Prelude past & present

Authored by: Visnja Rogosic, Fulbright Visiting Scholar

What follows is a sequence of short excerpts from an equally short conversation with the Segal Center’s Executive Director & Director of Programs, Frank Hentschker (creator of Prelude Festival) and Director of Academic Affairs & Director of Publication, Daniel Gerould.

Its sole purpose is to collect some of the reminiscences, wishes and decisions that eventually amalgamated into Prelude 10. Also, since every leap starts with a counter movement, sketching out the meanderings of previous Preludes comes just in time for this year’s festival.

We live in the postmodern world of accelerated history where, as Pierre Nora reminds us, history and memory are separated, resulting in the development of archival memory that relies completely on preserved traces of the past. The role of the feverish blogger archivist is therefore a common (and hopefully useful) one, in spite of the fact that, with the increasing number of archives, its institutional and conservative responsibility has been significantly reduced.

VR: Could you tell us more about the history of the Prelude – how the program developed throughout the years, was it curated from the very beginning, has it always been of experimental nature, etc?

FH: The first year when I started working for Martin E. Segal Theatre Center I thought about what is doable, in the sense that you have to build the house with the stones you have. Obviously we are a university and don’t produce shows, but our mission is to bridge academia and professional theatre – international and American. We do a good job presenting international programs and I felt strongly that we also had to promote and support local New York artists. I once visited a Kennedy Center event which was called “Page to Stage” – those were just readings but they opened it up to anybody who did anything. It was an interesting idea to me and I thought about how we could do something similar here.

At first we collaborated with A.R.T./New York (Alliance of  Resident Theatres NY). We put out a call and about 20 – 25 companies were interested, so we invited them. Next year it jumped up to a hundred submissions and I said we would have to curate it, but A.R.T./New York felt that, since they were a supporting organisation, it should be done by a lottery – they didn’t want to say no to anybody who was their member.

We used the lottery for one year but I felt it was not really appropriate for us. Daniel and I discussed inviting a curator to help us, so it was not just the academics doing a survey from the ivory tower, but also someone who was a part of the scene to help us find artists and put together the dramaturgy of the festival.

We first chose Sarah Benson who at the time worked for the Writer/Director Lab at Soho Rep Theatre. For two years she became my co-curator and Prelude became really well known. A lot of significant artists have shown their work here – Young Jean Lee, Pavol Liska, Branden Jacob-Jenkins. We had our finger on the pulse of New York theatre but also tried to have a mixture with a traditional avant-garde like The Living Theater, Marina Abramović, John Jesurun, Richard Foreman. The main idea was always to present excerpts of work that will be shown in the next season, offer a chance to talk to the artist and also cover bigger themes like ecology, new media, blogging…

I decided no curator should be longer with us than two years, because we don’t want to have a look of an insider job, so after two years Sarah left. It became a very big festival – three days of companies and panels, which is enormous amount of work and it’s just at the start of our season. Next we invited Andy Horwitz, who worked for PS122, and Geoffrey Jackson Scott, who worked for the New York Theatre Workshop. One was into performance and the other was more inclined to plays, so they could talk to each other and lift a little bit more weight from our shoulders. For two years they were curators. In 2008 we invited Morgan von Prelle Pecelli to be the dramaturge but they worked so well together that for 2009, all three served as curators. This year Morgan is alone and next year it will be someone else.

VR: If the intention of the Prelude, as its name suggests, was to present the upcoming shows of the New York scene, why did you decide to concentrate solely on its experimental/avant-garde practitioners?

FH: We felt that Broadway, and even some Off-Broadway theatres which almost function in the same way, are quite well known, know how to reach their audiences and don’t need our support. But we do think that the downtown scene – PS122, Chocolate Factory and others – is a unique scene that is not well known. Also, these artists are the ones who often come to our international events. Prelude is in a way cutting edge, experimental, asking formal questions and doing research in a laboratory. It’s about ideas and future, what university could and should be about. We also want to energize the campus, the building, the students, possibly also faculty. Another thing is we want to create long lasting connections with the international theatre community because the work of New York artists often doesn’t travel so much. So there is always something called the SPOTLIGHT – Argentina, Japan, Polland – this year is Catalonia.

