Hedwig & The Angry Inch is about the conflict of self-identification
One Complex Sentence:
Hedwig & The Angry Inch is about how we find independence and self-acceptance within ourselves despite the expectations of others and identities imposed on our bodies.
Three-Five Sentence concepts:
Theatre is out, debauchery is in. While previously a [flourishing doll-factory or famed theatre featuring the 10-year run of ‘Barbie: The Musical TBD’], the Belasco has since fallen into disrepair. In an abandoned state, it’s been co-opted by the local “weirdos”: a home for squatters, a dance hall for clubbers, a thunderdome for exiles. Within this space that’s at odds with itself, Hedwig and her partner Yitzhak also reconcile their own corporeal-vs-self identities and the expectations thrust upon them by others. The physical space and complimentary projections exacerbate this question of fragmented, unstable and changing identity through distortion, reflectivity, and juxtaposition. Ultimately, our heroes find and define themselves not to satisfy social norms, but their own best desires.
Who we once were or currently are, isn’t who we always have to be.
This week we focused on clarifying our concept. Our ultimate goal is to fabricate a crowd-fed heart that inflates, lights up and reacts to positive social media input.
The major change to this sketch is that we changed the order of the windows. Rather than have the heart pumping the screens, we’ve made it so that the screens feed the heart. Our assumption is that we will make the windows aesthetically cohesive enough that onlookers will recognize that they are a pair and will read them directionally from left to right.
Window concept. Heart beat fabricated by Yuan Chen.
The Idea: HEART likes attention. Every time it gets attention on social media, HEART skips a beat. HEART blinks, pumps and beats according to how much social media love it gets. Our ultimate goal is to fabricate a crowd-fed heart that inflates, lights up and reacts -essentially beats- to positive social media input. That will live in one window. We will display those interactions in feeds on screens in the adjacent window. (Our windows need to be side by side because they will need to visually ‘connect’ via the valves that we fabricate).
Heart beat fabricated by Yuan Chen.
Execution: A series of social media profiles will be created for HEART (instagram, twitter, facebook). The social feeds will be color coded and represented by a screen each. Passersby will be prompted to interact with HEART (send messages, tweet at it, et al). Those interactions will be displayed on their respective social media screens, and will feed HEART’s behavior
Remaining Questions, A Very Incomplete List:
-Will it be attention agnostic, as happy to receive negative attention as it is to receive positive?
-Exactly which social feeds will be displayed, and how will we prompt people to interact with HEART?
-Will HEART be called HEART, or will we go with something more allegorical?
-Materiality determinations -foam, wire, paper machée?
Hedwig & The Angry Inch is a story about redemption.
Hedwig & The Angry Inch is a story about the redemption one can experience by letting go and lifting others.
Hedwig & The Angry Inch is a story about Hedwig, formerly Hansel, who escapes the communism of East Berlin by marrying an American Soldier (and suffering a botched sex change operation in the process). As Hedwig settles into her dreary life in the American midwest, she hears that the Berlin Wall has fallen and despairs that so much of what she’s lost is for nothing. She also meets a young boy named Tommy who she starts writing songs with, and eventually elevates him to a level of superstardom for which she gets none of the credit. While touring in the USSR, Hedwig marries another drag queen named Yitzhak to provide the same escape the American soldier gave her. Because Hedwig resents that Yitzhak’s talent exceed hers their marriage exists under the condition that Yitzhak may never dress in drag again. Yitzhak plays second to Hedwig throughout the play. The story ends with a feverish break during which Hedwig becomes Tommy, and ultimately lets go of so much of her resentment, passing the torch to Yitzhak and reigniting her hope. In doing so, Hedwig finds her peace.
Fuchs Does Hedwig
Space: The atmosphere Hedwig is cold, concrete and damp. It has the same grungy atmosphere of a dingy club on the Bowery in the 70s. Nothing about it is glittery except for Hedwig’s makeup.
Time: Time jumps from decade to decade in flashback format but always within the context of Hedwig’s memory.
Climate: Is post-apocalyptic. Cinderblocks and bombed out buildings come to mind. It’s chilly and damp so it feels like you can never really warm up.
Mood: Sardonic. Lecherous. Surprisingly funny.
Secret Spaces: Moments of surprising tenderness fleck the otherwise cold, blasé attitudes of our actors. The oven mentioned throughout the play is a literal secret space, as is the slab of concrete Hansel suns himself on in his days as a youth.
