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March 21, 2009

planet of the APE: return to APE feat. R. Kelly

So I saw the Walker show APE at Red Eye theater last night. One of the best shows I've seen in a while. For starters, even though it was a Walker performance, they had a student discount rate of $7. AND there was free beer. Need I say more? Needlessly:

I guess I knew it was going to be a sort of "comedy". The soundbyte said would start with every-day situations and go stranger from there. Well, it started very non-daily, but did get stranger. People carrying furniture around, running in circles, and shouting things. Basicly.
The strangeness eventually revealed itself as an everyday situation. The machine responses of "have some tea. have some tea. don't think of it. have some tea. don't think of it. sit down. have some tea." began to sound so much like an afternoon at my grandmother's.
It was definitely performance art, not a play, not stand-up or improv. The lead artist said after the show that he thinks of himself as a sculptor and a visual artist first. The moving of props and attention to patterns and physicality, in the absence of narrative and character, felt much more like "art" and not "theater".
Much of the audience responded with laughs, I guess as the bad-news bear I enjoyed the work on a level of deconstruction of language, culture, the absurdity of the social. I admit, especially due to the British accents, it did have its moments of BBC comedy.
I like thinking in Ain Gordonist terms about the post-show discussion. Was that a performance? Did the audience members asking questions become performers? Did they know it? Were they successful? Was the piece successful? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, in a dry satire sort of way. Yes.

Also an every day situation:

March 17, 2009

UPDATE_Ain Gordon_Assignment Due March 23 & 25

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Ain Gordon_Assignment Due March 23 & 25

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March 16, 2009

David Gordon's Uncivil Wars

David Gordon's Uncivil Wars:

I was immediately taken back by the use of stage setting and lighting. At the very beginning, I was surprised by the headlining banner done in iconic film style, which works to set the tone for the nostalgia of the performance for the earlier film years. As a viewer, from the younger generation, I have no direct relationship to the McCarthy era, Brecht or Eissler, or the Cold War years in general, therefore, I appreciate incorporating the influences of not only the different variations of the creation of the performance itself but also includes the perspectives of the creators (the characters of Brecht and Eissler themselves). By incorporating the extra layer of insight, it allows the viewer to not only appreciate what may (or may not) have been intended but to further understand the function of certain devices applied within the performance.

A wonderful example is the incorporation of Brecht's philosophy regarding character. Bertolt Brecht, (according to the character who portrays him), portrays the belief that the best method actor's are comedians because they never allow themselves to fully become the characters they portray but instead maintain elements of reality. This method order to better relate to their audiences. I found this to be fascinating advice/artistic perspecitve because, in the past, I have always been led to believe that the best character actors were those that completely immersed themselves within the character identity.

The concept of creating a third awareness between character and actor as the performer is very powerful in conveying a narrative point or moral. This is because it allows the characters to be both at the will and whim of their environments, therefore reacting naturally as such, but also, enables the actor to bear upon the audience full knowledge and disclosure of intelligence, significance, as a perspective beyond time and space. The character within the performance can therefore be viewed not only as relavant to the performance but as an omnipotent informative device that is relative to the audience in real life. In short, it allows for the embodiment of the omnipotent and the innocent to converge at a single point in time, simultaneously creating within the viewer both perspectives. In example, the character of Brecht/Judge is able to oversee the entire performance as the outside creator Bertolt Brecht, while maintaining the character of the judge who partakes in the trials that occur. The character, as a judge appears to relate to the different cases naturally, but is further able to commit to the audience by offering insight and influence with regards to the overall intended direction of the performance. An example of this is exhibited when Brecht explains to the audience that s/he had once intended an entire series of such 'trials' in order to offer the public the oppurtunity to experience 'famous' trials. The embodiment of both characters allows the audience the choice to discontinue with the performance at it's close or to further their own understanding of the knowledge portrayed.

I greatly enjoyed this performance and would suggest it highly. I found it to maintain my attention well and to be informative in creative and unexpected ways.


