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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.

Megan Mayer in "He Woke Up..." 2009. Photo: Craig VanDerSchaegen

In rehearsal today it came back.

What is that figure?

So far I can’t tell if it’s female or male. I don’t know if it’s friendly or malicious.

Okay, what do I know?

It’s wearing an army greatcoat and some kind of hard-brimmed cap. I used to think it was a soldier. But it doesn’t fight.

It’s not a figure of Death and it’s not a figure of the Dead. It doesn’t have that weight, that gravity. But it is a figure living without history — “in the moment,” but only in the most obscene way. It’s been coming to me for a long time, and I think with this Black Water piece the figure may step into the light.

It stutters; it is a constant shock to itself. It is the fevered palpitation of what… our subconscious? No, let’s leave the mental archeology to the Freudians.

(Since this figure is played by a woman, for now I’ll call it “she” to avoid lexical confusion. Then we’ll switch it up.)

She’s the living body of the recent past, the sink trap of our societal dishwater. Societal? No. Leave that to the bureaucrats.

She’s not the past itself, although I imagine she lives just behind us in time, catching all our debris. Sure, but whose debris?

She’s not national — this is post-national. Or at the very least she leaks across borders as easily as ideas.

(Okay, switchup.)

He’s pathological, but with a reasoned pathology. An inevitable sickness — but there’s no health where this is concerned, so let’s leave that one for the doctors.

This figure is a ghost, a flickering shadow…but no, he’s not dark, he’s not dead. Let’s leave that to the occultists.

This figure does not belong to our studies, our academies, our analysts. Journalism, entertainment, medicine, religion…they all can claim him as their own, but he pays his respects to no master. She’s is not alive enough for that.

Politicians pretend he does not exist.

There is an automatic quality to his living, but he is not a machine.

Is there a place for her here? He’s always been here. She lives — no, he exists here. Immediately among us. And always has. Maybe she shows up, becomes visible, only as things around him crumble or fade. In that sense she is a soul — left behind after the body departs. No, there is no holy ground involved. Leave that.

He’s not a conscience. There is no voice. Although when we recognize her presence it can draw out from our bones a deep and unquiet sense of responsibility that comes unwillingly.

And above all it is possible to laugh at him. She is ridiculous. Macabre. Shocking, maybe. A little. And it is only through our laughing that we can survive sharing the world with him.

(Who am I kidding, lexical confusion is fun.)

Why does this figure appear here now, in this piece? Today it was clearer than ever that this rehearsal is building something. That these efforts to represent something — how I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know what the next step is — do not make a character from an actor. This isn’t goofball, I’m not making this up or being coy. This is something that is happening. But even if I were trying to create a character — even if I were trying to imitate an actual person — what I make would not have the reality of that person, right? The play glosses over that difference and tells us it doesn’t matter…that what we believe is as good as true even if it isn’t.

So without having a play in which this figure lives — without the imaginary world of a constructed reality — there only remains this figure. Lonely, maybe, but so entirely and powerfully independent. Of me. Of the performer. Of anyone. And independent of the piece as well.

Who is it and what is this figure doing here?

Oh I do know that it is real. Whoever it is — even within his circus of representation — this figure is the one place we all look to see where we stand. To know which way is up. Even if we pretend not to see it, it’s the shifting ground beneath us…

…the black water our little boat rocks on this and every night.

(Hey, that’s not bad.)