The Future Is Unwritten

A lot of smart people will tell you that the 20th century, as we understand it, didn’t actually start until 1913. You had the first Woman’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., Henry Ford’s moving assembly line (making a car every 2 minutes and 38 seconds), the Rockefeller Foundation launched with a gift of $100,000,000 from old Johnny D. Himself (which would be roughly 43 bazillion dollars in today’s terms) and, of course, all the preparations for the Great War: the opening salvo of the constant carnage that gave the last century its giddy, horrific backbeat.

And it was in 1913 that Modernism gave its birth yawp with the opening of the Armory Show in New York, the publication of the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring premiering to a whistling, hooting and howling crowd of angry Parisians.

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The Rite of Spring by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre

As we cautiously stalk into this raucous, caustic, terror-stricken new century, I have a modest proposal for the artists among us:

It’s 2013. Let’s get started.

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Let’s leap. Let’s run like blind lunatics, like lemmings in love with the cliff.

In 1913, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase was incomprehensible and somehow deeply upsetting to the established art world. In 1913, the Futurists were tearing up Italy and Du Bois and his crew were up in Harlem Renaissancing all night long. Actors Equity Association was organized. The Palace, the Longacre and the Shubert opened their doors, Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract at 150 bucks a week and Eugene O’Neill staggered out of a tuberculosis ward with a good idea for a play.

So what are we doing?

Why can’t plays be 90 hours long? Or 90 seconds? How about a three act play with a year between the acts. An actual year. The play is performed on October 7th, 2014, 2015 and 2016. (All tickets sold in advance, naturally.) More plays with monkeys and iguanas and dogs onstage. More plays where the audience has to supply the ending. Or the beginning. Many, many more mash-ups. Long dance breaks in the middle of expository dialogue. Much more yodeling. Board operators with the authority to improvise and end the show when they get bored. Actual surgical procedures and, of course, live sex acts-tasteful or not, doesn’t matter. Simultaneous performance. Put the latest Amy Herzog play and the latest Anne Washburn on the same stage, start at the same time and let them fight it out. More art crimes. The audience and the cast have to break and enter to get into the performance space. Encourage the audience to throw fruit if they’re not enjoying themselves, and since they won’t, throw fruit at them if you’re not enjoying them. That should get something started. Start a show and then gradually, imperceptibly, increase the pace. Keep going. Once it’s obvious, let the players speak and move as fast as they can and then just stop it dead. Stock-still, silent for four minutes. Then pick it up, normal pace and repeat. Next time just stand there, not moving, for six minutes. And repeat. Have a different actor for each line of dialogue a character speaks. Cast of thousands.

Surprise party theater: a fully rehearsed and designed show created for one person, you get them to the theater on false pretenses, the cast files in, pretends to be the audience, lights down, spotlight on the guest of honor and everyone shouts “Surprise!” and the play begins. Baby theater: theater made exclusively by and for babies and their primary care givers. Autistic theater, created by and for the autistic. Addict theater (man, how scary that could be) created by and for addicts, recovering and otherwise.

PICO-Nude-Descending-003More slander and defamation. More destroying beautiful objects, burning money, sharing of actual secrets and propagating scandalous lies. Even more monkeys and dogs. Fewer blackouts. Willful confusion. Intentional artistic failure. Meticulously executed nonsense. Naïve joy and naked rage. Double the number of monkeys and dogs, add iguanas. Airplane theater. Speeding train theater. Pocono weekend theater, Holland Tunnel traffic theater, subway theater, Pentagon parking lot theater, kindergarten recess theater, graveyard theater, rooftop theater, beach theater, Broadway intermission theater, highway rest area theater, zoo theater, elevator theater, conference room theater, theater lobby theater.

One of those. All of the above.

But something, all right?

Just hold onto one thing, this old-timer asks:

Stay in real time and the same place.

Gather.

That’s the whole thing for me.

I love the virtual and the cyber and all of the other new whatnot, but it takes a step away from the theater when I’m not in the same place at the same time with others.

Other than that, let’s get crazy.

It’s a long century stretching ahead, pages of unwritten history lying there blank. Let’s get busy.

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  • Stephanie Carroll Stevens

    Some cool ideas. Now which will you actually be going and doing? ;-)

  • Heh.
    Been burning money for years, just did it again about a month ago. Had some good early conversations about baby theater, hope to launch it in New York next fall. Different actor for each line of dialogue is an easy one, working through a script with it now, only I’m limiting it to 12 actors. Two person play with 6 actors playing each character. It’s tricky, because you want it to make sense and not just be a gimmick. My play Captain Overlord’s Folly is a version of intentional artistic failure. It’s a really fun, interesting old-fashioned play about something important that gets hijacked and never finished. That’s me so far. How about you?

  • hiddentranscript

    This is the most wishywashy woo woo meaningless crap ever, just a slightly spicier flavor of the same “you know, it occurred to me.. theater doesn’t have to be at 7pm… it can even be… on the street” bullshit that the most vacuous, careerist so-called “artists” spew to disguise their lack of vision. YES ANYTHING WITH A PERFORMANCE AND AN AUDIENCE IS THEATER WE ALL KNOW THIS. We’ve prattled over it at a thousand perfunctory company meetings, stonedly marveled over it at a thousand cast parties, discussed it while waiting at the box office for our $85 Sleep No More tickets. “But Muhammad,” you might ask, “if what you say is true, and these gimmicks not only require no creativity to devise but also amount to ultimately nothing without a strong concept, why is theater so stagnant?”
    The ‘leap’ I, and I believe most members of the movements you name-drop, would propose is not an intellectual or artistic one. We need to have an actual conversation, maybe about the people and policies inimical to yet entrenched within the american theater.

  • So…
    Let’s have that conversation.