Another “Farewell to the Theatre…”

It seemed appropriate to use a defunct theatre website for this.  I am in the process of carrying through on some emotional house-cleaning, and as a part of that, I want to include a farewell to theatre-making.  Not a grand, sweeping goodbye, I assure you, just a nod of farewell to a very particular set of concerns, to my own little peculiar domain of interest.  I’m saying goodbye to the few notions of theatre-making I’ve attempted to explore, unsuccessfully, for the last twenty-three or so years.  I want to briefly describe them, for the record, and then acknowledge my inability to realize them.  Perhaps they are  not really worth realizing, but I’ll stop short of asserting that.  I’m still too fond of the notions to go that far.


I want to keep it simple.  These notions are simple.  They are the shortest avenues I can imagine to pure stimulation.  In the end, that may be the problem.  I wasn’t necessarily interested in the complexities and deferrals of story.  But can theatre-making dispense with story?  I wanted to fashion stimulating events composed of human presence, focused microscopically through the material reality of bodies, voices and feeling.  I make it sound O so heroic, don’t I? But viable?  Playable?


When you see a production of a play or musical or opera and you respond to a performance and a specific performer, you are at a precise distance to receive what you could call a certain gestalt, a masterful coordination of elements within a storied framework which illuminates a featured instance of human agency.  You can call it “the power of a performance.”  You, the audience, the appreciative receiver, need the distance for the gestalt to cohere and work the way it does.  The theatre-making that intrigued me involved reducing the distance to the performance just enough for the gestalt to fragment and collapse.  The performer is now a heterogenous swirl of elements, elements which can picked through and re-aligned or juxtaposed or collided into a new kind of event.


Voice, for instance.  I really like listening to voices doing strong and unusual things.  I like the experience of a voice dispensing with amplification and projecting into a space.  I like the strange turns and distortions in such a voice.  I like to experience remarkable textures in a voice.  It’s a vocal encounter that only works in the here and now, however.  If it’s recorded, preserved, or mediated in some way, it might as well be a curio preserved in a jar of formaldehyde.  It’s dismissed as an instance of outdated oddness that can only collect dust on the shelf. But it’s evident that striving to produce such elements in a voice leads the speaker into unusual emotional territory.  The audience is taken to new territory in the listening.  I wanted to make theatre in which such an element is not a background “gift” or quality of a performer (or an instance of embarrassing excess), but is part of the focused stimulating event.  The performer brings it to bear through a kind of imposed immediacy.


Voice is just one element, one example.  Embodiment.  Movement.  Manner of relational approach.  Modes of intimacy.  These all float and hover and offer themselves for new configurations.  The performer willfully moves through the options in this strange disarticulated collection of possibilities.  This is the stuff of the theatre-making I attempted.


Why could I never make it go anywhere in a fully satisfying way?  I could offer any number of reasons, but I recently hit upon the chief reason, something that colored everything else, that explains much of what I see as a failure of will.  I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I was afraid of what I thought I wanted to do.


I feared the very radical strangeness of what I wanted to pursue.  As you can imagine, it made surmounting the resistance of others rather difficult.


But there we have it.  My statement of intent.  My nod of goodbye.  I leave it for other more muscular imaginations.  Or if it is just a cluster of impossibilities knotted out of my past and could never be a viable route for theatrical exploration and expression, I can now simply set it aside.  I’m done fiddling with it.




Why my waxing and waning: same old manifesto

Two supply priests exhibited the elements that interest me. One possessed a deeply resonant voice which he employed in a wonderfully archaic homiletic style. He was in his seventies so maybe not so archaic for him. You could imagine a Nineteenth-Century American declamatory style of oration (and acting) at it’s best. But most effective was the way he linked his manner with his rhetoric. Use of ellipsis. Use of non sequitur. Use of wit. Effortlessly conjuring a theatre of mind and heart. The other was an African American man in his sixties. His style was not really what I associate with classic Black Gospel/Pentacostal style. More of what I would characterize as a classic, large African American “thespian” or histrionic (in the best sense of the word) approach. He stood in front of the altar, unanchored to ambo. His voice occupied a plaintive register, as if his voice was the sole representative of the human condition in its pain and longing for transcendence. Somewhat improvisational, but not built on repetitions as much as on waves of intensity. He very much evoked for me Grotowski’s notion of the actor as sacrificial agent with his address to us as also an impersonation of our collective sense of soul.

Yes, the rhetorical moves can be composed, documented, recreated. I’m more intrigued by what we might separate out as essential but unscriptable: aspects of voice and physical engagement, non-verbal energies of impersonation.

I have great admiration for Neo-Futurism (our current focus and project)as anattempt to precipitate the most compelling and effective aspects of what I would call a Theatre of Wit. It’s a conceptual compositional challenge. I can pretend to be clever if I set the scene properly, but my interests really lie elsewhere. Cleverness and wit of conception are not capacities I can use consistently to “make theatre.” It’s a put on, for me, a struggle to keep up, a frustrating deficit. So I wax and wane. Theatre guy but not a “theatre guy.” It’s not a paradox I enjoy, I assure you!

