Monday, August 13, 2012

Showing Necropolis

So I'm starting this performance company (well, I could haggle about when it started, but I'm only now using a name for it) with a staging of some poems from Jill Alexander Essbaum's Necropolis. It's a dark, heavy book, full of death and grief, although I also find humor and hope in it. I turned to this book when I was handed an opportunity (more on that later) to produce some work because I'd pictured some of it staged from the moment I read it.

In the subheading of this blog, you'll see the phrase, "servants to the showing." I came to this phrase via Kate Warren (an Austin, TX, based dancer and choreographer, friend, and founder of Circuitous Dance/Kate Warren) who quoted to me a phrase from Merce Cunningham: " . . . not to show off, but to show." I felt as if that was an important distinction. I began thinking about my work in terms of the question, "what do I want to show?" I felt part of this vocation of being an artist is to be a servant to the showing.

But the question haunted me: What did I want to show with Jill's poems? I wanted to show her artistry with language, yes, but what else? What was I getting at? I felt I might be more concerned with "showing off" (Jill's poetic genius and my cleverness with staging non-traditional material)  than with showing.

Then I began rereading Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination. Let me quote a bit from page 43:

Bruce Loftin has studied attitudes concerning death in our culture beginning with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and response to those events. Beyond these he has considered the more general response to living in a world where death is so visible, so daily, so pervasive, and so massive, and yet so unnoticed. Lifton has concluded that we have no adequate way to relate to death reality and potential, so we deny it with numbness. 

Moreover, says Loftin, behind that frightened practice is a symbol gap in which we  do not have symbols that are deep or strong enough to match the terror of the reality. What takes place when symbols are inadequate and things may not be brought to public expression is that the experience will not be experienced. 

It's nothing to new to say we, as a culture, do not know how to enter into the grief of endings, whether death or other endings. We are a culture that avoids grief with platitudes or else numb it with food or shopping---anything to fill the hole of loss without addressing the hole.

I don't know if I can show an audience everything about grief and grieving, but if there's one thing about Jill's book, it does not avoid it.

So, I go forward with this project, I'm reflecting upon what symbols I can bring to public expression. How can I help people experience the experience of loss---and the new beginning that follows?

This may require some negotiation with Jill's words---I'm not sure we share the same agenda in presenting these words. Perhaps we'll have to talk about it.

For now, this where I am in the process. I know the material I'm working with. I know that I want to show the audience something---something more than entertainment, although I believe there will be entertaining moments. I'm finding my sources to inform and shape this intent. .

To quote the first poem in Necropolis:

And that's as good a place as any to begin.