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This is the fifth in a series of posts leading up to Skewed Visions’ remaking of the performance EX from 2014 called EX(remade) in June 2016. In addition to maybe supplying some history and background from the initial production, this series might also provide some context for the current production, including how the current piece is being shaped out of what came before. This post is about what the framing device has turned into.

So last time I talked about how this version has to be “deeply different” from the 2014 production. Now I’m regretting my past self. (Not unusual.)

So rather than this production being a quotation of the earlier one, or a framing, I am thinking of it as a remembering. A remembering of the past performance, but also of the images that the last performance was made from. Also a remembering of my mother and my sister. But all of these rememberings are all indirect — or secondary, because not only are they are after the original events, but they are also after the original performance that is itself a sort of staging of memory images from the original events.

And as we know from our friends who read science articles, and the internet (who is also sometimes a friend, but one you can’t trust because they frequently have little psychotic episodes), when we remember something we don’t remember the original event but only the last recollection that our brain performed of the original event. So we know memory is mutable, and dependent on the present, and is not an accurate representation of the past so much as it is a accurate reflection of the circumstances in which the action of remembering takes place. EX(remade) is this kind of memory.

Another metaphor I have used in rehearsal is that we are pulling this show out of the compost heap where it has been left after it ended in October two years ago and showing it, complete with coffee grounds and banana peels still hanging off it.

A less moist image might be that of pulling an old scrapbook out of the attic full of pictures that have faded, are dusty, and some are missing. But that metaphor is a little dry and trite for my taste.

In any case, the phenomenon that has happened in rehearsals as we tried to recall the last performance was fascinating and pertinent and we will continue it into the performance. We each have different ideas of what is supposed to happen, of what had happened. We disagree, offer suggestions, maybe even argue. I am trying to incorporate repetitions and elisions, gaps and changes in perspective so that this performance is an accurate representation of different sort than EX: another kind of loss. It represents changing relationships to my memories, to the objects that stimulate these memories, and to the losses of my sister and my mother that are both irrevocable and immune to recovery.

After conversations, photos and some initial interchanges which were sort of like a conversation in movement (“something like this?” “yes, or maybe without this thing”), I am very happy to report there is something being built. I wish I had the work with AE on tape as well, but maybe when those guys get together.

So — and this goes without saying — this is the initial work, incomplete and with rough edges, for development purposes only, and is here so that we can all look at it and go, “O, I remember how that goes” or “make this part longer, do this here, and add one of those things after the hand part.” The coat and hat are stand-ins for eventual costume pieces, and the frame is a conceptual stand-in for eventual site architecture.

I edited out a couple seconds to see if it would work if we made one thing happen sooner (which it seems to), and my apologies to the purists out there, but here is what is left. I’m very happy with it, and I don’t care if you’re not. It’s not for your pleasure.

Or at least, not only.

Since I can’t afford the $60 for the video feature here, I’m doing this via link.

Thank you, Megan Mayer.

Justin Jones in RadioBrain

Justin Jones


Tony Kushner: “One writes about the past in the hope that history can be made to reverberate with meaning for the present.”

That right there is (one of) the fundamental problem(s) I have with theater as it is practiced most widely today. This heavy reliance on an assumed symbology to create meaning has come to be connected so closely with theater that to produce meaning by other paths is to be relegated to the lunatic fringe. It limits our experience of what is possible.

A parallel dependency on representational mimesis (understood as verisimilitude) has created an entire mode of representation that circumscribes what is allowed to be described as “theatrical.” This mode directs the vision of the spectator to representative creations of set, lighting, costume, voice, body, sound, etc. that have a dual aspect. They are (first) objects or aspects isolated from the world that are (second) intended to suggest a reality by their imitation of reality. Meaning via pure correspondence.

But first, back to this idea of a reverberation between the past and the present. The past, in this sense, is dead. It has passed — irretrievable, out of sight, intangible, lost, gone. Hence the need for its reverberation in the present. We can no longer examine it in its materiality. Our lives can be lived, at best, only within a symbolic relationship between this past and our present. (Past and present are also, of course, exchangeable with other dualities of subject including death/life, future/present, ideal/real, etc.)

This relation also often underlies less traditional, “experimental,” or “abstract,” performance. A woman buried up to her neck in represented earth is taken as a metaphor for a number of things: for example, the role of women in conventional domestic life, humanity’s existential state with regards to the universe, the challenges of aging, or the encroaching burial of implacable death. The meaning of the metaphor (the result) is less interesting to me than the fact that it is taken as a metaphor — that meaning is created from this theatrical experience via a metaphor. Or maybe it is not a metaphor, perhaps it is a symbol. Perhaps we are meant to feel the reverberations from something that is no longer present… (Without digressing too much further, let me suggest maybe it wasn’t so much of a metaphor or symbol once, but now has become one.)

