Sunday, August 03, 2008

And...we're back!!! Summer round-up.

Whoah. Not a single posting since Kiran's scripts for Kill Me Like You Mean It and Kinderspiel were published (click here to purchase). So, what's happened since then? Nice run of Kill Me at the Brick Theater's Film Festival: A Theater Festival. With only two performances, the piece didn't get reviewed, but Ian W. Hill said:
It was an excellent rethinking of the show for a different context, but it was hard to put the original version, which I loved, out of mind.

It was reconfigured as a radio play, done entirely upstage behind The Brick's movie screen, with the actors barely visible as occasionally moving forms. Video of the original production was front-projected, mostly out of sync with the scene being played on the microphones (though a fight scene was amusingly synced up with live foley that got more and more absurdist as it went on). But most of the time, the video "burned" as though in a projector and we were looking at a "MISSING REEL" title card as the actors went on with the story (by the end of the show, it had become "MISSING REAL"). It was a beautiful alternate version of the show, but I probably would have liked it better if I hadn't seen the original version.

The actors were all outstanding as voice-over/radio actors, with excellent mic technique.

Overall we had a blast creating and performing this little ditty and we loved working with the Brick again.

Other news: We were also very pleased to see the excellent work of Cameron J. Oro and Barbara Charlene rewarded with Innovative Theatre Awards nods for Leading Actor and Best Choreography for their respective turns in The Accidental Patriot this spring. Best of luck, guys!

E. H. Sothern as Hamlet with Yorick's skullWork has already begun for our next production, The Theater Is Dead and So Are You, which is booked for a run at the gorgeous Connelly Theatre in the East Village this January. We were one of the 200 saps who busted our butts for the NEA's New Play Development grant so we actually had to move pretty quickly on creating a preliminary concept for this piece, though I'm sure once we go into retreat this September we'll probably toss much of what we've worked so hard to articulate. At any rate, here's the blurb we're currently working with:
The Theatre Is Dead and So Are You is a vaudevillian meditation on mortality that will stare death in the face and laugh. Audiences will enter an East Village performance space transformed into a Bowery music hall circa 1890, with peanuts for sale and rotten vegetables to throw. As they struggle to understand their mortality, twelve variety verterans burlesque Death, using Vaudeville's unsentimental vernacular to theatricalize one of the most sentimental (and sensitive) subjects.
I'm excited that, like Kinderspiel, this play will allow us to play around with taboo. As we've been sowing the seeds for an image overhaul (new branding, logo, website, etc. more on that coming soon!), Kiran and I have really fallen in love with the phrase "delightfully wrong" as a concise tag for our work, and I think Theatre is Dead will certainly let us work within that rasa (a word I'm borrowing from Richard Schechner who borrowed it from Sanskrit drama to denote a "flavor" of performance). I'm also really curious to see how the non-linear variety structure of the v'ville inspiration will reconcile with the narrative storytelling which we will be weaving through it.

This will be Kiran's twelfth play for the company. Not bad for our 6th season.

The research so far has been downright thrilling. Emily, our intern Rachel, and I are collaborating on it all via a Google Doc so you can sneak a peak at the evolving reading list. It has been such a treat reading vaudeville and burlesque sketches, some of which are well over a century old and hearing them leap off the page. Sure they're hoary chestnuts, but once you get past the groans, they offer sheer delight and, formulaic as they are, they really create a world as anarchic as Stage Kiss' Ludlam-esque, Kill Me's Ionesco-an, and Kinderspiel's Weimar cabaret influences. Here's a fun raunchy bit from classic burlesque (don't think pasties and sequins, think n: A work designed to ridicule a style, literary form, or subject matter either by treating the exalted in a trivial way or by discussing the trivial):

Comic (dressed as young schoolboy): Teacher, can an 11-year old get pregnant.
Teacher: No, that would be ridiculous.
Comic (to a woman dressed as a young schoolgirl): See, honey, I told you we had nothing to worry about.

A couple of features of the above show why v'ville a particularly perfect container to process taboo: [Warning: forthcoming joke analyses are anything but funny]
1) It is amoral, not immoral. It is immoral to use such a set-up to libidinous effect. It is amoral, however, to use such a set-up to delight us by referencing the moral universe in which such a scenario is "wrong" and give us the opportunity to laugh about it without condemning or otherwise participating in the inappropriate content.

2) The gags revolve far more often around that which remains unsaid than that which is explicitly said, unlike more contemporary punchlines which only leave unspoken the cultural norms that make them funny.

A very grotesque modern joke: "What's green and eight inches long? Cribdeath." While it's certainly revelling in taboo humor, it says everything. We laugh because of the punchline's unexpected yet ultimately reasonable revalation. It's inappropriate to laugh about infant mortality, but we've already made ourselves complicit by letting our mind browse through what we thought would be humorous answers to the vague question.

The burlesque above operates a bit differently, confronting taboo in a slightly more oblique manner. It never explicitly says that the two 11-year olds have carnal relations, and, therefore, our complicity is an active choice we have to make as audience members. If we choose to fill-in-those-blanks, we are rewarded with a laugh. It transforms what might be groan-inducing fodder into a sort of conspiratorial pleasure: "Oh, I know what he's talking about! That's very naughty, but very funny." This difference may be more due to the fact that the modern joke is a single question followed by a punchline whereas the burlesque is a series of narrative circumstances culminating in a punchline that refers backs to the "clues" that have been dropped.
...yeesh I must love to read my own words. I suppose I have to make up for nearly two months of a "dark" blog. So...I'll keep going.

Those that know me even a little know that I am viscerally entangled in my own fears of death and dying on a nearly daily basis. It was therefore surprising to pick up Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' On Death and Dying (origin of the 5 stages of dying/grief) and find myself cracking v'ville jokes throughout. I really have to say that this seminal interdisciplinary work of the 1970's is far more dated than any of these v'ville bits, its seriousness begging to be burlesqued. Part of me is excited that I'm able to conduct this theatrical and academic research into death and dying without getting emotional and weird, but the other part of me is displeased that it's so easy to gain critical, safe distance from a topic so intimate and personal.

All right. Off to do more research. I'm going to ask our collaborators to post comments below about their early thoughts on the project and hope some of our other readers will do the same.