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NoPassportDirty Thoughts About Money




[NoPassport is a performance collective founded by Caridad Svich. Its core members are Carolyn Baeumler, Sheila Callaghan, Tom Caruso, Devon Copley, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Lisa D'Amour, Dan Dietz, Erik Ehn, Christine Evans, Hayley Finn, Kristen Gandrow, Michael Garces, Michael Gladis, Gretchen Krich, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos, Sarah Ruhl, Debbie Saivetz, George Sarah, Caridad Svich, and Gary Winter. The collective exists as a virtual entity and as a real-live band. It is dedicated to discovering new ways of listening to and writing language for performance, crossing artistic disciplines, and making music. The band made its debut with "last f**ck for johnny (after Burroughs)" at Tonic in New York City in November 2002, and will present a group-created text collage "eating the night" at BRIC in Brooklyn, NY in February 2003. The collective is also hosting an encounter with artists and scientists at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on 3 February 2003 on the topic "Theatre and Science: memory and the act of writing." This essay was composed in Minneapolis, Austin, Australia, New York City, Providence, Valdez, Seattle, Los Angeles, Granville, Key West, and points in between.]

A jazz horn player
You pick the race, age, gender
Playing the instrument
In a group of musicians.

The energy goes:
Top of the head
(though the sound also comes out at us, vertical energy vibrating outwards)

And the body
Moves with the music
Is it leading or following?

It's something about that energy
Top of the Head Sky
That allows the improvisation to happen
Abandoning oneself to the ground-sky flow
So you can truly Play
With your fellow music-makers.

One) On busyness and work:

It seems to us [Erik Ehn and Sarah Ruhl] that in this country, in general, we as a nation have a problem telling the difference between being busy and working. For playwrights in particular, the difference between being busy and working is often unclear. The busy playwright has little time to work, but is always busy. For example, the busy playwright has staged readings, has meetings, sends work out, etc. Whereas the working playwright makes work and puts it up. It seems that a crucial vocational wisdom would be to learn when you are busy and when you are actually working. Could an MFA program help to impart this wisdom? Institutional theaters often seem to encourage playwrights in the pursuit of busy-ness rather than the pursuit of work. They won't support productions, where playwrights can actually learn what their work is and make their work better by working; instead, they support playwrights' busyness by offering developmental workshops, having questionnaires, meeting, etc. Which has to do with the difference between articulation and consciousness.


I [Christine Evans] just spent a week in an intensive bootcamp for the new Trinity/ Brown consortium where MFA actors, directors, & playwrights plus Ph.D. students spent 6 days together, 14 hours a day, in workshops and making nightly performances of 6 minutes length. Extraordinary work blossomed and the barriers of training/ language/ approach melted into something different on the floor. Also, the extraordinary headbend that the "trainee" group with nothing to lose and only a bare room and our bodies hearts and brains, made work on a daily basis that was far more immediate, wild and beautiful than anything Trinity Rep pays large budgets to put on stage for a public. Not surprising, but dramatic in its proximity and clarity. So making things is key and collaboration in a room and some kind of trusting the weight of the body and the shadow of the uncensored impulse to others, is also essential or we get polite (deathly) theatre.


I [Dan Dietz] wanted to offer something I saw happen at a jazz show I was at a couple weeks ago. I was watching the Sam Rivers Trio play here in Austin. During their second piece, this song that flowed back and forth between wild sheets of notes and a sort of delicate lyrical longing, the drummer just stopped playing. Really casually. Just stopped, laid his sticks down, and sort of unrolled himself up to standing, and shuffled over to a saxophone And all this time, Rivers hasn't stopped, hasn't indicated any notice that the support of his rhythm section has snapped in half and is now just bass. But then the drummer starts playing his sax. And it's not much like anything Rivers himself is playing. He's just playing something different, one level down. These two different songs start weaving in and out of each other. And then the bass player picks up a third, larger sax and starts playing a third piece, different from the other guys' just sort of weaving through what they're doing. And they all line up there on stage and just wail away like that. There is no rhythm section, and the drummer and bassist aren't trying to play sax versions of what they were doing on drum and bass. They're all into this new thing now. It was like the whole room had found a voice. And it got me thinking about this idea of "no borders." Is there a theatrical equivalent of this? Could characters lose their voices and find variations of a common one?


The idea of voices weaving in and out of one another raises for me [Christine] the thought of "voice" as occupation of a certain territory (with all the problems that implies: violence, erasure, joy, ecstatic union, the forcing away of previous occupation, the inevitable haunting of the word). It seems to me that the idea that voice is a place to speak from and not just a psychological "tone colour" is inherently political because it places the speaker as the locus of a river of forces, social, lingual, geographic. I dimly remember a line of Bahktin's (who wrote about the river of speech we inherit, and in which we are immersed to sink or swim...) on the possibility of original speech; he wrote something like "his own intention found the Word already occupied." Words are accumulations of ghost usages, much like the money that circulates through thousands of hands.


Sent by liquid foot
Absolved conflict, a raw smile
Wigged out, west of lame
...electric heavn's red thoughts
smooth river stone--my icon

Two) On articulation vs. consciousness:

It is our opinion [Erik and Sarah] that we live in a culture that is constantly articulating. But the origin of art is the gap between consciousness and the difficulty--indeed, the impossibility--of articulating consciousness. How to develop or sustain consciousness and silence without over-articulating in a culture that rewards verbal fake insight?


I [Caridad Svich] think our culture demands over-articulation, over-explication for fear of mystery and the ineffable. But, you know, some things cannot be explained. Some behaviours are extreme, passionate, beautiful, odd, wondrous, common and cannot be reduced and made into mush until lost meaning.


From my [Erik's] perspective, the rapid crushing-out of the idea of culture is in this country in favor of allegiance to global capital. "Globalization" (obvious misnomer) is the promotion of the idea of concentration of wealth with the mythical and impossible avatar of the individual (a creature that doesn't exist in nature) at the top of a pyramid of appetite. America advertizes values of independence, freedom, genius...when culture requires sacrifice, obedience, interdependence, inspiration (waiting for god rather than crafting god). The idea of genius is a marketing tool.


Globalization is an economic agenda that often leaves out those without capital to begin with. I [Caridad] suggest radicalizing what has become the currently held concept of globalization (which carries with it colonisation) and turn toward the possibilities offered by interaction, exchange, learning, discovery, sharing on the artistic level, which then is political as well. Culture indeed has been put into the consumerist box as yet something else you can add to your weekly schedule. And now for a bit of culture! And this mentality has infected our theatre institutions, funding bodies, down the line. It is evil mentality. Disease mentality ultimately and needless to say destructive for the more holistic/wholistic understanding of a culture which lives and breathes and creates and functions in an organic manner. Interdependence is key. Mutual and shared inspiration.


Asphalt rides hot, night
in solitude, light breaks tide
Sleepless street glimmer queen drum
I'm not your dancing monkey.

Three) On a nation that doesn't model watching culture happen:

We [Erik and Sarah] are sitting in a café in Venice, California. We think about culture. Our presidents don't model watching culture happen. Bill Clinton was a pop president--he had Barbara Streisand to the White House rather than literary figures. Our country has no sense that watching culture happen is a good, valuable activity. How much easier it is to make theater in a country that rewards the watching of culture.


Watching culture should be rewarded? To my [Caridad's] mind, culture should not be a task, crammed down throats (look here, you must appreciate this, read this), but factored INTO society, into culture. This is the trick the US has lost or maybe never had. How to regain something when it wasn't there to begin with? Pop is our culture. Do we embrace it endlessly or do our best to critique it? Or strive for a new model?


Pulse of a diver
weather-flung handful of pins
stuck on the star lane

Four) On the goods of "amateur theater":

We [Erik and Sarah] believe people are alienated from professional theater. We need a better amateur theater. That is to say, one kind of theater should pay its workers and offer them health insurance (marrying for money); one kind of theater should pay lots and lots of money to professionals (a kind of good prostitution--paying professionals who do it really well); and one kind of theater should be uninvolved with money (marrying for love). This amateur theater should make communities feel more connected to the theater. Why did people used to go to the theater? For one thing, because they knew the people who were on stage.


