Hello again. I came home and was looking out my window on the stairway, procrastinating, cause it’s cold out there and that’s what I do, and I see lots of old snow. And old snow is dirty, hard, and to me it always looks very old. (I feel a metaphor coming on…) And I feel old, not like not-young old but like worn-out old. And it’s dark out there. The street lights were doing that streetlight thing on the cars and streets, and it looked romantic. Like Hallmark-card-queasy romantic. And if this were a story I’d say, “My mind began wandering and from out of this beauty arose the question: Is theater dead?” But this is not a story, it’s off-the-cuff writing on an old portable computer done in a dark house while the rest of the family sleeps because they work or go to school in the morning, supporting me more-or-less — indirectly or directly, so what I say better count. So something more truthful would be: “My mind continued its wandering that it had done all day when not whipped into submission by the exigencies of schedules, obligations, duties, and commitments. And along this current of mindlessness that often accompanies washing the dishes and getting things ready for the kids’ breakfasts in the middle of the night came the thought: Should I write ‘Theater is dead’ in the blog? Didn’t someone already say that? Isn’t there some more clever way of writing it so that I will look like I know more about what I’m saying? A way that will be simultaneously uproariously funny and emotionally devastating while still giving all the outward signs of a demonstrable truth articulated with panache and consummate skill? A way that maybe I could teach a workshop with and pay some bills with the fee?”
But actually no. I’m just worn out. Or worn down.
Because (here comes my point) stories (and their narrative brethren: moral, subject, form vs content debates, subject/object relationships, theme, message, and those gazillions of other simplifications) are inherently evil, right, which is why so much art throws itself bodily in the face of such literal straightforwardness and splinters, become surface or facet, uglifies, deconstructs, masks, parodies, or otherwise subverts the habits of weakminded literalists who don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth unless they give a standing ovation at the end of every punchline. So that we can feel like we’re alive down here and not just screwing caps on toothpaste tubes.
I overstate my case, naturally. Let’s not get carried away. It is a blog after all.
Particularly in the Heartland was another TV-sketch-comedy-theater piece. Amusing in parts; topical certainly (although I missed any reference to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). As their website says, “avant-garde meets MTV.” Inspired, apparently, by the work of the Wooster Group and its various progeny there is a reputable and honorable theatrical intent here (again from the TEAM website): “The work combines aggressive athleticism with delicate examinations of the social and political factors shaping our world today, keeping the brain, eyes, and heart of the audience constantly stimulated.”
Excellent, but the splintering “multi-tasking between hyper-intellectual commentaries and exuberant physicality” is no longer enough. If it is true that they “know of no other way to behave” I suggest looking elsewhere. One possibility is that same MTV, which is now a stronghold of Reality Television, while music videos are sold as products for your iPod. And Reality Television (however much we may adore, despise or ignore it) has a mode of representation that is more in tune with the way the world currently functions than television does. (I’m not saying that it’s real. Please.) Even email is dead now — texting and IMing are how communication happens. Is TV sketch comedy, no matter how versatile and athletic, a viable mode for such examinations and stimulations? I was not bored by the performance, the subject matter, or the event of Heartland. I was not bored any more than I was excited. I was entertained. But I’d seen it all before and it didn’t achieve any moments of imaginative flight. I particularly liked the egg toss, but audience participation in and of itself does not alter the fact that these boots have been on the ground for too many years already and people are losing limbs and lives in defense of a policy of political fundamentalism not entirely unrelated to rapturous americans from whatever state. Nor does it really deviate from the standard format.
(And here I’m going to say about Kansas and Rapture and the question of the Heartland’s value as a part of a nation…no. “Nation” is an outmoded term, to say nothing about the obscenities of the term “Heartland.” Enough already. Of course, yes, we’re all human and I turn my cheek all too frequently, but when a million people are whacked out on Religio-pharmaceuticals in the form of fundamentalist pill popping it doesn’t make it a viable alternative lifestyle. A million people can still be a million wrong people. And, no Virginia, we can’t all just get along. Maybe in the real world, but not in the theater. Am I the only one who wanted to see that connection made somewhere?)
But regardless. “Why watch TV when you can go to a live theater event?” I was once asked as a student. My reply should have been “Why go to a live theater event when you can watch TV?” because that reply reflected the state of theater then (in them olden moldin’ days). Now the question that comes to mind is “Why go out at all when you can order in Jan Svankmeyer and Werner Herzog via Netflix?” If theater is anything besides a mummified zombie (and I say this as a practitioner in the field for many years) it’s only hope resides somewhere outside of itself. Who’s going to stimulate my brain eyes and heart? I look to the elsewhere-mentioned Laurie Van Wieren’s 9×22 Dance Lab at the BLB and the vibrant network of performers (who often blur any disciplinary lines) that I’ve seen, met, spoken with, worked with, or missed and hated myself for over only the past year. And there are others, but this is not the place for that, my child.
Regardless of the fun bits and the dull bits of this most recent Out There performance, there is a more fundamental question at stake and it is one with which I wrestle daily (except when I’m too busy putting food on the table and wiping noses, fer cryin out loud it’s only art). It’s like the mid-fifties in New York (another small arts community holding an inferiority complex to external geographies) when the reasons for Abstract Expressionism were becoming obscured by its overwhelming presence. A dichotomy between figurative painting and abstract painting was being solidified. Taking sides was going nowhere, merely reinforcing habits. Old modes reduce even the most radical ideas to pablum.
So it will take another Jasper Johns moment — something that (combining both figuration and abstraction or ignoring them both) restructures the terms so that no longer is it a question of live theater vs television (For example, for example! I know there’s plenty of other things to do with all your free time and money…) but of a work that practices a different mode of representation. A painting-flag.
Now it’s bed time.