Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ah, Paris!

I’ve been reading some of the Theatre of Cruelty by Artaud lately, partly for leisure and partly for work (but then that’s par for the course for me when it comes to books on theater or plays). Other than the fact that he was a total madman (no really, he did go crazy for various reasons too many to mention here), he was also a genius and true poetic visionary. He despised theater that was just a carbon copy of so-called life. He thought virisimilitude (ie fourth wall realism) was anethema. His idea was to have images and theater that jarred the audience, that made some kind of impact in their psyche and gut.

One of his big statements was: NO MORE MASTERPEICES. And by that he meant this reverance and idolatry for the text which we have (like the sanctity of Shakespeare, for example).

On a sidenote: Right now I’m sitting in the Air France lounge in Paris and sipping my cappuccino and contemplating whether I should try the champagne. I must say it felt very chic reading Artaud on an Air France flight while eating croissants and listening to the French singer Carla Bruni. One thing I love about this extremely short visit to the city of lights is that I get to use all the French I know, which to date is two words: “Merci” and “Bonjour!”.

I've also been reading Joseph Chaikin's book The Presence of the Actor and the text of his production of The Serpent, which his theater compnay, the Open Theater, workshopped and produced in 1969. It's truly an amazing piece of work, though hard to read in places only because it is a physical and ensemble-based piece. I’ve only seen clips of the show in bits here and there.

Part of my reasons for reading some of this stuff is that I’m still percolating ideas and images for my show scheduled for the fall, 7 Minutes to Midnight.

In the introduction, though, Chaikin says something that is quite appropriate for one of my recent posts:

“All entertainment is instructive. It instructs the sensibility. It needn’t give information in order to instruct. In fact, information can more easily be rejected than the ambience of entertainment.”

The power of “instructing the sensibility” cannot be overestimated. As I read The Serpent, I kept thinking of how universal the themes were that they explored: sin, redemption, crime and death. Yet the lens in which they viewed these things was filtered by the time and era in which they lived (the late 1960s). It’s a powerful piece.

Also, I just read a brilliant paper by my brilliant PhD candidate wife about mimes and performers in ancient Rome. There were many points about the paper which struck me but one curiosity was that it seems that in Greek and Roman times, great actors were exempt from war service. Makes you wonder if those who were pacifists immediately started to learn how to act, juggle, dance, sing and/or be a mime in order to avoid hostile situations.

Can you imagine the pressure to perform well in light of being shipped off to war?

“Sorry, Sorex, but you’re not as funny as you used to be…off to the war with you!”

In a more current view, it’s like dodging the draft for the Vietnam War by joining the circus instead of fleeing to Canada.

Which begs the question…if a mime falls in battle and no one is around to hear it, does he make a noise?

(Okay, I know, that is an ugly and bad joke which should not be let of the house but kept grounded like a bratty child, but there is a reason I’m not writing jokes for stand-up comedians or sit-coms…so deal with it.)