Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Eagle Kind ~

Back in the late 70s I used to get up early on Sunday morning (quite a devotion for a teenager) so that I could watch The Reverend R. A. West broadcasting live from Varney, West Virginia. Reverend R. A. sang his own songs, and healed you by having you place your hand on his, via the T.V. screen, and that was plainly magic, scam, or both. The show only presented the Reverend as a talking head, and R. A.'s head was quite engaging. He looked to me, with his brillcreamed slicked-back black hair, like a very unholy cross between Elvis and Bela Lugosi in "Dracula," only not really that good.

Still, he had a flashing full-tooth smile that out creeped Lugosi, and showed a kind of brash confidence in what he was doing that the introverted Elvis never had. I studied every detail of his program.

Then, lo and behold, I discovered that the Reverand R. A. West was coming to my hometown, to stage a revival in the National Guard Armory, an ancient gym where, in high school, I avoided playing basketball in "P. E." (Physical Education - Ha! - as mandatory games were called in those days. I wasn't going there.) I overdressed for the occasion and found a seat in the front middle, next to a young woman with a long gingham skirt and a very large bun on her head.

The Reverand R. A. and his band appeared and began to play, his paraplegic son Jay on the drums, at a startling volume. I had just seen the Rolling Stones at Rupp Arena, and R. A.'s band struck considerably louder. My stomach was throbbing in time to his signature song "He was more than a man." In no time the woman next to me began to nod back and forth and speak in tongues.
The tongues had a lot of "sh" and "sl" sounds. I knew that I could mimic it fairly easily. The nodding grew more violent until two of the goon-looking helpers who were passing garbage cans (in leu of collection plates) got ahold of the woman and moved her into the aisle, where she could flip, like a worm having convulsions, held for her own safety (and to secure her modesty by holding her dress down) until she had exhausted all her energy. The rest of the crowd followed suite, as though the gym were a big popcorn popper full of religious kernals. I began to wonder if I would be found out as an anthropologist, and wondered, also, what the consequences of acting might be in these sort of circumstances. I knew everything I needed to know to perform my own kernal pop, but it seemed dangerous.

The revival went on forever. At a certain point, R. A. gave a long talk about how the lord wanted him to have the yellow shoes he was wearing, and how, for that reason, the expense (presumably extracted from the garbage cans, now on their 7th passing) was not only justified, but a direct expression of the lord's will, punctuated by a series of his cheshire grins.

Then the lord began to speak directly (according to R. A.) to certain 7 members of the audience, compelling them to give $1,000 each. This was repeated several times. Then we went down the scale - 10 were told to give $500 each (I couldn't help, blasphemously, to think that all these were plants in what appeared to be a very very poor audience.) - then 20 to give $100, and so on. By the time they got down to having a 100 give $20 I was ready to join in just to get it over with.

Then R. A. called for anyone who wanted to be healed to come to the front. A line formed of everyone in the audience except me. Two of R. A.'s assistants would hold onto the healie, while R. A. asked them a series of questions concerning what they believed about the power of the lord. These questions had "I believe" as the only possible answer. To answer in the negative, under the circumstances, wasn't possible - everyone there, well almost everyone, certainly believed. Once the questions had worked up to "do you believe the lord is going to heal you right now?" - R. A. would bop them on the forehead with his hand. Immediately the bopped would collapse into convulsions, speaking in tongues as fast as they could go. When they could stand again, they were led to the side and a new healie would step up to the plate. I was torn. Part of me wanted to anthropologize every detail, but part of me wondered if he had a cattle prod-like electrical device secreted in his sleeve. It looked like a jolt. That's how naive I was in those days.

I learned some valuable things about theater that day, and I've never put it to better use than in You'll Always Come Back.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Knockout ~

Isaac (my young student, age 9) did this version of George Bellow's Ashcan School masterpiece "The Knockout," part of a series of boxing paintings he's been working on.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

From a German Circus ~

My friend Larry just sent this haunting photo to me, from a German circus. After I return from the West, I'll have more to post.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mimesis and Movement ~

After some thought about certain comments on the movement of bodies in YACB, it occurred to me how universal the assumption of mimesis is, and how hard it will be to alter. Every witness of the performance who has commented on it so far assumed that the movers represented characters in a narrative history. Part of this assumption was aided by titles given to the costumes and visual art, but I think it would have happened anyway.

In actuality, The Movers are intermediaries, or grounds of attention, between the audience (an incorrect term, but I'll take that up later.)- and the fusion of visual and sonic arts. The Movers are "just people" who move in response to the environment and the changes that take place in it. I've given them some tasks, but none of the tasks have more than a symbolic correspondence to the multiple and fragmented layers of the lyrics. From my point of view, the most interesting aspect of this type of kaleidoscopic consciousness is that it shatters narrative and history into fragments, so that the layers of their construction, and the forces at work on them, can be clearly observed. The problem with this is that what is observed can be construed as error or confusion, since this type of work doesn't favor virtuosity. In fact, all forms of virtuosity obscure it. So the problem, if it is a problem, is that the audience are watching but not seeing. They are looking for something that is not there, and ignoring what is, in hopes, perhaps, of the opiate of illustrated fantasy.

It would be better if everyone entered the space and encountered the work directly, with their own bodies, but that's a bit much to expect, considering the extreme inhibition of our society.

It might help to put quotation marks around storytelling too ~ since narrative exists in this work only to call attention to the conventional nature of its form. Rather than functioning like the text of "Jack and Jill," it's a bit more as if a certain edition of Jack and Jill was run over by a lawnmower, the pieces picked up and assembled into a collage - a collage that is as much about the texture of a children's book run over by a lawnmower as it is about fetching a pail of water.

This sort of approach would not be surprising to most viewers of contemporary visual, or even musical art, but our culture is so woefully lacking in sophistication concerning dance or the expressive capabilities of the body that mimesis or athletic display are the default modes of perception for most people who witness it. I'm not sure what to do about this, yet.