The first annual Festival of Poets Theater was held December 2-5, 2015, at Sector 2337. The accompanying newspaper, as well as photographs from the festival, can be found here. The festival featured performances by Ingrid Becker and Hannah Brooks-Motl, Josh Rios and Anthony Romero, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Daniel Borzutzky, John Tipton, avery r. young, TRAUMA DOG (Cassandra Troyan & Rachel Ellison), Patrick Durgin with Brian Hochberger and Willy Smart, and Ira S. Murfin. Plays by Amiri Baraka, Brent Cunningham, and K. Silem Mohammad were also produced. Talks were given by Heidi Bean, John Beer, and Carla Harryman. There were also screenings of work by Kathy Acker and Eleanor Antin.
Wednesday, December 2nd
7:00 pm Ordinary Isadora: Often called the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan is now mostly remembered for her unusual death, her scandalous life, and, perhaps, her outre costuming (Duncan dancers still wear tunics). But Duncan’s dance is built on ordinary movements: walking, skipping, running, as well as moments of interaction–touching, looking, pushing, reaching–between people, objects, and atmospheres within scenes. Her work also asks us to think about the ordinary in historical ways; to think, that is, more deeply about the historicity of bodies developed in Marcel Mauss’s notion of “body techniques.” This performance talk by Ingrid Becker and Hannah Brooks-Motl, currently studying Duncan dance (and in the PhD program in English at the University of Chicago) will address Duncan and ordinariness through both movement and discussion.
7:30 pm I Am American: I Speak English, by Josh Rios and Anthony Romero, explores the historical changes of status certain languages undergo in the US and the effects this shift has on subsequent generations. Translation, multilingualism, interpretation, and mediated events of language acquisition are the points from which the performance begins. Language exceeds mere communication; it is a symbol in itself; it is a place of respite, a method of resistance, and a marker of difference. Configured to challenge authenticity as rooted in a way of speaking while lamenting the systematic erasure of native tongues I Am American: I Speak English attempts to deal with the conditions under which ways of speaking become lost and then found?
8:15 pm Playing with cliched feminine personae, Eleanor Antin in The Adventures of a Nurse (1976) manipulates cut-out paper dolls to tell the story of innocent Nurse Eleanor who meets one gorgeous, intriguing, and available man after another. Nurse Eleanor is the fantasy creation of Antin, who is costumed as a nurse. Staged on a bedspread and acted by a cast of one, The Adventures of a Nurse moves through successive layers of irony to unravel a childlike, self-enclosed fantasy of a young woman’s life. (Description from Video Data Bank)
Thursday, December 3rd
7:00 pm Adaptation of Quraysh Ali Lansana’s book of poems, TheWalmart Republic, directed by Emily Hooper Lansana.
7:30 pm El Gato Pussycat Proteja Your Gringo Cheese, a neo-benshi piece by Daniel Borzutzky, investigates manifestations of violence and cultural imperialism on the Southwestern border as depicted in early pop-culture images of Mexicans in and outside of the US.
8:00 pm Who Is React? is an early “Flarf” composition by K. Silem Mohammad, directed for the festival by Sharon Lanza. The Flarf e-mail list, populated by myself, Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon, Drew Gardner, Sharon Mesmer, Jordan Davis, Katie Degentesh, Maria Damon, and others, was active during the aughts, when we would send poems to each other that we wrote by various methods, most conspicuously by collaging together scraps of language taken from Google search page results. As was typical of these early pieces, the googled language in “React” underwent minimal editing, and great care was taken not to take great care with arrangement, continuity, or coherence. It has been performed at the Small Press Traffic Poets’ Theater Jamboree in 2004 in San Francisco and the first Flarf Festival at the Medicine Show Theater in 2006 in New York City.
Friday, December 4th
7:00 pm Nero’s Ghosts is a combination of translations of Seneca by Kristina Chew and John Tipton. As a pre-eminent stoic philosopher focused on small acts of impoverished virtue who lived a life of opulence as an advisor to the hedonistic Nero, Seneca’s contradictions mark him as one of the great representatives of Roman life. While his philosophical influence can be tracked in Dante and Montaigne, amongst others, his work as a playwright looms large over Renaissance theater. Seneca’s plays—updates of Greek myths that are generally assumed to have been written to be recited amongst friends in a salon environment—are strange, tortured works of heavy violence and psychological turmoil. This performance takes as its beginning a scene between Nero and Seneca himself from Octavia—a play long attributed to Seneca but now known to be written by someone else—and moves to combine sections from a few of Seneca’s different works. Reminiscent of 1001 Nights—though trading a bedroom setting for a sterile office—this performance reflects upon how myth interprets and fulfills state sanctioned bodily harm.
7:45 pm In his directorial debut, poet/performer avery r. young explores light, sound and language in the late Amiri Baraka’s play, Home On the Range. Within an evening of watching television, a family is confronted by an intruder. In this interactive presentation, young will rely on both performer and audience in this inspection of stereotypes, imagery and sonic shifting. Co-presented by the Red Rover Series with performers: Dan Godston, Shadell Jameson, Jennifer Karmin, Kortney Morrow, Analeah Rosen, and Nate Russell.
