Saturday, May 11, 2013

creating a/broad, May 11, 2013

Community Spectacle
by Cameryn Moore

I made a play, a good one. It’s done, and all the other performances I’m doing this year are shows I already know and love. I know how to present them and talk about them and get people out to them. I don’t always get the size of audience that I want, but I know how to do it. 

Then there are other events that I am doing that I do not know how to do, workshops and hands-on installations and Sidewalk Smut and Smut Slams and, yes, even Montréal’s first-ever Masturbate-a-thon that I co-produced last weekend. These are not shows so much as happenings or activities, not producing so much as facilitating. I don’t really know how the alchemy happens, where the pull is, how even to put it into words why people should come, or why I am doing them.

Except I like them, and they feel important to do. They feel absolutely connected to the emergent vision in my works thus far, of some ineffable weaving of meaning and intent and learning and sharing through the threaded warp of sex. That’s my jam. Ever since I started including these events as part of my creative mandate, I have gradually been waking up to the possibilities around me, and looking around at other performers/producers/provocateurs and the events that they do, and wondering, did they plan that? How did they decide to do this event and not that one? Do they know, truly, what the potential for change is here?

Those are what it takes to get a good happening, well, happening.

Because I didn’t know any of that, not until I started doing it. And I still don’t know it for sure, because it’s a different kind of performance, an art form that I am still learning, this event-producing thing. The producer in theatre is the one who brings the resources to bear on the project. In community events, the producer is bringing the intangibles—excitement, awareness, empathy, knowledge. Those are what it takes to get a good happening, well, happening.

It is nerve-wracking as hell, but I really like the mix that’s been coming together on my calendar. At any given time I have some “normal” shows coming up, and then I’m working on at least one event somewhere out there on the horizon. It feels like a good balance. Different muscles are stretched; different nerves are unstrung and wrung tight. In my solo shows, I must do it all, occupy all the space. No depending on others, I own it all, but that’s a lot of stress. In the community-type events, I do very little except create the safer, encouraging space where other people play. Again, that is its own particular kind of stress, but the stuff that is normally on me—to own the stage, with all the problems inherent in ownership—is no longer there. Community members are the ones bringing the content, and I hover around the edges, make sure everyone is comfortable, containing the energy, keeping it there and up and circulating. To borrow again from the metaphors of traditional theatre, then I am not only the producer, but also the stage manager.

The people at the events are filling in dual roles as well; they are not just performers, they are audience. Good crowds at happenings are aware that something else is happening, that other people are doing things besides themselves, that at any moment they can watch and be watched, and teasing out what feels right for you is part of the process. That awareness is what puts these events out on the spectrum of spectacle. As long as there is space in the proceedings, the way the lights are set up, how the program is paced, hell, if there’s a volunteer dashing out and saying, hey everyone, turn your eyes to the center of the floor for just a moment… as long as the participants have the opportunity to watch and enjoy someone else’s moment of discovery or elation or breakthrough, then this is performance.

I don’t have time to painstakingly construct bridges between what I’m doing and what you’re doing.

This is scarier than the most free-form of improv shows, more angst-inducing than the most audience-interactive of clown shows, I mean from the point of view of the control freak that I know myself to be. In “traditional” performance genres, everyone more or less understands the structure, they understand what is supposed to happen; that’s why we are able to easily label them. But at community spectacles, there is no saying what will happen. Someone could tell a story that suddenly takes the whole room someplace dark and terrifying. Someone could bring out a toy that half the place has never seen before, not in action, at least. Someone could unwittingly bring in their baggage and what unfolds then is not a simple scene, but a re-enactment of psycho-drama from 25 years ago, and you may not know this person at all, but you can tell. It is one big room of WHO THE FUCK KNOWS.

I don’t. All I know is that these happenings must feel organically whole unto themselves, and merge easily into the artist’s path that I am laying out before me even while I walk. I don’t have time to painstakingly construct bridges between what I’m doing and what you’re doing. I want us to come together because we both know this much: we both, we all, have good stuff to share.

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