"In spectacle, narrative may play a part, conflict may be an appendage, but spectacle’s heart is transformation, and its food is poetry."
Great to be here.
Hobart is a vital place.
Flattered by the invite.
Dream Masons is important not only for what it will do for Hobart…. but it creates an international team of artists, furthering a relatively unexplored form.
Was once very reflective, recently have been working very quickly.
Not a part of an international dialogue about spectacle, but generating locally.
I have toured, but not with the spectacle work.
I think we have a chance to do something special for Hobart, for Tasmania, and really for the form of spectacle itself…
I don’t make theater. I studied theater, was interested in theater, fell in love with theater in fact. But we’ve split. I still see theater and sometimes even enjoy it. We get along, theater and I, but it’s best if we don’t spend too much time together. In Chicago, my company is called Redmoon Theater, and over the couple of years I have begun to set in place the momentum to drop the name ‘theater’ from the title. Not because I’m bitter, but because I believe it to be inaccurate.
I consider myself a spectacle maker. Some would say ‘spectacle theater’ and I can’t argue with the logic of that, but it still seems a bit misleading. Spectacle operates according to an entirely different set of rules than theater. It uses the same tools, but makes a different product.
Theater’s dramaturgy is concerned with conflict.
In acting school actors are instructed to find their characters’ conflict. Each moment is to be viewed in consideration of that conflict. I want to talk to Judge Brock, because he can help me escape the sexist oppression of sexist 19th century Holland, but decorum demands that I not accept his invitation. I want to kill Darth Vader because he is evil and looking to control the universe, but he’s my father.
Likewise directors are encouraged to chart the rise and fall of the tension created by the play’s central narrative conflict. The top of Act 3 of The Seagull, while they reminisce about the past, Arkadina wraps Kostya’s head in a bandage after his unsuccessful suicide attempt. The conflict tension is low. Nina rushes back on and tells Trigorin secretly that she, too, is going to Moscow… the tension spikes. Luke and Han Solo flirt with Leia while they admire the craftsmanship on Luke’s new hand, recently cut off by the Darth… the conflict has receded for the moment. Luke hangs over a railing, dangling by one hand, while his nemesis Darth Vader stands above him, sword in hand, saying that he is his father? That’s right. Conflict tension is high.
The traditional drama is thus adversarial. It is this against this. It’s Hobbit Frodo against the Dark Lord whatever his name is. And it must, therefore, be developed and solved according to a rational logic. Frodo must climb to the top of Mordor and dispose of the ring. In his way are: orcs and canyons and snow covered mountains and dragons and huge spiders and volcanic walls and, most ominously, the evil eye of the temptation of power. The script is navigated according to discernable reasoning. How each battle is won or lost makes rational sense. That Hedda suicides because she perceives she can’t get out, it takes 5 acts to prove.
Spectacle is,… well,… not. There is no proof in spectacle and while there may be conflict it is not the heart, but a distant appendage. In spectacle, narrative may play a part, conflict may be an appendage, but spectacle’s heart is transformation, and its food is poetry. It is not an inherently dramatic form. It’s a poetic form. It’s not a plot driven form, though it may have plot elements, but a lyrically driven form. Spectacle is more like music or dance or painting.
At the heart of spectacle is transformation. It depicts, conveys, communicates, and enacts the surprising act of something, anything at all, and sometimes many things, changing their apparent essence from one thing to another. Transformation is the caterpillar to the butterfly; it’s the acorn to the tree. The caterpillar appears, by any account, a glorified worm, a complete creature, but it reveals itself to be quite different from what we would otherwise have thought, seen or surmised. It reveals itself not a fixed entity, as it appears, but in a state of flux, a creature of unforeseen potential, it is a transitory being on its way to fulfillment as a beautiful, delicate butterfly.
Can you think of a more poignant and timely story? The underlying story of every episode of transformation is that we can be other than we are, that we might, at this very moment, actually be something other than what we are. Or, better still, each transformation tells us that those around us may be most unexpectedly en route to their own fulfillment. That even our most critical and rigorous judgments may be misleading.
Transformation reveals an unexpected truth behind our assumptions. It asks us to look again, to think more deeply, to continue the search for beauty even in the face of the ugliness. Transformation is the antidote to cynicism because it demonstrates the endless potential of things to be different than they are, to reveal themselves as having been all the time different than what we thought they were. When a caterpillar chews its way out of a chrysalis, to reveal itself a butterfly, it challenges to look past our limited vision, to consider a secret wonder and potential, beyond our immediate apprehension. A butterfly’s wings beat a rhythm of hope and beauty and endless potential. Transformation leads to illumination.
A few notes about spectacle for further exploration some other time: Transformation encourages us to look at the world with child-like eyes. That is to say, to look at the world with hope and a sense of possibility. That’s not to say, and this is important, that spectacle is relentlessly, intolerably, positive. It can and should still traffic in the dark and the depressing, even the tragically political. In fact, because it is an imagistic form, it has license to explore themes that other populist forms are forced to avoid. Spectacle is the un-sanitized fairy tale, the pre-Disney fairy tale where young girls dance their feet into bloody stumps and children throw witches into ovens.
It is for this that I now love spectacle. It is, without being dogmatic or preachy or didactic, always a message of hope.
Here’s the problem, though, Spectacle is almost impossible, or good spectacle is. Because we want it to be free, or accessible to everyone regardless of class, it makes no money; and because it is generally grand in vision, in cast and in scale, it costs a lot. Because one of the aspects of it is to draw people to generally overlooked public spaces, it is difficult to use exposure to leverage sponsor dollars. Because it is a collaborative form at every level, it requires a community to create. Because it works in public space, it requires a community to produce.
With Redmoon I have sought to make spectacle in many forms. The most exciting form to me, but also the most difficult to pull off, is the transformation of public space. Using theatrical tools, mostly old and neglected theatrical tools like pageantry and puppetry and effigies, and acrobatics, and live music, and broad physical commedia dell’arte like performances, using these old tools we try to alter the very nature of a public space.
Spectacle transforms public space… both the site itself and the community around it. Gathering people together, forging a common experience amongst disparate people, is a means of adding a common denominator to their lives. Spectacle creates, in the moment of its presentation, a living link between people, and its legacy is that experience. Movies are a conversational crutch because they are a shared experience. When the conversation dies we turn to movies as to feed the dying link. Isn’t it time for a more dynamic food?
Movies have taken the place of the circus and storytelling and mythmaking and pageantry. They taken the magic out of our hands and estranged it from us. It’s now an inscrutable commodity made by massive corporations. Movies come down from the stars. Spectacle grows up from the earth. It is made from refuse, resourcefulness and craft. It is made by people staring at ugliness in the face and believing that beauty may still be a single act away.