|9. Time, Community, Inter-Relations
I used my communal family of four as a core to start a weekly drop-in workshop held in a Santa Fe pre-school. I never knew who would show up each week. People from my street performances, free-spirits who heard rumors about this naked happening, a Wait Until Dark cast of straight actors whose director required them to come, all were thrown into this crazy experiment. I never knew what I was going to do because I never knew whom I would have to work with, or what I would have to deal with. This madhouse gave me a flexibility and a trust that the vision would guide me to create a temporary communal reality from those who were there. But the casual drop-in format placed a limit on how deep the intimacy could get. In my communal family, we were creating a way of being which was an underground base for the art. This base was a powerful influence. But it wasn't yet the clear focus of the work.
In May 1973, the end of this stage was a twenty-four hour performance. I became aware of the magical quality of extended time lengths when I attended an all-night peyote ceremony of the Native American church in Taos. Time was as powerful as the magic medicine in creating a group reality trance. To try this time factor, I took my cast to Albuquerque to do what amounted to a 24-hour performance. For the first six hours, we approached people on the campus of the University of New Mexico, people with whom we would like to play, inviting them to an audition that night in the College Art Department for a happening. Then, after dinner, we did the workshop exercises with the 12 people who showed up. Slowly taboos were broken, a community of performance magically appeared...which was lucky because I could only book the room until midnight. Then I had to truck the performance across the city to the University of Albuquerque. The sense of community was strong enough that everyone came along. At dawn, as we stepped out of the studio, there was the crisp feeling of being born into a new world.
Our communal living situation, the nonfilms, the outrageous events of the workshop, and my physical visibility all created a mysterious, kinky, threatening reputation in the small city of Santa Fe, which made it increasingly hard to get new people for projects. I could not tame the art down because I knew this reaction was telling us what we were doing was right. So eight of the cast decided to move to New York City, a big city with a lot of people on which to draw. One of our fantasies was to charge admission to our everyday life. (I am now playing with the idea of selling tickets to my natural death.)
We set up a workshop space in our loft at 32nd and Fifth. This time, the workshop was closed and committed, lasting several months. I got some actors from auditions. But most came from my street piece, people ranging from an ex-hooker to an angry cabbie/comedian. While failing to develop into a true community, this group performed at a ballroom a ritual I created from two of Schechner's exercises. Again, we got our audience by approaching people in the Village and inviting them to that night's event. At this performance, I began a practice of screening the audience at the door because of the intense, vulnerable and erotic nature of the work. It took me a couple of years to realize that people will not do what they cannot handle; so there is no reason to shield them. Moreover, there are better ways to handle sleazy people. Boring them is one way. There are other ways.
The only person that night whom I felt I should not let in was, to my chagrin, Schechner, my hero and artistic father, playing a dirty old man. Against my better judgement, I let him enter. Sure enough, in the middle of the piece, he set his sights on an actress, convincing her that if she left his side, he would die by stopping breathing, which he did when she tried to leave him. Showing a weakness in my workshop discipline training, she bought into it and would not follow the ritual or my directions. There was a part in the ritual where everyone lies down, eyes closed. When this point was reached, I took my cast, except the woman, out into the lobby for a huddle. In the script, there was a point when everyone was to be frozen, then to be unfrozen by a kiss. I told my cast just to not kiss Schechner and the woman until the end of the play. But they would give the two a loving massage. With this plan, we went back in and continued the performance. Schechner was amazing as the frozen figure, the ritual flowing uninterrupted around him for over two hours. I think I passed his test to see what I was made of and to see how flexible I was.
We did this performance, Inter-Relations, on a Thursday and a Friday. The trance of the temporary community was so great that the same audience came back for the second night. This often happens in my work.
Inter-Relations was focused on clothes...undressing, dressing, exchanging clothes, using clothes to tell your life story. After I did it a number of times, I began to realize that I could never predict what the performance would be like. The cast, in street clothes, came in with the audience. Everyone sat on the floor, so that there was no way to tell who was the cast and who was the audience. So when the cast started to do their unspoken ritual, members of the audience slowly copied the actions, even undressing in slow motion. I began to think that this merging into one group was the natural beginning of the ritual; that is, until one night I stupidly left a piece of carpet on a part of the floor. The real audience crowded onto the carpet, leaving the actors the bare floor. So that night, the audience watched from the rug a boring ritual...boring because there was no magical participation by the audience. I learned the hard way that everything in the performance reality is important, even a rug!
Even though this was a scripted ritual, there were parts which could change the whole night depending on how they were done. For example, when each person, one by one, redresses, he describes each item as he is putting it on. There are many ways of doing this. When the first "real" person said: "This is my red sock," I knew the piece would be short and shallow, because all the real audience members would follow the short pattern. If, on the other hand, the first real person said: "This is the slime green shirt that Bobbie left when we broke up...," I knew we would be there for hours because each person would bare his soul. I learned how to pick the right person, someone who was sensitive. For some reason, it didn't work to pick a cast member for the first person. These are the kind of secret things the artist only learns by doing one piece over and over.
Photos (from top to bottom): Linda Mac, Linda Mac, Kevin Rice, Kevin Rice