Monday, October 12, 2009

My Post On The Summit I Have No Firsthand Knowledge Of, As Inspired By An Evening With The Chicago Underground.

Let's get the gushing out of the way first -- I know I'm not ahead of the curve on this one, but Mickle Maher is a prince among playwrights. Tracy Letts and Keith Huff can enjoy their success, god love 'em, but Maher... Maher's got a good run on the Chicago playwright crown. There's something uberhuman about the way the man can take the broadest of abstract concepts and completely bend it to his whim, like a ventriloquist and his dummy. In An Apology For The Course & Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening currently in remount by Theater Oobleck, the dummy concept is Meaning. And Meaning didn't stand a chance, didn't even know to put up a fight. Maher's Faustus whims on the glories of meaninglessness, of the world of pre-meaning; brings everyday nonsense taken for granted in contemporary society into light, then brisk-handedly slides it under the table; dwarfs the entire concept in the human scale beside that of the unknowable, the unimaginable, the silent actor right in front of our eyes; and metatheatrically disallows us any solution to the universal equation. That's just the basics. And all of this happens in round about an hour or so. Not once do we see Maher's lips moving. The man is a master, and you must see this show.

Straight after I shot up Milwaukee and landed myself at the Rough House's Great Trash Spectacle Of Aught Nine. This is the launchpad for my summit talk, but first a summation. Whereas Oobleck is the old guard of Chicago Underground Theatre, the Rough House is helping to usher in the new. The evening consisted of five pieces, ranging from two to fifteen minutes and from read poetry to dell'Arte, all built around trash. Trash found by the performers that served as a kickstart for their creative juices. The show was preceded by, followed by, and included two ten minute intermissions of party. A five dollar donation at the door got you into the show as well as plenty of booze. And it was a smash. The whole performance aspect lasted about the same as John Faustus and, at times, reached the same levels of untouched brilliance, from Jason Economus' equally meta one-man life breakdown to the entire crowd cheering in unison as a ballerina princess beats down her beercan + milk jug prince after he (cardboard) dicks her over when she saves him from a dragon. It was as wacky as it sounds and every bit as winning.

Now, Summit attendees, interested Summit nonattendees, and especially Summit organizers, here is my number one question for you. Was the Rough House asked to take part in the Summit? Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing not. And I'm guessing the reason is that no one was aware of the Rough House. And my real question, which that was all a set up for, is this: Why was no one aware of the Rough House? They had a jam-packed house full of art lovers and paying guests that night, so some people are obviously familiar. Why was no one aware of the Rough House? That one is an open question.

Of course, the Rough House in particular is not my point here, they are serving as the handiest example. But when you talk about unifying the theatre community and getting better communication and group action amongst storefronts, you fail to consider the idea of Chicago Storefront as a community with as wide a spectrum as the entirety of Chicago Theatre. Everyone loves to play the underdog, but your better bet is to acknowledge those operating even closer to the core than you. When you talk Storefront, you're talking independent art. So think like independent art. Keep the current guest list, sure, but add to it the Rough House, add to it Cupola Bobber, and, at the risk of vanity, add to it myself, not as a representative of Signal, not as a representative of WNEP, not as a blogger, but solely and specifically to speak from the perspective of The Nine. And add to it the dozens of people that I'm sure others can provide that I'm not yet aware of, either. And add these people not because they are fellow Chicago theatre artists who were overlooked last time, but because they are an integral part, a part that probably have better ideas than most. Because, while you are brainstorming on the best way to achieve your goals within the current system, they're already achieving theirs in whatever system they damn well please. (And they are achieving -- from what I've seen, Cupola Bobber and the Rough House are able to pull in a crowd just as well as most storefronts and, what's more, a more enthusiastic crowd than almost all storefronts.) Because, while you continue hoping that one day the city will kowtow and create spaces dedicated to theatre, they're finding and creating their own affordable space, zoning and licenses be damned. (You want to turn this into an issue the city cares about? Work on getting the the entirety of Chicago Storefront as a unified front creating theatre everywhere EXCEPT where the city wants it, rather than continually heading back to your PPAs with your tails between your legs.) Because, for god's sake, if you are going to invite a representative from the League, not only do you need people who are willing to question the League, you need people who couldn't give two shits about the existence of the League. Because whether you invite them or not, whether you inform them of your Code of Fucking Ethics or not, whether you know they exist or not, they're gonna keep doing what they're doing. And what they are doing is exactly what you all want to be doing -- it's just that most of you want it on a larger scale. So ask them to come to the table and share their insight. And then don't be surprised if they choose not to participate; don't take it as a rude gesture, don't take it as a dismissive gesture, and don't take it as a lack of opinion. Give it as much weight as you would have given anything they would have said had they come. If they're uninterested, maybe it's because you're forcing yourself to sift through a haystack of nonessential to find that needle of worthwhile.

You're all being very nice and studied about this. Which is great, if you want some good hypotheticals. To get shit done, you're gonna want the input of those who just go ahead and do, as well. And you're gonna wanna listen to it.



Andrew Hobgood said...

Much agreed! It's a difficult community to reach - which is actually the main issue that came up over and over again. Our communication system for independent Chicago theater (or storefront theater, or whatever you want to call it) is completely decentralized. It lives on blogs, twitter, facebook and our own websites. There's no one place where we can all say something once and have it be heard by all.

With this first summit (hopefully with more to come), getting the news out was entirely "word of mouth." We used all of the means of spreading information that I listed above - but again, that's just not enough. I'm definitely adding those suggestions to the list for invites next time - they sound fascinating and perfect for what we're trying to accomplish. And ultimately - that's going to be the best way to get people in the conversation - we need those-in-the-know to bring others to the table.

- Andy

Paul Rekk said...

