i.e. DADA's tendency to magnify the "I don't know what to do" factor for those not comfortable with the form; the amazing ability of an audience to instantly reconvene behind a fourth wall en promenade), but at least there're some barriers being broken.

Perhaps the secret is in the concert experience, at least until we can build up a large enough base of audience members who see the theatre as a place to go be a part of rather than watch. When I saw Pavement Group's Lipstick Traces, the curtain call seamlessly and with almost no urging evolved into a stage-filling dance party. But it was closing weekend and I am fairly certain I just happened to attend the same night as a planned event. But what if all curtain calls became dance parties? Or just parties in general?

In a separate concert-themed approach, I seriously think the Q Brothers' Funk It Up About Nothin', which I already loved, would have been served tremendously by shifting the upstairs of Chicago Shakes into a general admission, barrier in front of the stage style concert setting. Yeah, the Shakes' audience base isn't necessarily age-appropriate to stand for a show, especially in a G.A. environment, but get a crowd used to the set up in there and I guarantee there would be healthy combination of dancing and crowding the stage.

(Random thought sprung from that last sentence, to be saved for later: Is/Should theatre be an event that requires undivided attention? No one would accuse someone dancing of not being able to appreciate the music they were dancing to. Could you dance to something like Funk It Up and still be fully appreciative of the work?)

All this is very interesting to me as I plan The Nine, especially those conceptions that allow for or intend to acheive a direct audience connection -- SubUrbia, Caesar Antichrist, and The Performers in particular. Event-based art should be closer to Party than Classroom. What can welcome that level of comfort?


So that was a little bit of an unplanned ramble. Gotta love it when those just kinda happen. I'm reading Dave Hickey's Air Guitar and cultural crit. of that kind just puts me in that mindset. I've already got a whole 'nother topic on how I am suited as a director vs. as an actor, which delves into the purpose of each in our modern theatre set-up. We'll see when I find time to fully set that one down.

I fully intend to still catch both Dr. Egg and Threepenny before they close, which means my viewing schedule just got even tighter still. But this weekend marks yet another Chicago visit by Mama and Papa Rekk, so family time prevails. Although, I am taking them to Circle's Escanaba In Love on Sunday -- they'll enjoy it, and it'll also work as a good counterbalance to Dracula.

Speaking of which, Chris Jones mostly approves, Justin Hayford approves, Venus Zarris doesn't approve at all, and the big question on everyone's lips is WWHD*? And what about you? What will you think? Only one way to find out! There's still Goldstar, and I, as always, can get you 10% off. (And, added bonus, anyone at the show this Saturday or Sunday will also have a chance to meet Ma and Pa Rekk. And you know you're curious as to what combination could have possibly created this hot mess.)

Good talk, everybody.


*(What Will Hedy Do?)

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