THE STORM AROUND STORM
Traveling with Electronics : The Storm Around Storm
You have to define your artistic world
and then.....you have to live in it
My good friend Mark Weber told me that when we were discussing the reality of being true to one's vision as an artist. The first part (defining it), takes you as long as it takes you, to realize that you haven't re-invented the wheel, but rather you are part of a continuum, drawing on what has come before and developing it further in the energetic context of the times you live in…..that's the easy part! The second part (living in it)…..there's the challenge.
In February of 2012 I performed in a multi-media theatrical work called "STORM", which was a collaboration between my conduction orchestra Out of Context and Theater Grottesco. The idea to combine conduction and theater was one of the reasons I started OOC some 14 years ago (to be clear, Butch Morris had done this to a point already). When John Flax Grottesco's artistic director, joined OOC in 2002, we began a journey together that is still very much in progress.
STORM is a work, dealing with the subject of climate change, presented in a form of non-linear multi-media story telling. As John and I were researching we found we were reading information we both remembered hearing in the early 1970's. How could this be? How could it be that in 2010 almost forty years later our society had done little if anything to deal with an issue that can render us extinct as a species (I have no doubt that the planet will continue on just fine without us). We realized that what the piece was really about was society's inability to take meaningful action.
We were very clear that we didn't want to create a narrative work, with good guys and bad guys, and some sappy happy ending or the world blowing up…..no thank you. What we chose to do was re-present the information that we all see and hear every day, day after day, in as neutral a way as possible (allowing the audience to create the backstory), with the intension that it would engender change, no matter how small and perhaps open a new dialogue, that could lead to thoughtful action.
While the piece had a time-line arc as it's structure and specific text needed to be covered by the live actors and the video actors within each section of the structure, the modularity of each of the elements of the piece (character, text, music, visuals, blocking and lighting) ensured that each performance would be unique. There were ten performances. Eight of them included a moderated talk back session after the performance. The piece was sixty minutes in duration. Some of the talk backs lasted ninety minutes. They all were a revelation. I could not have been less prepared for the storm around STORM!
People who I anticipated would like it, hated it and people who I thought wouldn't get it, loved it…..go figure. Hardcore OOC fans thought there was too much text and the music wasn't intense enough, while hardcore Grottesco fans thought there wasn't any story and the music was too intense. Well, that is the nature of a collaboration, unless you just throw two groups in a room and let them do what the normally do, but at the same time, and call that a collaboration (I've actually seen that before - yikes).
One of the longest and most passionate talk back sessions was a night when the students from the theater department at the World College were in attendance. These were students from all over the world, who were very insightful and very articulate. At one point a woman who was clearly upset addressed me directly, stating that I was "grossly irresponsible for creating this piece" (I am not paraphrasing), because I didn't identify the bad guy (the entity responsible for the problem). I then told a story of driving to the theater that day and hearing a news report about the living conditions of the 12 year old Chinese girls who built my iPad (the piece of technology that enabled me to remotely control all of the video in the show), and how I felt, I had to look at that fact and how I felt that we were all complicate in our current situation. She did not want to hear it. She knew who was responsible. At that point a young German woman from the World College group, just turned to her and very clearly and calmly said "I really don't think that the point of this piece was for you to go home and feel good about who you think the bad guy is".
There was an equal number of very hopeful responses from people who were energized by the experience and felt motivated to make a positive change in their own lives in the hope, it could be a collective community of individual change that might be enough to make a large scale difference. For one woman it was the orchestra and the conduction process itself that represented the idea of community action ("I have never seen so much trust in a group of people before").
My favorite response (and I am paraphrasing here), came from a presenter who said that he didn't think that it was entirely successful nor did he entirely like it, but he felt very strongly that the piece needed to be seen by a much wider audience.
STORM did achieve exactly what John and I set out to do. It engendered a very passionate dialogue among the people who experienced it and were willing to take another (personal) look at an issue that effects every being on the planet.
In January 2013 - STORM opens the Revolutions International Theater Festival.
An artist must be true to the integrity of the vision and manifest it fully.....a fool falls prey to the trap of taking responsibility for someone's feelings about it.