Here’s something I jotted down the other day.
In Poland I had the pleasure of meeting Rubén Polendo, artistic director of Theatre MITU. Here’s a lovely documentary on one of their recent productions. Love that Rubén.
There are at least four types of health:
Mental, Physical, Spiritual, Emotional
Creativity touches on several of these. Sex can. Conversation.
Core Values I Hope to Strive for in my Work and my Collaborators:
Willingness to fail
Today in a discussion with one of my favorite collaborators, Chris Ashworth, we had a great talk on the notion that intimacy is at the center of our significant actions as human beings. Either in a relationship (with a lover, parent, friend, or animal), or the intimacy one has with work, or with an ideal.
Everyman Theatre is special in large part due to the intimacy of the house. I love art museums because you can be intimate with the actual work. I relish an intimate conversation with a friend, family member, or stranger where you drop your guard, lower the walls, and say what you really think while challenging your own assumptions. I love that it took an intimate conversation to reach this discovery about intimacy.
Note: I wrote this during the month of June in 2009, when Giti and I were in Wroclaw, Poland. I originally wrote it when I was a guest blogger for the now defunct Baltimore Theatre Alliance blog.
It is going to be impossible to keep this post as short as it should be and convey what I hope to convey but I am going to attempt to be brief.
I’m writing to you from Wroclaw (pronounced vroots-vauve), Poland from the World As Place Of Truth Festival, which is the three week peak event of the 2009 UNESCO declared Year of Grotowski.
So what does all that mean? Well, first things first, on one level, this event is happening because a theatre artists named Jerzy Grotowski decided to do things differently back in the 60′s. And then he never stopped doing things differently. And then a lot of other theatre artists saw the work that was coming out of this guy, and they decided to do things differently in their own way. It’s impossible for me to even start to explain what it was that was so different in the amount of space here, but if you want to go down the rabbit hole, either pick up a copy of Towards a Poor Theatre, or send me an email and I can direct you to someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Regardless, the work of this one man who only did theatre in the “traditional” sense for 10 years of his 30+ year “theatrical career” (forgiven the quotation marks–Grotowski is impossible to conveniently put in a bottle) made such ripples to the work many of us do today, that UNESCO decided to delcare 2009 The Year of Grotowski. And at this event, a bunch of master directors have decided to bring pieces to Wroclaw for the peak event festival here I mentioned earlier, The World As Place of Truth. The work happening here is staggering. There are productions of and conversations with some of the greatest theatre artists of the last 50 years–Peter Brook, Tadashi Suzuki, Pina Baush, Anatoly Vassiliev, Richard Schechner, Eugenio Barba, and the list goes on and on. Through the advice of one of Baltimore’s theatrical treasures Philip Arnoult, founder of Theatre Project, who spends at the very least half of the year out of the country forging connections between theatre artists world wide with his company the Center for International Theatre Development, my wife, Giti, and I decided to come out for the festival. Now one week in and with roughly one week to go, we are not sorry to have come.
I wish I could take the time to describe every show we’ve seen, but that would take too long, so if you’re interested in reading further I’m going to direct you to the blog (click here) of another American artist (and soon to be Balitmorean), Dara Weinberg, who is also here at the festival as part of the strong American contingent here. On that blog you can read the musings of Dara and a number of the other participants of the U.S. Artistis Initiative at the festival. I’m keeping my own 20th century “blog” in my personal journal–but if anyone is interested in more details, let me know.
All I can say is that being able to attend an international theatre festival (this is my second) has been one of the richest theatrical experiences in my life. If you can scrape together the money for a plane ticket, and you can decide on a festival you’d like to attend, contact the good people at that festival and chances are they’ll be able help guide you (getting tickets, where to stay, what to see) to a truly transformative experience. It’s easier than it sounds. There’s nothing like leaving the country to help you better understand what’s going on at home–and there’s no better way to understand the work you’re doing, and the work you always wanted to do but never knew it, then to see some of the truly mind boggling stuff happening around the world.
We have an obligation to our audience. We have to make our art matter.
Having been a mindless consumer of art at times (actually mostly during the time in my life between six and 18 when I was sharing space with a TV), I believe artists, whether they be writers, visual artists, performers, or otherwise, are in a position to actually make people feel, think, or experience something.
Please clip my wings if I don’t give my audience (and my artists for that matter) something they haven’t had before, or if I don’t use the platform I’ve developed to actually accomplish something. Entertainment is a great thing–but it has to be coupled with honesty, intelligence, or something that provokes the spirit, and whispers “come hither”. Entertainment only is empty calories. Sure they feel good, but in our cultures we waste far too much time as it is.
The biggest criticism I could get as someone walks out after one of my pieces is, “that was a waste of time”. Perhaps I’ve taken too much time to say what I want to say–my pacing can be slow, but sometimes it takes time to get to “It”. Some audiences aren’t interested in getting “It”. The world is rough enough as it is, and they just want to tune out. I’ve been there, too, and I’ll be there again. But they shouldn’t come see my show.
We have an obligation. Don’t go through the motions. If you’re going to create something sweet, make it magical. If you’re going to make them smile, make them roar. If you’re going to make them sad, make them feel. And if you’re going to make them question, make them wonder.
I have issues with the way some artists stop making the work that needs to be done, and start making the work that pays. I understand it is a necessity. I don’t know what to do with that. I guess we’re doing it for different reasons. But empty art is just more garbage, and our landfills are full enough already. If you’re going to make trash–call it trash, celebrate in its trashiness, say something about why you made trash. Whatever you do, you have an obligation, so make it matter.
As I’m living in Baltimore, and as I am an artist, and as Baltimore has tremendous social problems, and as I believe art has the power to change, alter, and address social problems, and as I’d like to see Baltimore become a better place, and as I haven’t done really any art specifically about Baltimore, I’d like to do a piece of art addressing some of the social challenges Baltimore faces.
But what? Where? And with what authority?
Several ideas have popped into my head. It would be amazing to do something neighborhood based (using the city’s defined neighborhood map), but as there are something like 225 neighborhoods, unless I wanted the project to take a decade (which I don’t think I do), it would have to be scaled back. But the thing that’s so important is to think about the 225 neighborhoods of Baltimore simultaneously existing every day, and each is distinct enough to have its own history, character, and issues.
Next, instead of using geographics as the scope, what if I were to do a post card project (ala PostSecret) called, “What is Baltimore?”.
Then, curate a show from the postcards, breaking them out by theme. Then, in a venue (Sub Basement was the space I was in when I was thinking about this), you do a round robin of sorts–bring together musicians, dancers, an improv group, an improv enesemble–and they get 3 minutes to tackle the theme they’re standing at. Perhaps you have six themes, so then every 20 minutes they switch, until they’ve done all six. All performances would be improvised (or if not improvised, then motivated from), and they’d pull inspiration from one of the cards.
Audience members give a $5 suggested donation–one third goes to the house, and the other two thirds to the artists.
Then from there, you really could build a full performance from the material.