Subway Stations of the Cross by Ins Choi

This might well have been the least publicized performance in Winnipeg this year. I learned about Ins Choi's performance of his one-man show in a footnote to an invitation to a lecture I received via the University, and jumped at the chance to see this. While Choi's more commercial piece, Kim's Convenience, plays at MTC Mainstage I'm always far more interested in the work the artist creates to feed their soul.

Inspired by an encounter Choi had with a homeless man in a park in Toronto, he creates a character who is a beggar, and a rich man; insane, but a prophet. Touching on themes of faith, consumerism, and pop culture, Choi weaves a non-traditional piece of theatre through the use of song and poem causing the audience to truly introspect as the words circle around them. Accompanying himself on ukelele, and with the odd foot stomp, we see the character weave in and out of lucidity, at once making much sense and none at all. Echoes came to mind of Nietzche's ubermensch, descended from the mountaintop to share the truth, and yet no one listens or believes - so he must hide, in this case behind the mask of poverty and insanity.

A stunning piece of theatre, and one I strongly recommend seeking out. Choi mentioned in the talkback that he is doing a handful of performances in each city Kim's Convenience tours to, so look it up!

Intellectual Fan Girl

Our dissertation term (aka right now) is peppered with weekly lectures and workshops to help us along with our process, and also to help us consider paths once we have finished the MA. This has included various events from panels with emerging artists, Q&A with former students of the course, and talks about casting and organizing. A highlight has been the fabulous workshop on directing from Andrew Visnevski for which the quote of the evening (whilst dissecting a scene from The Duchess of Malfi) was " 'How Now?' here means 'Holy Fuck she's going to shoot my balls off' " - something you have to imagine this polished, intellectual, very proper man in sweater vest and tie saying to get the full effect.

The most recent installment was from the academic side, and featured the brilliant Elin Diamond, feminist theatre writer and professor at Brandeis University in the US. Elin's lecture focused on a chapter of her book - Unmaking Mimesis - which looks at Brecht through a feminist lens, calling for a Feminist Gestic Theatre. A chapter (and book) I would strongly recommend.

What was most inspiring, for me anyway, was her discussion of how she got to where she is now. She began as an actor, trained in drama school and working professionally, but always had an intellectual side, writing essays and reading voraciously. After completing her MA and committing to being an academic, her focus was on bringing theatre and performance into the contemporary discussions of criticism. She argues that playwrights are theoreticians within each play, and the time spent to consider a play and/or performance text is unendingly valuable in understanding many of the ideas that scholars so readily apply to painting, philosophy, gender studies, etc. I was encouraged to know that it is possible to make a move such as this; to sit on both sides of things, and force not only work, but serious intellectual consideration of the work through your own writing. This is something which I hope to be able to do with at least minor success in the coming years.

The Point...

Reading Tynan reminds me of the beautiful dialogue that can occur when theatre is created thoughtfully, and when it is responded to in a thoughtful way by its auditor. The collection of essays and reviews contained in his Tynan on Theatre moves through various productions, and also reactions to questions and occurrences in the theatre world of the British, American, and European tradition. The overriding sense from Mr Tynan is that to be good, theatre must respond creatively to the world around it; famously in his debates with Mr Ionesco, he decried the idea that art is the source for future ideologies. In fact, I think the actual truth lies in a balance of the two. Truly great work responds to what is around it, but inspires that which comes after.

I found it fascinating to read Tynan's review of Waiting For Godot. Many of his descriptions articulate the way I felt upon reading this play....that it made me think about theatre and art and life in an entirely new and yet altogether familiar way. Beckett's genius is elloquently described by Tynan here. It makes me want to read this play again...and to see it performed!

- art, ethics, politics, and economics were inseperable from one another; i realized that theatre was a branch of sociology as well as a means of self-expression. (p13)
- to gain admission to drama, words must be used; they must put on flesh, throng the streets, and bellow through the buses. (p36)
- Ancient tragedy puts the question: "how are we to live?" Modern tragedy asks: "How am I to live?" That is the vital difference. (p151)

- (on Shakespeare) We stage the tragedies as if they were histories; instead of trying to make them timeless, we fix them in their own time and social setting. Tragedy, we now suspect, has no meaning apart from historical circumstance. (p98)

- (on a National theatre) Must we forever shrink from committing ourselves to a theatre which should enshrine our drama, cradle and nourish it, presenting eight times a week a performance of which we can say to our guests "This is English Acting. This is our style"? If it be argued
that there is no audience for such an experiment, I answer in the traditional maxim of the french actors; "The public always follows the crowd". And in any theatre, from Shakespeare's to our own, the intelligent public is ultimately the crowd. (p205)


Decided I would re-read Nietzsche's Birth Of Tragedy after sitting in one of our Theorizing classes and getting really angry about the reductionism of art to symbols. It all felt very scientific and Appolonian to me, so on my next bookstore trip I grabbed a copy. What really struck me with this read (the first time read not in relation to trying to write a paper) was the poetry of Nietzsche's language, the beauty of his text. And maybe it is because I now know the ending (I have read most of the rest of his work, including The Twilight of the Idols which re-thinks this text) but I could feel the argument leaning more toward the Dionysian than the Appolonian, though on the whole arguing for a balance.

