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April 29, 2009

Blerg!

My never being loneliness- open eye figure theater

Last weekend I saw a sweet little cabaret, two one-hour plays performed by the same four actors. The first, a work by Melissa Birch, was a lot of abstract poetry and dancing behind screens. The visual effects were cool experiments. Though it seemed a bit too dense, too inaccessible, I managed to sit through it and enjoy the ride. I think that the artist was aware of the monster they were creating, and allowed for some fourth-wall reflection, I don't think it took itself TOO seriously. I'd like to think part of the inaccessability was meant to be a theme, it did seem to be talking about the impossibility of expressing sexual love, the incapability for others to understand transhavior.
The second piece "chicken baby" by Molly Van Avery, was a refreshingly sweet story about not belonging and what is normal anyway? It took a similar "nontraditional" approach to presentation: video, script about reading the script, going between performance and performing confusion about what is the performance, random breakouts into old pop culture songs. I think it was an even more accessible (or at least enjoyable) self-aware, abstract art. It made me think of our discussion about Family Guy, a performance that anyone can enjoy, even belittle for its ease of digestion, even though it delivers through an incredibly complex and clever set of fine arts jargon approaches.
I also sensed a sort of thread running between the two pieces; the actors weren't afraid to play very similar characters, touch on similar themes, they were aware of what we had just sat through. My head left spinning with performance class analysis and a warm feeling that anyone off the street could share.

DID I MENTION Melissa Birch and a video of Melissa Birch sang a duet together? Ze has the pipes for melody AND harmony!

Terror Town - Laura

I attended Terror Town last night, a mash-up between Thorton Wilder's Our Town and the real-life history of Playas, New Mexico, a tiny town in the desert that was purchased by the Department of Homeland Security where the military stages terrorist attacks for military training purposes. The production was a work-in-progress presentation of material generated in a Creative Collaboration course led by Gulgun Kayim of Skewed Visions, a Minneapolis-based sight specific theatre company. Last night (one of three showings), twelve student actors, two installation artists and a sound designer guided an audience of about 65 through Norris Hall on the East Bank of campus, in a roving performance that touched on military training, waterboarding and other torture practices, and old-timey American family values.
II think the premise has a lot of promise (the history of Playas itself is fascinating. Just the idea that the government bought a town is kind of blowing my mind. I really want to do some more research on this concept.) I am definitely looking forward to a full-blown production of this, which Gulgun says will be premiering next year. And this permutation had some great moments - particularly strong was the scene where the state college professor and Mr. Webb the newspaper editor give a presentation on facts about Grovers' Corners. Four actors, in military outfits, played the professor. Mid-way through the scene, I began to hear the sound of running water (I was pressed up against the door, crouching to try to see the action). Then, a door opened to reveal the actor playing Webb, in fatigues and a blaze-orange vest, dripping wet. The actor (who I will admit is a friend of mine) just has amazing physicality - he is an extremely compelling performer to watch, and the moment when he is revealed, wet and alone in a tiny concrete room, was really powerful. The professors then dragged him to a chair, and under an intense lamp, he proceeded with Wilder's monologue about the cultural awareness of the citizens of the town. Really great stuff. The opening was pretty effective too. As the audience arrived, we were kept outside, asked to check in, and then shown an information video for new recruits. From then on, we were the recruits. After the video, we went back outside. From several blocks away, we could hear "left, left, left right left." The actors proceeded to march into Norris, led by the Stage Manager, reimagined as a drill sergeant.
The good moments were great, but not enough to completely carry the show. There was a weird split between "acting" and "not -acting," and I feel that they needed to push it in one direction or another. Regardless, it gave me a lot to think about.

April 8, 2009

NY Times article on Matthew Barney

Hi gang,

Here is a link to a pretty extensive, and maybe overblown look into Matthew Barney's work. It's an interesting read, nonetheless.

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/10/magazine/the-importance-of-matthew-barney.html?scp=10&sq=matthew%20barney&st=cse

April 6, 2009

clap clap stomp clap stomp stomp clap clap: A very late reaction to Uncivil Wars


I attended David Gordon’s Uncivil Wars last night. It was interesting to finally see the play which was supposed to serve as an inspiration/jumping off point for our group performance in the gallery after the fact. It probably would have been detrimental to our creative process had we seen the play prior brainstorming for our own piece, possibly making us feel obliged to create something too similar.
There were a couple of elements that really stood out in Uncivil Wars breaking the codes of convention followed by most plays I’ve seen. The most obvious was the complete lack of “fourth wall”. The characters address the audience directly, look right at us and introduce themselves, and deliver dialogue out to the audience rather than to eachother. There is no pretense that the scenes are taking place naturaly in the real world, but instead acknowledges the fact that it is a play. The actors play actors playing characters. The narrator,(Brecht), makes references to the play itself and even has the actors repeat the first scene as if she/he is a director conducting a rehearsal.
The play also had an overall very minimalist quality to it. The set consisted of a couple stepladders, chairs,table, and a coat rack; however these props were used very dynamically and became part of the choreography and movement of the characters. Every characters costume consisted of a black jumpsuit, the shoes they probably wear in real life, and a hat, wig, or some other accesory. Because the actors each played multiple roles, hats, wigs, point/flat headpieces, served to distinguish one character from another played by the same actor. Actors also changed the tone of their voice and mannerisms to distinguish characters.
Besides these minimalistic props there were a couple video moniters on the set. The mostly would show the title of the scene or song, usually in german, and displayed the court-notes during the trial scene. I thought the play could have done without these TV screens. I found them to be distracting, especially since the court-notes being shown were often out of sync with the actual dialogue. They also seemed out of place in a play that supposedly took place before the invention of such technology.
Overall the dialogue was very cleverly written, mostly taking the form of rhyming verse, sometimes blurring the line or transitioning between spoken and sung. The stomping/clapping/marching dance pieces were also very tightly choreographed but a little bit lulling after awhile.