8:30 pm The Arm Collector by TRAUMA DOG (Cassandra Troyan & Rachel Ellison) is a stage for uncovering the erotics of competitive objectification. We prepare for battle; on the pole, in the octagon, on the field, in the air, in the wilderness. Self-realization, attained by victory and satisfaction, is enacting on this terrain of desirous drama. 1: “It’s like anything else: I’ve done all of my life. I would never stop training no matter what.” 2: “The environment is perfect for celebrating. Plenty of room to sit and great view from all directions.” 1: “Put that together…it hits you a lot.” 2: “The dancers were high energy and very good at their routine.” 1: “You don’t want to hear the critics sometimes but still — I’m a sensitive guy and it still hits you, hits you and you are never good enough.” 2: “Doors open at 7 pm. Bring extra dollars for the men, they are very entertaining and real gentlemen. The drinks are great and the talent is so adorable.”
Saturday December 5th
2:30 pm Carla Harryman’s talk, Towards a Poets Theater, will approach Poets Theater from the perspective of a practitioner, focusing on full-length works since 2000 that explore polyvocality, bilingual translation, interdisciplinary collaboration, sound-text experiment, multi-authorship, site and physical context in the realization of non/narrative “poetic” plays. These works include “Performing Objects Stationed in the Sub World,” “Mirror Play,” “Sue,” and “Gardener of Stars, the Opera,” most of which are written as autonomous text that are radically open to interpretation by any given performing group. Harryman will also give a brief account of the “language-centered” Bay Area Poets Theater from the late 1970’s through mid 1980’s to establish a context for the development of later works, and to show the potential of a yet-to-be fully realized theater within and beyond her own practice.
3:15 pm Heidi R. Bean’s talk: Capturing the Scene of Amiri Baraka’s Home on the Range: In 1968 Amiri Baraka’s play Home on the Range seemed destined for an auspicious career. Despite being a strange little one-act in which the white characters speak in what one prominent critic deemed “unintelligible gibberish,” it toured nationally, played before an audience of 2600 as part of a high-profile Black Panther benefit that was widely covered by the media, and was published in the celebrated 1968 Black Theatre issue of The Drama Review. And yet the play soon fell into obscurity, with no productions on record after 1970 and no reprint for thirty years. So what happened? More than most plays, this talk argues, Home on the Range enjoyed a moment precisely because it captured a scene. It was both product and victim of its own competing interests—a clash of pro-textual avant-garde poetics, anti-textual performativity associated with American theater of the 1960s, Black Nationalist ideology, and the emerging sense of cultural performativity Baraka championed, all coming together at a particularly activist moment in African American cultural history.
6:30 pm Interference is a remote controlled performance piece by Patrick Durgin taking cues from Scott Burton’s infamous “Behavior Tableaux.” See if you can find it.
7:00 pm In The Gunfight, by Brent Cunningham, a war of weapons between The Kid and Tex turns into a war of words, then into a war of words about words, then–almost thankfully–back into a war of weapons. The Gunfight was originally performed as part of Poets Theater at Small Press Traffic in 2007 with Dan Fisher as The Kid, Lauren Shufran as Tex, and Brandon Brown as the Sheriff. Since then it has been performed at the Yockadot Poetics Theater Festival (2007) and at The Rogue Theater in Tucson, Arizona as part of the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Poetry Off the Page Event (2012).
7:30 pm Figures of Speech and Figures of Thought (re-visited): Encounters from David Antin’s 80 Langdon Street talk re-performed // David Antin’s aborted talk piece “Figures of Speech and Figures of Thought” was originally presented in May 1978 as part of the “Talk” series poet Bob Perelman ran at the San Francisco art space 80 Langdon Street. Approximating the spatial and temporal conditions of the original event, Ira S. Murfin, together with the audience, re-performs transcribed audio recordings of those moments when the talk was diverted from its intended format by audience intervention. In general, Antin’s talk poems begin as extemporaneous lectures before live audiences that are then recorded, transcribed, edited and published as poetry. In this case, key members of the audience at 80 Langdon, including poet Ron Silliman, Perelman, and Antin’s wife, the artist Eleanor Antin, intervened in Antin’s talk to debate the limits of the performance as an artwork, who controls when, or if, the talk would become a poem, and what it would ultimately include. Though the talk piece itself was never published, accounts of the incident have appeared from Antin, Perelman, and the artist Ellen Zweig, who was in the audience. Murfin resumes the interrupted process of entextualization and uses that material to re-inhabit the parts of the performance when its monologic status was dialogically called into question. Using simple tools and a shared occasion, Murfin facilitates a re-performance that gives Antin’s self-reflexive unpublished talk a new temporal, voiced, and embodied life in the present and off the page.
8:30 pm The Birth of the Poet, directed by Richard Foreman, is a production of a play written by downtown legend Kathy Acker, with music by Peter Gordon and sets by David Salle. Part of 1985’s Next Wave Festival, The Birth of the Poet was reviled at its premiere: the audience (those who hadn’t already walked out) barraged the actors with boos, and the next day’s reviews unanimously echoed the audience’s rage. The Birth of the Poet is still considered one of the most panned shows of the Next Wave. (From BAM blog)