Uninvolved with money? The Marxist in me [Christine] feels this is a too-neat sideways step which involves a shadow job (lets face it, often in the academy) which pays. And then is the teaching or whatever, NOT performance; not real theatre; isn't it also complicit in the long delays and removals of the body from the room and from "making work" instead of being busy? Are the things we do for money, according to this dichotomy, just "being busy"? How can the performative space of ANY theatre be considered apart from money, when (for instance) at the Satin Doll strip club in Providence, performance is absolutely (but not only: crucial point) about the check? It's not only that "marrying for love" doesn't quite extend as a metaphor, but "marrying for love" is still always marrying--which is always implicated within power and tradition, i.e. there is no "free space" only for love from which money is forbidden. Or to put it another way, there is theatre uninvolved with money, only in the way that there is whiteness uninvolved with race (a privileged space of forgetting). I have not "solved" this in any way shape or form. I just feel the money bad/ amateur good/ divide hides the privilege of its choice; it is a friction point requiring unsustainable dichotomies.


Money is everywhere and while I [Erik] do not believe it is essential to the fulfullment of the human story, humans have taken it on in a big way, and in any community--somebody is making bacon. Shakespeare was a businessman... This sidestepping of the money dialogue (not exactly sidestepping of money) is no necessary cause or protector of art. Money is neutral. But one's attitude towards it, or sense of its priority, can influence artistic outcome. To put it positively, under what circumstances do we find ourselves building theater on the basis of impulse and community? How do we put hospitality in the picture--almost squarely in the space traditionally occupied by money? And where does money go then? [Well, I just can't seem to avoid the word. It comes up every day... "Freedom" = the freedom to sell.. sell labor on a suspect market?]


a useless tree floats
on phantom water shivers
bad reception, blood--
blue feather on barbed wire fence

Five) On the evolution of process:

We [Erik and Sarah] believe that there is not enough reward for long-term collaborations on stage. Institutional theaters break up long-term artistic partnerships. What we see on stage, then, is could-have-beens (a production that could have been really good given more time and the right collaborators) and introductions (artists meeting for the first time who haven't had enough history to develop a process that makes for mind-blowing theater.)

Similarly, playwrights don't have a chance to evolve because they're not working enough. Euripides wrote constantly and had his work put up constantly. When he was 70, he was still writing, and the evolution of his work reflected someone who was constantly working in the theater. The same is true for Shakespeare and Ibsen. But for playwrights today, there is often such a large temporal gap between when they write a play and when it goes up; when one production happens, and when the next happens, that there is no way for their work to evolve as it could.


Regarding the tendency to promote development over actual production (Theater Lite over Full-Bore, Full-Blood, Full-Body) it seems to me [Dan] that, along with the notion of "culture bites," fear plays a large role in these decisions. Fear of audience-loss, revenue-loss, prestige-loss, some kind of loss. The idea that Success and Failure are clear-cut and measurable--actual topography as opposed to imaginary boundaries drawn on a map so we don't get lost and freak out.

Making the gesture of exploration as opposed to the actual voyage is rampant in our culture right now. And in some ways, it's easy to understand--how do you keep your self-esteem up in a culture that values nothing so much as the trailblazing pioneer when you're afraid to leave your house every day? People adopt the attitude and swagger of the explorer. Or revolutionary. Or punk. And it's an illusion that many of us are complicit in sustaining. The people who write the grant checks to the large theaters can say that they too are supporting new work. The audiences that go to the staged readings can do it too. Check out how rugged and fearless we all are.

Six) On making work

A mentor once said to me [Lisa D'Amour] that we assemble stuff (just stuff, the random material of the world) and swing the magnet of our attention over it: a kind of unfocused rumination. The process of paying attention itself creates a magnet, and the metallic objects or filings within the random world-matter begin to respond and after a while organize themselves into patterns. Fear takes us into judgement and away from bodily connection and intuition and present life.



Well, I [Dan] will bring this to the table. A good friend told me about a chat she'd had with a Japanese monk, who told her (and maybe this is common knowledge, but it was beautiful news to me) that Asian artists often strive to create a work that is formally perfect except for a single, intentional flaw. And this flaw is the place where the viewer "enters" the art.

So that's my image: the flaw in the weave. It's important to note that flaws are not always viewed in a negative way by collectors, minerologists, and others who live their lives by what they find within pieces of the earth. They are considered fingerprints, as valuable and unique as our own. An internal flaw is called an INCLUSION.

The flaw in the weave
Rosing as ice down light, sole
Roiled in slumber snow
The four unluckiest days--
I'm happy to meet you all.



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