But to me the strongest experience of theater is one in which these relationships are thwarted, evaded, or consumed by the material presence of the performance. One where you are often left with or led to an experience of not knowing. Where it brings you as an audience member directly into the present moment, within local space, and right up against material presence. I do not believe that this presence is enough, but it is a pre-condition of what I think of as some of the best theatrical experiences I have had. This means that performance can enter into a strange relationship with everyday reality, simultaneously mundane and heightened.

This is not easy to do — I have failed in my attempts more than often enough to know this in my bones. As an audience, rather than being required (or assumed to desire) to make the intellectual leap between what is actually happening and what we must imagine is happening, we are instead prevented from making this familiar and comfortable leap. The leap which is intended to erase, hide, or consume the actual in the imaginary: one in which we are “carried away.” It is a nostalgic opiate providing pleasure and peace to the comfortable. And it has reached its current zenith in the juggernaut of mass media marketing known as “entertainment.”

Poor Caroline: a Broadway musical as earnest, intelligent and entertaining as they come. Produced with much talent, energy, effort and style, and yet — even as the penultimate standard bearer in a festival devoted to the works of an admirable artist at a widely respected institution — its achievement fades into nostalgia. A pleasant enough way to spend 2 1/2 hours if you’re looking for a fix, but its good intentions are debased by its means of existence. Who would disparage its message of struggle in change, the importance of its historical context, or the emotionally moving triggers of Caroline singing in her yard? But this world is not only a manufactured one, its corresponding reality is also kept safely behind its production values and the sheen of earnest professionalism — unable to affect us any further than we allow our hearts strings to be tugged.

It’s like an arms race: both sides keep spending more money, building more bombs, expending capital of all sorts in competition with each other, but where are they at they end of the day (any day — it’s all the same damn day, man, at that level)? Poorer, heavier, and still in just as much danger as when they threatened each other with thigh bones under a looming black monolith. Once you start playing that game, success is a predetermined path leading you out onto the very edges of relevance, integrity and vitality. Our imaginations are utilized, certainly, but only along a very specific path and toward a limited end.

The same weekend I saw Caroline, or Change at the Guthrie, I saw a show at the Southern Theater. It was in two parts. The first, the SCREEN/the THING is something I won’t get into here. The second, RadioBrain, is an apt counter example to my above screed.

I think it was billed as a dance piece. Which I suppose it was. But one pertinent factor of its nature was that it skimmed over the necessity of such distinctions. Two guys, two chairs, a doorway, computer, camera, microphones, theremin, a cello, a timer, lots of cables.

Harking back to works of John Cage and other late 60s experimentalists in a variety of disciplines, this piece was determinedly materially present, even when it was at it’s most electric — and that is meant literally. The theremin is perhaps a perfect model for how this piece worked and what it seemed to be concerned with. Relationships between movement and sound, movement and image, sound and image, body and body, body and sound and image, language and image, were all explored as plainly and directly as possible. Contact was explored in a variety of scales — from the macro of body in space to the micro of electrons, sound waves, and light. There was a sense of scientific experimentalism in RadioBrain that was as much a part of its subject as it was a central part of its means.

So, to revert to an earlier subject: what if, as it seemed to me to be in the case of RadioBrain, the past is not dead? If it is instead retrievable in the most literal and direct sense, because it is here — now — among us, an integral part of our present. Time then is not a linear progression of events, but a simultaneous presence of interlocking connections and relationships in a multidimensional space. This position makes it possible to create works that enter in a direct relationship not only with people, objects and thoughts present in the moment of performance, but also with all other moments, people, objects and thoughts in other times. (And if this temporal relationship is indeed a model of other such dualities, the opening effect of this spreading-out of time can be seen to multiply in other dimensions as well: death/life, future/present, ideal/real, etc.)

Representation then takes on the role of an opening. We can then open the door, as audience members, to new spaces of meaning. The immediate ones of the creation and manipulation of sound through action, the creation and manipulation of space through movement and light, and the exploration of the intersections of space and sound, movement and meaning. But the surface quality of a piece like RadioBrain does not mean it lacks meaning or complexity. Rather it is itself a key that opens multiple doors onto a world of expanding dimensions. And this expansion is only limited by the scope of our imaginations.