So I want to reaffirm my interests, primarily for myself. It’s easy to lose touch with them. As a potential performer, my goals and interests produce a great deal of fear and dread in me as I think about trying to bring such things to the table. I thought it might make more sense to collaborators if I tried to list these things, so you might understand my fears and see how you respond. Maybe what I fear is bread and butter for you. If so, I crave your input and guidance.

  • Not only must I be ready to bear witness to everything, but I must be ready to encounter everything.

  • I want to isolate, identify, contemplate, and celebrate every little moment, behavior, atmosphere, sounds, image, gesture, pause, accident, and notion. I wish to ponder those. I wish to compose with those.

  • There has to be a perverse push to intimacy in my actions. I must assume the same urge in everyone.

  • I want to try to converse using non-verbal, non-rational, embodied elements. I want these conversations to be both banal and sublime. I want to be happy when something goes nowhere.
  • I want to explore what these difficult and elusive components of a performing body trigger. I look for elusive terrain.

  • I am more interested in the audience’s response to events than in telling stories. I’m not good at telling stories, so I’m always searching for something for which I have a working facility.

  • I’m always trying to traumatize myself with the unprecedented.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want this to be interpreted as my declaration of a desire to scandalize or shock. It would be easy to exploit this manifesto for assorted personal agendas. That’s part of my fear and dread. Eliciting whispers and tittering is no fun for me. I guess I want the “push to intimacy” to be somewhat heroically philosophical and omnipresent, a give and take that flows as naturally as water. It may be an impossible ideal because it’s not something I can assume readily. I’ve witnessed performers/researchers assume it, but I mostlystood cut-off and uncertain about my role. It’s a difficult thing to ask of people. I fear asking it of myself. I’ve seen it and I’ve witnessed the conversations unfold (many years ago), but re-creating the climate and including myself as a motivating agent is difficult.

The supply priests encouraged me not toworry my interests are solely rooted in memory and past traumas. These performance possibilities are part of our lives and experiences now. It’s re-assuring to be reminded of that. These elements are viable and vital. I will continue to ponder them.

What I have not done with this manifesto is draw far reaching conclusions for the kinds of work that might begin. I need to think about that. I invite others to do so.

Music for Three Little Pigs

Here’s the complete score. Theme borrowed from Frank Churchill, of course. And one portion is from Ben Charest’s music for The Triplets of Belleville. The choreographer already had it in her head, and there was no convincing her to let me give it a shot with my materials. Great track; what can you do…Show Biz, baby! So much for purity of conception.

This is a low-quality, mp3 compression, so not so many fun and games at all frequencies, but I hope you’ll get the general idea. Didn’t want WordPressgripingover the file size.


Work Session, 4/8

Here’s a template for creating imaginary accounts of meetings which did not take place:

We began on time with everyone in attendance, though_____________came thirty minutes late, missing warm-ups, and______________left early in order to_______________. One stranger was in attendance; _______never identified _________-self.

_____________led us through a warm-up of ____________, some back flips, ________________ with and without the bamboo poles, __________, a few arias, ____________, and a circle massage. A short session of hypertropic breathing caused________________ to hallucinate, briefly, a ______________, entertaining everyone.

____________brought in a new version of______________. This one was shorter by about __________minutes and did not include the____________ or filling ____________’s mouth with rose petals. ________________chose a piece of the new text:

(insert piece of text here)

and while exploring it with ____________ managed to conjure up a______________, accented by a spray of_________________, ending in a convulsive_____________. Upon reflection___________noticed that the__________________was perfect for the________________which came after the________________. Then_______________, _________________, and_________________ began repeating a______________ that had appeared during warm-ups. It led to _______________ becoming a _______________ who was convinced that_______________. ______________was reminded of a recent installation described in yesterday’s edition of the Times. ______________pointed out that we didn’t have to tie up the______________the way the New York thing did. Everyone agreed.

Then the unidentified stranger offered the observation that________________. This surprised everyone and prompted_____________to attempt to do the entire part about________________backwards and with______________poised below________________. Everyone was quite intrigued.

As we concluded,______________suggested we spend more time next week on_________________. _________________promised to bring in more_________________. _________________made a short comment about___________________and confessed that it was a source of great anxiety when all was said and done. ________________reminded_________that nothing was set in stone at this point. In good spirits, we all left and went to_______________for drinks and nibbles.

Pig Pieces

JB asked about some things I’m putting together for Newnan School of Dance’s Spring Recital: soundscapes for a version of the Three Little Pigs. So I’ve rerecorded some as mp3s. Hope the playback works. Make sure your connection speed is at least 1mb/sec. And I’ve still had some stuttering playback problems, so I’ve had to re-try the links a few times before they would run uninterrupted. If anyone knows how to solve that, let me know.