VR: How does the university context, non-commercial and offering protection in a way, influence the nature of the manifestation?

DG: We don’t charge any admission which has great effect in the audience we attract: younger people, people who don’t go to the theatre as a question of prestige. If we started charging admission, then we would have to start changing the program in order to be sure that we got the people to pay. That’s a major aspect of this protected environment.

VR: Why did you choose to have such a compressed program scheme?

DG: We have chosen the format and the time for our programs that works. A more leisurely one isn’t a format for New York where everything goes fast and people have little time. Few times when our discussions have gone on I don’t think they’ve been as good, so I think that limitation of time really fits the city and the pace of things. The fact is that within this building any night there are fifteen competing events.

VR: Are you able to present the program which could not be done or would be more difficult to organize elsewhere?

FH: Prelude is a hybrid – it’s changing all the time. First we would have plays and then a discussion after wards, then we decided to have plays, discussions and an additional big theme. Last year we had different artists come together and talk about their work. We have done workshops before, but never had this kind of participatory working sessions that we are focusing in 2010. We want to do things that would not happen somewhere else.

Also, this is where we try a little bit to gain the trust to reflect about theory, to think about theatre. One has to admit that there is a slight anti-intellectualism – in the downtown scene there are people who take pride in the fact that they don’t want to explain their work – which is a great American tradition, but there is also a great European tradition to really intellectualize what you do and so this is our contribution. There are lots of talks, but artists often don’t have a place where they can say something or it might not be taken as seriously because it might not be refined, but we do feel their voices are of importance and influential so we want to create discussions.

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and the Festival after-party spot is…

a lovely place called the archive bar!

this place is a gem (amidst an otherwise lackluster selection of loud midtown bars which somehow all seem to be either karaoke, Irish or sports themed.)

join us each night after 10pm to hang out with the festival artists and celebrate with festival staff, supporters and attendees. everyone is welcome.

and volunteers get drink tickets, if you can spare a few hours to help make Prelude.10 happen

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Help make Prelude.10 happen!

We are looking for a few outstanding souls to help us out during the three festival days.

What do we need? Dependability, elbow grease and a fun attitude

What do you gain?  Hanging out with some of the coolest artists in NYC,  networking possibilities, creative connections to be made, Prelude.10’s love for life

Here’s what we’re looking for help with. Slots are currently open for all shifts on Wednesday 9/29, Thursday 9/30 AND Friday 10/1.

Set-Up Crew
(Activity Sessions and Markets – think carrying tables & chairs & small boxes, etc.)
Time: 2-5PM

Run Crew
(For the fastest change-over ever.  Nothing huge, just needs to happen quickly.  Also serves as break-down crew for activity sessions & markets)
Time: 6-9PM

(Greeting people in the lobby, answering questions, directing traffic)
Time:  TBD…either the marathon slot from 3-9PM or choose between 3-6:15PM/6-9PM

Ideally, we’d love to have volunteers commit to one full day (2-9PM) at Prelude. If this isn’t possible, we have shorter shifts available as well.

If you’d like to help out, please send an email to volunteer@preludenyc.org.

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Prelude 2010 is coming

We are excited to finalize program details and get ready to launch our new Prelude10 website soon!

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The Lowdown on “Highbrow/Lowdown”

Tuesday night’s colloquium on David Savran’s new book was simply a gas–as a jazzman might say.  Upon walking into the Segal Theatre we were greeted by William McNally’s live piano ragging of Gershwin (who figures prominently in the book) and other tunes from the era.  So the party had started long before the reception…

That said, it proceeded to be a very heady conversation–no surprise given the seriousness of the author, “guest star” Professor John Graziano (Emeritus of the GC Music dept), and their interlocutor, recently anointed Dr. Kevin Byrne, who just completed his dissertation on minstrelsy under the aegis of these very same men!  David joked up front that he now felt it was he who was “defending” under questioning from his former student.

