Saturday, March 1, 2014

CUT reading, Feb 28th 2014 @ Robertson Hall in St Catharines

Thanks to Jason, Kirstin, Karen and Ed for a good public reading of the text last night, and also to Karen F and Hayley & Nick for their work as critics and animators. I'll post Hayley and Nick's reviews in a couple of weeks when they're up.

Karen F had some really useful remarks about the fine balance between allegorization on one hand and moments of psychology on the other in the overall composition of the play. They were useful because they were sensitive and responsive to the reality of the text, but also on a more basic level because they served to remind me what my approach really is. I think I've been feeling gently adrift after the first draft of the Therafields play (Utopia, a Work in Progress), and the way in which I recuperated that story somewhat back into a classical structure that enforced the identitarian nature of the characters as well as a necessarily realistic valence to the aesthetic. Hearing the language coming out of the actors last night, creating the poetic and cosmic resonances in part through the silence and in part through the language, gazes, strong inner actions, I really reminded myself of where the Therafields text needs to go as I build it into a memory play, and yet one where past/present productively intersect in an aesthetic container that always already exceeds and serves to continuously threaten the moments of realism that deposit themselves within it.

Looking forward to more writing and creation on that text before long, and thanks to the public investment from SCCIP that made the work happen, it was very useful for future work.

Here's the program note, in which I work to address issues around identity politics in such a way to relieve the excessively literal-minded spectator of the full responsibility of being a historical witness in the face of a white man writing about these things... That said, these are the ethical questions that continuously concern me obviously: if they didn't I also wouldn't write plays about these kinds of realities.

"When we had a reading of this text a few weeks ago at Jason and Kirstin’s place, part of me, perhaps a part of me that was anticipating your participation at this event this evening, thought to myself: what on earth would possess me to write about these kinds of nasty things? Of course, once on that line of questioning, you can’t help but take the pop-psychology express and ask other similar things of yourself… Another big question that comes up — one informed by my keen interest in the ways in which theatre can re-inscribe dominant and normative ways of looking at historically minoritized individuals or groups — is around the most ethical approaches to representations of gender-based violence. What grounds do we, do I, have for showing gender-based violence? Is there a way in which a play such as CUT simply mobilizes the frisson of the dramatic around these things in a way that adds to the theatrical capital of the piece but doesn’t really do anything for the issue of gender-based violence itself? In other words, do certain aspects of this text simply exploit once more, this time simply by showing/telling? Is a solution within the economy of the text itself that the perpetrators of the violence — in this case Richard and Colin — ‘pay for it’ in the end? And then of course all these same kinds of questions could be asked about ethnicity: what am I saying about ‘foreigners’ in the depiction of Fatima? While on one hand all of this kind of questioning could come across as neurotic, I think it behooves artists to keep these important considerations floating through the space of the work; they can also be useful for helping an audience think through the implications of the habits of their spectating.

What I’m exploring in this text and with these very finely-tuned actors are the ways in which individual choices, neuroses, habits, passions, desires, violences, softnesses, and so forth are run through with broader geopolitical and indeed cosmic questions about justice, intimacy, exchange, life and death. Richard harbours within himself the violence of the entire history of patriarchy and is imploding/exploding as a result. How does he attempt to work out these energies and contradictions? Colin is run through with instrumentalized reason gone mad and is also at a point of collapse and personal end-time apocalypse. What are his lines of flight? And Fatima and Liz? I’d like to think they have a different story. Theirs is possibly a kind of affirmative ‘becoming imperceptible’, Gilles Deleuze’s notion of a broader complex relationality with a world that — even with all that world’s difficulty — may permit them a heightened experience of agency, of power, one occasionally weilded by means of poetry and of love…. 

At any rate, thanks for being here with us tonight. It’s a small gathering, but, we hope, an important one. — David"

Link to neXt CUT page: 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RLI and London Road

An good sojourn into town this past Saturday to hear Lepage speak, and also to see the verbatim musical London Road. Lepage demonstrated his coyness credentials by performing a very carefully refined presentation of self involving bounteous assertions of his own shyness and modesty, and London Road managed to reiterate without problematizing them the very unbeneficial stereotypes about women and sex workers central to the Ipswich murders. The show had a great formal quality to it though, with the successful transformation of the verbatim text into music that kept and intensified many of the cadences of the spoken text. Something to be emulated for sure...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Theatre and Schizoanalysis

Ian Buchanan's generative argument at the end of his text on the subject of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti- Oedipus draws attention to the limitations of the arguments that false consciousness (Marx) and cynicism (Zizek) are at the root of the contemporary anomie in the face of capitalism's profound and arresting reach. Instead, he suggests, what is needed is an analysis that demonstrates how interest and desire travel in different and conflicting directions. Cynicism serves only to short circuit the schizoanalytic contradiction that the separation of interest and desire can formulate and makes it seem as if it is possible to accommodate this separation ("I know very well, but all the same...").