The previous statements as to the success-failure of the performance are pretty spot-on condradictory in its awesome enjoyability/predictability/nothing/something new. I'll just focus on the last number:

So the first few times the two "soldier" characters made stompy clappy noises in the play I was kind of annoyed... like I get it boot sounds. But I guess that set up a momentum memento that would resound in the final "dance". I don't know it was something magical. D.Gordon seemed to know what he was doing here. It wasn't immediately clear what was going on. First I thought of "we will we will rock you" and I wanted to join in. Then it got monotenous. Then I was impressed by the complexity and quality of everyone's timing on that extended performance. There must have been a code. THEN I got kind of freaked out. The whole boots stomping thing was too real for comfort. It was strange how this ten minute or whatever dance had started out fun, and then all of a sudden it occurred to me I wanted to run away. Just like a civil war.
1) Yay! Fatherland Ohmygosh guns! Let's play war.
2) Everybody's doing it.
3) Way too long, way too much. This is sick. SICK.
4) We're doomed. Aren't we.
If this all was intended, then the creator was genius.

leather pants and air jordans

hmmmmmmmmmmm. i would agree with all you lovely people that this performance followed some of the conventions of music theater. it seems to me that in music theater, the song is used to delve into the character -- the nuances, the psychology, things that might escape the larger lense. seems to me that that goes against what brecht-baby was interested in. who cares about the pyschology of the character? not brecht. but it seems that the production was after the traditional sense of the music theater song. i would have to agree with kate that there was some sort of disconnect in the performance of the songs. seems to me that the performers weren't sending those words and notes into the audience. you were either like kate, lulled by the distance between the communication, or exhausted from your movement toward the communication. this disconnect may help explain the floating feeling of the piece i recognized some time after we all left the theater. perhaps the songs could have been used to sink us to the stage -- to help us move with the movement of the piece -- but it seems that they rather cut us all lose.

on the other hand, the six minute clap and stomp ritual had the opposite effect. that shit drew me in and revitalized me, connected me to that larger lense, and took me in deeper once it finished. i could have watched that for another hour. but maybe then i would have become too revitalized and freaked out, causing a scene, and enraging david gordon...

David Gordon's Uncivil Wars

I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this performance. Looking back on it, I would say that I enjoyed various aspects such as the actors' energy and the incorporation of the monitor. The music, and also the marching and stomping were entertaining. I liked the way the set was composed of racks and ladders that served whatever purpose, and I also really enjoyed the versatile black jumpsuits. The characters were all very charismatic in a theatrical way. The fact that we had gone to see their rehearsal added a very strange layer to the whole thing since there were moments that were familiar and I felt almost like I knew the actors personally, which, I think, 'alienated' me almost more successfully than anything else they did to achieve that effect. I was constantly aware that I had seen these people before out of this context, and each time when I felt like I knew what was going to happen, I was thinking about the fact that I was watching a play that had been written.

However, as soon as the performance began, I became very uncomfortable and part of me wants to attribute this to their extensive use of Brecht's alienation techniques. As I was watching the performance, I noticed that I was feeling sad, but I couldn't attribute the cause to anything we had seen. I was also very aware of how warm the theater felt to me. I found myself thinking that certain lines were humorous, but I didn't feel engaged enough to actually laugh. The only explanation I can come up with is that their techniques were successful in alienating me to the point where I was only able to view the performance objectively.

The speed of the performance I felt was a deterrent, however. The way the actors switched roles so often that it was already confusing and I was trying so difficult to keep track of what was going on, I think they lost me several times just because I was always going back and making sure I understood everything. I feel that this technique really undermined the actual content and I think that the play turned into an informational performance about Brecht's life, a little bit about Eisler, and a showcase of their techniques.

Overall, I think I have to admit that it was a successful performance. My one gripe with it would be that there did not seem to be anything essentially new or experimental about it. I am positive that I have experienced all of the different aspects in other performances. Use of multimedia and video screens, repetition and breaking the fourth wall seem to be staples of high school one-act competitions. This is probably because Brecht's techniques are decades old now and we've been talking in class about the relationship to Dada and the effects that these have had on contemporary theater. I also found it to be very easily classifiable as a play. Even though it broke some theatrical conventions by addressing the audience and having actors play multiple roles, it's conception was based on these theatrical conventions. It also set up its own rules and followed them to the very end. The way information was presented, the chorus in the background, and the synchronized marching were introduced immediately. Primarily, I would consider it to be a good learning experience about Bertold Brecht and his work.

