I went to Mr. Guenveur Smith’s “The Watts Tower Project” on Friday evening and have felt intellectually constipated and irritable ever since. Wait, before we go any further I want to first make it clear that I thought the performance was a fine shinning thing. The thing that has been bothering me finally clarifed this morning, after reading the other reviews of the performance. For that I will thank my collegue, Mr. Charles Campbell for cracking open this performance nut and helping me to the otherside.
Again, to clarify – my crankineess isn’t because the work wasn’t finely made – I thought it beautiful, sonorous, poetic and at times transcendent. Nor was it that Mr. Smith is an unskilled performer – the work was beautifully articulated. Or even that I found the work’s various points of view uninteresting or appropriate to our present moment – in fact I deeply appreciated, no, LOVED the composition of ideas, politics, art, biography…etc
BUT, But, But its… because.. how can I put it? I had an itch. What AM I talking about? Well, I found the experience physically frustrating. I wanted to leap from my seat because the work was so good and the formality of theater space so stiffling, so limited, so BORING, so UNINSPIRING, so FLATTENING to the power and potential of this performance and performer.
Am I echoing what Charles is saying? Yes, I think I am. During the show I kept thinking this was good but how much better it would be if I could experience it in a smoky crowded room full of sweaty people talking back to Mr. Smith? In fact, one of the reasons I was thinking such a thought was because some of the younger audience members around me on Friday night kept murrmuring their opinions in response to or recognition of Mr Smith’s words. One young woman even got up, answered her cell phone then got back to the show. At first I admit, I was mildly annoyed but then..THEN I realized that those around me were responding to the call of the performance. That these were feelings and responses to the words on stage and part of the greater harmony of this work. This work NEEDED a RESPONSE, which the majority of us were too cultured to give (I include myself in this group). In fact listening to the comments around me, made my performance experience better. And how much better it would have been if Mr. Smith could himself hear what was being said, or feel our responses and respond back to us? Or even, refine the beat of his monologue to the tune of the audience. Or if we could all feel free to comment, groan, answer our phones and yell our responses back to him? Wow, that would be a fine thing wouldn’t it? (Yeah, yeah I know Brecht said this already). In fact Mr. Smith had tried to make the space, smaller, more intimate by arranging the projection screens as far down as they could go – something I’ve seen others do here.
Instead that damn proscenium space made the work distant and flat, flat, flat. It destanitized my experience of the liveness of this performance – that blood sweat and goo that goes into making a living, breathing piece of work, and delivering it to a live breathing audience and making it all work in a mess TOGETHER.
Friday’s experience also made me rethink of Radiohole. And think that yes their work suffered from ‘The Space’ syndrome more than I probably realize. That work belongs in the intimacy of their space: The Collapsable Hole. And I know for a fact that Eric Dyer struggles with the concept of touring their mega messes. (I totally realize that this is my thing, my obsession – site based performance – and yes, of course this is what I am likely to say. BUT one of the reasons I left the theater building is because I am devoted and disgruntled.) Maybe we all need to take a moment and think about what the drive to make more money, to build bigger theaters, to create these commercial, conventional performance spaces ..what it has done or can do to deaden the life of work that is made in another context for another context and what we need to do to get the LIVENESS back into live performance. You know what I think needs to be done. Any other ideas out there?