Breaking down the fourth wall
Ah, the theater. That bastion of entertainment we all proclaim to love, yet so many of us avoid like the plague. It’s stuffy, traditional, and requires nice clothes. Or, at least, that’s the stereotype. The Revolutions International Theatre Festival 2010 grabs those conceptions like a wet towel and wrings something entirely different from the cloth. For almost three weeks, various Albuquerque venues play host to a variety of homegrown and international performances— with a few parties thrown into the mix— that prove theater is anything but dull.
The festival celebrates its 10th year this season. Nine years ago, there were eight performances, said Summer Olsson, Revolutions’ artistic director; in 2010, the number has swelled to more than 30, with companies from two continents bringing their art to New Mexico.
“I can get all the passive entertainment I want for $30 a month; it’s way more exciting to see someone perform live and to interact,” says Nicolas Di Gaetano, co-artistic director of Mi Casa Theatre of Ottawa and a participant in this year’s fest. Wait. Interact? This theater is about much more than breaking the fourth wall. In his solo performance, Inclement Weather, Di Gaetano’s lonely traveler relies on the audience’s participation to build the bulk of the improvised story about a man trying to break the language barrier while he waits for a train.
“I won’t pretend Beckett wasn’t an influence,” said Di Gaetano. “The play is about pointless waiting. He waits with the audience for 45 minutes, and we see what happens when we try to make friends. The whole experience is so wonderful. You can sit in a train station and try for 20 minutes to talk to someone, and when you figure out that you both have brothers, it’s like you’ve been friends for life.”
Di Gaetano isn’t the only performer at Revolutions to play with language. Members of Albuquerque’s Tricklock Company (which hosts the festival) and Poland’s Teatr Figur Krakow traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Poland to co-create Nasze Miasto/Our City, a bilingual, multimedia piece that explores what it means to be away from home. By doing what each company does best— physical theater for Tricklock and shadow theater and puppetry for Teatr Figur— Nasze Miasto/Our City works beyond spoken language to tell its tale. “The nature of theater is changing so that it has more collaborations with people all over the world. We live globally now, so we create globally. Theater, like everything else, is evolving to be more cross-cultural,” said Joe Peracchio, founding artistic director of Tricklock and of Revolutions.
Pollock is the result of the collaborative efforts of playwright David D’Agostino, Moni Yakim, a teacher and founding member of the drama division at the Juilliard School, who conceived and directs the play, and Peracchio as performer. Ornette Coleman contributed original music. The play takes a unique look at Jackson Pollock, who gained notoriety as much for his volatile life as he did for his paintings. “Anyone can pick up a book, watch the movie, or any of the documentaries out there to get the story of his life,” said Peracchio. “Moni sought to create a play that mirrors the artist’s mind.” The one-man work uses nonlinear story lines and effects such as video and sound to sprinkle bits of abstraction on its audience while it asks, What is the role of art in our lives?
That question goes beyond Pollock to the festival as a whole. Olsson said that she chose many of the performers and companies with the recession in mind. “Theater and live performance are necessary to connect,” she said. “There’s a certain kind of escape when someone watches television, but they don’t get that solidarity. In times that are tougher, everyone wants to know that others are having those same experiences.”
The recession has also had a more concrete effect on the festival— repeat Revolutionaries may notice a lack of Santa Fe venues. Last year, Revolutions filled the Lensic Performing Arts Center with Lonny Gordon’s Ka*Bu*Ki, but this year, it’s to the Rail Runner or I-25 for us state-capital dwellers. “Because of the tough times, we thought it was smart to keep things focused on one area,” said Peracchio. “I have ideas for Santa Fe in the future and want to bring Pollock to Santa Fe.”
Another difference this year is the absence of the Free Speech Comedy Art Series, stand-up comedy performances that were one of the highlights of Revolutions past. This year, Peracchio says, it just wasn’t in the cards. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the series. It’s not gone for good. I created it with Paul Provenza, and he’s very busy with a new show on Showtime, so it just wasn’t the right time this year.”
But the spirit guiding the festival continues year after year. There is something to live theater that doesn’t exist in any other art form. “A lot of theater I see is safe. As an audience member I’ve felt like it’s not important whether or not I was there, the play would be exactly the same, night after night, no matter who is in the audience,” said Di Gaetano.
It’s a reaction to that kind of thinking that has shaped this event. Heck, there’s even a karaoke night where theater fans can get in on the action themselves. How’s that for danger? ◀
His hour upon the stage: Jackson Pollock
Vlasics illustrated: Nicolas Di Gaetano in