Monthly Archives: December 2004

the reason i’m probably so grumpy

I didn’t get a directing job, one I really wanted. I had traveled to a remote Southern community for a three-day interview, and fallen in love with the place and the people and the project.

To be honest, I knew I wasn’t going to get the job before my feet touched home soil. Apparently, my interviewers knew I wouldn’t get the job before meeting me. The playwright confessed to me, the night before I flew home, that one of the organizers told her the male candidate would, in all likelihood, get hired, because they thought a man would be able to get more done in the community, a pretty hard-core old school phallocracy (with, to be fair, pockets of wonderful backwoods radicals). In hindsight, I should have known–one woman, upon meeting me, didn’t even say hello–just hooted out, “well you don’t look near old enough to’ve directed anything!”

Yes, my competition was twice my age, and a man. He’s from a community grappling with similar problems of post-industrial depression. He was altogether the safer choice.

I knew I wouldn’t get it, but the actual rejection phone call did rankle. The rarity of the opportunity, the novelty of the community and the organization sponsoring the project, makes the loss harder.


Jen noted, on the phone, the increasingly frustrating transience of live performance. We live in an increasingly technologized and documentary world where any momentary Eminem radio freestyle can be instantly recorded and distributed over Soulseek as an MP3 ten years later, where the lightest creampuff sitcoms from the 80s can be released as DVD box sets. So much can be captured and disseminated with such ease. Except theater and dance.

Of course, the fleeting impermanence of live performance makes it more precious, rarer–remains its greatest unique value among other arts–but still. You put in so much work, for it to disappear. It hurts.

I responded by saying that I wouldn’t mind the performance itself disappearing. I’m more frustrated by the fact that I feel like every time I create a performance piece, I also have to create the desire for people to want to participate in a live performance piece as audience. The desire itself doesn’t just exist, not much, not in the same way as the hunger to watch a movie or listen to music.

Every time a play ends, the desire, for the most part, ends too. If audiences retained the desire to see a play, the faith that it can be good–well, it would seem more worthwhile, and not like I’m starting up the hill with the big rock again, every time I start again.*

And another thing!

To clarify re: Riot Group:

1. Yes, I did admire/envy them as a model for a group structure. They’re four (five?) people who have worked out a way to work together repeatedly–with a writer, performers, designers, everyone performing their roles, making new plays. I would kill for my best collaborators to be in the same location as I so we could do that.

2. The piece gained some success initially in England, where the desire for a satire of America will easily overwhelm any concerns of its accuracy or veracity. Additionally, relieving non-American audiences of looking at their own militaristic/paternalistic power structures critically.

So, it’s been what? Six months?

And I’m living in the Bay Area, oddly enough, given my first posts on this blog. Moved for my sweetie, who I was also starting to see when I started this. Not bad, though I’m figuring out what the hell I’m doing here in terms of my work, and that’s a little harder.

But screw the personal stuff. I found Pugilist Specialist, a play by Berkely-based ensemble The Riot Group, terribly disappointing. In the play, “four marines are assigned the task of eliminating a Middle-Eastern leader. Throughout the preparation, training, and execution of the plan their conversations are recorded.” My friend Jen had seen them in London and wanted me to see them–I had been so excited–but no.

According to The Guardian, the play “brilliantly dissects the US military mentality.” Gimme a break. Rather than provide any insight into military mentality, or military mentality as a reflection of American reality, Pugilist Specialist–which undeniably had some flashy and clever writing and a couple of understated, confident performances (especially from Stephanie Viola, though I could never tell whether the constant eye-blinking was a purposeful tic or not–it did make me compulsively blink along with her)–was nothing more than an exercise of a 25-year old writing what he thought the military thinks like and speaks like.

It didn’t, in any way, ring true.

The language had no reality in it–and I’m not talking naturalism, I’m talking truth. He didn’t even exaggerate or (forgive me, I hate this world) stylize it so that the speakers’ language was more military than the military. I couldn’t imagine anyone who had ever actually been in the military not hooting with derisive laughter at this version or interpretation of their reality.

The script progressed in a surprisingly traditional temporal narrative fashion. If what we were watching was supposed to be the playback of the recording, they missed multiple opportunities for rewind and fast forward–if we’re supposed to be watching the live recording of the story, the parts of the story the omniscient narrator allows us to see doesn’t elucidate anything: no strong thematic collage, no real build-up of tension of good old fashioned 12 Angry Men.

The play’s staging, static, self-indulgent, at least remained consistent.

But never mind–all the problems, separately, point to what made the play, coming together, such an irritating bore: PS was for white liberals, by white liberals, with no (as far as I can tell) research into real people’s lives–which makes the production utterly non-radical, not activating, not progressive. Makes it easy.

Oh well. Welcome back to the Bay Area.