Thoughts on David Gordon's Play

I'm not sure how to organize my thoughts on the performance we saw on Friday, maybe because they are bouncing around in many different directions. So I'll start in no particular order with my first impressions of the piece. It was much more of a play than I would have expected, as I see others also feel. I'm not sure that I should have had any prior expectations for this, but I did expect it to feel less like musical theater with well rehearsed characters. Maybe I should back up and start by saying what I enjoyed about the production.
The elements that intrigued me most were the use of electronic media with the projector and the computer. I especially liked the titles that would pop up on the screens, sort of like intertitles in a silent film. I felt the use of the screens was especially clever, how they would move and flip around shifting between their function as surface for projections and architectural props. I wished there had been more of this movement throughout the play. Another element of the show that I felt really illuminated the themes of the play was the costuming. The jumpsuits nuetralized all the characters, making them uniform. It makes me think of the restrictions put on citizens by fascist dictatorial governments in places throughout history, especially with the addition of the small caps (pointed and round). I don't know much about the original production of the play that David Gordon was sort of basing this play on, so I'm not entirely sure how many ideas are from the original or not.
I think perhaps one of my favorite moments in the play was the when the extras sitting in chairs around the edge joined in and they all began to stomp and clap their hands. It was really interesting listening to all the rythms, I could have listened to that for a while I think. Also there was a song which I really enjoyed, that invovled two characters being up on the movable step ladders. This was visually very interesting to me because the only lights on the stage were raised up and pointing towards to center of the stage, so they illuminated only a section of the space inbetween ceiling and floor. It looked like they were floating up there, it was really very beautiful.

Uncivil Wars Reflection

David Gordon's "Uncivil Wars: Moving with Brecht and Eisler" uses conventions from Brecht to create a space where the audience can excite and explore their imaginations, but not entirely remove ourselves from the happenings of the stage. The stage space is used effectively with momentous objects and objects that perpetually become. Some of the object play between the actors was precise and efficient. Precision and specificity with objects created dynamic stage pictures. The music juxtaposed with the action of the play had an interesting effect on me. The content of the music is contemplative and at times inflammatory, yet most of the musical numbers' rhythms and overall tone had a lulling effect. Perhaps Gordon was commenting on the idea that we are constantly inundated with information, that is sometimes damning, but it lulls us to sleep because it all starts to sound the same. That is what the performance became for me. A constant inundation of the same information delivered in the same way that lulled me to apathy instead of outrage. The alienation effect is so overused that it de-sensitized my responses to the piece. Again, perhaps it was Gordon's intention, but I found it gratuitous.

The parallels the script made with our contemporary society was obvious. Some people in the audience felt as though they were being enlightened, yet I found the delivery of the information bordering on pontification. The actors dressed in all-black, another convention that seemed too obvious. The actors' identity is signified by an object, usually by something on the head. I found this convention effective and economical.

I did appreciate the history of the words reflected on the screens behind the actors, and the incomplete words flashed on another screen during the trials. This incompleteness echoed the holes in history and those that are in control of history.

"Uncivil Wars" fails to find fluidity in the momentous objects onstage and the movements between Brecht and Eisler. It caught itself in a complexity of webs designed by the playwright and never seemed to recover from the density of the text. I found the actors to be in love with themselves and the idea of their performances, yet we never had a chance to enter or experience the space for a moment to understand or at least be aware of their infatuation. A piece thata attempted to deconstruct boundaries and yet reaffirmed them. Perhaps I went in with too high expectations, nevertheless, a disappointment.

