Sunday, June 1, 2008

I don't care what anybody says...

...Chicago is the place to be if you know where to look. This weekend I started reading some Georges Perec thanks to the Harold Washington, took in some gigantic stainless steel balloon animal sculptures and basketballs in aquariums thanks to Jeff Koons and the MCA, saw the fantastic new Harmony Korine film and met the director thanks to the Music Box, and watched a rundown of 20th century Anti-Art that was a refreshing review on my opinions of What. Art. Is. For. thanks to Pavement Group's Lipstick Traces.

Everything has been hitting at once -- work issues (my temp contract is up in July -- anybody hiring?), roommate issues (I need to find a roommate starting in July -- anybody looking?), Per Diem issues (the show is going up in... August -- anybody got two extra months they can spare?), and all kinds of random other stuff -- but looking back on that first paragraph, I am able to stop and realize that, all in all, things is cool as long as I know where to keep my focus.

So, Lipstick Traces. Hells yeah. I mean, Pavement Group had an advantage starting out, as any show tracing the history of Dada, Lettrism/Situationism, and Punk and featuring Richard Huelsenbeck, Guy Debord, and Johnny Rotten as primary characters is going to be my thing. But, Jesus, they knocked it out of the park. I don't know if it was potential license troubles or what that led to the "private event/suggested donation/name on the list/go through the back door" rigamaroll, but it was a happy accident if so. From the (back) door, through the industrial stairs, the mid-construction hallway, the corner after corner, and then into the beautiful AV-aerie loft space, the whole thing had such a D.I.Y. party feel to it that by the time I got to my seat, it didn't seem like I was at the Theatre anymore. I was there to chill and see what was going on. I was there because there was the place for me to be.

It's hard to even talk about the show as an entity unto itself. There was a packed house, great music, a D.I.Y. (virgin) bar, and cast and crew members on occasion passing by -- looking to get somewhere or something but not at the expense of too much energy or blood pressure. It was an atmosphere. The place became an atmosphere which, as people started to sit, became a show, which, after a little over an hour, became a party. The show, while the impetus for the evening, wasn't an artifact, but a living, breathing being. Could I pick apart the technical aspects and the performances and all the other building blocks that make a show tick and mention how great they were? Yeah, but I'm not going to, because everything was great. And the stuff that wasn't great was great because it wasn't great. And when everyone cheered and whooped and hollered and applauded and then started dancing and drinking, it wasn't because Pavement Group had put on a Good Show, it was because everyone was having a great time, and after an hour of passively having a great time, it only seemed right that we actively have a great time as well. Congratulations, Pavement Group. This was top-notch work, not least because it never once felt like work.

And if I might allow myself to dig into the ideas of the piece for a moment: I also hit light bulb after light bulb about opinions and civility and art and the world which seem pertinent here.

As I watched these characters: Richard Huelsenbeck, Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Guy Debord, The Sex Pistols, all figures whose work is of the highest influence to me, the constant throughline (bluntly pointed out in Lipstick Traces) is disgust. All of this work and these thoughts, the ones that I find the most inspiring in the last century and further, came about because these people were entirely disgusted with the world they saw around them and were completely open to that disgust. The work that I love came about because the people involved fucking hated what everyone else was doing and not only wanted to say so but wanted to say so in such a manner that it would denigrate what everyone else was doing. And this light bulb brought about two little light bulbs, one global and one personal.

First, the global: Wow, what the fuck happened? I posit that the world is not a shiny happy place and that things are not, on the whole, 'better'. And yet we're asking for more peace and civility? As artists? As artists, we have become this concerned with making sure that everything is (or at least looks) okay? That everyone has their equal chance to be heard? And if that's the case, where are the people shouting out, "Okay, it's my equal chance to be heard and X, Y, and Z fucking blow and should be put out of their god forsaken misery because that bullshit doesn't deserve its equal chance!"? How sanitized are we? How much do we care if other people like us and our work? How much do we care if we like us and our work? Are we really spending time trying to figure out the best way to be honest? What happened to passion? Why don't we combine honesty with passion and let god pick up the pieces, if he even cares to? Is it productive? Fuck productive. Productive implies a goal. An endgame. A mission. Fuck missions. What's going on right now? What are you thinking right now? That's art.