I stole a recording of the original Disney/Frank Churchill version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” which, along with a recording of part of the tune played on a whistle, was my only source material. I subjected those two samples to all manner of atrocities through Plogue Bidule and the TX Modular (two lovely shareware processing interfaces), recording my results with WireTapper (a grand must-have item). I then began to “arrange” some of those samples of digital manipulation with GarageBand. Yes, you will hear a few percussion loops not culled from the original material (fewer than you may think) and some midi sweetening, though even with that I tried to remain true to my “tone row.” The unarranged samples are also fun listening. Maybe I’ll post more in a day or two.

The NSD choreographers will listen to a bunch of tracks (I’m still assembling them) and make decisions about which bits fit what parts of the dance, etc.

Press the blue buttons for stutter-free playback.












Work Session, 12/10/08

present: Dale, Marc, Jeff B., Barbara, Jeff A.

We read through the first 15 pages or so of Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0 [.doc] to get a feel for the language and the structure. We also looked at a bit later in the piece that used transcribed narratives from soldiers and Wilfrid Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est” as the text.

Dale explained that he brought the piece to the group because

  • he liked the writing
  • he liked Mee’s use of a structure, i.e., Greek tragedy, to frame a contemporary take on American imperial power
  • he thought Lacuna might find Mee’s appropriation of texts (stories, poems, news articles) instructive

Jeff said, and we all agreed, that as something to perform, Iphigenia was a bit past its date. But the idea of the piece, of using a tale as a frame for texts and ideas, was worth our keeping in mind.

We played around reading some of the Neo-Futurist scripts, just getting a feel of what was possible within that aesthetic. The concept of an evening of very short pieces was appealing to everyone.

Dale asked Marc to explain/show the Vocal Sequence, which he did. Dale suggested that we begin to structure our sessions by opening with some VS work, then moving into sharing and exploring. Otherwise, he said, we run the risk of sitting on the floor all night talking about possibilities instead of creating them. [See: Vocal Sequence and other structural issues for discussion.]

We hit on at some point Jeff’s Myth piece [.doc] and its appeal as a piece to work on through the Vocal Sequence (and other structures).

Marc suggested that we write a Neo-Futurist play by using a structure generated from random drawings. We each did a random drawing and put them in a pile, from which Marc drew one:

(I reconstructed the original for illustrative purposes.)

Marc then instructed us to write a list of ten phrases that the diagram provoked/inspired in us:

  1. All things are related.
  2. The universe is ever-expanding
  3. Repulsion is a force equal and opposite to attraction.
  4. Live in all three dimensions.
  5. Someone has to be the cetnral figure.
  6. All good family trees branch.
  7. Nothingness causes all to flee.
  8. Life is not always linear.
  9. Evolution continues.
  10. Ten phrases are difficult.
  1. Worlds to the South
  2. Worlds to the North
  3. Worlds ot the East
  4. Worlds to the West
  5. Worlds Above
  6. Worlds Below
  7. Worlds in Me, at the Center
  8. Fire at the Center
  9. Fire Above
  10. Fire Below
  11. Fires spinning around me
  12. Emanating from me
  13. Returning to me
  14. Keeping me warm
  1. butter her up
  2. you complete me
  3. all by yourself
  4. help your brother
  5. why unfortunate?
  6. leave it be
  7. please and thank you
  8. on the shoulders of giants
  9. gimmee that
  10. she’s not welcome here
  1. expulsion of the necessary
  2. fleeing the sanctum
  3. more away than not
  4. the center cannot hold
  5. held back by centrifugal force
  6. polar alignment of affection
  7. turning their backs on the empty table
  8. seeing the faraway orbiters
  9. pointing at the ends of the earth
  10. not only circular but outward
  1. I could walk away
  2. we fled to a small grotto
  3. calipers close by
  4. she cares
  5. hungry and tired
  6. I thought she said “egrets”
  7. however, I don’t
  8. fold it imperfectly
  9. quickly now
  10. amazed by onions

We put all our lists in the middle. Marc drew a square around an area of the diagram. Dale drew out one of the lists and selected a phrase to attach to that area. A round robin of that process produced:

(click for full-size version of the results)

At that point we were out of time.


  • Dale’s performance of the “Freshmen” monolog, Jeff B.
  • the running down of the soldiers’ lists of things they needed, Jeff B.
  • further nominations?

NEXT: Dec. 17, 6:30, NSOD

  • TEXTS: the diagram & lists;
  • PATHS: Vocal Sequence
    • Write a “Neo-Futurist” script using the diagram and lists. Use the whole structure or part of it or select from the lists.
    • Download the Vocal Sequence document [pdf] and have it handy. Suggestion from Dale: Look at Jeff’s Myth piece [.doc] and bring a page or two to use as a basis for work.


UPDATE: a graphic from the math book Barbara was talking about

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.