Among the topics discussed:

-What is/was “Jazz”?  Prof Graziano at one point did grace us with a formal mini-history of jazz as it grew out of ragtime, which spread the country after the 1892 World’s Fair, etc…But David’s book is premised on the observation that “jazz” (by the 1920s at least) was an incredibly and confusingly fluid category.  At one end you have “race records” of small ensembles of largely anonymous African American ensembles.  At the other you have bourgeois band leaders like Paul Whiteman rearranging the same tunes for white dance clubs.  And there’s also composers from Gershwin to Aaron Copland providing their own “riffs” in the classical concert halls with full symphonic orchestras.  All of these pieces at some point merited the label “jazz” in the popular press–which David takes as justification to consider Jazz as a broad “structure of feeling” (in Raymond Williams’ formulation) pervading US culture in the 20s.  (Thus a musicological argument over what jazz is and isn’t is not really in the book’s purview.)

-Jazz and Race:  This naturally led into exchanges over the racial significance of all this “crossing over” and “covering” of musical style, as well as what music means to different audiences.  David provided a wonderful aural illustration of the different ends of the jazz racial spectrum by playing two different recordings of WC Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”–one a “race record” by blues legend Bessie Smith, the other a dance-hall arrangement by Paul Whiteman’s band.  Same tune–two vastly different pieces of music.  Smith’s vocalization was slow, infused with pain and melancholy yet powerful size.  (“Tragic” was Kevin’s apt description.)  The Whiteman instrumental version was downright toe-tapping.  Quick-paced, jaunty, with even a Latin/”habanera” maraca-shaking interlude to really confuse things.  You could of course see this as the kind of cultural appropriation we later came to know in early rock ‘n’ roll (with Elvis and Pat Boone “covering” and cleaning up the earlier work of black artists).*  And you could see the “love and theft” argument of Eric Lott (regarding minstrelsy), where white musicians–and audiences–flock to this new music for its exoticism while simultaneously claiming it as their own.  In either case, the broad spectrum of the popular jazz movement was there for all to hear in these two recordings.

-A key “lover” and/or “appropriator” of black jazz (depending on how you see it) was George Gershwin, whom David was eager to spend some time talking about.  I think one of the most significant accomplishments of David’s book in the field of Theatre Studies is making the case for a musical composer as a major American dramatist.  It’s telling that when the Gershwin brothers’  Of Thee I Sing became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize (in 1931) George was the only one of the collaborators not awarded the prize, since music was clearly considered incidental or just background to the drama.  David points to the complex “through-composed” scores of several Gershwin musicals as evidence of the composer’s intense involvement in the dramatic structuring of his shows.  Graziano also emphasized the sheer harmonic uniqueness of a typical Gershwin song–“surprising” the listener with its modulations–and how, in the live theatre, that has dramatic import as well depending on the song’s placement in the drama and the character singing it….But since Gershwin’s career is perhaps best known for its attempt to win “legitimacy” for jazz in the concert hall (with Rhapsody in Blue, etc.), David’s interest in him also involves this compelling story of one artist’s striving for cultural consecration through this often controversial genre of jazz.

-Speaking of “consecration,” then there’s Eugene O’Neill: the dominant American playwright of the era and, arguably, still today.  O’Neill, it turns out, hated jazz.  But that makes him an even more ideal subject of David’s study because he came to represent kind of the “anti-jazz” in the American theatre.  Those who recoiled at the spreading influence of jazz in the culture took refuge in O’Neill’s aspirations to the high-modernist European theatre: highly aestheticized, catered to a highly educated and self-selecting audience, and concerned with “the popular” only in the sense of “the primitive.”  David said that his interest in O’Neill’s reputation (more than even his work) was a starting point for the whole book.  He concluded that, basically, even if O’Neill hadn’t existed, the drama critics of the time would have invented him–so ready were they to “advance” the American Drama above the popular forms of melodrama, musicals, and vaudeville.  Critics, therefore (like George Jean Nathan and Gilbert Seldes) also emerge as major players in Highbrow/Lowdown.

