Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sky Box Aerial and Variety Show

Performance Date: 11.11.10
House of Yes

It was a three-fer weekend, ladies and gents.  That’s right a three-fer.  An aerial show at the House of Yes on Thursday night – Thursday counts as weekend in NYC – and a double header of comedy on Saturday, with Reefer Madness at the Gallery Players and Wonder of the World from The CHILDREN’s Theatre Company in Williamsburg.  Feels good getting back in the playgoing habit with such a wallop of a weekend.

I had a fabulous time at the House of Yes.  Do yourself a favor and go see something there.  Please.  If their regular fare is as fun and rollicking as the Sky Box Aerial and Variety Show was on Thursday, it will be well worth your while.  It was a vibrant and visceral night of vaudevillian circus, lightly raunchy and sweetly twisted, with many moments of both beauty and astonishment.  There were aerial acts on the silks and the trapeze, contortionists, a juggler who reminded me of this guy but sexier and without makeup or pointy shoes, a balancing act, a ukele serenade, a charming emcee in sequined hotpants, and a little kid in the audience named Cougar wearing black and white striped leggings and a muscleman mustache penciled on his upper lip.  It was awesome.

I kept thinking how whenever I tell people that my friend Gwynne, who performed gorgeously on the silks with her cohort Kate, does aerial performance, nobody knows what I’m talking about.  They think of old-timey planes.  When I explain that it’s things like silks and trapeze and stuff like that, I invariably have to reference Cirque du Soleil.  But here’s what I was thinking Thursday night – this House of Yes stuff is WAY BETTER THAN CIRQUE DU SOLEIL.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have loved me some Quidam and Varekai, and I’ve been dying to see O in Vegas ever since it opened.  But as beautiful and amazing and inspiring as those shows are, I never really get the sense that anyone is in danger.  Where is the danger??  With all the costume and makeup and rock hard abs, with all the precision and perfection that millions of dollars and unlimited hours of rehearsal time can buy you, with the enormous big top that distances you from the action, what ends up getting erased is the thrill of oh my god that man’s neck is wobbling perilously because he has that other guy BALANCED ON HIS HEAD!

Now I imagine the House of Yes people wouldn’t want me to imply that their work is perilous.  After all, even though circus and aerial arts are inherently dangerous, those who teach and perform those arts are rigorously trained in safety.  There’s a focus and respect level there that is evident when you watch these artists perform.  But the fun of aerial arts is precisely that it seems so unthinkable to tie yourself up in a bunch of fabric thirty feet in the air and then let yourself drop, tumbling down until you’re suspended three feet off the ground.  You think you would die if you did that.  And, unless you’ve been taking classes at the House of Yes, you probably would.

Zat is all for today.  Stay tuned for parts two and three of my walloping weekend, where I will reflect upon the societal dangers of The Reefer, and follow some adorable CHILDREN to Niagara Falls.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I’ve been proto-thinking. You know, that low-level, nearly subconscious ruminating that your brain does as you bustle about your day, accomplishing tasks and shuttling yourself from place to place. When my life feels organized, these thoughts find space enough to grow into fully formed ideas that sustain reflection or inspire action. When my life feels disorganized, these thoughts are like sprouted beans trapped beneath a slab of concrete. They exist, but haven’t yet seen the light of day. They are murky and undeveloped. Proto-thoughts. Today, however, I’m taking steps towards organization which includes prying apart the concrete so these little beans can breathe.
The beans all concern theater, or else I wouldn’t bug you about them, and I planted them on purpose. As you know, I’m producing this (still unannounced) show in the spring and launching a theater company to go with. Very soon I will need to articulate what I’m trying to offer the world with these ventures, and why I think the world might need it. Important stuff. Requires serious thought, beginning with answering the fundamental question, What do I like so much about theater? Good thing I had this blog to look back on because reflecting on my first Year of Plays helped me get these seeds to sprout. Here’s the shape of them so far, and remember they are in their primitive states.
>> Sharing space with real live people. Almost all the memorable moments from the blog stem from the excitement of sharing the same physical space with the actors on stage and the audience sitting next to me. I’m thinking of the collective hush we participated in when the Stage Manager in Our Town asked us all to listen for the train. I’m thinking of the titillation in the audience at the interval for In the Next Room: Or the Vibrator Play. I’m thinking of the perplexing fascination I feel watching anyone pretend mightily right before my very eyes.

>> Breath, energy, and connection. These are vague, airy-fairy terms to most people, I fear. To me they mean something concrete. They refer to my belief that breath and energy – and by energy I literally mean the electromagnetic field that all living beings emanate – are conduits of nonverbal communication. Breath and energy connect us without us saying a word. When theater is at its best, when it affects us most deeply, it is because the breath and energy of everyone in the room is flowing freely enough to connect us to one another. That is how theater goes from being an entertaining event to a communal experience.  I'm thinking of Burning Man, but not only that.

>> The collective suspension of disbelief. I love that theater requires actors and audience to agree on a common un-reality. In order for it to work right, we must agree to suspend our disbelief and enter the alternate reality of a narrative together.

>> Holding space. Related to all of the above is a notion that theater operates in a space – both literal and metaphysical – that must be created and protected. A space that must be held open by those who create it and, ideally, by all those who enter into it.

So that’s the sum of it for now.
I think I’ll take this unspotlighted moment to disclose the name of my theater company, seeing as I feel it relates to the ideas above. The name is PARENTHESIS. It came initially from an ee cummings poem that is significant to me, but look at this:
                                                                         (          )
Tell me what you see. I see space. Space that is held. Space that is empty, except that it may contain breath. I see collectiveness. What we put inside that space is collected together, protected from what we put outside it. And perhaps – and this is stretching it – perhaps I can even see connection: a parenthesis allows us to present a new idea as separate, but not severed, from the ideas around it.  The idea is new but still connected.
Stretching it, as I said. But I’m still proto-thinking, so it's allowed.