"I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art"
I can imagine Baldessari, a man who lit his entire body of
work on fire and watched it burn to ash, writing each letter of that
phrase deliberately, reiterating the promise to himself with every stroke of his pen.
I have been thinking of those words recently, and of Baldessari’s impulse to torch everything that he had done but was not proud of.
Confession: I have made boring art. Probably you have, too. You felt it, right? That moment when you can go through the motions and know someone else will say “Good job!” but you aren’t going to have a deep and lengthy conversation about it later.
But really, that’s my fault, isn’t it? I am frequently bored by theatre because of the theatre I choose to go to. No one is forcing me, so what the... you know?
Last year when I wrapped on my first indie feature, I thought “Movies make me excited. Theatre makes me tired.” I was surprised, and sad to feel that way.
I promised myself that I would find theatre that was challenging, interesting, new and unexpected.
I am still committed to that, and in addition to having found a new love and hope for what theatre is, and what it can become, I have learned more about who I am as an artist. I know that there are great lessons we can all learn from seeing the masters of our profession laying it all bare on a Broadway stage but (yet another confession) although I feel awe for what I have just seen, I do not feel challenged or even surprised.
Since taking a more active approach to finding theatre that does suprise me, I have been to places I didn’t know existed in New York, met new people (many of them now good friends) and have some pretty good stories to tell.
Last week I went to a performance on a rooftop in alphabet city. It was sold out and the only access was through a private apartment on the top floor. Out of respect for the tenants, the “house manager” had us all wait on the street until everyone was present and then escorted us up in one group. The crowd on the street caused many passersby to stop and ask what was happening... a party? A viewing? What - theatre?
They looked like they had never heard the word before - as if they had forgotten theatre exists outside of midtown.
The Shades of Gray, the company that was presenting this particular piece of theatre, is a dedicated to “exploring and honoring the ‘in between’ of the common human experience”. I definitely felt that I was both “in” and “between” something. I was a part of the performance, and between the reality of the world around me, and the fantasy world that the performance created that night up on the roof.
And I think it is starting to catch on - I am certainly not alone in this pursuit of more interesting theatre, and of alternative experiences. New York is (again?) the underground city... speakeasies, loft parties, warehouse circuses, and organized drum circles. Our ability to organize and find communities within one another has never been stronger... sometimes it just takes that extra step to get the connection off-line and in person.
Hence, theatre. And why it is still so important. Movies can be watched at home alone. You have to get out in the world to experience theatre.
My forays into “new” theatre have also led me to the show that I am currently working on. This is the first time that I am telling people that I know the show will be as exciting and unexpected as the rehearsal process. The truth is, I don’t entirely know what exactly is going to happen on Friday when we open. This show has such an intimate relationship with the audience and with the (secret) space we are performing in that this production is... well, maybe this will help:
Imagine you are invited by a friend of a friend to attend a party at a mansion. You are expecting to see performances of some kind, but mostly you are thrilled by the opportunity to drink champagne and explore this amazing house (it’s not ever day you get to party like Gatsby... unless you do, in which case we need to talk). When you get there, someone checks you off a list, turns someone else away, which makes you suddenly feel like a celebrity. You enter and assess. What’s going on? Do I know anyone else here? Who is the host? What’s happening over there? I haven’t heard this song in YEARS! Where’s the bar? Can I have a drink? Okay yes, yes, this could be interesting. Now what? Now what?
You decide to explore and....
... I can’t tell you what you might discover. You’ll just have to see for yourself. I dare you. No more boring art.
photo courtesy of Lucy Di Rosa and The Private Theatre