Second, the personal: I'm not entirely disgusted with the world I see around me. Which is partly true and partly my own fiction. I was raised a nice Iowa boy in today's sanitized society, so to a certain degree it's been part of my worldly upbringing to look for the good in everything. And I think that I tend to find it, as well. So how do I reconcile that with these influences and interests and beliefs that I hold? How do I reconcile the fact that I don't contain nearly the hatred required to justify the last paragraph? And I came to a sorta realization: I do have that kind of disgust somewhat regularly, but I let it pass because I know it will. And it doesn't emanate from my reaction to people or the world or anything so mundane. It comes through art. I often refer to it as me being overly critical or tough to please or being a perfectionist. That's kinda bullshit. What's the purpose of those self-critical terms? It's essentially me apologizing for having an opinion. Saying, "Well, I didn't like it, but don't worry about my opinion, I'm too tough a judge.", more or less. Well, fuck that. I'm not overly critical -- there's just a lot of shit in the world. My job as an artist is not only to create shit that counters that shit, but also to acknowledge to myself and anyone interested, listening, curious, whatever, what is and is not shit. Because giving shit a pass doesn't help anyone.

Of course, this is the part where I normally say something along the lines of, "Of course, anyone else should be willing to have the same views and blah blah about subjectivity and me being just as open for criticism", but fuck that. They can figure it out for themselves or they can't. I'm not here to teach, I'm here to speak.

But let's take it one step at a time. 'Cause vitriol is only partially my bag. There's that other part that does divorce people from their works and has no interest in tearing down the people as (or if) I tear down their work.

However, that first step at a time did come the very next day, in what may prove to be a trial by fire for my reignited sense of vigor. Because I went to Halcyon's Henry IV on Sunday and did something I had never done before in my life -- I left at intermission. Not that that implies that it was the worst show I've seen in my life, just that it happened to be the first bad show I've seen since said reignition. And it was pretty damn bad. It's a wordy, wordy, rough and tumble script. And a hurdle for a cast of any ability. That's an observation on my part -- not an excuse. Some fared better than others, but this entire cast generally just got beat bloody, black and blue by the Pirandello's text. In the case of a few of the actors, I'd question if they even know what exactly they are reciting, or if the amount of words coming out of their mouth is simply taking too much focus to worry about anything else but the next time they get to stop talking. And the thing is, it's a wordy script, but it's generally not heightened language. It may not be contemporary, but it's conversational English. And it has been taken and turned into a foreign language by a lack of connection on the speaker's part. I mentally skipped out on quite a bit towards the end of the first act, because it simply wasn't worth going through the effort to interpret what these people were overacting in what's supposed to be my native language.

So I left. And that's all I really have to say about that.


This week's tentative schedule? Insanely light for once! Finally making up Hell in a Handbag's Die! Mommie, Die! on Thursday, and... that's it!


Really, though, anyone hiring, looking for a well-priced swank-ass place to live, or have two extra months? If so, talk to me...



Anonymous said...

Hey Paul... back from a break from Bloglandia (Theatrosphere and Beyond) and slowly catching up...

Great post. I'm not going to nail my response here, but my boiled-down, mixed-metaphorish thoughts are that I (too?) am getting awfully tired of Art having to have some connection to a mission or an endgame.

It's certainly a connection that is pervasive, if not inevitable. Perhaps it's inevitable because we allow it to be so? Whatever... I'm just all about "do the fucking work," because isn't that, in the end, the point? Or is "the point" just another version of a "mission?"

Of course, reality is reality. Maybe a mission, an endgame helps make a connection to potential audiences? Helps get them there, which is a big part of a theater experience: creating the interaction between audience and artist by getting both parties in the room at the same time?

I think this after having seen a sparsely attended workshop production of ALICE IN WAR at our very own LeapFest 5 last night. (No, this isn't a plug -- I've already done that on my own blog.) It's a fascinating, clever, funny, touching, exploratory play that asks tough questions and demands much from the audience. Flawed in some ways, yes (it's a workshop production, after all, the play is still being written), but pretty amazing as-is. As I sat there, I kept thinking of all the people I know who would really get off on this show, for better or worse, but won't because they weren't there. The tree was falling, but very few saw it or heard it.

And now I've lost my train of thought... See: that extended absence from the blogosphere has left my brain cells unworked. So, anyway, good post. Good thinking. And good luck with all the rest.

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