-Finally, the discussion turned to the nature of audiences and how the book approaches what it calls “the making of the new middle class.”  Here David acknowledged his debt to various sociologists (from Pierre Bourdieu to C. Wright Mills) in finding both methodologies and language to theorize audiences and audience-creation.  It turns out the 1920s offer a similar challenge to such research as earlier eras, since there were none of the convenient “audience surveys” and demographic studies we have gotten used to in the last fifty years.  One source David ingeniously turned to was Emily Post!  (Her etiquette book from the 1920s conveniently focuses extensively on how proper people should behave at a Broadway show.)  Audience and class structure become essential to Highbrow/Lowdown because of this fight for the soul, if you will, of the American theatre over whether it will be a jazz theatre or an “art” theatre.  (Or both–David provides many examples of adventurous highbrow jazzy experiments, like John Howard Lawson’s Processional.)  It’s not a coincidence to him that as Broadway became more middle class, it became less jazzy.

What I came away with most from the evening was something not necessarily in the pages of Highbrow/Lowdown itself, but something that is always evident in studying with David or listening to him speak about the subject.  And that is his free admission of the important–and often neglected–role of pleasure in theatre studies.  Part of his attraction to the form of the musical in recent years, it seems, is an embrace of the pleasure induced by musical performance as a totally valid and quite serious element of theatre.  He prefaced his remarks Tuesday night by noting how rarely he feels pleasure attending the New York theatre nowadays; it is too concerned, he said, with prestige.  And so it was not hard to infer that the loss of “jazz”–whatever that means–in our dramatic arts is a lamentable one.

*The appropriation model also reminds us of the more recent cultural migrations of Hip-Hop.  While he defers to others in analyzing the significance of Hip-Hop, David often references the debates around it as an analog to the cultural and racial tensions (“culture wars”) that once erupted over jazz in the 20’s.

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New Voices in Croatian Drama (a follow-up)

For those avid readers of the Segal Center blog, my apologies for not following up until today on the New Voices in Croatian Drama event that took place on May 13. End of the semester madness led to some delays.

If you didn’t know anything about contemporary Croatian theatre and its place within the broader framework of European theatre, the evening would certainly have been educational. Jasen Boko started the night out with a brief lecture—PowerPoint presentation—on Croatian and European theatre from before the fall of the Berlin Wall through to the twenty-first century. The presentation was very straightforward and served to position the Croatian theatre tradition in relationship to some recognizable milestones in European history.

The focus of the evening, however, was on the work of two Croatian playwrights: Ivana Sajko and Tena Stivicic. Both Sajko and Stivicic are being identified with a current wave of new Croatian playwriting, which is having a significant impact on European theatre. As Boko pointed out, Croatia has had a rich history of successful actors and directors, but its playwrights have been notoriously under-recognized–until now. It seems this current generation of writers (who seem to be in their late twenties and thirties) is making its mark.

By watching segments of Sajko’s and Stivicic’s work—first through staged readings by American actors and then in video clips from Croatian productions—it was clear the women are advancing very different theatre aesthetics. Sajko works more in a performance art tradition. She discussed how she regularly performs her own work, which seems to involve a lot of direct address to the audience and a resistance to representation. Stivicic’s projects involve larger casts and apparently more traditional narrative structure (though this is hard to confirm given the limited amount of material I was able to see). The differences between the two playwrights’ work reveals the diversity of contemporary Croatian theatre.

The most interesting part of the evening for me, however, was a single thread of conversation that emerged during the Q&A with the audience. It centered on questions of how and why a specifically Croatian playwright needs to be identified. What does it actually mean to be a Croatian playwright? Are the issues that are being dealt with in the plays by these artists particular to the social and political questions of a twenty-first-century Croatia? To the last question, the playwrights answered rather quickly—no. In fact, both women asserted that they are concerned with more “universal” issues that can be accessed by audiences regardless of their national identities. (Of course, the word “universal” creates so many problems, which I don’t want to open up here.) What was revealed, however, was a palpable resistance by both Sajko and Stivicic to the notion that they are working consciously from a Croatian perspective. What is even more interesting is that Stivicic currently lives in England and Sajko regularly travels outside of Croatia for significant periods of time to work. Both women took great pride in their broader European identity.

