From Imagining O. Photo by Marina Levitskaya @ The Alexander Kasser Theater
Insofar as I can imagine, I will be fine.
I am most recently dueling with the withdrawal from the last show I was involved in. And by involved, I mean as involved in a relationship with about 20 people that became my artistic lovers, siblings, and mentors. Artistic in the same quality of life. After 7 weeks of what one could only taste in dreams, of exchange, of inspiration, of rage, of love, of pain, of confusion, of growth, of clarity, of politics, of physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation and exhaustion: what now? I am back to the question that has haunted this blog from its very beginning a year ago. What now?
But I prick myself deeper with the question: what now what? What should be or happen now?
Now being both the time and place I live in, does not realistically paint a pretty picture to me. I don’t need it to. If in anyway this recent experience has marked my life is in restoring my hope in the limitlessness of my mind, of my creativity (and everybody else’s!). Insofar as I can imagine, I will be fine.
Imagining O, the production I am processing about (nor writing nor talking seemed enough to describe what I am doing here), was all about, well, imagining. And not really all just about that of course,* but imagining was obviously so central to it that its title takes on it. And it is in my experience of imagining through Imagining O that I want to make a/some/no point here.
A couple of years ago I found this book called Environmental Theater; it would shape the rest of my career, more, the rest of my life. Not only did I recognize in it many of the ideas I have been exploring and struggling with through my somewhat traditional undergraduate training in the theater, but it revealed an exciting world of possibilities that had been in the making since long before I was even born. How come I never knew of this other world and boundless way of creating? I found my privilege in finding this world myself.
Was it not a challenge, reading this book? It was! I wanted to agree with it all and yet I couldn’t, but as I read through its pages the lessons taken from its author’s experience in creating this other kind of theater, I kept imagining myself as a part of this wild all-encompassing process. This book gave me something to pursue both artistically and intellectually (if I decide that those two are separate things), but not just this book, its author did. I decided I needed to learn more about these artists, these ways of creating, so that my own creations could be richer than whatever otherwise they would be. It was a moment in which I was truly disappointed in art and the world. It made sense at the time that academia would save me; but not academia in the traditional sense, academia in the sense that the author of this book who is both an academic and an artist had coined in the shape of what is Performance Studies (to him): a field, a methodology that “must refer to, come from, and refer back to embodied behavior” and that has “no fundamental” so that “any list of established text or performance must be revised and changed.”** And so I dived into getting my Masters in Performance Studies, romantically seeking to be saved.
I was probably more troubled than ever before in my life through my grad school experience, not to mention it is at the very heart of my financial headaches and the parent of this blog. Yet it has saved me in many many ways.
Not longer than a year after graduating I was sitting in a dance studio in New Jersey with my scene partner by an awkwardly large table, 2 porcelain cups filled with coffee in front of us, and in the presence of the director and his assistant. We were rehearsing.
“You have the talent, you just need the courage” tells me Richard Schechner, creator and co-director of Imagining O, author of Environmental Theater, and founder of the Performance Studies department at NYU. He tells me not in one of my preposterous sentimental dreams, but in that dance studio, 8 weeks ago.
And he tells me over and over again in my head as I now walk in the now of the “show is over” and “now what?” I do need the courage, we all do, and nobody can give it to us, it is only from within that we may build it or find it. I knew right away what I needed my courage for, and it was for imagining, and not for imagining just for myself, but for him, for my scene partner, for the entire company, for my family, and ultimately for the world. Throughout the process of Imagining O, we were constantly reminded of how harmless and fruitful it can be to just let one’s imagination run. There’s a pleasure and a horror in going there, so what? Just about two years ago I was imagining myself in the middle of a workshop for an environmental theater piece, and there I was just a couple of weeks ago diving in slow motion into my own death at the last performance of Imagining O, which according to Richard is “the most environmental piece” he’s ever done. And while I had imagine these moments wildly, more often than not the actualization of those fantasies exceeded any dreams I could have had about them. The immediate feel of trust among the company, the generosity with which we all arrived to our first rehearsal-workshop, the love that we shared, the intimacy we created, the inspiration we exchanged, is incomparable to anything I might have imagined would happen. Now I have more to imagine. The piece is about our collective imagining of the characters, authors, and texts that we explored; our collective imagining: from the designers, to the directors, to the production team, to the cast. So, with higher standards for imagining, now I imagine more, and I know, I will be fine.
I originally wrote this text on October 6th 2014 with the intention of posting it on this blog. But then, for some reason, I didn’t post it, until today. Maybe I just needed the courage.
Insofar as I can imagine, I will be fine.
*More about Imagining O: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/theater/richard-schechners-imagining-o-at-montclair-state.html?_r=0
**From: What is Performance Studies? Interview with Richard Schechner http://hidvl.nyu.edu/video/003305515.html