Andy, I'm worried that my purpose for the post might not be as clear as I had hoped.

"I'm definitely adding those suggestions to the list for invites next time - they sound fascinating and perfect for what we're trying to accomplish. And ultimately - that's going to be the best way to get people in the conversation - we need those-in-the-know to bring others to the table."

I know it wasn't the intent, so I'm gonna try to not be too dismissive, but this reads very opportunistic to me. I'm not looking to add people to your mailing list or even to *necessarily* bring people to the table. I'm still a little slow pulling up a chair myself. This straight to business attitude freaks me out a bit. When the instant response when learning about a new under the radar company is about how you can use them to accomplish your goals rather than about the interest you have in their work, I tend to shrink away.

I'm not accusing you of demeaning anyone's work, believe me, but the point I was attempting to get across above was this: you should invite sub-radar artists because they might very likely have ideas that you otherwise wouldn't have come up with. But when you get low enough, you have to be careful when making the assumption that everyone's playing to the same endgame, because many of them are already accomplishing their goals without a summit. And suddenly you find yourselves in the same position as the League is now being placed. Below a certain, for lack of a better word, budget level, people are going to wonder what use this whole thing is to them -- they're doing just fine without you.

To hopefully rephrase more clearly and succinctly where I was going with my post: invite people outside of the group that sees a need to fix itself. Invite them without trying to recruit them into that group. Make it clear that the reason you are inviting them is not because you can help them, but because you feel they have something to offer you. The artists in Chicago that will have the best ideas to share are going to be the ones that don't see a need to brainstorm, because they're already putting the great ideas to work. If you've solidified a group of people who are interested in change, now you should look outside that group to find people who can spark that change. But don't confuse the two groups. Not everyone needs a summit. (Which is not intended to belittle the benefits of the summit for those it will help.)

That said, god bless you for voicing your thoughts, Andy. There's little quite so odd as watching people who refuse to discuss your ideas in the blogosphere discuss them in the twitterverse as if that were some sort of private feed.

Travis, my teeth aren't nearly as sharp as Don's; I just get swept up in my own words. You're relatively safe here. My one question for you is where you see the delineation between the fierceness you love and the hostility you don't understand in my post. When I read it, they appear to be one in the same. I personally find fierce to be the better descriptor, but I can understand either reaction to the post. I fail to see them both independent of each other, however.

Tony Adams said...

I can't speak for Travis, but I didn't get the sense he was talking about your post exclusively. Some of the others have been outwardly hostile.

I figured it was worth folk's time to read it so I passed it along the twitter pipeline. (It's not always great for in-depth conversations, but it seems really good for disseminating info and articles.)

Myself, I haven't completely been able to coherently articulate my thoughts, so I haven't written as much about it yet.

I think, and it's just me, what has gotten lost every time the idea of a summit--or off-loop charter, or whatever we're calling it this year--is both companies and artists doing their own thing and differing opinions.

The way I look at it the more viewpoints the better. I think it's the same with theatre, the more different kinds of shows out there the better.

Kris Vire said...

Paul, it seems odd to me that you would first chide the summit organizers for failing to invite your deliberately under-the-radar pals, then call Andy opportunistic for offering to take you up on it.

I've never heard of Rough House, and my ear's about as close to the ground as anyone's. That suggests to me that, like the Inconvenience for example, maybe they're not interested in being widely heard of. And that's fine. Good for them. They've found the audience they want.

From here on the sort-of-outside, I'm frankly bewildered by the amount of teeth-gnashing being done over the summit. Why can't the people who are interested in meeting and sharing ideas share them, and people who aren't just don't go? Having this indier-than-thou, "fuck permits and fuck the League" attitude and then bitching about people trying to accomplish something cooperatively doesn't jibe. Same with Bob's complaining about not being invited to League events but refusing to join the League; that seems indefensible to me. Either participate or don't.

Paul Rekk said...

"Why can't the people who are interested in meeting and sharing ideas share them, and people who aren't just don't go?"


I've got a strong foot in each of those pools. Call me conflicted, indecisive, or just plain bitchy, but I'm still on the fence about this whole thing, especially considering I'm not really sure what I'm participating or not in.

The summit began as a call to action for Chicago Storefront Theater -- all caps, all unified. If it's lessened in scope to a small to midsize group of artists who have chosen to schedule semi-regular meetings to share ideas, maybe all of this brouhaha is for naught. Maybe that's the disconnect we're seeing; what was initially spoken of as a plan that involved *emphasis* Chicago Storefront could have settled into some people in the community. In which case, fine, I'll step off.

But if what you see in my post and comment is teeth-gnashing, name-dropping, and bitching about cooperation, I think you're as swept up in the 'strong language = antipathy' mindset as everyone else. I'm providing the same two cents I would have had I been at the summit:

-Let's try and garner some suggestions from artists outside our circle as well.
-If we want to truly forge ahead in any aspect, we need to form relationships with artists of other media as well -- not business relationships, but artistic relationships. The sort that build to personal relationships.
-Asking the city for space isn't working; this is a nonissue as far as they're concerned. If we want city space, we'll get them to believe it is an issue.

Andy's as opportunistic as I am indier-than-thou as Bob is indefensible. Which is to say not really all that much at all. We all want the best for Chicago art. And we all have different ideas of what that is and different ways of talking about it. No one said making those all fit one oddly shaped mold was going to be easy. But telling those who are discontent to leave those who are content in peace is not what I thought this whole thing was about.

Andy's taking this all in stride quite well, which gives me some hope for the guy, especially because he is trying to converse with the naysayers. I think the people who want nothing more than to sit in their bubble of 'everybody gets along' should cause as much concern as those who just can't seem to get along with everybody all at the same time.

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