THE RAT CONFERENCE
"History is he who writes it," he said. "History is she who edits it," she said.
Much has been written about R.A.T. since playwright Erik Ehn first proposed an Art Workers Hostelry in the pages of Theater in 1993. Still more has been performed, partaken in and perpetrated in the name of rat since the first gathering in Iowa City in December '94. There has been roughly one "official" conference per year (and many more unceremonious gatherings) all over the country, where we have alternately rejoiced at the grace of having found each other, despaired at inevitable disappointments, found and fled rat, attempted to define it and spit on formalizing it. In the end, a consensus on just what rat is or should be has remained elusive. But rarely has so much passion gone into ensuring the integrity of something that doesn't want to be captured or defined, something that would rather not exist at all than be owned.
The attempt of RatBase is to represent the idea of Rat as it has been wrought -- something simultaneously owned by no one, and belonging to all; something with many authors, but no authorities. In its editing and presentation, RatBase has presumed a consensus among RATs: that proactive thought of participants in Rat should take precedence over reactive observation from outside Rat; that provocative independent ideas should outweigh the name value of authors and/or publications.
In the initial entry over 600 quotes from articles, journal entries and Rat-list postings have been catalogued in relationship to one another using an "idea thesaurus" of over a hundred terms, representing the RAT concepts that continually assert themselves in various forms from various authors. The first interface is ideas talking to other ideas, although at any point thereafter one can go to the actual source, author and context of the quote.
One unique aspect of RAT has been its hand-in-glove development with the Internet and the Web. At the very first meeting in Iowa, we exchanged not only addresses and phone numbers, but also e-mail addresses. A nation-wide correspondence began almost immediately. When the Web came into prominence, we published our correspondence World Wide. With this publication came a partial realization that the often unhealthy dependency on the outside eye for definition was no longer really necessary. Critics are encouraged to join Rat in helping to develop and define the theater we are producing. We are our own entity. We proceed from the premise that, as consorting independents, we already have all the resources we need.