I am in no way criticizing the women or the event for the fact there exists this contradiction. In fact, instead of it being a criticism, I think it’s a fascinating reality. Those of you working in post-national theory would certainly be able to shed more light on this.

I left the evening thinking that perhaps it is necessary to re-imagine how to approach international theatre programming, such as this. What does it mean to advance a nation’s artists when those artists feel more like citizens of a continent or the world at large? What are the advantages of continuing to view international theatre in accordance with national boundaries? This same question persists inside theatre history classrooms, as well. How should we organize world theatre history courses to attend to a view of global theatre that does not rest on national borders? Who will write the textbooks that can facilitate this kind of work? Given the Segal Center’s commitment to bridging the worlds of academia and theatre practice, it seems an appropriate and exciting place to start engaging such questions.

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“It’s not about the cult of personality… well, ok, tonight it is!” –Joe Melillo

Last night’s tribute to Joe Melillo at the Segal Center was a real treat. Roselee Goldberg proved an excellent moderator for the evening as she, with great finesse and having prepared for the event by “interviewing” each of the panelists beforehand, guided us through the interstices of Joe’s professional and personal connections. It became immediately evident that these panelists were not simply people with whom Mr. Melillo had artistic dealings; rather, they represented intimate and ongoing relationships, which Joe clearly cultivates through his visionary calling.

The evening got underway with a special visitation, a pre-recorded video message from afar, featuring a close-up shot of Daniel Bernard Roumain and his violin. Roumain began by creating a percussive soundscape with bow, strings, and violin-body. Then, after a beat of silence, he addressed the camera saying, “Joe,” and then launched into a gorgeous composition, clearly invented for and dedicated to “Joe.” I could almost hear the name “Melillo” scratched out in some of the violin strings in this semi-chordal, percussive, and ultimately harmonious and moving piece. When he finished playing, he plainly addressed Joe with such loving and laudatory sentiments that it became apparent that we were in for an evening of genuine tribute.

From there we heard from Mr. Melillo’s long-term artist-collaborators, representing (one each) the various disciplines presented by BAM over the past 25 years—dance (Susan Marshall), theatre (Marianne Weems), music (David Lang), and visual art (Dan Cameron).

The overriding message of the evening was that, thanks to Joe Melillo, there is a place in New York—a place in the United States—that is ultimately committed to producing, in the words of David Lang, “uncompromising, weird, challenging, often disturbing work” on a scale that no other presenting house is equipped or willing to handle. Each of the artists on the panel affirmed that Joe is a visionary’s visionary. He not only establishes and nurtures long term relationships with artists who show the seeds of greatness, even early in their careers, but he also forges connections between these artists, most of which last lifetimes and produce unforeseeable hybrids of global artistic influence. More than once Joe was referred to as a “matchmaker.”

In addition to presenting the most cutting edge, large-scale performance in the world for its New York audience, the artist-panelists also agreed that Joe exerts a powerful force in determining the course of artistic reception in the U.S. Followed by exuberant nods of agreement by the other assembled artists, David Lang commented that Joe challenges “our imagination of where we think art can go.” Not only does Joe open up creative avenues in the minds of the artists with whom he works, he also does much of the exploratory work for other theatres throughout the country. Later in the conversation, someone (I think it may have been Melillo himself, but my notes unfortunately omit the name of the speaker…) even asserted that BAM “does the R & D [research and development] for the presenters in the rest of the country.” These are all bold claims, but sitting amidst the evidence being presented last night, it is hard to see how any of this is the result of hyperbolic thinking.

On a final note, two new BAM initiatives were mentioned. The first, which has been underway for a year or two now, is the Bridge Project, the “global BAM” producing project, which teams up international teams of artists who create and tour new works of theatre. The recent co-productions directed by Sam Mendes exist under this umbrella. The second, about which I did not know, is the construction of a brand new BAM theatre space in the Fisher building on Ashland Place. The new space will function as a flexible, 250 seat space, dedicated not only to producing works of theatre that are not appropriate for the scale of the other BAM spaces, but also to hosting community events and educational programming. This is sure to be a welcome addition to the Fort Greene neighborhood, which often does not have sufficient access to BAM’s more large-scale programming. It also promises to be an exciting new destination for the plethora of smaller-scale, high quality works of performance in the country and from across the globe.