I have to agree with this argument after sitting through classes on semiotics.....I feel like as soon as we reduce so much to only appearances and imbue meaning that way, we have lost the flow, the "Music" as Nietzsche puts it.

- art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life (Wagner - foreword)
- mysterious union, after many long and precursory struggles, found glorious consummation in this child, - at once Antigone and Cassandra. (p13)
- only in so far as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he catch sight of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a margelous manner, like the weird picture of the fairy-tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is now at once subject and object, at once poet, actor and spectator. (p17)
- the true spectator, whoever he may be, must always remain conscious that he was viewing a work of art, and not an empirical reality. (p21)
- they have perceived, but it is irksome for them to act; for their actions cannot change the eternal nature of things (p23)
- nearly every age and stage of culture has at some time or other sought with deep irritation to free itself from the Greeks, because in their presence everything self-achieved, sincerely admired and apparently quite original, seemed suddenly to lose life and colour, to shrink to an abortive copy, even to caricature. (p52)
- In spite of fear and pity, we are the happy living beings, not as individual, but as the one living being, with whose creative joy we are united. (p60)
- and when were we in greater need of these highest of all teachers more than at present, when we are experiencing a rebirth of tragedy and are in danger alike of not knowing whence it comes and of being unable to make clear to ourselves whither it tends? (p73)
- however powerfully we are touched by fellow-suffering, it nevertheless delivers us in a manner from the primordial suffering of the world, just as the symbol-image of the myth delivers us from the immediate perception of the highest world-effusion of the unconscious will. (p79)

I am reminded that Nietzche's account is of the historical birth of tragedy, but the rebirth, after empirical objectivity killed tragedy through Socratism. Tragedy was ended by this, but must be re-born, as it is the other half of our understanding and experience as humans.

How much is too much?

Late post, but I wanted to summarize Scene Study on Wednesday night. We spent time on Brecht's He Said Yes/He Said No, looking at it as a potential response to/restructuring of the classical Aristotelian idea of tragedy. We were looking at it mostly in reference to Aristotle, but it is extremely important to understand the more relevant response in Brecht; he, through the ideas of Marx about society, is revising Hegel more so than he is revising Aristotle alone. It has been said that Marx took Hegel's ideas and turned them upside down and backward, but he does this while sticking within the form of the Hegelian argument. Brecht does this too, and does so within the familiar form, but with blurred edges to remind us that this is a play and is not life.

We then moved in to talking about Augusto Boal's work with the Theatre of the Oppressed and Invisible Theatre. I find Theatre of the Oppressed/Forum theatre to be fascinating, in its ability to give voice to people who have not traditionally had one. I think this is a vehicle that can work not only for audiences, but for liberating characters who have been voiceless....the Lavinias, the Miss Julies, The Hedda Gablers.

Looking at Boal's invisible theatre, we read an account of a play he staged in the Paris Metro about sexual harrassment. While I find this idea of shocking audience members, showing them their own prejudices very useful, but only if there is a chance for them to opt in. I question the efficacy of the message when the audience doesn't know they are an audience. Without the "rules" of attending theatre and knowing one must "pay attention" to the signs and symbols, this could just be another odd day on the subway. Not only that, but given the travelling nature of the piece, with "audience" getting on and off the metro throughout, what of the message given to those who only saw one part, and not the contrast? They have just been exposed to another example of harrassment...but with no signifier that this is not simply commonplace.

Finally, we debated The Audience by Tim Crouch, with one side of the group arguing for Steiner's argument that Tragedy isn't possible in our godless world, while the other side arguing that Crouch's play is Tragedy evolving itself for our current times. This got me thinking about what the actual tragedy is in this play; is the tragedy our de-sensitization? Is it the permeation of one encounter with violence into the greater society? Is it that the audience is a metaphor for humanity, sitting idly by while atrocities are described to them? Is it the act with the baby? I don't know that I can answer that...or maybe it is that the tragedy is all those things. What is certainly true is that unlike Renaissance or Greek tragedies, where there is a clear cut of what we are supposed to find horrific, these modern plays offer tragedy on a meta level, which is more difficult to identify outright.

