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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sentences 45-49

The series continues:
45) Dialogue is useful but action is eternal.

46) Theatre is one of the few things in my life that is sacred and ceremonious.

47) It is theatre that stops me from having a 9-to-5 job.

48) Transgression and betrayal of the senses and the accepted reactions of society.

49) Theatre is pornography with your clothes on.

Click here for the series introduction and for a complete list of sentences so far.


mike said...

really? it's theatre that keeps me having a 9am - 11pm job.

Simon said...

Really? Pornography? Wow, what an assertion. I don't think I could agree with anything less. Porn by its very nature is a badly acted, exploitative short-cut to arousal that has probably irreparably damaged the way that we are all able to connect to one another on an intimate level. (Imagine what your sex life would be like if you had never had access to porn.) Theatre (hopefully) facilitates an intellectual intercourse through the offering and acceptance of honest and open emotional states stimulated by mutually held moral beliefs and/or fears and dreams deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. But please, by all means correct me if I'm wrong here...

Ian said...


If the sentence had said "theatre is pornography," I might have more quickly agreed with your above statements.

But the sentence says "theatre is pornography with your clothes on" – which seems to complicate matters considerably.

I must admit to finding it rather difficult to conjure the image of a fully clothed pornography . . . what would be explicit about it without its nudity?

And, on a different tangent, what of the performative and artistic aspects and merits of pornography? Can we discount them wholesale against the "purer" art of theatre? Has "theatre" nothing to learn from pornography? Is pornography a form entirely removed from theatre? What of live sex shows? Or plays with explicit sex and nudity?

I don't know the answer to these questions – but your comment, and this sentence have got me thinking . . .

It's rumoured that Stanley Kubrick always wanted to make a hard-core porn film. That would have been something to see.

Simon said...

Kubrick porn, that would have been something to see. I wonder why he wanted to do that? Interesting.

It was actually the "...with your clothes on" part that inspired my comment, I'm sure the author doesn't consider theatre to inherently be pornographic. The qualifier successfully attaches the overarching essence of porn to theatre, which is the source of my disagreement. I guess there is an argument for the positive, titillating aspects of porn, which perhaps was the author's intent, but I think that there is a distinction between erotica and porn. I have no problem with sexuality, graphic or subtle, as long as it is on display in the service of a story, and therein lies the distinction: porn to me is titillation for its own sake. This concept would overlay onto theatre as art for art's sake, which is, in my opinion, masturbation disguised as connectivity, and therefore pointless as an argument for the proliferation of theatre. Without a story a play may evoke discussion, certainly, but that gives the playwright a pass on having an opinion.

What I love about this assertion is how it forces the reader to articulate their actual opinion on their personal definition of pornography. Mine apparently extends beyond naked bodies having sex into the intent of the work. John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus" is full of real live sex and I have no problem forming an argument that that film is not pornographic.

Ian said...

In trying to write my response to your above comment, it strikes me how exceeding complicated this topic is . . . I'll give it a shot anyway:

First off, well said. And Shortbus is an excellent example of images of explicit sex being used in the service of a great story.

I guess I'm just worried about making sharp distinctions between pornography and other forms of narration.

Of all the narrative forms currently in popular usage, surely none has such shame attached to it as pornography. So while its production and consumption is widespread, the shame associated with it, both for the performer and spectator, severely limits its ability to influence and (presumably) be influenced by other narrative forms. So we end up with a narrative form that's become severely in-bred. It knows only how to tell its story of mindless titillation in the same way, again and again.

And it seems odd to me that an entire method of representation (explicit sex) is relegated almost entirely to this thin band of production. Imagine the stories we could tell if there weren't such severe taboos attached to dipictions of explict sex. And how liberated porn artists might be if they were taken to be serious artists.

Bruce LaBruce has explored a lot of these questions in his film work. But how fringe is Bruce LaBruce?

Here are another couple of questions for you. Why so much emphasis on story? And how do we know a good story from a bad story?

OK. I'm on the verge of rambling now.


mike said...

no way simon, when i watch porn, it's just for the story.

Simon said...

"Why so much emphasis on story?"

The profundity of that question is quite staggering to me. Why indeed? And what defines "story"; beginning, middle, and end, in any particular order? If you leave it open-ended, does it cease to be defined as a story? Perhaps to be a story a work must contain a journey of some kind? A shift in consciousness? An affected change? I honestly don't know right now, but talk about food for thought. It ties in somehow to a conversation I've been recently having about theatre v. performance art, and where the distinctions lie.

Shortbus is a great example of this. After watching that film I now think that movies that are about sex where they cheat it with cheap camera tricks are pretty dishonest. And it scares me to death to think of how this might apply to theatre.

