September 11, 2009

MY INDEPENDENCE DAY: Everything to Declare – it’s a long goodbye

New York- Dearest ones: I’ve come to a crucial point in my life. Actually, ‘THE’ most crucial to date. A pedestrian crossing without the white stripes, an “Empty Space” cluttered with junk, an asterisk. I’ve been in it for a while and have realized that moaning and groaning from the cradle to the grave simply doesn’t help. So, I made a decision.

“Transform the world: Wake up every morning and change the world”“, a soft voice used to whisper into my ear. It was that of Julian Beck, whom I directed in his final show and from whom I learned so much.

Yes, I used to have a vague idea or notion of things. Yet, I can’t find them anymore. Don’t seem capable of even knowing of where they are any longer. All I can see, eyes open or shut, is that self portrait by Rembrandt , hanging in Amsterdam, staring right at me; he at the age of 55 and I at the same age. Him on one side of a timezone/era as if trying to tell me, or as if WE are trying to tell one another that my Renaiscence is over, finished, and that I’m dead. Am I dead?

I can’t go on. And I won’t go on.

Beckett, the one whose universe I’m so very close to, would have said: “but I will go on”. Yes, I do realize the necessity of a continuance, continuity, progression, of a forward movement. However, I look around and ask myself (in less than a subtle way…..”continue what?” if I haven’t really started anything!!!! There isn’t – on my turf (or terminology) that much to be continued.

My life on stage, as such, is finished. And it is so because I have determined that it has perished. I do not believe that our times reflect theater as a whole (or vice versa) and I certainly don’t have the patience to  create the iTheatre, as if it were the extention of the iPhone or the iPod and so on. These miniatures and gadgets of self satisfaction  do, indeed, fit extremely well the decadent present days of, well, self satisfaction. Pardon me for writing in loops but this is a reflection of the times. Or is it?

But art and creativity? Not at all. If one were to analize, say, this or that person’s last movie or CD or choreography we’ll only come to realize that it has all become a mere  and smaller repetition of what once had the taste of the new and of the, say, “good”.

Of course, it’s known that my dramaturgical option has always been on the dark side. From Beckett to Kafka to my own nightmares…a New York Times critic once wrote “that I used the audience as my therapist”. So, I decided to opt for putting Freud center stage right in the middle of Tristan in the Rio Opera House. I guess everyone knows what the outcome was.

What seems strange is that, up to 2003 or, even, 2005, it made sense to put things on stage or to stage pieces. I cannot, for the world, describe with any sort of precision what has changed. But something has.

Of course, needless to say, we are political beings. But this shouldn’t mean that our obsession (as artists) should contain ONE political agenda. Au contraire. If there is something called art, it’s  there precisely to bridge the gaps left over between that which politicians can’t say (or are unable to say) and our need to find ways to survive (by destroying or constructing). Art as metaphor, art as replica, art as illustration or art as protest; art has always required analogies and fantasy between modern man and that of yesteryear.

Daniel Barenboim, who was born Argentinean (but is a citizen of the world) and carries an Israeli passport, found a  way to ‘apply’ his art to the practical, political world. He’s been trying, since 2004, to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis through music, In his acceptance speech, during the Wolf Prize Cerimony at the Knesset, he said that his life seemed only validated if he could, somehow, liberate those who were confined (Palestinians who were beginning to be surrounded by a WALL built by Israel) and Isrealis alike.

I cannot, would not dare compare myself to Baremboim. But building a theater piece from scratch is far more difficult than opening musical scores and making or motivating an orchestra to play. What we do is ‘original stuff’.

Yeah.

TEMPORARY LOSS OF MEMORY

(allow me to skip a part, please)

I just skipped a part where I quote from a text in a program book of Earth in Trance and Queen Liar. Poetic freedom? Was that it? Or pure boredom? Maybe just a gage or indicator of HOW much I need to tell everyone how LOST I am or where I need to get.

Perhaps I need to get lost for a while in order to find myself again, as corny as this may sound. I’ve really, seriously lost sense of who I am. No easy thing to say. Yet, I may be living in a bubble of illusion.

I’ve become a slave of this computer and, likewise,  a slave of an immediate political agenda which isn’t even close to my heart, It’s someone else’s, not my own. I do have an enormous knowledge of history. I mean, I am immensely educated in the field of History. Enough so to know that what happens now, today, hardly matters at all, unless one is talking about, say….Obama’s coming to the White House. Well, there’s something!!!!