Uncivil Wars indeed

I found uncivil wars to be a very successful inquiry and investigation into David Gordon's creative process as it pertains to Brecht and Eisler, an adapted play which was itself an adaptation of Shakespeare, HUAC, and contemporary political, and economic issues. I found the implications of these elements to be enchanting within the context of the play. And yes, I definitely think that was more of a play than "Live Art." I call it a play for several reasons; the script, linear sequence of events, and the blocking are most "play like elements" I identified in Uncivil Wars. However, I find myself already contradicting myself, because I am recalling Ain's discussion with us on the first day of our "workshop" with him, in which he asked us to consider these conventions. He brought up my ever favorite example of the family guy and how he see's it as performance art (which I agree we completely) because of its abstraction of life as we know it. So to that end, I would also call Uncivil Wars live art in that it was absolutely an abstraction of theater as we know it. The blocking was evident and the story contained abstracted elements such as character identification and speed (i.e. "The tempo of a run through")
But in terms of what we actually witnessed on Friday night, I have to say that there is always a benefit in an artists talk.. such as what we experienced at the lab. I kept on coming back to something David Gordon said to us at the Lab that really struck me as it pertains to artistic process in the context of the project. He said something to the effect of "I am a New York Jew. I have no love for Germany. I did a residency at a gallery there and the whole time, every time I saw a 60some year old man, I thought to myself, He was a soldier, a Nazi. I was a crazy person while I was there." I completely felt that way when I visited Germany in 2004. I’m not a Jew, but from the experience of traveling there from the Eastern part of Poland and seeing how much they’re culture and environment is still trying to recover from Nazi occupation and seeing German culture thrive, I felt no love for Germany either. I still don’t, even though I completely admire a lot of German Artists. I feel like this is getting off the subject, but I assure you, it is not. I am merely trying to explain that his explaining his lack of love for Germany and me feeling that same sentiment makes me really interested in this idea of making work that incorporates elements of something you dislike. I’m not saying that David Gordon didn’t like Brecht of Eisler’s work, but his preoccupation with their work as a result of investigation into a historical event in his own culture (i.e. The HUAC investigation) leading him to a culture that he didn’t feel drawn t in any way, and ending up making successful work, is fascinating to me. Following this line of thought, I came back to Laura’s first “self portrait” piece, in which she took elements from theatre that she didn’t like and produced work around that. I find that very interesting in that it’s a kind of conundrum because if we always as artists make work around things we like, how does that represent the adverse effect? How do you arrive at a conclusion about what you like without knowing what you don’t like? It’s almost as if working in this adverse was is a kind of therapy for the artist. It’s like they are working through a problem. I kept thinking about this way of working, before and after the performance we witnessed on Friday night and I wonder how this conundrum will affect me as I continue to work.

March 15, 2009

Some thoughts on Uncivil Wars - Laura Lechner style

I still have the last song stuck in my head.

Here is a list of thoughts I had about David Gordon's Uncivil Wars;

1. It was much more of a PLAY than I expected it to be. Perhaps because of the context of the performance (at the Walker, a place where I have usually experienced more "performance art" or "live art" than traditional theatre), perhaps because I read about David Gordon in our Performance Art textbooks - but regardless, I was not really prepared for some straight up musical theatre. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I was surprised.

2. For me, the piece didn't strike the "right" balance between the story, or Brecht's script, and the story of Brecht and Eisler's HUAC trial. The HUAC story was introduced at the beginning, and commented on sporadically throughout the 90 minutes, but I would have liked more - I really enjoyed the moment towards the beginning when the actors playing Brecht and Eisler were seated at a table in front of an image of the historical trial. I think more blending and blurring of these two interconnected stories (the story of Roundheads vs. Pointheads and Brecht/Eisler vs. the American government) would have drawn me into the story more. I remember David saying a few times when we met with him that he didn't think he had to tell this story, until Bush was reelected in 2004. If the play really carries so much political weight for the director, I think that more explicit political commentary is called for. Why be subtle when Brecht's messages - overt political references to his time - are rarely subtle? I would have liked to be beat over the head a little more. I mean, why not show some Gitmo images, or something?

3. Having read a bunch of Brecht, but never having seen a production of a Brecht play, I was interested in seeing how his theories on theatre making were translated into a live event. The constant reminder of the constructs of performance - the actors introducing themselves as actors playing characters, the explanation about costuming and costume changes, allowing the audience to see the "backstage business"of a play - were a large part of the performance. Seeing people performing the role of actor performing the role of a character - I like these sort of layers and complications.

4. I was expecting there to be way more movement. I mean, the subtitle is "Moving With Brecht and Eisler," and having knowledge of David's background in dance, I assumed that this piece would involve much more choreography, or physicality or something. The concept of a set on wheels was intriguing, but I feel this could have been pushed MORE. Why not create a world in constant motion? While the story was intriguing, I think the storytelling was a little stale.

March 5, 2009

All female KING LEAR March 9th and 10th

Hi gang,

Kate and I (Laura) have been involved in a five-week workshop in which we are exploring Shakespeare's King Lear with an all-female cast. The class is being led/directed by Barbra Berlovitz, one of the founders of the Theatre de Jeune Lune. We have been exploring how to incorporate voice/text work and movement into storytelling, as well as using a non-traditional performance space - we have been rehearsing in Norris Hall on the East Bank of campus, which is a building the University has decommissioned. We will be performing this coming Monday and Tuesday (March 9th and 10th) at 7:30pm. The performances are free. If you guys have the time, we would love it if you could come check it out! Norris Hall is located in the Knoll area of the East Bank - 172 Pillsbury Drive.