Congratulations, Joe! Now for the next 25 years. . . .

–Brad Krumholz

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David Savran’s “Highbrow/Lowdown”: A Preview

In anticipation of METC’s May 18 evening with Professor David Savran…

One of the many privileges of studying at the CUNY Grad Center Theatre department has been to work closely and frequently with a scholar as at the top of his game as is David Savran.  Having already made an estimable reputation in the 80s and 90s as a chronicler of experimental theatre (his now-classic Wooster Group history Breaking the Rules) and groundbreaking applications to theatre of gender and queer studies, he is now forging an entirely different, though no less radical, path.  My first class with David in 2005 was in American Musical Theatre–a field he had long taught in but only recently began publishing on.  So lucky was I to first encounter him at this very moment when he was working on Highbrow/Lowdown, his ambitious wedding of neglected musical theatre history to modern sociological analyses of class and taste.  This uniquely “Savranian” matching of methodology to seemingly unlikely subject matter was a thrill to watch in action.

And now we can all read it, too.  Hardly a culmination of all of David’s important musical theatre scholarship, Highbrow/Lowdown gives us a fascinating case study of the role of jazz in the formation of American theatrical taste in the 1920s.  In my journey through the book so far, I am most stimulated by the intensity (“symbolic violence” as David’s guiding spirit Pierre Bourdieu calls it) of the cultural battles it relates: between musicals and dramas, between jazz and classical, between populist and elite, and between “legitimate” and “popular” venues of performance.  Most surprising of all is how his narrative marches toward such a foundational moment in US drama as the emergence of Eugene O’Neill–an artist as far from the American Musical Theatre tradition as there is.  But by that point in the argument, O’Neill’s entrance onto the stage makes perfect sense as the triumph of drama over music, as it were, that has come to define the historiogaphic trajectory of “US Modern Drama” ever since.

There’s much to look forward to in Tuesday night’s event–where David will be joined by another fine CUNY professor who has become indispensable in the study of musical theatre of this era, John Graziano (from the music department), as well as my friend Kevin Byrne (the newly baptized “Dr. Byrne!”) whose recently completed dissertation on the persistence of minstrelsy into the early twentieth century will no doubt soon follow David’s book onto the shelf of essential reading in theatre studies about the period.  (I also understand there will be live music performed? Stay tuned…)

I suppose what I most look forward to David elucidating is exactly how he manages to pull off the extension of jazz studies into so many areas of US theatrical and cultural history.  While the book certainly makes its own case quite clearly, I must say the (deliberate) audaciousness of the book’s subtitle still astounds me: “Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class.”  I mean, “the making of the new theatre audience” would have been ambitious and intriguing enough.  But to raise the stakes to the fate of an entire social class–well that’s quite an opening gambit!  The title itself, thus, launches us well beyond just theatre studies into a promise of interdisciplinary inquiry that begs us to keep reading.  A good reminder to us “emerging” scholars to always tell our readers why our arguments matter–the so-called “so what?” element of the classic thesis statement.

So I hope you will join me Tuesday night to see one of our finest teachers walk this daunting scholarly high-wire.

-Garrett Eisler

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Prepare to Honor Joe Melillo

Since 1999 Joseph Melillo has been Executive Producer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). In that time—and even before that as he pioneered the Next Wave Festival—his impact on the New York theatre scene has been monumental. Where do you go to see Peter Brook when he’s in the US? BAM. Where do you go to see Robert Wilson? BAM. Where do you go to see any of the hottest, new theatre innovators from across the Atlantic? The answer is consistently BAM. And we have Joe Melillo to thank for it.

Well, on Monday, May 17, 2010, we’ll have a chance to thank him in person, as the Martin E. Segal center hosts “25 Years at BAM: An Evening with Joe Melillo.” I can only imagine who’s going to be in the audience, but joining Mr. Melillo on stage will be David Lang, Dan Cameron, Susan Marshall, and Marianne Weems, with RoseLee Goldberg moderating the conversation.

