Sunday, June 13, 2010

GSW9: Festival Report V

This is a very special report, in my opinion, by Tess Elliott - our report-at-large at the Toy Theatre Festival. Why so special? Because she's reporting on some shows that take on some touchy subjects (not that some of the earlier ones didn't) and she shares some personal reactions. I appreciated that, and hope you do, also...
Friday, June 11th

We had to work as an audience for these shows.

Clare Dolan performed “Lingua Franca” with excellent music and sound by Ralph Denzer. The scene was a dark toy theater stage, painted in a primitive fashion with Mr. Denzer on the side, like the great old radio shows, surrounded by all his sound effects equipment and instruments. The stage is variously set with street scenes, torture rooms (the empty chair with a hard spotlight above), kids flipping around TV stations with the remote, and punctuated by a dance about torture by Dolan. She makes a point about how people react to even talk of torture, mixed in with bored kids, who would flip away from “that” channel, to every day life going on same as ever. I remember when government was run like government, and schools were run like schools; they are all run like corporations now, with the bottom line being their “lingua franca” and having downsized, fired all of their corporate ethics personnel first, and then all of their loyal middle aged, skilled workers next. It may seem heretical in a capitalist country to hate corporate values, but that kind of cold-blooded devotion to the bottom line is also the kind of thinking that leads a government that claims to care about people to accept torture as “playing the game.” I think Dolan makes a very good and dreadful point.

The Bread and Puppet Theatre did a show about the JFK assassination, with classical quotes interspersed in their usual ritualistic way, built around the chorus of “Hey, hey, hey” to the beat of bamboo sticks. The troupe is in and out of the set, doing dances about terrible things in this almost mystery play about the military and JFK's assassination. I know some people in the audience did not care for the troupe performing in front of the set without the puppets, but this company gave birth to many of our current puppeteer's careers today, particularly the ones who make political statements about the world's evils. I don't know who did it, in the end, though they clearly feel the military had a hand. I only know that I witnessed the first murder of my life when Oswald was killed on live television when I was a child and that is something I would appreciate a cleansing ritual for. I don't know about others people, but the hard realities of life that involve hunger, torture, oils spills, injustice all make me feel soiled and in need of a spiritual shower. It's not so much that I don't want to face those things, but they make one feel so small and helpless in the face of so much evil.

The next show I saw was Michael Sommers and Elise Langer [Open Eye Figure Theatre] performing “Amore! Que Fregatura!” by Maladetto Poetaccio. I knew something was up by reading the author's name which is basically Bad Poet, and means “love, go figure.” So the show starts with a funny song called the “Got No Pussy Blues” about how “She doesn't want to...” which got us laughing. It goes on through all sorts of strange objects, including the machine-like stage itself, and is mostly about sex, though gives lip service to romance and infatuation as Mr. Sommers and Ms. Langer keep up a frantic pace. The first puppet was actually genitalia, hopping about. It was as if they were performing a ritual live sex act with puppets that started late. The puppets pop up from hidden orifices around the stage, and then hang decorously from it, an artificial womb (a water balloon) get pierced by cupid's arrow. I think, when I was in school, I would rather have seen this show about sex than the very sad and boring scientific lecture with pictures given by a horribly embarrassed nun. Yes, it's scary, and fun, and a game we often can't resist. Yes, it's very confusing and bemusing, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more in the style of Open Eye Theatre. I think Mr. Sommers would be smiling if he knew that I sat there wondering what just happened to me.

The last show was very mysterious. It must have been my hearing, but I did not experience the show in a way that the program notes describe — that “B”, performed by Kyle Loven, has never met the man she writes to. He sits on the stage and reads air mail letters from “B” who becomes more enamored as the letters go along. I missed any reference here that they had not met, but in actuality it did not affect the experience of the show at all. After the letters, he picks up a box which is a projector, and in a mixture of video and shadow puppetry, shows a woman running here and there trying to find someone or something. Late into the show, he is pictured under an umbrella reading something and looking around. They are both lost, and do not find each other. I felt sad because often that's just how life works, trying to find love and not connecting. It's hard even to find the right kind of friends in life and I know too many women who have very few friends. Loven, a narrator and by proxy the love object, draws you into this confusing world with him and you could tell the audience was moved by the performance. I would have been just as happy without the video and just the shadow puppets, which are presented on a newspaper screen held by two hands which in itself is a statement all its own. I look forward to seeing more work from this young man but I also hope he does not try to be too clever with technology. Perhaps I am drawn to the live performances because it really is intimate, and like many it gets boring to “watch” the TV. This was a subject discussed at the symposium, and I find myself thinking about it more now.
I hear you, Tess. Television, even good television, only meets so much of our needs. There are some things that can't be done any other way than in person, with more interaction. You can't beat it!

The company listed above - Open Eye Figure Theatre - is from my neck-of-the-woods, up here in Minnesota - you never know where you'll find toy theatre!