If you have any questions, ask us!

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NYT article about Nazi propaganda exhibit

Here's a link to the Times article that David Gordon mentioned yesterday. The article talks about the new exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. that deals with Nazi propaganda, and the nature of propaganda itself. It's an interesting read.



March 1, 2009

Spark Festival Installations

I experienced an installation on display during the Spark Festival. I saw "Strategies for Post-Apocalyptic Computation" by Robin Meier in the East Building of the Regis Center for Art. The set-up was created with few, but powerful elements. The environment Meier created felt post-apocalyptic because of its simplicity and starkness. There were three light bulbs that would flicker according to the frequency of the three mosquitoes' wing vibrations. All the mosquitoes were attached to a pin by gaffers tape and physically separated from each other. On either side of the mosquito was a video camera and a small speaker that transferred the sounds of the other mosquitoes. Above the mosquitoes were magnifying glasses and projected on a white wall were the movements of the mosquitoes from the cameras. Meier's sound system amplified the buzzing sounds of the male mosquitoes which allows them to harmonize with each other. To excite the mosquitoes, you could either blow on them gently or put your finger near their little legs. It was interactive, yet clinical. Sometimes there was harmonizing, but other times it sounded dissonant. An interesting subject-object relationship existed. I could manipulate the mosquito (treating it like an object), but simultaneously I was studying it with the magnifying glass and video projections (now object turned subject). The three bare, flickering light bulbs hanging separately reminded me of a severe environment. Since the only light in the space was provided by the light bulbs and the video projection light, the severity was enhanced. The title is interesting because it begs the questions, "what strategies were Meier alluding to for computations?" and "what is he considering computing?" I always appreciate a piece that leaves a residue of questions.

Nash Gallery Exhibition

I found a lot of pieces in the exhibition to be strong evidence of hard work, I will write about a few that I found to be particularly interesting to me.
I have to say that my very favorite peice was by TJ Barnes entitled, "Nash Mantel". Talk about residue of a performance. As far as I am concerned that's what the piece is all about. I am assuming that most people have visited the current exhibition at the nash gallery, but for those of you who have not I'll tell you that you absolutely must, because there is a ton of really innovative work in there. To that end, TJ's piece contains a kind of duality in several aspects. There is a tall mantal installed in a corner of the gallery and on the porcelain colored walls there are markings of greasy black residue from whatever the performance was. The marks are deliberate and aggressive where as the black camping size, minimally designed back pack standing erect about 4 feet away from the mantel is stable, stubborn even. I was curious as to how it kept its shape, so I inquired by becoming a part of the performance and opening it up only to find it is filled with gravel. I wondered if there was a relationship between the black markings and the gravel in terms of the performance this residue represents, but somehow I am doubtful and conclude that the duality was a part of the content of the piece. I found this pieces elemental simplicity an effective tool for projecting the content as well. Where as only ten feet away the, cluttered garbage tent confused me, I couldn't focus on the individual elements completing a whole by means of communicating a message. Whereas in "Nash Mantel", it was completely evident that this represented a kind of struggle. So, I think that is something that we all need to consider when making our instillation in the quarter gallery. A lot of times, less is more in terms of form especially when you're trying to project something as complicated as our overall subject. But I am confident that we will make it a success.
Moving on to another piece I found to be quite compelling, entitled "The Party's Over" It is a cake decorated in white, pink, and red, frosting wearing its title on top. When I first noticed it I thought, "What the hell is this doing in a gallery with so many other amazing pieces?" But then it occurred to me that this was entirely a durational work. As it sits in the gallery the cake will start to erode and change its form on without human manipulation. Which really speaks to the whole essence of a party whether the party the artist was meaning was social or political. Because in the act of planning and preparing for a party, you have many expectations and preconceived notions of how the outcome will end up but there's no real way of knowing. Just as the artists nor the viewer has some kind of idea of what the cake will end up looking and smelling like in a month, there is no real way to predict that just as social and political behavior is unpredictable. I felt like this piece was very minimalistic as well, which contributed to its overall success.