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Archive for July, 2008

It is always just at the moment when I am leaving New York City that I fall back in love with it. A tinge of pink sunset reflected off of the buildings at Columbus Circle reminds me that the natural and the man-made can be a briliant team. Rushing to the Lincoln Center Festival to catch some Beckett before heading to the west coast for a couple of weeks, I’m reminded again and again of balance. It is such a gift to live in this place where possibilities abound even as they sometimes stifle. Through the crowded buildings, one occasionally catches an expanse of sky, a patch of hope cracked wide open that would likely be missed in a place without such an extremity of contrast.

To expound on Beckett (a crime if ever there was one), just when you think you can’t go on, you’re inspired to do just that. Or, as Beckett himself more perfectly put it, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

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I’m working on two performance projects right now that employ Foley sound.  One is a radio play to be released via podcast and the other is dance-theater piece which layers a reading of Strindberg’s Easter over a movement duet about String Theory.  Sounds fun, right?  My interest in Foley began with the radio scene in the movie version of Annie (where we learn the heartbreaking truth that Bert Healey doesn’t actually tap dance), and was further encouraged by a trip to the American Museum of the Moving Image when I first moved to New York.  (By the way, not only does AMMI have a great Foley exhibit, it is one of NY’s most under-visited gems.)

Last night, watching Proto-type Theater’s WHISPER at P.S. 122, I wondered if Foley is making a comeback in live performance.  WHISPER, a fascinating meditation on urban life and loneliness, employs live Foley sound as well as a pre-recorded soundtrack to create an audio-environment which the audience experiences through headphones.  (This headphone technique was much more successful in WHISPER than in the recent Macbeth presented by St. Ann’s Warehouse, as isolation was a topic of exploration in WHISPER, and the distancing affect of the headphones made one feel more connected to the material instead of less.)

There are many interesting visuals in WHISPER – the action takes place behind a scrim which only occasionally, with a sudden flood of light, reveals the performers to be more than shadows, but I found myself most interested in the sound, particularly the “handmade” Foley sound.  Perhaps that is because I am working with a similar medium in my own performance work, but I wonder if it’s related to a larger conversation that seems to be happening in performance around our society’s relationship to technology, and a desire to keep progress on a more human scale.

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After seeing TR Warszawa’s much-anticipated interpretation of Macbeth and the National Theatre of Scotland’s interpretation of The Bacchae within a week of each other, I have one thing to say: No more severed heads on stage. Seriously, it never works. Please stop.

Ok, I guess I have a few other things to say too: What’s up with all the blood and guts classics on stage right now? I know we’re in the middle of a bloody time (is there any other kind?), but what do these plays have to say to us except to perpetuate the hopelessness of the barbaric nature of humanity? Sure, classic plays have a lot of draw – the rights are free, they seem to make you legitimate as a director/company/actor/whatever, and often audiences are afraid to disparage them, for fear of being marked as Philistines – but these tales of Boy-Meets-Sword are wearing thin.

I was especially disappointed in the National Theater of Scotland, as their Black Watch last season told a much more complex, unglorified, un-gore-ified story of pride, war and violence. Which brings me back to the severed heads. If you ARE going to deal with violence and death on stage, why take such a cop out and put that plastic prop (which isn’t fooling anyone, no matter how realistic it is, and no matter how far away your audience)? Why not use some real theatricality to create a greater impact of the cruelty of murder instead of turning the whole thing into a joke?

Why not anticipate the need for a prop at the end, and give Macbeth and Pentheus (the murdered prince in The Bacchae) each some defining prop throughout the play, which can then return to the stage bloodied without the laugh factor? (Moreover, in The Bacchae, why not have the same actor who plays Pentheus return as his mad, murderous mother Agave, displaying the messy triumph of wild nature over ordered civilization with a smaller dose of sexism than the play calls for?) I mean, I understand that back in the day, Macbeth was basically an action movie and The Bacchae was a Tarantino film, but since the movies cover that stuff nowadays, is it too much to ask for more from our theater?

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