Yes, I have to get lost in order to find myself again.

It might be useful to remind you all: I was brought up in the shadows of the Holocaust, amidst drops of paint by Pollock and ‘ready mades’ by Marcel Duchamp….and some drawings and scribbles by Saul Steinberg. I owe this ‘education’, as it were, to two masters: Ivan Serpa and Ziraldo. Both back in Rio.

And there is Haroldo de Campos, the inventor of the humans, as Harold Bloom would have put it. Campos is the founder member of the Concrete Poetry movement and my mentor ‘from a distance’ . The guy I always wanted to be. Christ only knows how much I felt when he walked into my theater in 1987 and, later on, curated two books on me, about my work, and wrote, wrote and wrote endless pages about…well…me and my work. Simply unimaginable.

The world became so much more boring and flat the day he died. And that day happened to have been on the same day when I opened my Tristan at the Rio Opera House. A decade before that I had written one of my first plays, Eletra ComCreta – a play of words in the ‘concrete tradition’ with the myth of Electra and the island of Crete, in the hopes that the poets – Haroldo and his brother Augusto, would storm into the theater. No such luck. It took them, I mean, him (Haroldo de Campos), another year to discover me.

Philip Glass was kind enough,  gracious enough to grant a wonderful and hilarious interview about me and my work (http://www.vimeo.com/2988089 ). It lasts about 20 minutes and, in it he manages to be funny and brilliant, all at once – as if in a sax solo improv – saying everything (majestically) what scholars and critics have tried but weren’t able to put together in some eight thousand paragraphs, in all these years I’ve been on stage. This Glass interview can also be seen on my site (www.geraldthomas.com).

My father used to place me between two huge loud speakers of a RCA Victor deck  and make me listen to Beethoven. At a very very young age, I’d be in tears, listening to the Pastoral, the 6th Symphony – whilst drawing away, almost autistically, on some rough paper, things which, decades later (at the British Museum Reading Room or Library) would become…theater projects.

Today, with over 80 “things” or works having been staged all over the world, I look back and what do I see?

I see little. I see a world flattened by a shitty and mediocre and petty culture (if one can even call it that), punctuated by twitters and facebooks and myspaces and the like, which say little or nothing at all.

I see people without ANY NOTION of what was, of what has been and excited about a much ado of a ridiculously cheap plastic fast food junk overload of info. Yes, that’s what I see? Is there anything I’m missing?

Not even bands or innovative musical groups are there to be seen: it’s all just a bunch of look-alikes of the ones we’ve known for decades: from Hendrix to Zeppelin or The Who and so on.

It’s almost as if we lived in a sort of looping inside someone else’s nightmarishes head. Contrary to that of Prospero’s head, this one does not liberate us to the ‘new’. It condemns us to the old and used. How nice! Even China looks like the West. Or is that we’ve anticipated ourselves and it’s the other way around: it is us who look like China, since everything we wear and use is made in China.

Yes, I met Samuel Beckett (yes, I had this amazing privilege!), staged his prose – some of which, world premiere – in the early eighties. Well, for those who don’t know anything about this period, I urge you to access my site (www.geraldthomas.com), and enter my ‘so called’ universe.

Why would I want you to enter my universe? Why would I care? Because when I began my theatrical life, life as such, the scene itself was sparkling, glowing with ingenuity and the wonderful taste of the avantgarde. We had the Village Voice and the SoHo News (amongst others) for intellectual support (or debate) and plays were multifaceted: multimedia and so on. Everything from darkness to brand new monitors were growing on stages.

There were dozens of theater companies, from the ones based at La MaMa, to the Public Theater, or PS122 or in lofts in SoHo or in garages or, even, imports by BAM.

But it was all new, a NEW, New form of Creation.

It was the very exercise of experimentalism, it was all about taking risks. And the critics? Oh yes, just as most scholars, they stood by us and supported what we did. And what was that, you might ask? Well, that was the ‘tradition’ left by Artaud and Brecht and others.Furthermore, I regret to say that my particular generation did not invent anything. All we did was to carry on what the previous generation had given to us on a silver platter.

They were the ones who suffered. They were the ones who really swallowed the bile and digested the undigestible raw material of defiance (Grotowski, for instance). Yes, I’m talking about Bob Wilson, Pina Bausch, Victor Garcia, Lee Breuer, Peter Brook, Peter Stein, Richard Foreman and the one who invented it all, Ellen Stewart.

