Thursday, June 11, 2015


Name, please?

When I have trouble framing up a blog post, it is never because there is no material at hand.  It is invariably because I’m in the middle of a storm of ideas demanding digestion and readjustment of assumptions.  New facts elbow each other through my many frames of reference.  I'm confused.

Just now I went cruising Google for Alvina Krause, my professor of acting at the end of the Fifties, (because the essay I wrote about her methods is supposed to be published this month in but instead I found by serendipity the photostream of PR images of the productions at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in Pennsylvania dedicated to her methods.  The theatre is named for her.

"Moon over Buffalo"

I don’t know all the plays, but they appear to be amenable to the realism strategy of sense-memory evoked by the Method and faithful to the dilemma/crisis/resolution sequence that Ivy League schools admire.  This is not a put-down -- done carefully these productions will not just be remembered for a lifetime but will also change your internal life.  But they are often thought-based in conventional terms.

Then I find this note about a production of “Ladies Ring Shout”  by Honey Pot Performance An Afro-diasporic creative collaborative community centered on feminist and fringe sensibilities.”  This is staged in a theatre also named for Alvina Krause on the NU campus.  The presenters perform something “devised”  by hefty black women, a minority (powerful) of a minority (women) of a minority (African American).  You may have seen these woman around but never had one over for dinner and drinks.  In fact, I’d bet on it.  (Except for Tim.)

Using a combination of spoken word, movement, and an original soundtrack, The Ladies Ring Shout journeys through contemporary women of color’s experiences. The multimedia work meditates on four frames integrated into our lived realities – the statistics and sociological condition of women of color, our mundane everyday acts, the codes and rules we are disciplined into, and the myths we conjure to imagine our future possibilities.”

When I was in Annie May Swift Hall learning about sense memories, the closest we came to such people was statues in Malvina Hoffman’s Hall of Man downtown at the Field Museum of Natural History.  Now dispersed to avoid accusations of racism.)  The character I worked on was the woman with a bowl on her head who has paused to watch a cockfight.  I suppose Clifford Geertz might have watched her in real life somewhere in Bali.

Here’s the anonymous entry about Geertz and cock-fighting in Wikipedia.  "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is an essay included in the book The Interpretation of Cultures by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Considered the most seminal work of Geertz, the essay addresses the meaning of cockfighting in Balinese culture.

Cockfights were generally illegal in Indonesia when Geertz was doing his fieldwork there in the 1950s. The first cockfight that he and his wife viewed was broken up by the police. The experience of hiding from the police in the courtyard of a local couple allowed Geertz to break the tension between himself and the villagers, and perform all of the interviews and observation which make up The Interpretation of Cultures.

“The essay describes how cocks are taken to stand in for powerful men in the villages, and notes that even the double-entendre sense of the word "cock" exists in the Balinese language as much as in English.

“The last half of the essay describes the rituals of betting and concludes that the cockfight is the Balinese comment on themselves, as it embodies the network of social relationships in kin and village that govern traditional Balinese life.

“The title of the essay is explained as a concept of Jeremy Bentham, who defines "deep play" as a game with stakes so high that no rational person would engage in it. The amounts of money and status involved in the very brief cockfights make Balinese cockfighting "deep play." The problem of explaining why the activity prevails is what Geertz sets out to solve in the essay.”

This is nicely dry and informative.  But perhaps the experience of that acting work guided me to the Blackfeet and Bob Scriver, sculptor.  Later, maybe even to animal control where my “beat” included a guy who raised fighting cocks, though I never caught him.  In that neighborhood, no one objected to the fighting -- cruelty was a given -- but they didn’t like the noise.  No one with hangovers like noise early in the morning.  Nor attracting attention.

But even now, deep into a writing retirement, those acting concepts are guiding me through the stories of the Cinematheque boys who have done survival sex work, which in the age of AIDS just doesn’t work anymore.  Nice people don’t go there.  The vocabulary alone stands your hair on end: repetitious, bare bodied, defiant -- almost chanting.  Not in books -- in vids.  The code is about four layers down below convention.  If you don’t have the frame (survival, swagger, need, money) it won’t mean much.  I’ve never read an essay analysis of tricking in terms of cock-fighting but I can imagine the concept with no trouble. 

The analysis I did of the statue woman was about her impassiveness as she stood, pausing in her work, gazing with no emotion at a frenzy of blood, feathers and shrieking birds -- descended from dinosaurs, you know.  And that seems typical of the boys, too.  “Cool” -- though their bodies are scarred by attacks.  What about the betting and hunger for prestige?  Oh, yeah.

Moby Dick PR   This would be Queequeg, tattooed

Both the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and the Honey Pot Performances <> are “devised” by group testimony about their place in time and space.  Lookingglass Theatre, another Chicago-based company does something similar that’s halfway between.  “Moby Dick,” the current production, might easily be framed as the tall ship culture as a predecessor to the boy-whore internet culture.  Isn’t the technology of sails, ropes and anchors as compelling as internet platforms and image management?  Aren’t the same whale-obsessed captains now at the helm of Apple and Twitter?  Aren’t the paths across the ocean among cultures the same unseeable forces?  Yet they draw on the vitality of the underclasses, compressed by need into a desire that cannot be fulfilled without death.

These distilled experiences onstage are incredibly powerful, esp. in a feeling denying culture.  But what do you do with them?  Video only gives clues.  Being there in person in the audience for the finally defined event is good, but in a low-density place an audience can never be big enough to pay the rent.  Many people have the idea that intense experience can be “bottled” online if you can just get the right shape of “bottle.”  

The evidence: an Austrialian beetle with just the right imprint to fall in love
 with shiny, dimpled, brown bottles -- oh, Mama!  I like 'em BIG!

And that means those engineers can stay detached from engagement on grounds that they are bottlers.  Doing that separates them from the raw and raging actuality.  If we could see into their neuron pathways, we would see the rationality (means) getting thicker and the inspiration (ends that require feeling and metaphor) surrendering, thinning, hungering.  No drug can compensate for experience.  But at least performance can suggest the tastes, point to the locations.  Give the audience courage in the world, even for social change.  Give the code engineers more insight.

No comments: