Some notes in the wake of the USF Meet. The agenda’s been sent around and there’s a bunch of video; I’ll forgo the blow-by-blow and hold to impressions.
Hospitality: Jack Bentz, Peter Novak and Roberto Varea demonstrated enormous commitment and contagious passion for core ideas. They’re rats to the bone, and their generosity renews faith in the viability of the rat idea (being – we’re a network built of sheer will).
Reunions: For example, with Dijana Milosevic (Dah) and Pauline Ross (Playhouse, Derry). The space we share is human, alive; we need each other badly enough to make gathering a priority. We can find excuses to morph personal itineraries and shrink distances.
Rat revealed: Another basic concept – our network exists already, we’re just finding ways to bring it to light. E.g. – Christine Evans (Providence, Australia), and Amy Owens (Iowa), who share links with several rats, to the extent their presence reads backwards into the archives and I’m somehow remembering them being at the meets all along.
One Room: An interpretation of the meet’s mission – To change the space, don’t redecorate – tear down the walls. We look for ways to bring politics into theater’s room – when they’re actually sleeping together already. Claudia Bernardi’s work (putting the reburial of massacre victims in perfect continuum with mural painting, and mural painting in line with theater/public participation), and Richard Kamler’s projects (lion’s roaring outside San Quentin) demonstrate the elegance of the art/politics union…
Text and Movement: Yuyachkani are inspiring in so many ways – their personal graciousness, the depth and seeming ease of their commitment to art and justice, and their fellowship with Barba (sharing Dah’s basis and guiding us again to a visceral precision)… In addition to all this, their particular technique expands consideration of ways to fuse movement/inner-narrative work with explicit, narrative text. They also model uses of text in international settings...
Form: Along the same lines – striking presentations by Zell Miller (spoken word) and Soapstone (monologues by ex-inmates w/survivors of violence) grounded very productive conversations on theatrical alternatives to conventional scripts and playing styles.
U.S. Breadth: So many new faces, well met. One example – Diane Way (Ableza) – who gets the ideas, challenges and expands them, and opens out new possibilities for meetings/collaborations along exciting lines.
The World: Gratitude for meeting Charles Mulekwa and Segun Ojewuyi, for who they are, for the work they do, and for expanding the international day-dream potential of rat into Africa. Someday, a meeting there. (We sounded the note of internationalism repeatedly this time around.)
Artifact: The Little Rat Handbook will help us confront our own thinking, and to share clarified thought more broadly. Nick Fracaro and Gaby Schafer (Thieves Theater, Brooklyn) are and have long been excellent shepherds of debate. Thieves’ questions across sessions on the importance and nature of our training (the use of rat as a guide to/prompt for training) was tremendously valuable.
Next: There seems to be strong and credible support for an August meet in Argentina. I am certain this will occur. Watch this space for more news. In the meantime, we all own rat, and I’m looking forward to following other plans as they emerge.
Alternative strengths (ways we could have been different):
More gateway: Clarify at the outset what rat is and who it’s for; e.g. – help students understand they’re enfranchised to enter the fray; include student work in presentations when we’re hosted by a university.
More conversation: We were heavily programmed; can also make for more open space, smaller groups, opportunities to represent a range of work.
More cooking: The kitchen did a great job; a number of people have talked about a love for and the importance of cooking together. Smaller group/different division of labor to allow greater access to the kitchen.
More: This need has been building for some time, and perhaps we can address it in Argentina… There’s a lot we want to accomplish and 3.5 days isn’t enough. Ten days sounds right… We could take workshops form each other, hang out longer, etc.
Below – a draft of opening comments.
Very much looking forward to seeing you all again. We got a lot done; we do a lot because there’s a lot to do. Always refreshed and ready to get back behind the plow after our time together.
This space is available to us and we take it because we need it and there is enough.
Food’s in front of us because among us, there is enough.
Everyone is sheltered tonight because we hold every head dear and accept as a rule that there is enough room for the stranger.