Here is some basic info about the special guests to whet your appetite:

David Lang is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer best known for his The Little Match Girl Passion and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, who has also collaborated with diverse talents such as the Kronos Quartet and La La La Human Steps.

Dan Cameron is an internationally renowned curator, whose most recent work has taken him to New Orleans, where he served as Director of Visual Arts for the Contemporary Arts Center and where he founded the ambitious U.S. Biennial international exhibition. He is currently the curator for the Next Wave Visual Art Festival at BAM.

Susan Marshall is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award for her groundbreaking choreographic work. Her connection to BAM dates back to the mid-1980s with her Next Wave commissioned piece, Interior with Seven Figures.

Marianne Weems is the artistic director of the New York based theatre company, The Builder’s Association. Her most recent finished work, CONTINUOUS CITY (“a meditation on how contemporary experiences of location and dislocation stretch us to the maximum as our ‘networked selves’ occupy multiple locations”), was commissioned by the Next Wave Festival.

RoseLee Goldberg, recently named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and Communication, is the author of Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present—the major text for the study of the history and practice of Performance Art. In her various curatorial and producing positions over the years, she has presented works by most, if not all, of the BAM perennial favorites, including Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, and Meredith Monk.

The panel discussion will commence at 6:30pm, and it’s FREE! I hope to see you there!

–Brad Krumholz

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Howard Barker at the Segal Center (The Wrestling School, UK)

Howard Barker’s visit to the Segal Center provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about the scope of his work and his achievements as a playwright, director and theorist.  By the end of this event, I could certainly say that Barker’s best days are certainly not behind him.  I hope that his visit inspires actors, directors, producers and audiences to seek out his work.

The afternoon began with a screening of a documentary that introduced us to some of Barker’s earlier plays, pre-Wrestling School.  A second screening introduced us to some of Barker’s more recent projects, which he not only wrote, but directed.  One could not ignore Barker’s use of language in the scenes we saw, or the demands that his plays place on actors.  I was also pleased to discover how important the visual elements can be in his productions.  The panel discussion that followed these screenings focused on Howard Barker in the United States.

Early in the evening we were treated to readings of scenes from three recent Barker scripts.  Lot and his God was surprisingly funny. The characters included an angel, the Biblical figure Lot, his wife, and a waiter.  The setting was a café in which the angel was struggling—rather unsuccessfully—to convince Lot and his wife to leave Sodom before it is destroy.  These Sad Places, Why Must You Enter Them? was set in a barber shop, where a man holds the barber hostage.  Gertrude—The Cry uses the back-story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a starting point.  It opens with a regicide. King Hamlet is being poisoned in the garden by Claudius (his brother) and Gertrude (the queen), who then proceed to have sex on top/along side of the dying king.  All of these readings gave us a taste of what was to come later in the scripts.  I certainly was left wanting to see more.  Actors:  look to these scripts for acting classes. They will give you some great material to work with.  Directors and producers:  please stage them for us.

The evening ended with a conversation between Barker and David Ian Rabey. Here are some random thoughts/ideas that stood out for me.

Mythic history:  Many of Barker’s plays are set in a mythic past.  For Barker, this frees the audience from things that come with a play set in contemporary times.  It gives the playwright a kind of freedom to create because the audience, in some sense, doesn’t have to spend time worrying about “accuracy.”

Audiences:  When writing a play, Barker doesn’t consider the audience.  When staging a play, he doesn’t think that the audience validates the work.  He wants to atomize the audience into different factions.  The breakdown of conscientious is difficult to do.

Transgression:  Barker wants to write plays about someone who does the wrong thing, who doesn’t find the right thing to do.  Who doesn’t have to.  He is interested in transgressive characters committed to the wrong action.

Turning points:  When Barker became nauseated by social realism in the theatre and realized that he needed to find another way of making plays.  When he realized that his theatrical discourse must be poetic.  When he chose to focus on the tragic.

Ignorance:  When Barker knows too much about what he is writing, he will tend to mess it up.  He has a great respect for ignorance. Theatre is a confusing place, not an educational place.  It is chaotic.

The evening ended with Barker reading several of his poems.


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