Friday, July 31, 2015


Four horses of the Apocalypse

As I finished reading “The Circle Repertory Company” by Mary S. Ryzuk, another book rose up in my memory, ghost-fashion.  The Circle Rep book is an account of NU classmates’ creation, an off-off-Broadway group that was so notable that it became a pathway to Broadway.  We’ve been told that it takes about 10,000 hours of learning to become truly proficient in an art form and that the “life trajectory” of an art career usually runs about ten years before it begins to fade.  Ryzuk was looking at a repertory company that ran from 1969 to 1996, which means it lasted nearly three times as long as the prediction.  She was asking why, how, and whether, but didn't exhaust the subject.  There’s a bit of information about the years between 1961, when we graduated, to 1969 when the formal evolution of this company began.  The tone of the book is dominated by the second book I was thinking of, Frank Kermode’s “Sense of an Ending.”

A Classic

This second book is highly influential, picked up by the reflective in more than one context.  I read it years ago and will now reread it.  In the meantime, according to the summaries I found online, the premise was that the Christian paradigm with its obsessions of end times permeates our culture and influences what we do.  But is it justified or it is a template that distorts reality and possibility? 

Certainly the great juggernaut of commercialism, which is noted here as more of a strangulation by the business department of the company, has crushed many a fine and idealistic enterprise. But the evidence is that many small repertory theatres have popped up again -- not in the same place, the same way, or the same results -- but certainly with the same heart and drive.  In fact, they are always around if you know where to look.  In 1974 when I was the theatre critic for the Portland Scribe, they were in the backs of warehouses and on the stages of old movie houses, often remarkably vital and ingenious.  I can’t remember reviewing one touring company of a Broadway musical.

Waiting for Godot

Ryzuk seems to feel that one of the crushing blows to Circle (aside from people’s private lives with their issues of aging, exhaustion and relationships) was the end of Lyric Realism.  I had to look that up, too.  I gather that the subject is the incomplete transition we saw back in Annie May Swift Hall, basically the Method acting technique of the Edwardian Alvina Krause, well suited to bittersweet end times, versus the avant garde and surreal such as “Endgame” as mounted by Robert Schniedeman.  The argument also calls on a November, 2008, essay by Zadie Smith in the NY Review of Books which set up a duel between old-fashioned novels and more inventive and confrontational approaches.  The essay is part of the response to 9/11 which seemed to many people to be an end, the promised apocalypse.

Alice in Wonderland at Looking Glass Theatre

By now theatre seems to have left all that and gone to strategies like the Looking Glass Company in Chicago, where the stage embraces flying harnesses, trapeze work, fire juggling and tightropes, all celebrating local history, like the Great Fire that consumed Chicago but did not destroy it.   The actors may have helped brainstorm the “play” or pageant, whatever it was. The old-fashioned novels or plays, the ones individuals were always going to write that would make us famous Americans, have been swept aside by a world-conscious, cosmic generation.

Here’s a paragraph from a book that’s online responding to geological thought that dwarfs “man”made commotions like 9/11 and Hiroshima: “Instructive” events seem to be compounding—both actually and within human consciousness—to lay bare the reality of just how deeply human life is embedded in the “brute materiality of the external world”—in the very “stuff” of the geologic. Take, for example: the discovery in 1997 of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004); Hurricane Katrina (2005); Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption and subsequent disruption of European air travel and economies (2010); the Haiti Earthquake (2010); Japan’s “triple disaster” (2011); the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (2010); Superstorm Sandy (2012); increasing efforts to prepare for the long overdue “big one” along the San Andreas Fault in California; ever-clearer signs of climate change both man-made and earth-made; recent “near misses” of earth by asteroids and a growing understanding of the planet-wide effects of prehistoric direct hits; growing stockpiles of high-level nuclear waste and the urgent attempts to design ways to contain it–within the geologic–for up to one million years; new evidence of how geologic-scale engineering projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China and carbon sequestering, actually alter planetary dynamics; and. . . 
(From Ellsworth Kruse, “Making the Geologic Now” which is a PDF ebook you can download or buy as a bound book at  

Reynolds Creek Fire still burning in Glacier National Park
with Northern Lights in the sky.  Pretty theatrical!

We watch it all by proxy from outer space where the astronauts can see the forest fire in Glacier National Park that right now is making my nose itch.  In order to tell this story, we need video, symphonies, new kinds of spaces, lots of technology, people who can collaborate.  I suppose we must have lovers and scientists.  No need for crucifixion or virgin birth.  We could ask why we discard boys and oppress women.  We could move past nations and institutions, particularly the corporate international chimeras.  We could search for family in the refugee camps where miles of little plastic tarp huts are regimented on plains far from anywhere.  

To perform in a way that is revealing we need two things:  a  point of view that will hold the spectacle together, maybe filaments from the past mingling with threads of recently invented fibers;  and a sense of metaphor/meaning “plot line” strong enough to carry through various media and styles.  Survival ought to do.  Individual survival versus group survival might mean an overwhelming group consensus against the few, but that’s generally been the story of evolution and sometimes the few were the survivors.  (Did “Antigone” survive?)  

David Caruso

I sit here watching CSI Miami, David Caruso cocking his red head to the side when the camera lets him suddenly appear out of nowhere, and wonder what he thinks about the fact -- FACT -- that most of Florida and certainly all these glamorous glass and stucco houses are going to be underwater in a few decades.  If we can persuade the conservative Republicans to give up their love/hate of luxury and sin, maybe we could develop an adaptation into something like Venice, but there probably is neither the time nor the will among people looking at "Judgement Day" which they hope will punish their enemies.

Prairie erratic along the way to Heart Butte

This online geology ebook says we need to construct “a viewpoint that is generative rather than critical or analytical.”  So what would “generative” creation be like?  I would like to think that it would draw on ideas like immanence, the felt sacred, the dark brain, the violence of intimacy and the intimacy of violence.  Might need some puppets.  Maybe a tiger.  Dancers.  A boulder the size of a buffalo, rather shaped like one.  More like Looking Glass than Krause’s Eagles Mere repertory, but strange and wonderful things happened on that converted barn stage without any flaming batons or trapezes.  It’s the vision that’s crucial.

Inevitably when  a person starts thinking this way, comes the realization that people have been doing it for quite a while.  What do you call Koyanisquatsiyaa?  Or Equus?  Or for that matter, a fantasy account of the trafficking of boys, like “Just Before the Cure” (free on the Internet) in which relief from a world disease is the provocation addressed by the boys themselves.  They ARE looking at an ending -- of THEMSELVES.  But we have learned that our modern problem is that we sometimes outlive ourselves.  Isn’t that what we want?

"War Story"

No comments: