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Trick or Treat,

By Nick Fracaro at 12:13 pm on Tuesday, October 31, 2006

trick or treat“Money or Eats” ™

At Dramaturgy.net there is a link to the RENT Lawsuit Transcripts and to an article on August 26, 1998 in Talkin’ Broadway about the case being closed. I am not sure about “the industry” but most people I know working in theatre would find this statement in the article more than mere hyperbole. Not only was Lynn Thomson never called “the Rosa Parks of the theatre industry”, most would find the analogy itself offensive.

The heirs of Jonathan Larson finally have addressed the claims of Lynn Thomson regarding credit, royalties, and other issues concerning her participation in the writing and rewriting of Rent’s script. … This marks the successful end of a heroic battle by a dramaturg who rightfully has been called the “Rosa Parks” of the theatre industry. Like Parks, Lynn Thomson refused to give up her place, either on the title page or in the royalty pool.

Rosa Parks and her act of civil disobedience became the icon of the Civil Rights Movement. To suggest that Lynn Thomson and her legal team were engaged in a comparable heroic battle is as disrespectful to theatre as it is all those who fought segregation.

The truth is that Lynn Thomson’s legal attempt to be awarded co-author status in the successful musical Rent was a point of contention within the theater industry. Joan Channick, as Managing Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), said:

This case generated huge controversy in the field, and caused tension between playwrights and dramaturgs. Playwrights feared encroachment on their authorship of their plays, while dramaturgs saw Thompson’s claim as recognition of the importance of their often-misunderstood role.

Joan Cannick’s essay Author! Author? in April’s American Theatre was spurred by the recent attempts by some directors to copyright stage directions and cites a New York Times article on January 29, 2006 on the same subject Exit, Pursued by a Lawyer. This article highlights the director Edward Einhorn’s argument over being fired from an Off Off Broadway production after two months of unpaid work.

Edward Einhorn is the artistic director of the Havel Festival which is playing right now in various venues around the city. His brother David Einhorn is the producing director of the festival. Brother David is also an intellectual property lawyer and so the ideal mercenary to ride shotgun in what is obviously becoming an increasingly cutthroat downtown theatre scene.

If you google for the theatre production TAM LIN the link you find has the subtitle “A Halloween Tale of Magic & Seduction.” But in following the link to the actual web site the subtitle for Tam Lin transforms into the odd “a full length play free of legal encumbrances.” Obviously a certain vindictiveness still runs hot in playwright Nancy McClernan. On the web site, instead of describing her “Halloween tale of magic and destruction”, she chronicles her legal woes with the Einhorn brothers.

A couple days ago Nancy McClernan posted a comment here at Rat Sass on a blog entry where I had referenced Edward Einhorn’s Open Letter to President Bush.

I find it incredibly amusing that Edward Einhorn would compose a pious, pompous letter to President Bush, quoting Havel on “the seemingly powerless in society.

This is someone who runs a theatre production company specializing in off-off Broadway productions who feels no sting of conscience whatsoever about exploiting non-Equity actors. This is someone who believes that actors get the glory of being onstage and so “they are usually happy to work for free.”

This is an utterly, transparently self-serving belief for someone who engages actors to perform in his shows. Apparently Einhorn believes that by simply staging the works of Havel, it somehow gives him the right to take on the mantle of the champion of human rights.

The playwright’s article on the debacle with the director titled The Strange Case of Einhorn v. Mergatroyd is in the current issue of The Dramatist. This is the magazine of the Dramatists Guild where to no surprise she found ready but mostly ineffective allies in her costly need to free her play of “encumbrances.”

To dramaturg Lynn Thomson’s dismay, the Dramatists Guild had also sided with the Larson estate over the copyright of Rent. She rebuked them on their prejudice.

There’s a huge bigotry revealed against dramaturgs by the Guild. They attack me because I’m called a “dramaturg” rather than “co-author.” And yet, this union claims to represent people who write, and they’re saying it doesn’t matter that I wrote. That’s a deeply disturbing prejudice. Essentially, I can’t drink at the same water fountain as authors because because I’m credited as a dramaturg.

Of course Edward Einhorn and other directors could conceivably criticize the Dramatists Guild in a similar fashion for their prejudice against copyright and/or co-author status for their “blocking and choreography.”

Theatre is being less and less thought of as artists in collaboration, more and more thought of as investors in product development. The various artist associations, guilds, and unions are all building fences and establishing their percentages of “the product” evolving through its developmental process.   This “showcase” mentality, once something scorned by the serious artist, has now become the collaborative paradigm for all. Everyone with something to sell, a career or play to develop, schemes within schemes.  Theatre stillborn within its Pyrrhic victories in capitalism.

In spite of our victory over Einhorn’s director’s copyright scheme, the case was extremely expensive for us, costing over a hundred thousand dollars. And because of this, we cannot afford to do a full production of TAM LIN in 2006, and instead will be doing a reading. At least the brothers Einhorn, for all their wealth and privilege, sense of entitlement, and absolute lack of any sense of proportion, cannot kill this play. —N. G. McClernan

There are no heroes in any of these battles over “property rights.” Whether the amount is a couple hundred dollars or thousands upon thousands of dollars, none of the players in this “industry” should claim that they are in service of the art form of theatre. And they especially should not in their financial scuffles for “dramaturg” “director” “playwright” rights allow themselves to be compared to Václav Havel or Rosa Parks and the struggle for human rights they each championed.wallet

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Fatboy Slim Theatre

By Nick Fracaro at 11:33 am on Friday, October 27, 2006

It is mostly sentiment to say our art is gift. More honestly, we would recognize that our art is at least as complex as our lives are. We barter continually for our daily existence. Each of us are at least partial commodity in that way. The better part of our being (often termed art or love) sometimes struggles to be free of that condition.

Understanding that our art is as we ourselves are, both gift and commodity, we can easier begin to comprehend what the actual product is we are trying to barter. The service or commodity that doesn’t have enough customers to sustain business generally goes out of existence. So what makes theatre so special?

fatboy slim Although in name, the League of Resident Theatres, suggest they are providing homes for the theatre professional, most often the only actual artist resident with a living salary in these regional theatres is the artistic director. Usually New York and other non-local actors, directors, and designers are auditioned and hired for the short artistic residencies during productions. So this confederacy of artistic fiefdoms would be more aptly named League of Art Residencies Directors. The acronym LARD rather than LORT better suits this long failing business and theatre model.

The actor who desires a career needs to move away from any home or relationships to community he may have developed. He knows celebrity is valued more than citizenship or local identity by these “regional” theaters when they cast their productions. In just this one obvious but important way, Fatboy Slim Theatre has been instrumental in perverting the nobler ambitions of theatre as service to a community.

Professional non-profit theatre reminds of that kid schooled by daddy on how to run a lemonade stand. This kind of theatre is conditioned from concept to never really grow up. Neither capitalistic nor revolutionary, but with pretence for both, the “new” “groundbreaking” theatre from Fatboy Slim Theatre is nothing more than the product of an ongoing dialectic between the geezers and their untamed brats. Relevant only in how irrelevant it is to the world beyond its stages.

And yet…

The political philosopher Toni Negri, author with Michael Hardt of the visionary text Empire, has clarified the notion of social capital that is especially inherent in such activities as theatre, causing me to reexamine the above cynicism.

There has always been the biopolitical production of ideas, images, affects and relationships in society. (Women, mothers, the home has been the primary teachers of this.) These are immaterial rather than material goods. In our informational society these immaterial products have become more important than the concrete commodities and property. The biopower of this social capital is also able to spread quickly throughout the world and create a “common” within the “multitude” that touches on all aspects of life.

Nothing is produced if it is not produced through the common: there is no merchandise that is not a service, no service that is not a relation, no relation that is not a brain, no brain that is not common. Language is no longer just a form of expression, but the sole form of production of man and his environ­ment. Language is therefore the way of being of the common being. —Alma Venus

The instruments are in our anthropology, our brain is the instrument that constitutes wealth, a wealth that must be common. We each are like a word, alone a sign, where meaning is only given by the entire language. —Contro-Impero

So even if it is long overdue to rid ourselves of the Fatboy Slim Theatre model of business, theatre itself is just as special as it thinks it is. The purpose of lemonade stand was never “to make money” or establish little fiefdoms for artisic directors. The commerce taking place at this “neighborhood business” is something much more immaterial, something much more important.

lemonade stand
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Leap of Faith

By Nick Fracaro at 6:18 pm on Monday, October 23, 2006

I keep the Kierkegaard anthology bookmarked at Fear and Trembling where he explains the “man of faith.”

When Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia on the command from the Delphi Oracle, and for the good of the nation, he is acting on a high moral plane, but he’s not a man of faith. That’s because all of Greece listens to the same such words from on high. Agamemnon is not alone; he has the whole nation agreeing his sacrifice is righteous.

When Abraham lifts his knife on his son Isaac because God tells him to, the nation of Israel would never have believed Abraham’s god to be the same as theirs. Abraham is the man of faith because of this leap outside the accepted moral realm of the tribe.

Artaud said “to act is to murder” because he understood that theatre possessed the same authority and power over reality as these violent tribal fathers did. Theatre practiced as the metaphysical equivalent to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith becomes an extremely daunting undertaking.

The physicians’ motto, “First, do no harm” is an impossibility for the theatre metaphysician. Just as chemo and radiation therapy kill the good, the bad, and the ugly cells indiscriminately as they seek to arrest the cancer, theatre disrupts reality as both corrosive and cure.

The butoh masters explore our bodies elementally as flesh in the manner of alchemists, schooling us in the belief that our DNA is as subject to manipulation and transformation as our fate is.

You have to pull your stomach up high in order to turn your solar plexus into a terrorist. -–Hijikata

The quality we attempt to hone in our physical training aligns us with the Negative Capability that Keats found so abundent in Shakespeare, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.”

The Cult 12 wrighters seek to bring text into the same elemental relationship to performance as Shakespeare and his performers once practiced. The butoh-fu model of the wrighter suggests that words and images can be used to evoke gesture as well as more complex choreography for performers.

As wrighters we stand in awe of Arthur Stace who distilled theatre into a single word. The graffiti artist disappears within his signature to perform as Mr. Eternity.

mr eternity

Eternity Grafitto on Sydney Harbour Bridge at 0:00am 2000 A.D.

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Richard Foreman’s Negative Capability

By Nick Fracaro at 7:10 pm on Monday, October 16, 2006

What I remember most about the Soho loft where I interviewed Richard Foreman was its vast library. Racks upon racks of books dominate the living space. I cannot think of another contemporary playwright who better exemplifies what it means to live “a life of the mind,” so his living loft library seemed the perfect complement to Foreman’s work home at his theatre space in the East Village.

foreman headshot

In this 2003 interview he was despondent over the value of his theatre work in America.

I feel as alienated from America as I ever have. And I find it very difficult now… I feel very adrift. I feel that the arena, the context in which I do my work had dissolved, is meaningless. I really don’t know anymore for whom I’m doing this work. I used to sustain the illusion that I was participating in a dialogue with the whole tradition of Western culture — serious, modernist, Western hard avant garde culture. I deeply sense that that possibility does not exist. We live in a corporate world of the bottom line, and I think that deeply affects everybody’s psychology, everyone’s mentality. I do these plays and I don’t know why I’m doing them. But I’m very unhappy about being here and doing them in the context that I’m doing them. But I can’t figure out what else to do.

He also felt alienated from all the media and technology, feeling that it was not really speaking to the complexities of the human soul.

I think we’re producing a race of people who are paper-thin – almost pancake people – who cover a lot of territory. Like the Internet. And our psyches cover a lot of territory, but to me it’s sort of pancake-thin.

Now that Richard Foreman is expanding his own psyche into the Internet with his Wake up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! blog (thanks superfluities for the heads-up), don’t expect any paper-thin thought. His theatre in its heart of hearts is his dialogue with the whole tradition of Western Culture. Foreman is as much theatre theorist as playwright. He writes that his first blog entries are the pre-production notes for his current play but the entry reads easily as a manifesto. He pits his Ontological-Hysteric productions against status quo theatre:

Most theater depicts people navigating the currents of every-day life. I admit I find this suffocating and non-revelatory.

He is again talking about “most theatre” when he proposes that there are two kinds of theatre.

One kind ‘talks about’ things and suggests at least a possible ‘resolution’ to the issues raised.

The second kind EMBODIES in its style and structure the often agitated ebb and flow that consciousness experiences in its collisions with life– understanding that nothing is ever ‘resolved’, but rather that all things change into other things before there is any possible ‘resolution’.

So this second—which is my theater, of course—is about “nothing” that can be discussed, but deeply about the moment to moment experience of the flux of the real—i.e. impulse giving way to new impulse giving way to new impulse.

Compare these notes by Foreman with a letter by the poet John Keats in 1817 where he explains the quality Shakespeare possessed that defined him as a Man of Achievement in Literature.

I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Prior to my interview I assumed my own point of departure from Foreman on how the actor’s talent can best be utilized in productions, so I pushed a few questions in that direction. His responses were interesting.

I always hated actors basically, in the sense that most actors, understandably, want to be loved…. I don’t want that kind of desire for puppy love which I think is at the root of the actor’s craft. I also don’t want, like Grotowski, a release into a kind of organic body of orgasm that suggests a sensory, sensual way that the audience can identify with that kind of release.

When all is said and done, the text is the beginning and end authority for Foreman’s work “operating specifically in the tradition of Moliere.” Through his blog it will be interesting to follow the process of this text as it manifests into theatre by one of the masters of the art form.

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In Perpetuity

By Nick Fracaro at 2:29 pm on Friday, October 13, 2006

The Great Law of Peace was the constitution that united the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. This confederacy and its laws is said to have inspired Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine in the writing of the United States Constitution. One of the precepts of the Great Law of Peace was referred to as the Seventh Generation. This principle instructs chiefs to consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation to come.

Theatre is an art form that can speak directly to the zeitgeist but its ephemeral nature excludes any easy thought on how it inspires artists of future generations. However, as writers, playwrights have always had at least one foot within the realm of dramatic literature.

The first definition of legacy is money or property that is left to somebody in a will. So it is easy to conflate the market value of a work of art with its intrinsic value. But when we consider a writer’s legacy we are deliberating over the influence of his ideas on future writers and other artists not the net worth of his estate.

In Chris Durang and Marsha Norman’s recent letter to students and former students asking them to boycott submitting plays to the O’Neill Playwrights Conference a couple words were meant to stick out more than others. Of the 500 or so words of the letter only two were emphasized with all capital case letters: IN PERPETUITY.

This is a common phrase used often within the context of property law, as it is in the letter.

The O’Neill Board is determined to demand a percentage of the playwright’s subsidiary income IN PERPETUITY from any play accepted for presentation at the O’Neill.

crossroads

But sticking out like that, the phrase IN PERPETUITY looks so big and scary, more befitting pact with the Devil than contract with the O’Neill. The O’Neill does represent a crossroads for the young playwright who is accepted. More so a crossroads in career than craft, what he hopes to find at the O’Neill is how to connect his work to what passes as “the market” in professional not-for-profit American theatre.

If there is a real crossroads in the creative process of a writer it is not in this confrontation with career or market. The devil is more real and personal than that.

Jean Genet found that “writing is sole recourse for those who have betrayed.” He also knew that betrayal was the greatest expression of love. Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork Long Day’s Journey into Night epitomizes the writer at the crossroads of love and betrayal. A glimpse at the enormity of the psychic cost of writing this play can be gleaned in its dedication to his wife Carlotta.

Dearest: “I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play–write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.

O’Neill’s tortured relationship to the work is underscored in his actions after completing it in 1942. He had a sealed copy of the play placed in the vault of publisher Random House. His instructions were that Long Day’s Journey into Night not be published until 25 years after his death, and never performed. A formal contract to that effect was drawn up in 1945.

The early publication and eventual performance of the play violating ONeill’s wishes is ostensibly Carlotta’s story. But the real story goes beyond the initial betrayers: Carlotta, Random House, and Yale. Ultimately all are implicated, performers and audience alike, past, present and future…in perpetuity. This implication further endows Long Day’s Journey into Night as the master tale of love and betrayal it is.

But You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby to today’s theatre market, fifty years to be exact, where not only is the betrayal of the playwright’s intent for his play forgotten but actually celebrated.

The mission of the Eugene O’Neill Foundation is to “celebrate and promote the vision and legacy of Eugene O’Neill.” So if you knew nothing about the playwright or his play you might surmise by this opening paragraph of the foundation’s newsletter that they might be organizing a protest against some group that was planning to desecrate their namesake’s vision or legacy.

Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” a play he wrote in Danville and dictated should not be published until 25 years after his death and never performed, will be presented in the Old Barn at the playwright’s Tao House estate in October, 50 years after it first opened on Broadway against his wishes.

But that’s not the case. As you learn in the next paragraph, this golden anniversary production is being presented as part of the seventh annual Eugene O’Neill Festival and produced by the Eugene O’Neill Foundation itself. The foundation obviously has no problem with the incongruity of these lines because later in the newsletter the inappropriate boast of the play’s legacy is further expanded.

In his will, O’Neill specified that “Journey” should not be published until 25 years after his death and never produced on stage. However, his wife countermanded O’Neill two years after his death and pressured Bennett Cerf of Random House, the dramatist’s publisher, to publish the work. She then transferred the rights to Yale University, thus paving the way for performances. The first was in Sweden in 1956.

So irony of ironies. The playwright’s institutionalized “family” commemorates his vision and legacy even as they betray the same.

arthur staceO’Neill has been a strange mentor. He has haunted me since I stepped on stage in Long Day’s Journey in my early twenties. I have had no use for his other plays except A Moon for the Misbegotten where once again he went to the crossroads.

In these plays he reveals a primal root of theatre, the argument within the family. An argument between generations and siblings over vision and legacy that extends into the tribe and then the nation. But also an argument born within the blood and belonging primarily to the individual, the personal struggle with alcohol or prejudice or violence or any of the other poisons that have been hardwired into our DNA.

Whenever two pairs of eyes meet, a stage opens up. So that we can speak in the most elemental way to our collective vision and legacy we gather at this place in the flesh. And eyes cannot lie. Our curtsy at the curtain call is directed only partially to the present audience. The eyes we meet are just at the edge of our belief. The Seventh Generation gathers in witness to our ritual.

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Blame Game

By Nick Fracaro at 2:45 pm on Monday, October 9, 2006
scapegoat

Lucky for the students at Juilliard that Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman are teaching playwriting and not investigative journalism. This is second time in as many months they have been perpetrators in playwright boycotts and attacks against individuals innocent of the crimes of which they were accused. First Hedy Weiss and now the O’Neill Playwrights Conference.

Durang and Norman have co-chaired the Playwriting Program at Juilliard since 1994 and their recent letter to their former students begins with “Dear Julliard Mafia.” This salutation is only slightly tongue-in-cheek. Most young playwrights applying to graduate programs hope either Juilliard or the Yale School of Drama accepts them because they believe it will fast track their career. The Juilliard and Yale “mafias” do exist in the sense that friends and peers from these schools tend to continue to collaborate in theatre in New York after graduation but beyond this natural continuity, there is no blood oath or secret handshake to learn.

These witch-hunts are at their core really seeking scapegoats for the inability of playwrights to have a career in our culture. Few playwrights make their living from writing for theatre although many have found careers in their “day job” as teachers or writers for film and television. None of these teaching playwrights would be so dishonest as to suggest to their students that they might one day be able to make a living at writing plays but what exactly then is the “business advice” being advanced by these MFA playwriting programs? One can wonder whether Durang and Norman in these wrongheaded “letter campaigns,” are (un)intentionally telling their students that career success in theatre is ultimately a game of politics not talent or craft. And if this is true, what does it say about the state of American theatre today and tomorrow?

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Playwrights Can’t Scream

By Nick Fracaro at 12:55 pm on Friday, October 6, 2006
cartoon

Artaud insisted that the playwright or the text should not be the final authority in the collaborative process. As Derrida highlights in his essays on Artaud, the essence of his rant was against the actors’ presence being flunky to the prompter’s (text) presence.

The Prompter is the sneaky little whisperer in his dark dank box off stage. As if my ears were attached to some wimp of a performer, receiving his delivery as if he were taking orders, submitting like a beast to the pleasure of docility. Prompter, the force of a void, the cyclonic breath … who draws his breath in, and thereby robs me of that which he first allowed to approach me and which I believed I could say in my own name.

In less of a rant Artaud furthers his argument against the authority of text in No More Masterpieces.

recognize that what has been said is not still to be said; that an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives; that all words once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered, that a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another, and that the theatre is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice.

Theatre, like other art forms, sometimes produces artifacts. We call these textual artifacts scripts or plays or dramatic literature. The prejudice is usually to conflate these artifacts with theatre itself. But Artaud would be with Genet when he said, “plays should be performed one night and one night only, in a graveyard.”