That’s right: all we did had been done before.

I’m part of a generation of collage artists, if there is such a thing. Of course, we added a few ‘personal touches’, whatever it was that the previous generation had fed us.

Not enough, I’m afraid. Not enough.

What does this all mean? Well, regrettably it means that my generation will not be a part of HISTORY. And I say this with an obvious amount of sadness. Sadness and reason. What a weird mixture!

Today, the Village Voice is but a bunch of sex ads. About the theaters themselves, I’d rather shut my mouth. As for the companies themselves, 99% no longer exist nor have they been exchanged for others. All we see is….

(I’m shutting my mouth). It’s very much like the world of music. Can’t you hear the stomping and and repetitive sound of the electronic drums hammering  away into your eardrums the robotic beat of ‘grounding’? Can’t you? Rather, its effect is ‘grinding’.

This universe of ours seems smaller than the one Kepler or Copernicus or Galileo described/saw/envisaged. Many of the theater companies here and around the world have closed for good. The money floating around to subsidize theater is laughable and the audiences are so small, we could take them out to dinner.

But I will never blame an audience. It is us who are  doing the wrong thing, obviously. Few youngsters nowadays know who Peter Brook is or what he has done. This year alone we have lost Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham. Bob Wilson, the last warrior standing (inexplicably) is traveling with a mediocre and simplistic play: “Quartett” by Heiner Mueller. I, myself directed the American and Brazilian premiere of this play with the presence of the playwright. I can now say, with a fair amount of certainty, that Heiner Mueller is a complete waste of time.

But, as it seems, the problem is mine and ONLY mine. As I’ve said before: I’ll try going for a walk around the planet to find who I am. Or, maybe just sit here, exactly where I am now, and come to the same conclusion.

But it’ll be hard: I’m part of that romantic generation who saw Tower Records open its doors here on Broadway and E4th Street. Today, Tower is gone and even, Virgin (which destroyed Tower) is gone. All Towers are gone.

I’m writing this one day before 9/11. Please excuse all analogies and possible comparisons.

I saw Hendrix from a yard away. I saw Led Zeppelin in their best days, live in London.

I directed the best of Richard Wagner and was with spitting distance of Michael Jackson and am grateful to have witnessed the birth of cable television, CNN, internet and the frenzy of emails flying back and forth.

I was given incredibly beautiful presents, such as some of the great operas I directed on the best stages in the world (Moses und Aron, in Austria would just be ONE example).

It’s just….it’s just…so many fantasies that depression has obscured or overcast. I simply cannot see them anymore. And what is art without fantasy or artifice? It would be…well, you got the drift.

No, I’m not leaving. Not really leaving as such. Only leaving “in a way….”

Anatole Rosenfeld once wrote:

“ The theater is older than literature and, thus, does not depend on it. There are plays which aren’t based on literary texts. According to ethnologists, the Pygmies perform an extraordinary theater, completely void of any text. They are capable of acting the agony of an elephant with a perfect impression, as if it were a true art. They might even use a few words here and there, obeying the oral tradition. But there isn’t a formal text laid out as literature.

In the improv theater there’s also a tradition”

That was Rosenfeld.

As for me, I’ve lost my ability to improvise. Yes, I’ve lost my desire to improvise.

I will have to make an enormous effort in….what? In seeing me as myself again as in what I used to be. Why? Because it’s not me what I see when I look in the mirror. It’s a deformity, a hardened version of a self that was,”an aberration of an author as an old man”.

I will have to make an enormous effort when looking into Rembrandt’s eyes again or, maybe, into a slice of a shark, or the shark in its entirety, by Damien Hirst.

It’s obvious that, in the event of a real possibility of a news fatality or a tragedy of great proportions (outside of the theater) taking place in our lives or on our planet, I’ll come back to the blog with texts, images, etc.

Maybe even without such tragedies. It could be that I’ll find myself in the middle of Tunisia, inside a bent tent, and decide, a la Paul Bowles, that it’s time to write. Who knows?

All I can say is that I’m at the beginning of a long, very long and lonely journey.

I’ve had the best theater and opera stages of the world, in more than 15 countries given to me. Yes,  I was given the gift of the Gods. No complaints, whatsoever. It has been a wonderful ride. Really has. Thank you all so very much. Thank you all so very very much.

Fairwell to you all.

LOVE

Gerald Thomas

September 11, 2009

(what a date!)



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