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
And the body
Moves with the music
Is it leading or following?
It's something about that
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
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
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
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
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.