Rat is premised on the belief that there exists a theater between all theaters, sometimes unaware of itself but always moving, reforming, ethically vital and artistically persistent. In our support for one another, our discovery of each other, our schooling of each other and utterly helpless dependence on each other, there is miraculous sufficiency. We exchange needs as gifts, and somehow baskets of excess remain at the end of our impromptu feasts. We live, our work comes out of our lives, linked work comes from our linked lives, and cultural conversation mitigates the enormous difficulties of keeping flesh to bone.
This is also untrue. Solidarity and mutual mindfulness don’t pay the gas. The subsidy for the conference is de-centralized but concrete; people come together through the exercise of savage ingenuity and personal sacrifice. Rat promotes a bias, not a solution; a bias towards faith, faith in experiment, in coronal unity (to use Daniel Alexander Jones’ phrase), where the margin, energized to a coherent circumference, casts an amazing glow.
When wild want appeals to images of stability (institutional and financial) – when too many are after the too constrained – relationship is divorced from the suspenseful mysteries of trust. Myths of rest are bound up with shame over our restlessness and hurts. Where equation is vertical, and resources concentrate to an infinitely regressive point of singularity over an ever-expanding base of need, there is never enough, never enough wealth, never enough poverty. Every aspect of our inquiry and learning teaches us that stability is a false position. Privileged sources mourn their immobility and detachment, those who petition are driven to divide who they are from what they do; we gaze up or down and forget ourselves. Rat, in its perpetually collapsing but diehard way, tries to encourage theater workers to turn to one another first, because among us, there is enough. Be realists… but only realistically so. Realism has been discredited as an esthetic form – why should we give it credence in administration? Administrate on the basis of impossible oscillations. In physics, in math, in philosophy and in art – the deepest truths are structured as metaphors. To make metaphor, be with, and resist the advertisement’s axiom that we are essentially without. The experience of theater reflects theater’s aim, when we live out what we ask of audiences and go forward by leaps desperate beyond hope. Live in hopelessness, live in faith, faith in the power of our community, our one big union, the Big Cheap Theater.
To this end, rat promotes:
About this meeting:
One source of a sense of numbness in the contemporary theater – the gum-in-the-eyes sense of having sight robbed versus sharpened by business-as-usual presentations – is the physical space. The proscenium, even the thrust and some experimental spaces, are over-determined. Technically overpowered, and contractually over legislated down to the audience’s rental contract, our buildings can be difficult places to cause surprise. Theater is done at the audience. Even when we, as audience, can’t quite figure out every projected significance, we sense someone has, and that our work is extra. The finger of nature will never find the experience, and the esthetic is defended against chaos, the wellspring of creativity.
We’re not just talking about literal space, we include the protected political spaces to which our art retracts; the strangely sane economic spaces where even non-profits function as conventional businesses.
This is the third in a series of themed gatherings. We met in Iowa broaching questions on the place of art in times of war. We came out with a resolve to beware complicity – seeing how easily art is co-opted; we renewed insistence on the reality of the personal, and woke to art’s usefulness in increasing awareness of the world – so that enduring states of atrocity will not be able to establish in the shadows. We met in Novi Sad to look at art’s role in the advancement of peace, and came to understand that peace does not necessarily equal joy, that cooperation involves rigor and persistent work. In the light of the concept of globalization we came to see that universal goals must not be pursued at the expense of particular languages – we are after a multi-lingual peace and are obliged to become familiar with a range of languages. And we committed again to standards of artistic excellence… How perverse, when compromise our art for the sake of service – this indicates that we are bringing the wrong thing to the urgent crisis….
Art and war, art and peace… Now we meet each other across distance, in the flesh, across disciplines, to consider our work’s ongoing public role. We take as point of entry: architecture – material, social, celestial; our responsibility to discover spaces that are awake, insistently human, and up to the difficulties of compassion. The agenda is overstuffed and will grow even more loaded as we add to it. No one of us will be able to do everything; take breaks, and seek each other out. How far will we get? Among us there is enough – we will get far enough to encounter refreshed responsibilities, the mustardseed of faith… Coming to this room against all odds, we enact the meeting’s mission; our communication after the meet is over fulfills it.