Last Sunday was a perfect day in Brooklyn. The temperature was unnoticeable. It was the right day to lie in the park. Because of my new job at an artistic startup, producing a new performing arts festival (the BEAT Festival -- the first all-borough theater festival), I decided I needed to see Step-Up Revolution 3D at 1:30 p.m. and drag my partner with me so I could study "dance" in 3D.
I noticed immediately that 3D was the exact wrong choice. It digitized the dancers until they were nothing more than video game characters, stripping them of their extreme skill. No realness, as they say. It seemed to me that none of them had actually been in a formal dance class because none of them were actually alive. The movie was smear of a cartoon with a plot that will continue to haunt me. (Spoiler Alert: the "revolutionary dancers" save an "impoverished/ethnic" neighborhood from gentrification, only to sign a commercial deal with Nike.) My partner and I walked out of the theater without the desire to dance.
I believe we can't learn certain things from digital representations. The developing brain must be present in real life in real time. As Patsy Rodenberg suggested in "Why I do Theater," ironically a web-talk, theater is the practice of being present -- both for the performer and audience member -- and it's more important than ever because of the number of digital hours we are clocking. To take it one step further, so little presence might devolve the species.
My stage manager always tells me to stop panicking. We aren't saving lives. It is soothing in my harder moments as a director -- which are all of my moments as a director -- but I'm coming to believe that theater -- specifically the access to it -- could save our minds. Theater is the place where we miniaturize our experiences and examine them with pomp and circumstance, but it's also the place where we dream of what could be true. If we are culturally and environmentally at the edge of a cliff, anything that would allow us to dream up new ideas while allowing us to look at ourselves has got to become a crucial experience. As Richard Dare illuminated for us in these digital pages with "The Scandalous Failure of Art and Music" all art experiences are down. And yet, our numbers are way up. I would suggest, as he did, this inverse relationship is dangerous if we want to keep the larger show going.
I only saw one play in my twenties. Mind you, it was "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." I didn't grow up with the idea of going to the theater. And when I started going in my thirties, I felt like, so where's the door to this place? After breaking through, I've since seen hundreds of performances. And because of it I know how to live better and die better. My primate brain required the experience writ live.
I ran into my favorite dancers on the 4 train last week. They are really tiny. Again, I cannot do what this six-year-old can do. My guess is they were like, who is this crazy white lady talking to us about dance? I don't want to assume because of race that they don't have access to the theater, but I don't want to assume that I don't need to worry about it. Everyone should get to see everything. I don't want to lose sight of the fact that it is my responsibility to create greater access as a theater producer -- for performers and audiences. This might be my own true role.
My partner saw the Public's Mobile Unit production of Richard III at her place of work -- a place for the formerly incarcerated. She noted it was revolutionary to see theater like that, with a cast like that, in a place like that, free like that. But the idea should not be revolutionary; it should be the duh-starting place of theater. The public knows this, thankfully.
Last Saturday, I went to a mini ball on pier 46. (Our experiences and performance experiences are divided -- which comes first?. So if you don't know what a mini ball is, Search.)
What is true of me going to a mini ball is that it is both necessary and invasive. So from the side, I witnessed the category of "Realness for Trayvon Martin." Several hoodied black and brown men walked the runway, competing for the trophy -- the braid of race and loss explained and then held in the present. Everyone on the pier felt it, but I wish the whole city could have seen it.
The BEAT Festival would like to support a Brooklyn ball. Call me if you are a Brooklyn House mother. I have a great space for you.