Word: This world is familiar, but with a darker perspective. It’s real, with elements of the fantastic.
Social Arrangement: Sex is social currency here, as is escape. Sex is also power.
Language: The moments of bigness here are in the songs. Truth, the tenderness mentioned above, the revelation of secret spaces of importance and the moments of actual love as well as the most salacious moments of sex all live in song. Our characters are guarded in spoken language. It’s the songs that betray them.
Change: Ultimately, our star achieves peace. Our beginning snapshot is of a cagey, hilarious, embittered Hedwig, who has been dealt one too many blows to keep it to herself anymore. She keeps Yitzhak around as a punching bag for her anger. Ultimately, Hedwig learns, after a subtle acknowledgement by Tommy of all she’s done for him, that she’ll get nowhere without letting go of what’s thwarted her. She encourages Yitzhak to do so, and ultimately finds her peace.
But since we do have to do it, why not be truthful about it, and why not admit that yes, yes, there’s something inside us that likes to kill. Some part of us. Why wouldn’t that be so? -Lemon, Aunt Dan & Lemon by Wallace Shawn
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a play about admitting who we really are.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about admitting who you really are.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about the cruelty in the world that we’d rather not acknowledge.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about the formative experiences of a young girl named Lemon, who is exposed to an uncensored reality from a young age. Many of her adult opinions stem from the relationship she had with her mother’s estranged friend Aunt Dan, who presses Lemon’s mom to admit that we are mostly indifferent to the horrors of the world, and would rather other people do our dirty work. This clarity and and assertion shapes Lemon’s world view to be one that is startlingly bleak, exceptionally candid, cynical,and self-aware.
It’s a dark space, most movement we see is in the shadows. It is movement, rather than lighting, that directs our gaze. When people (there are people) speak, their faces are illuminated, harshly, so we can see every detail.
Time adheres to emotion. The fury or satisfaction of a character can direct time to speed up or slow down. Time is non-linear. It is largely at the whim of the recollection our our guide.
It’s hot, and damp, and sticky. It seems the air never has enough oxygen for everyone to breathe easily. This climate has the effect of excusing people from rushing from place to place. They take their time, but when they speak, it’s as though they only had a minute left to live.
The mood is one of trepidation. It’s also disorienting. At times funny, it is also charged and startling, and still.
Our world is a series of glimpses through keyholes, secret spaces that exist only after they’ve been recounted to us with startling candor.
At its lightest moments, the tone of this planet is deliberate. Staccato fury is punctuated by intended, uncomfortable beats and pregnant pause. Punishing, unforgiving and relentless are words that come to mind.
This is a private, insular world. There are knowledge classes as much as their are wealth classes, and we get to witness their intermingling. Shame isn’t attached to the overt fetishization of money, valor isn’t attached to its possession, and an opinion is as dangerous as a rope.
Within this world, there are strange rituals of social arrangement. They are liberal with little to no sense of decorum. The most naive inhabitants of this world paradoxically seem to possess the most couth. The system is a bit inverted in that we can expect to hear the most truth by those that seem to lack a sense of propriety. This becomes a pattern. In many, this world’s inhabitants are like us, but getting to the point where we can admit that is, frankly, the whole point of the play.
In this world, no one has power. That’s why everyone in this world is so angry. Sex holds more power than money. Cleverness might provide a path for an option outside of monotony. One might have the power to foist the responsibility for our well-being into another’s hands. Others have the power to disregard it.
Language is copious, but true. For the most part, people in this world are honest. If they are not, they are weak -and not because they intend to lie, but because they aren’t capable of seeing truth. In many ways, language here unfolds with singsong and callback, and is punctuated by an occasional crack of the whip -a statement that could knock the wind out of you. That’s when were allowed pause to digest.
One could say that this is a world in which nothing changes. It’s our eyes that gradually adjust to the dim light of this planet’s atmosphere. The inhabitants of this world haven’t changed. They’re quite self-assured monsters. We start with questions and end with questions. We start with condemnation and end up ashamed. We’re all complicit, of course.
Solution: Make a private space on the most public space of all, the NYC Subway.
The most talkative observers were on a stretch of the L train between the 1st Ave. & Grand St. stops. Most of the observers were looking to see who was responsible. The title of this post, “No Hashtag, No Nothing”, comes from the observations of one woman on the train who was absolutely baffled that there was no social media call to action. Many people had comments like this:
“Fashion week is getting weird.”
