|8. Art of Risking
I was not satisfied with these nonfilms because they were brief relationships that did not go anywhere. What I wanted to do was create intimacy -- that is, a situation in which anything is permissible, where people feel that secure. I didn't want to connect this intimacy with romance or sex because that would set limits. But that "anything is permissible" did mean a wide open erotic freedom.
So I started looking for some other way to work with people. I tried to cast a play, but I couldn't find enough people. I started thinking of an intimate theatre where the line between audience and actors would be erased. I started thinking about how if that line were erased, it would place much more responsibility on the actors. They would have to dare to trick the audience into the intense magical state.
I divided my work -- the word "work" is weird -- it is like playing -- into two parts. The first part is played in "real life" -- for instance, I go up to a person on a street and ask him to be in some project which may contain some nudity and physical play. The nudity and physical play as an idea in this context is a great tool to get under the polite chatter surface to the more meaningful stuff -- which is, after all, the aim of the piece. I can see this kind of piece lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several hours.
The second part is a piece in a controlled space, such as my studio, in which there is a form going on, giving the person a reason to be there with me.
This kind of performance is different than normal theatre. In this kind, there is no real script. Even if you have a script, it really is a prop. The real course of action is shaped by the performer so the flow of the piece will go forward and deeper.
What is important is what happens between me as the artist and my audience, how I change them and how they change me, the magical state in which we interact with each other. I, as the performer, must create around the people, by playing for and to them, by letting the performance take me over and guide me -- even when it looks like the other people are doing all of the action. The ultimate goal in my performance is to create a reality, not an illusion, of the performance which I and the audience are in -- even if I have to use illusions to get to this reality.
This raises the question of manipulation. Almost anytime you perform to an audience, you manipulate the audience. Let's get beyond the negative connotation of the word "manipulate". People go to the theatre, movies, concerts, dance companies, etc., to have their emotions manipulated. They come into the performance area with a willingness to be manipulated by the artists within certain limits. But in my performances, the ones which are not divided from the rest of life by a theatre or a stage, there is no way to tell the person he is entering a performance. When I have a formal structure, a theatre space, and a set time ending -- what is really going on is not what is said to be happening. Also it is a reality that is hopefully being created -- people will be affected, infected and effected by this reality.
Once the self-trust is in place, the next issue is vulnerability. As the performer I have to be vulnerable -- even in pieces where it appears I am totally in control and have complete power. Without this self-trust and vulnerability, what I am trying to do would fall flat.
That is the difference between theatre and performance art. In regular theatre, you can climb up onto the altar of the stage (even when the stage is a rug or other defined area), and you don't have to interact with your audience, you are cut off from them. You don't relate to them directly -- which is the main goal of my performances. In theatre, what also blocks the magic that I am after is the system of rules of aesthetics.
This also was what happened in religion. When the priests climbed up to the altar, not only did they divide themselves from the people, but also from the vital magic.
The theatre paints pictures of "realities", both inner and outer realities. The audience just watches from the outside, watching a moving picture created by actors. The audience suspends disbelief, sits, and watches with their minds. The actors act. Everybody is comfortable and safe. Everyone has defined roles -- and when the audience leaves the theatre, they know it has been just pretend. Actors just have to put on a good show.
As a performer, I have to be able within myself to do anything that I feel necessary to create the magic of the performance without stopping to check my motives. This is the self-trust. This self-trust creates vulnerability.
The performer has to take responsibility for his audience. This runs from their physical well-being while they are in the performance to not taking them out on a limb and leaving them there. A moral grey area is left after the performance, and they go back to the normal world, and they freak out because of the conflict between the two realities. In my mind, the freak out is an opening of doors -- which is the aim of the performance. But what the person does when the doors are opened is his responsibility.
In the performance, I have to involve myself with the audience, person-to-person. I have to follow whatever feeling I have in the moment, doing whatever it takes to draw the audience deeper. This is what I mean by vulnerability. It does have a certain ruthless quality to it.
I somehow stumbled upon a book, Environmental Theater by Richard Schechner, a book about a theater of active involvement and participation, of nudity and intimate physicality, of risk-taking and change. It was right up my alley. Richard's insights and experiments were inspiring to me.
But it seemed to me the Performance Group of Richard's was not well-versed in, or committed to, a living communal intimacy, so they retreated from the edge when they were expected to live the personal intimacy they were acting out. My years of communal living and spiritual study gave me needed keys to take what Richard had done forward. The book fit so well with my own experiments, philosophy and vision, it became a base of the next stage of the work.
Photos (from top to bottom): Mary Sullivan, Barbie Sue, Kevin Rice