Artist Statement V0.1

(The following is my current thinking about the intersection of theatre, performance and technology.  It is the beginning of a grad school application.)

Throughout history, live performance has been a means for communal sharing and challenging of cultural memes.  In it’s earliest incarnations, the telling of stories was a means for recording and recounting that culture’s events.  As society has evolved, so did the role of the performing arts into entertainment, political commentary, lessons in morality, challenging the status quo, etc.  At the same time, the evolution of technology has fundamentally changed the way in which we disseminate and receive these memes: film and video have become the popular accessible standard for the conveyance of linear narratives, and dwindling modern theatre-going audiences seem to have become disenchanted with theatre’s basic underlying simplicity.  Perhaps this disillusionment is because so many theatrical narratives attempt to behave like a popular cinematic experience – in the script, in the stage action, even in the aesthetic design – which is a hopeless endeavor that will, by definition, fail.  The theatre has historically reigned supreme – uncontested, even – in the linear narrative space, but for more than half a century now it has been unable to compete with the immersive glitz, polish and epic, non-linear possibilities of cinema.  As a result, theatre’s objectives must evolve with the times and thereby re-establish it’s own unique raison d’etre.

At the same time, in a vast global culture made smaller and more accessible by the internet, we are simultaneously closer to the farthest reaches of the world and more physically isolated than ever before.  While we expand our definition of self with co-location and tele-presence, our physical bodies and social skills atrophy and yearn for stimulation.  The same technology that allows us to interact in unprecedented ways with the world at large also hampers our understanding of the world right at the ends of our fingertips.   

Re-enter the theatre: The one attribute that theatre can not be bested at is the undeniable immediacy of a shared communal experience.  What theatre alone can excel at is not the traditional passive, linear experience, but rather one that involves everyone present, making the spectator a participant, dissolving the audience / performer boundaries.  People today yearn for more than an immersive experience: they want to be the experience.  They expect multi-disciplinary interactivity, multi-threading and multi-tasking.  It has to be a chat room, a video game, and a spiritual experience rolled into one.  Reality television, American Idol, MySpace and Guitar Hero have “pulled back the curtain” and made everyone a star in their own sitcom.  The underground dance culture is now mainstream.  But still most of these mediums still lack visceral spontaneous interaction, improvisation and communal creativity.  Interactive theatrical spectacles are the next logical step.

Although many of the interceding boundaries are social in nature, some are technological as well.  So much “high technology” has become ubiquitous in our daily lives: people edit movies on the bus to work; the notion of making music on a laptop is nearly as commonplace as typing up a proposal or spreadsheet; and interacting in real time with a group of people spread across the globe is business as usual.  So creating interactive technological tools that are appealing, inviting, that anyone can use and many will use well is a baseline objective.  Then, it is up to the participants to make it transcendent.

The most disturbing movie I have ever seen

Having no TV (intentionally), I tend to be an avid movie watcher.  It is not unusual to find that I have seen 100% of the movies in our local video store’s (On 15th Video) “recent hits” section.  But last week I found one which I had not heard of before called “An Amercian Crime” which stars Ellen Page and Katherine Keener, two of my favs.  (Turns out I had not heard of it before because it never made it to the screen – went straight from Sundance to Showtime and then DVD.)  With a few others, I rented it.

After a somewhat busy weekend, I came home last night and decided to watch it, since Z was headed to bed and said she did not want to see it.  Well, what I though was going to be some kind of dark crime / courtroom drama turned out to be the most disturbing film I have ever seen.  It’s the true story of the (well documented) abuse and torture of a young girl (Ellen Page) by a twisted woman (Keener), her six kids, and several neighborhood locals who all get in on the “entertainment”.  I guess I need to read the descriptions on the back more carefully…

Had it been a typical fictional horror film, I would have just turned it off mid-way through: over the years my taste for gratuitous violence has waned almost completely – helped along by Zanetha’s near zero tolerance for it, which I have come to admire and respect.  But being a true story, something in me made me face the reality of it – I had to watch it to the end.  Which became increasingly hard through ever increasing fits of tears and sobs.  By the end credits, I was a complete wreck, and had to go wake Z up at 4:00 in the morning to console me and to explain the horrors I had just witnessed.  Knowing her like I do, I forbade her to see the movie under any circumstances.  I think it would do her in completely.  She had no intention of seeing it anyway.

I’m a non-violent peace-nik who espouses diplomacy, empathy and compromise as the only solution to conflict, no matter what the stakes or situation.  Well, last night I was reminded that even I have my limits: Literally, I can think of no greater horror in the known universe than the wanton, inexcusable abuse or torture of innocent children, and witnessing the extremity of this particular case brought up such extreme visions of – and desire for – medieval recompense for the perpetrators that I scared myself to my core nearly as much as the movie had.

Needless to say I got little sleep last night, and none of it restful.

It’s a very well made film.  Yet I can’t say I “recommend” seeing this film ……. unless you can “steel your courage to the sticking place” before hand, which I did not have the benefit of doing.  Like a trip to the dentist, you could go knowing it is going to hurt like hell, and you’ll be better for it when it’s over.  If that’s not for you, based on this warning, I don’t blame you one little bit.  A large part of me wishes I’d been warned, and that I hadn’t seen it.  But I wasn’t, and I did, and now it is a part of me.  And I now have appreciation for yet one more subtle shade of black I had not stared directly at before, and my rainbow color palate of Life has been expanded yet again.

So this is my friendly warning to you about this movie.  And you can choose to do with it what you will.

ps: One of the other movies I rented at the same time was a GREAT, GREAT Tarsem Singh movie called “The Fall” which you MUST rent!  So beautiful, engrossing, well made, lyrical and intelligent.  Go get it!  It will do to you the opposite of “An American Crime”.