This past week we performed a new show called IAMMADEOFSTARS, and I can’t stop thinking about it. We were improvising acrobatics, and that’s a risk that takes a ton of trust, but that wasn’t what kept me up the nights leading up to the shows. We were playing in a satirical language where I slowly became less and less interested in the comedy.
There’s a version of IAMMADEOFSTARS that doesn’t approach the world of unabashedly weird performance art from the safe side of irony. We were allowed to perform without fear because we were commenting upon artists, rather than earnestly embodying art. I typically loathe commentary, and perversely, that was one of the targets of our satire: the rarefied and epistemological concept art that has over time become so wrapped up in itself that it ceases to connect to the world. If artists are only able to speak about the artistic process, or the function of art or its opposite, then we will mummify ourselves in a blanket of our own commentary. We will cease to be a living stream, connected in a flow of ideas from observation to analysis to synthesis to performance. And there we were, commenting on art. We were like a power strip plugged into itself, funny for its failure to function, but no less dead.
There’s a version of IAMMADEOFSTARS that might could begin with a different goal: the goal of exultant beauty, of reflection without embarrassment, of generous performance that leads with vulnerability not as a fad flavor of art but because we hold central to our making process the ability to let every mask and armor fall in service to showing the audience the risk of being moved.
On Saturday night, there was an improvised moment where Nicole ‘froze’ me, and spoke to me from behind. She said that it’s alright. That there’s no danger. That I can’t be harmed. That we’re safe here. It felt like encouragement to let go. It set my mind racing to this thought: this entire time, all nights of the show and most of my life as a performer, I have been talking a big talk about vulnerability but seldom letting myself be in a position where I might be moved to an unknown feeling, or seen in a way I wasn’t carefully controlling.
Our joking was my armor, my need to be more aware than those strawmen artists whom we pilloried, pretending they might not just be me. I’m still afraid of making the show I really want to, the IAMMADEOFSTARS that braves the risk of being seen without the escape hatch of the thing I know I can do: humor. Communitas was close to this, a show that became humorous not through intentional comedy but because we can’t help but laugh when we see and understand.
I feel like a coward because we found a backdoor into the uncensored potential of pure spontaneous creativity. The healthy way into a state of unselfconsciousness involves awareness: an acknowledging of our internal censor, the voice telling us that we're imposters, we're doomed, the idea is dumb, everyone will hate it, and choosing to pay no mind to that voice. Especially during improvisation, wherein impulse is primary and ensemble support is indispensable, we must let go of that hesitation.
We got to ignore the censor by feigning ignorance, by playing blind and oblivious to any other possibility than our brilliance. Real artists must evade the censor with their eyes on it, defeating it through practice rather than ignoring it with mock confidence.
So here's the curious horseshoe effect: the more we allowed ourselves to pretend we're in the midst of performing the most brilliant performance art in the history of the world, the more we opened the possibility that sections of what we made might be inspired and beautiful and worth holding seriously. We allowed ourselves the liberty of making without feeling the risk of showing something personal. I’m eager to try the real thing without to coy cheating towards it.
Harry Shearer said of the satire Spinal Tap, "The closer we dared to get to the real thing, the closer the real thing dared to get to us...it's like reality is calling our bluff at every step along the way." I want to call my own bluff and lay all my cards on the table.
One of the performance rules inside the show was: we may not smile. It's hilarious to see idiotic premises treated with self-seriousness, but it makes me wonder, what if we just made the show that we would make without a smile? What do I take seriously enough to believe in? Is there anything that fits that criterion? Or am I too much of a ceaseless trickster to behave with the reverent gravity we're sending up in IAMOS? I feel like an immature teenager, still trying to pretend that I’m too cool to care, then quietly going to the library to secretly look up the topics I’m too embarrassed to admit I’m into. So, what do I care about enough to make without irony?
There's fatherhood, maybe. There's the need for a constitutional amendment enshrining citizen funded elections. There's the sickness of white male privilege and its unpalatable but necessary cures. There’s enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life, and even buried in that sentence is the only theme that may be inescapable...