"Cynicism doesn't explain this state of affairs, it excuses it. In this sense, cynicism is the new name for what Foucault called fascism, as such Anti-Oedipus' message is as vital and urgent today as when it was first published."

For its part, Marxist doctrine is informed by the assumption that as long as people are informed about the contradictions of capitalism, then they will act, but again the recognition and awareness of the ways in which capitalism might be affecting even our own best interest does not necessarily reroute desire to disassemble capitalism. Both of these approaches presume a 'truth out there' that people are unable to discern, and thus are what Deleuze describes to be 'philosophical illusions'.

If 'schizoanalysis must point out the unendurabibility of the present', a key here will be for my theatre practice to continue to progress in such a way as to enact schizoanalysis. Already, the interest in other than Oedipal arrangements and a clear pursuit of the virtual, or desire, of sense in its capacity to engender new kinds of potentialities has been key to date.

For continued reference, four theses that sum up schizoanalytic project as a whole:

1. Every libidinal investment of the unconscious is social and bears upon a sociohistorical field (AO 375/409).

2. There are two types of social investments: there is the unconscious libidinal of the group or desire and the preconscious investment of class or interest (AO, 377/411).

3. The non-familial libidinal investments of the unconscious have primacy over the familiar investments of the unconscious (AO, 390/427)

4. The unconscious social investments of desire can be of two main types: paranoid, reactionary and fascisizing or schizoid, revolutionary and utopian (AO, 401/439).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Khalida and Arab Spring Monologues Launch

I just sent the following text off to Lisa for posting as a news item on the NeXt site:

"Open Studio Discussion a Successful Launch of the 2012-13 Season 

On the evening of Wednesday, November 21st,  a group of artists, thinkers and community members met at Mahtay Café in St Catharines to launch NeXt Company Theatre's season of work related to the Arab Spring: a new work entitled Khalida, and The Arab Spring Monologues, a community engaged project that will see a dozen Niagarans of a mix of cultural heritages write and deliver a monologue about the Arab Spring. 

Participating panelists included: Mahabba Ahmed, emerging scholar and poet; Natalie Azzi, emerging scholar and activist around women, war and trauma; David Fancy, co-artistic director of NeXt; Jason Jasrawy, actor of Iraqi-Canadian heritage; Athena Madan, emerging scholar and creative arts therapist; Karrie Porter, NeXt artistic associate and board member; Jenna Sweiss, teacher, scholar and activist; Vojin Vasovic, filmaker, director and designer. 

Each presented for five minutes on how their work and their participation with the season's theatre projects intersected with concerns around the Arab Spring. Questions of Arab-Canadian identity, the wars in the middle east, immigration, trauma, and artistic responses to difficulty and displacement were invoked and covered,

The audience was then invited to speak amongst themselves to determine questions or reflections they might offer. A lively discussion and debate ensured on a variety of topics and, by the end of the session, a solid consensus became clear in the room: Khalida and The Arab Spring Monologues are timely projects that can help complexify the region's understanding of the important revolution which is the Arab Spring."

It was indeed a rich discussion, and interesting to see a spectrum of approaches to art and political engagement, with a preponderance of interest in the capacity of the semiotic, ie language in its discursive potential for intervention/critique, and then the affirmations of the role of 'art' or 'creativity' to engender 'effects' on the audience. Regardless of where people positioned themselves on that particular set of axes, a clear commitment to the project was certainly there. 

In some ways the 'livest' most unexpected moment came with Karrie vigorous assertion that "I used to be a racist, I used to be a racist and a Zionist' and the explanation and elaboration that followed. This provided a real 'way in' to the project for the caucasian folks there by their account following the panel discussion, and also served as an axis of inclusion for 'the brown' (as they described themselves) to see a member of the white majoritarian community so disarmingly speak of her transition from a fearful observant Mormon to an 'activist hockey mom.'

