Dirty 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.