Its almost that time of year when you can trip over cheap theatre in NYC, but Fringe is a festival I’ve come to avoid. Not because the majority of shows are half-cocked vanity “pieces”, some are actually good, but I can’t sit through them anymore.
Artaud proposed the idea that an audience should sit in wheeley chairs and have to scoot around an open floor to follow a play happening all around them. Let the record show Artaud never had his own space, but I love this idea. More people would go to the theatre if we got to sit in bumper cars rather than tiny stiff chairs that invite your neighbor to rub up against you.
I don’t know if they still do Shakespeare in Washington Square, but it used to be that the audience had to follow the action in a triangle of weird mounds. Inevitably, you’d lose your friends and miss more lines than you caught, but the constant movement shook you around enough to disarm you. What pieces of the story you did catch meant something because your heart was pounding when you heard them.
I feel sad when I think of theatre because it’s something I breathed and lost and probably don’t want back. But I think about it all the time.
John Cage and Merce Cunningham are still my heroes. When the later passed away a few years ago, I honored their influence by switching around the props on set just before curtain and inadvertently pissing off a few actors. It didn’t matter because they performed better for it and that’s all that mattered.
A good moment in the theatre for me is one that strikes out of nowhere with its truth. That’s it. That’s why theatre will never be dead. It takes a live audience with live actors and everything that can go wrong to create a single moment of truth. It can happen in straight plays and musicals and half-cocked vanity “pieces”. It’s impossible to orchestrate no matter how much money you pour into fancy lights, projectors and costumes. It rarely happens at all, but when it does you get a glimpse of something bigger in our humanity.
Maybe some theatre people had a glimpse of this early on and it hit them deep enough to spend years trying to dig it out of their own work. Maybe not. Still, I hope everyone in the festival has a good show, unearthing just enough to get them to the next piece.
And what is your culture medium of choice this summer? Movies? Books? Concerts? Do tell.