11. Workshop of Demands

Diane - Outrageous Beauty RevueThe heart of the workshop was "demanding" in various different forms. The only things out of bounds both in the workshop and the group were actual sex between nonmates and harming violence. This created a safe environment in which people could allow one another to trust, to be demanded of. In the workshop, I picked a person to make a demand either on a particular person, or whomever he picked, or on the whole group. The demanded one must satisfy the demander. The demander must stay with the demand until he is truly and fully satisfied. This puts both the demander and the demanded under pressure of honesty and vulnerability. I never had any idea whom I would pick for the demander until the workshop. This forced a rugged spontaneity. Some of these lasted for weeks, some for a minute; some were ruthlessly silly, some were intensely personal. Because actual sex was off limits, the demands could be erotically free and wacky. The demands as private performances revealed secret, over-the-edge characters, hidden fantasies, and other silliness which once released, seeped into normal life. One week, we played war games as kids, using Berkeley as our battleground. Next week, we buried one of us alive in a coffin to have a rebirth. A third week, we had a gross-out contest, the winning act of which was someone drinking his own piss. All of this outrageousness was made possible by being in the state of innocent play together for over three years. From this altered state, households and businesses began to form. (The Berkeley fashion boom came from this workshop.)

Public performances naturally evolved from what was created from the workshop. The first major public piece was a fantasy costume parade through Berkeley, flaunting brightly painted skin and see-through costumes of net and lace. The parade ended up with a free punk concert in the park. I have talked about how my art is not made of separate public pieces but is an evolving monster. For example, in this parade, an inner character of one of the cast members, Diane Hall, (photo above) emerged. This character was a middle-aged, middle-America-on-acid, fast nonsense talking, dizzy dame in a skin-tight Fredericks of Hollywood gown, long fake eyelashed, and a two-foot beehive bleached blonde wig with blinking Christmas lights. This creature grabbed the mike away from the hippie M.C. Wavy Gravy, and started hosting the concert. A year later, when I needed a bridge between a wacky stage show and the audience, I brought back this Woolworth babe.

After a second parade had gotten out of hand and turned into dulling sleaze, I organized an indoor multi-media carnival in a large San Francisco warehouse, The Farm, where adults could play like kids in a safe environment. Providing adult playgrounds is one of the basic goals of my work. Since I think playing is a safe, mind-altering drug, I called my carnival The Erotic Test after the acid test of the Merry Pranksters.

In order to do more public pieces, I moved the performance work into a Berkeley storefront. A major public performance in the space was Glamour. I based this environmental play on actual strippers in a divey North Beach joint. I used this play as a process to get one of the actresses to become a dynamic performer. As part of the rehearsals, I had the actresses work 8-hour shifts at the real joint with the real girls whom they were becoming. As another section of the bringing out of a dynamic star, I put her into a 24-hour nightmare inside a cold swinging box. This nightmare again revealed the magic of extended time.

MEB posterFor the play, I turned the storefront into a copy of the dive. The play surrounded the audience, making them play the role of the joint audience. On the nights that the actors didn't create the realism, I would stop the play, give the audience their money back, and invite them to return the next night. They did. I am ruthless in pursuing the inner quality I seek in people.

During the rehearsals of Glamour, when the strip joint got unbearably boring after hours upon hours, I took a walk along Broadway, into what then was the West Coast hardcore punk center, the Mabuhay Gardens or the "Fab Mab". Since I did not have anything else to do, I asked the gruff manager if I could do my next production at his club. To my surprise, Dirk Dirksen was a visionary who, instead of seeing a crip asking for a hand-out, saw me somehow as a misfit artist perfect for his new wave cabaret. Dirk gave me a sheltered theatre for six years, with complete artistic freedom and moral support. The first production was a raping of a high-brow comedy, Meb, which I turned into a multi-media farce, full of camp, nudity, sex, violence and rock n'roll. The straight playwright walked out in horror, the club owner wanted us out, and only a handful of people came. But Dirk wanted to extend the run. He loved it.

Dotty - Outrageous Beauty RvueAn important character came out of this play. She is Dotty. She was created when an actress just could not remember her lines, cues, or anything. Finally, I made her a mentally retarded free spirit, wandering around in slow motion wherever she pleased, doing whatever she pleased. Dotty (played by different people), has been climbing over my audience ever since, playing with them.

I don't think you have to worry about making a comment on the social, political, or whatever condition. I don't think you can help making a comment. It is automatic. What you do is always colliding with what is going on.

For an example:

A few years ago, I was sitting in a cafe ... a coffee house ... I spend hours sitting in coffee houses, playing cards...anyway, this older political-type woman leaned over from the next table and asked if I had been involved in an East Bay theatre group about six years ago. She had seen something that I had forgotten ever having done. After Meb I started directing Lysistrata. I had always wanted to do it because it is lewd and bawdy ... I even rewrote it to get back to the original dirt. I cast it with a mix of workshop people and new people. I also had Barry and Peter, who are in wheelchairs, play regular, normal, traditional characters. We did it in the same over-the-edge style as Meb. One rehearsal night I decided we needed an audience, so I took us to the Berkeley UA movie theater which had a great outside foyer. There were long lines for four movies. There we rehearsed. As the woman in the cafe six years later described it, these people were talking funny, in greek style obscenity ... pretty girls humping guys in wheelchairs right there next to the movie lines. This was at the height of the disabled human rights movement ... we crips had sat in at the San Francisco Federal Building for a month, blocked buses, picketed Jane Fonda's movie, Coming Home ... this woman was aware of all this ... then she comes to a movie (she can't remember what it was) and she sees women and crips doing strange, obscene things. She said for her, the piece made the disabled movement more human and added humor to it.

What impressed me about the woman in the coffeehouse is that she remembered five minutes of obscene silliness after six years. I hadn't remembered it.

Photos (from top to bottom): Mary Sullivan, Ken Jennings, Mary Sullivan

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