So, given this mandate of No More Masterpieces, how does one approach the production of To Have Done with the Judgment of God, especially in this case, where we have not only Artaud’s text, but for all intents and purposes, the finished audio recording of the radio broadcast? First instruction: “a form, once it has been served, cannot be used again and asks only to replaced by another.” So although we wish to ultilze a pirate radio broadcast as an element of mise en scene, the main focus will be on the Butoh performers.

The originator of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, possessed the bootlegged tape of Artaud’s broadcast, employing it almost as a talisman to endow his work. He would eventually choreograph the dancer Min Tanaka in a performance using Artaud’s voice as soundscape. When he played the tape for Susan Sontag in 1986 she remarked, “That’s the voice I expected.” Sontag, like many critics and commentators on Artaud, knew of the rumored bootleg tape but had never actually heard it. The “Artaudian Scream” became a critical reference for primordial theatre without anyone imagining the audio recording of it existed.

Herbert Blau refers to the scream in his critical tome, The Audience:

closeup of munch's scream

Artaud speaks in a later manifesto of actors who have forgotten how to scream. Without the old totemism of beastly essences, the false theatre of mimesis has forgotten more than that. For the scream would seem to be an effraction of memory–the break, the tear, the rending–which is the definitive trace of theater’s birth in the primordial rupture of things.

Mimetic representation… in the theater as in our dreams, creates the part of the audience and subordinates sound to sight. It’s as if the scream has been cut off in full cry… (The Audience p.106-107)

Butoh has been described as the “silent scream.” So Hijikata seems to have found more in Artaud’s French vocalizations than others. He would invent a method of choreography known as Butoh-Fu, whereby he would speak words and phrases to his performers that sounded almost like poetry but in fact were used to evoke a specific dance form, movement, and its relation to the body. The other aspect of Butoh-Fu was Hijikata’s vast collection of reproductions of artwork which he used to inspire dance and communicate choreography to his performers.

We can correlate Butoh-Fu to the script of a play, especially as it is inherited and communicated through the memory of Hijikata’s desciple, Waguri. We too easily forget that the Shakespeare play does not really exist except in a similar vein, a document organized by and subject to the actor’s memory and (re)enactment. So here’s the horse in front of the cart, where it belongs.

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Belated Portrait for the Theatre of Cruelty

By Nick Fracaro at 10:58 am on Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Drawing on Artaud for inspiration is one thing but to actually produce a work of his is quite another. Producing To Have Done with the Judgment of God has proved a daunting exploration. Thieves Theatre has always had it “in the works” and then “on the back burner” and then in the forefront again.

The aspiration toward this non-production has inspired and informed our other productions for at least ten years now. Susan Sontag explains how many artists have read/practiced Artaud in a similar manner.

Artaud’s work becomes usable according to our needs, but the work vanishes behind our use of it. When we tire of using Artaud, we can return to his writings.

Sontag was a most effective editor and interpreter of Artaud’s vision. She was somewhat unusual as an intellectual in her determined exploration of the non-literary artforms of film, photography, and performance. Also a sometime playwright and director, her support and contributions to the world of performance never became as well known as her celebrated literary work, although famously in 1993 she directed local actors in a staging of Waiting for Godot at the Youth Theatre in Sarajevo as the city was under seige by Serb forces.

Annie Leibovitz’s new book “A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005” has put Sontag into the limelight again. Leibovitz said she felt departed companion Sontag was watching over her shoulder during the editing of the book. But maybe it was more like Artaud watching over both their shoulders. Surely the most controversial aspects of the book are the intimate pictures from their decade-long relationship, especially the painful images of Sontag when she was seriously ill with cancer.

Susan at Home
Susan at the House on Hedges Lane
1988
Annie Leibovitz

Sontag was reticent to talk about her personal relationship with Leibovitz, as well as earlier relationships with choreographer Lucinda Childs and playwright Maria Irene Fornes. And although she was herself a cancer patient at the time when she wrote her study Illness as Metaphor, few details of her personal illness were revealed. Yet what Sontag seemed to admire most in Artaud was how fearlessly he charted the pain of his “intimate” self. If Annie Liebovitz is right that Sontag is the true editor of the photographs in her new book, then these intimate portraits of her steps toward death can almost be seen as Susan Sontag’s personal tribute to Artaud, an only slightly belated full imitation of the artist she so admired.

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