Great as well to begin working with  Jason and Vojin through seeing the theatre space, then moving through the design elements that we've been working through. It turns out that the three of us are pranksters of a similar denomination, so the work is bound to be enjoyable.

Vive le théâtre libre!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hirsch at Stratford: Theatre as public service...

I brought Ahley and Julia, my two SCLA MA students to this show on Friday evening, and had drinks afterwards with Sonia N, Doug L, and Doug's friend Livia (?), all of whom worked on the show.

A truly enjoyable piece. I initially felt Alon N's depiction of the Jewish Hungarian immigrant theatre practitioner extraordinaire to be somewhat fuzzied by some verbal delivery issues, as well as an apparently restricted 360 degree awareness, but these tendencies either subsided or became less consequential (both I think) as the collaboratively created piece with Paul Thompson progressed over the 90 minute length of its last performance of the season. The work was done essentially on an empty stage, with certain sustained elements such as the mother courage cart of an early production serving variously as a platform, puppet theatre, bed, and so forth, subtly inviting the audience to remember the constant of Hirsh's political orientations and mode of creation. Indeed, the piece itself employed a variety of alienation devices including of course multiple character transitions in one actor -- challenging the audience to recognize the contructedness of the actor's iconicity and inherently identitarian tendencies of theatrical representation in our tradition -- as well as songs, stage technicians who were incorporated into the conceit (interesting discussion with Doug there about the labour implications of this); and other approaches to keep the fictional status of the world provisional.

The piece served as a useful ethnography of Canadian theatre and its occasional discontents viewed through the biographical explorations about Hirsch, jumping back and forth through time (date and location projected on the wall), and was exceptionally candid about the back stabbing political culture of Stratford itself, even to this day, for actors and others working there. Indeed, Sonia's own experience there is a reminder of this, and her tales of the poignancy and relevance of the lines in the play about Stratford's cruelty 'to the outsider and to the exotic' to Paul and Alon's own experience there, making statements as they were about an individual whom many people at Stratford would have worked with before his death of AIDS in 1989.

The poetry of the piece was strong, the creative use of object and space and body varied and stimulating, the direct address personal cries of Alon/Paul in the text to Hirsch about how difficult and conspiracy oriented he was (there is one drama on stage and five in your office), presented a complex portrait of an ardent and difficult spirit who clearly made a significant contribution to the theatre culture of the country. That this show excavates, exhumes and generates new shoots to bring this important story to the country (it's off out west next?) serves as a significant affirmation of Hirsch's own belief in the absolute essential need for story.

1812 Themed Zombie Flashmob: History Never Dies!

Well, we all pulled it off. I believe this was the eight of our 'spontaneous moments of culture' for the Cultural Capitals Campaign, and Daniel and Karrie and I, working with Julianna C and Jo P on zombie wrangling and wardrobe/make up respectively, provided wounds, a roadmap and narrative (involving the conversion of an 'American Tourist' into a Canadian zombie at the hands of a decaying General Brock and the legion -- well., ... 35 -- of dreadfuls we had at our disposal). Highlights included the make-up session -- all 3 hours of it -- in the apparently haunted basement of Fulton Fitness in the old Coy building; the zombies in clusters in the fading light of day; the stopped car surrounded on the streets; the surprisingly empty streets that I think will actually read quite well on camera; the zombie's enthusiasm at the sight of their developing woundscapes; the police being repelled by the zombie and fleeing the scene and closing their car windows; and of course the surprisingly anarchic moment when the staged group of taggers and grafitti artists in the alley by Fulton Fitness were raided by the 40 zombies, responded by lighting their spray-paint cans to make impromptu flame throwers, and tempted the zombies into a cage with calypso music before the dreadfuls broke out and chased the now actually somewhat scared taggers and friends back down the alley.

Part of the discourse and thinking around the event was the extent to which this kind of re-enactment of a (granted) heightened charaterization of General Brock and (most likely less immediately recognized) Tecumseh parading in the streets with their wounds would in some fashion potentially comment on the ongoing kinds of performance of military celebration and memorialization occurring in the context of the 1812 celebrations. Were we successful at all in this? Not sure. It will depend in part on the video and the way in which the text on and surrounding that document will serve to frame the viewers experience of it; to help differentiate the piece from a lot of the seamless, smooth, s'pit-polished with a bit of dust' type of clean cut re-enactment occurring locally. I'll post again about this when the video is out...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh la la, quelle drame, quelle chose!