Ian said...

Oh god, we have officially entered the wormhole: narrative, plot, myth, apparatus, genre, actant, diegesis, fabula, langue, parole, sjuzet, focalization, mimesis (don't worry, this isn't from memory), signs, semiotics, syntagm . . . story?

I should have listened to my mother and taken up dance.

mike said...

i think it's less scary if you get comfortable with the fact that there are no hard and fast rules about nudity on stage....In Take Me Out, all i remember about that show is the gratuitousness of the naked shower scene. It's literally all i remember 2 years later. I remember nothing else. I think David Storch gave a good performance, if he was in fact in it.

In Adam Rapp's Nocturne (which I saw at The American Repertory Theatre, but has been produced all over) there is a character called Naked Girl, I don't believe she has any lines. She is, however, integral to the story serving as a conduit to understanding the central protagonist's history and loves. Both shows essentially use the same device, one serves the plot, one takes away. As a director, you have to just see it on stage and figure out if it is helping or hurting...

But yes, hurting or helping the story, because this is theatre and not performance art. Why the emphasis on story? Because stories are what we (human beings) use to understand and contextualize our experience as living sentient beings. Don't believe me? Try telling a story to your cat...Your cat on the other hand would quite enjoy much performance art.

This is awesome. I hope I start an internet riot with comments like that.....

mike said...

okay, i take it back, the character in Nocturne is called "The Red-Headed Girl with the Grey-Green Eyes". either way it's the smae device, and its a wicked play.

Simon said...

Hmmm...the feline theory of theatrical relevancy is quite brilliant Mike, great thesis. May I ask you both what your opinion of the place of performance art is? My wife just finished a job photographing LIVE, a Van PA festival and holy hell, it was something to see. I'm kind of simultaneously fascinated and reactive to it as a storyteller. I believe that they think they're telling a story, and a lot of it borders on porn, but it's all in the name of an art that I don't quite understand. I get how I'm supposed to approach it, the thing is, it flies in the face of what I consider to be effective messaging, if you will.

mike said...

the place of performance art.....i could make something up, but i really don't know, mainly cause i identify with your confusion. as a playwright, director, etc. your job is to keep pushing through the muck and find a narrative. much (certainly not all) perfromance art doesn't seem to my uninitiated perspective to feel that responsibility, so as theatremakers you're kinda left unsure of what to do with it as it breaks a cardinal rule of your own craft. but this is a different craft so, everything's different, so who knows....probably performance artists...any reading along?

Ian said...

Most contemporary performance art has its roots in early 20th century Dada and in the early post-modern Conceptual, Feminist and Queer art of the 1970s. Much of this work and its practitioners sought to wrestle the art-making apparatus from the hands of the “dominant white male”. These early practitioners argued that under its traditional apparatus, the art object is given value first through its relationship to male-dominated commerce, and second by its ability to create ownership of the art subject through pictorial representation – often the objectification of the female form.

In order to circumvent these traditional art-making tools (painting, sculpture, drawing, lithography, etc.), these artists sough to created a “new” art-making toolset. The new toolset created work that – for the most part – could not be sold, was body-based, and overtly concerned with representations of the “self.”

In rejecting the commerce systems of traditional art, these artists also developed a new relationship with their audience: and created a performer-spectator relationship that is not predetermined by a commercial exchange preceding the “show.” (The idea that, “I pay for my ticket, then the artists perform for me,” is inextricably tied to notions of ownership and, of course, commerce.)

So by its very design, performance art works outside of the boundaries of mainstream representation. That’s why people often end of walking away from a performance art piece saying, “huh?” It’s not that the performance art is trying to confuse us, it’s that its starting point rejects the very modes of representation we are most used to dealing with.

Themes of the self, representations of women, body-based work, “real-time” endurance, humour, raw civic engagement . . . All appear with some regularity in the performance art I’ve seen.

Anyway, that’s my armchair understanding of performance art.

What do you think?

Simon said...

Well Ian, now I think that you're like some kind of art Yoda. That pretty much takes care of all my questions about the origins of PA, with all the efficient brevity one would expect from an internet wizard. Thanks so much for that. That actually makes so much sense that it was borne out of a reactivity to a status quo, small wonder that I'm so reactive to it. I remain entrenched with Mike on this one, it obviously speaks to someone, but in the absence of a narrative I find that PA pieces are either bluntly obvious (no engagement necessary) or confounding in their obscurity (circular arguing). This is not, I should note, a criticism of the art form itself - which certainly has a legitimacy in its own right - but rather a comparative examination to theatre. It's the gray area between the two that's got me fascinated, works like 4.48 Psychosis that I love but that effectively blur the line (which isn't so blurry now, thanks, Ian).