Bertolt Brecht - He Said Yes/He Said No (Lehrstrucke)

We read this one in Scene Study at Birkbeck, discussing the structure, alternate endings, and impact of the two. This fable is structured like a Greek Tragedy, and with the original He Said Yes, Brecht shows us the result of blind faith in a tradition or law...a searing message give that he was writing for school children in 1930s Germany. The alternate ending, written after the school children expressed dislike for the ending, offers hope that we can overcome and fight back against these incoherent practices.

We discussed at length which has more impact on the audience, which will be more of a cause to action. I have to say that the second, for me, really does all the thinking for the audience, leaving them patting themselves on the back at how good humans can be in the face of incoherent laws. The first has an impact more in line with Greek Tragedy, despite turning it on its ear...pity and fear are evoked, but more importantly outrage at the world that would allow this to happen.

An Over Active Mind

This evening's Scene Study class was really useful in getting my mind going. We were discussing Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and positioning it in the cannon of tragedy, specifically in comparison to The Oresteia as an example of Greek Tragedy and Hamlet as an example of Renaissance Tragedy. Ibsen's play is situated at another time of change, written in 1882, and seems to be re-emerging the idea of tragedy in this new world where the rational, thinking individual is at centre, and science (proof) is emerging as the new god.

I couldn't help but find the parallels between Stockman and Nietzsche's ubermensch in Thus Spake Zarathustra. He comes from the north (on high...a hill) down to the city as an outsider, with a mask to tell the people of the scientific truth of the poison...then once he has their trust, removes the mask to try to help them get beyond good and evil....and is ostracized because they are scared of this. The parallels are fascinating. I consulted with Aiofe (tutor) on thinkers who may have explored this and she pointed me to one....i may have just stumbled upon my "tragedy" essay topic.

image: Nietzsche portait - Basil Baroda

Luigi Pirandello - Absolutely! (perhaps)

Oh. My. Goodness. I loved this play. The conversation of the characters, fixated on the lives of others, caught up in meaningless obsession paralleled beautifully with today's celebrity obsession, despite the play being nearly 100 years old. I couldn't help but imagine ways to stage this, my mind was racing as I read the play. The character Laudisi was hilarious trying to help the townspeople see the absurdity of trying to pin down "truth". This play presents a great opportunity to explore the ideas of watching others, judgement, and truth-seeking in a theatrical experience. I want to do more with this.

Why don't I read more Pirandello?

Snow at home

I have seen, thanks to the glorious technology of facetime, that there is already snow at home in Winnipeg. Albeit the icy, only-on-the-banisters kind, but snow nonetheless. Things are getting colder here, and some trees are turning, but many are still rather green and fully leaved. Right now it is great, although at some point the curiosity of ever-green might wear off. I'm told it gets "brown" here, however having lived through Winnipeg springs for the last 29 years, seriously doubt it can be quite as brown as my least favourite season.

Spent a lot of time in the RADA library, picked up some reading, mainly for my own purposes; Absolutely! (perhaps) by Luigi Pirandello, Three Late Medieval Morality Plays, Sophocles' Antigone, fat pig by Neil LaBute, and Palace of the End by Judith Thompson. Also a book on the context of Medieval Theatre for research on Ludus Danielis, the play I will be co-directing for the King's College MA students with two fellow RADA MA's. I want to do a bit of dramaturgical work for this specifically, because my previous experience with the Medieval plays is limited to discussions in Theatre History back at UW.

On to class; today we were discussing Aristotle and Plato's ideas about the theatre, followed by an in-depth look at the similarity and difference between The Oresteia and Hamlet in terms of structure, function of the characters, and presentation of argument. I found it quite interesting to re-read Aristotle and Plato in this context, with only excerpts (and from poor translations...) to guide us. I felt compelled to argue in defense of Plato, who was presented separated from his view of the human condition (cave image) and from his later Phaedrus. For me, Plato's false idols are still a problem, however not an indication that all art is bad.

We did an exercise creating an image of the plots of Hamlet and an Aristotelian tragedy. This proved really difficult, partially because I felt our group lacked significant focus. I am not entirely happy with the result we produced on this, and am going to spend some time on my own creating an image system to do this task. I am hoping this clarifies my thoughts, particularly those about the point of climax in stated in an earlier blog, I feel that the deaths are not necessarily the climax. This is an argument I want to play out some more