February 13th, 2017
On the (in)humanity of performance
My sleep schedule has not quite recovered from the past week. It’s hard to believe that just seven days ago, the Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor crews were going into their tech week: rehearsals to polish what needed polishing, mine out what still needed refining, and add the lights, sound, set, costume, and tricks (fake blood! A fake tooth!) that made Sans Everything the smashing success it was. (Seriously. Smashing success. Read the reviews here.)
In order to mount such a great show, tech rehearsals become a crucial space to make decisions. It’s when a number of elements that have been waiting on each other suddenly begin their conversation, only to discover that that show opens in four days. “If we had had more time” becomes a mantra. Except in our case, we only really had one day of tech, despite going into ten hour rehearsals well before the show’s opening.
The reason I mention this is not to bemoan how hard our jobs are – we know they’re hard, that’s why not everyone can do them. I mention it because on hour 9 of a 12 hour day, the fourth 12 hour day in a row, when your stomach is in a constant state of unease (you’ve been subsisting almost entirely on sugar to get you through these late nights), when your limbs are aching because you’ve rehearsed the Wrestling Scene three times (and each Wrestling Scene contains As You Like It’s wrestling scene three times), when your inbox is filling with emails of calls to action that you simply cannot answer right now, when you haven’t seen the people that you live with since Monday, when your bed is a distant memory, you actually start to wonder why it is you do this.
One thing that we see in Sans Everything is that the discovery of performance, and therefore, the relationship between humanity and artmaking, is as natural and as obvious as human thought. And so it must then mean that artmaking is human, or humane. Or just a necessary part of the expression of humanity.
I don’t mean to be glib when I say is it though? And I don’t mean to be annoying when I mention how exhausted we all are. Every job has its sleep deprivation, its stress. Every job has its moments of why do I do this. But beyond the triggers of the final week of rehearsal, I think what has me pondering artmaking as humane the most is not quite preparation, but performance. Because I know that the other thing we see in Sans Everything is the discovery that performance is not always kind, or contemplative, or restorative.
Saw is forced to be a part of the set. Breathing is made into an actor against his will. Simon – poor, tortured Simon – struggles and fails to fight the artifice of performance. And even the actors within the play are being knocked around, worn out, physically abused by their need to continue performing, performing, performing. And just as soon as they start, they stop. Foon pulls them offstage, shows them that it’s all just a play. Likewise, just as soon as we started performing at FringeArts on February 9th, we stopped performing at FringeArts on February 11th. Our set, the strange, clean, humming world of discovery that we had created with such reverence and love is torn down. It’s being dumped away to make room for the load-in and creation of the set for A Ride on the Irish Cream (everyone go see that one too). Something we spent so hard working on is not only finished, but it is, in many ways, gone.
Is it humane? Are we really doing the human thing, in pretending, and then discarding? Are we at our most human when we are being watched? Or when we are doing the watching? To whom is performance most humane – the performers, or the audience?
I don’t know. And, at the end of the day, I don’t care. Because it is true that I always get a little physically ill after a show closes, my body finally releasing several week’s worth of stress, adrenaline, and exhaustion. It is true that I am also always a little lost after the closing of a show, because something that I have spent so much time thinking about is over and no one is asking me to think about it anymore. But it is also true that despite not needing to, I sat and watched almost every performance of Sans Everything, because I was desperate to feel the audience feeling the show. I longed to laugh when Henry showed Breathing peekaboo for the first time. When I’m performing, I black out and forget almost everything except for moments when I am fully present in the humanity of my relationships – to my fellow performers, to my audience, to my art. I think in many ways performance can be an abusive ritual that is fueled by obsession, self-deprecation, sleeplessness, and exaltant fervor. But I also think that it is an expression of a longing or yearning that, though will never be filled by any one performance or art, is deeply human.
Thanks for coming into space with us. I think this is a good place to stop.