“Yeah that’s just how marketing is these days.”
“I wonder where the camera is.”
It’s a pretty prescient comment on the shift in expectation of an observer being goaded under the assumption that they are being observed.
Only one subway rider actually managed to touch our PRIVATE installation, but many came up to take photos and ‘grams. The most compelling conversation we had was with an MTA conductor who broke it down for us:
Theater is opaque. We take it in with our senses and analyze it with our brains but the clarity we achieve is when theater successfully appeals to our emotions.
As actors, or performers, or playwrites, how do we ensure that such an emotional connection is achieved -that this appeal is successfully made? Elinor Fuchs attempts to offer a rubric for such successes in her short essay Visits to a Small Planet, by posing a set of questions that a work must at the very least explore sufficiently. She calls these questions “a template for the critical imagination”.
Creating theater is the creation of “another world passing by in time and space”, and it is best to approach it as you would a world completely alien. What are the conditions, the climate, the currency, the commerce? Answering these questions, making them coherent, ultimately builds the character and strengthens their credibility, until the world they are emulating becomes a given. Moreover, it becomes a true emotional reflection the audience can observe. It is only then that actor and audience both can “be someone aroused to meaning”.
Response: The Empty Space
It could be argued that there has never been more opportunity for good theater. With the spread of cheap social currency and platforms from which to exchange it, it takes very little technical (and I mean that word only in terms of literal documentation) or monetary force in order to produce and distribute a piece of art.
Yet the theater suffers. Now, more than ever, bad theater is produced, prices are rising, and the public is complicit. At least, thats what Peter Brook argues in his book The Empty Space.
Part of this is due to technical constraints: rising production costs and shorter incubation periods, coupled with a tendency for audiences to be disappointed by entertainment that is increasingly elite in both pricetag and accessibility makes for stuff that is not only unmagical but deadly. But it is also due to the way the form has morphed, shifted and come to be accepted.
The directors, costume designers, set runners et al. all have something to do with this. Wildly experimental as well as completely indoctrinated interpretations of the same piece can bring a production to its knees, and the untrained worker is just as bad as the trained one if their approach is unenlightened. Context in any space is important, and Brook knows that theater without context is also deadly.
Incompetence is the vice, the condition and the tragedy of the world’s theater on any level.
Similarly, actors that have spent time, but not quality time, rehearsing a piece will deliver a deadly performance. Uninspired, inhibited, and baseless, the audience can feel their lack of conviction or truth. And, as Brooks emphasizes,
As an audience, we bear as much the brunt of the responsibility as those in and of the production. We go to the theater and claim that it is enjoyable when it is not, under the guise of it being, as Brook posits, an intellectual experience. And it’s true, as he says, that “it would be a sad day if the people went to theater out of duty.”
So how does theater regain its luster?
The critic plays a central role, in that he keeps everyone honest. His burden is heavy and he is reluctant to bear it, but he feels the responsibility bear down upon him and moves forward for the love of the craft.
[Theater] is, or would be, if truly practised, perhaps the hardest medium of all: it is merciless.
The artist, too, knows his burden. Theater is “appalling[ly] difficult.” It is an unforgiving medium where every mistake is observed and magnified. To say Brook’s outlook is grim would certainly be an understatement, but in the final chapter of his book “The Immediate Theater”, he does observe some modern successes and , while not offering a wholistic solution, still offers some insight on how to best fill ‘The Empty Space’.
It starts with an understanding (as stated earlier) of context, and also in breaking down the relationship between actor, subject and audience. Grasping the speed with which a production evolves, and knowing when to modify and evolve in certain arenas (don’t block a play without people, for instance, or don’t design costumes until you know how characters will move) also helps.
What is necessary is…clarity without rigidity.
Actors, for their part, will emerge into their type by revealing their limitations. Rehearsals are as much about shedding inhibitions as they are perfecting dynamic. Directing is as much about understanding as elasticity. The production is as much about compartmentalization as marriage.
“When the status quo is rotten -and few critics anywhere would dispute this- the only possibility is to judge events in relation to a possible goal.” -Brook
There’s a bit of irony here. The imagined standard by which the critic must judge is also the imagined standard by which an actor (or director, et al) must hold himself to as well. It’s abstract and yet, we know it when we see it.