Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Fieldwork with the Desert Fathers

Let me first just say, I'm a doofus. And I owe my cast this enormous crazy big apology. So I asked them if they could be at the first Fieldwork session a little early, to go over the bit we were showing. Well, they could, but obviously I couldn't. I'd forgotten how far it is from my apartment to Barnevelder, especially by bus. Also, I've not met this facilitator before. I always intend to make better first impressions and never quite manage.

This first snippet of the project is one of the funnier stories from the Fathers. Two monks who have lived in peace together for years attempt to have an argument and fail. In my adaptation, I have two of us (the two men, in fact) cross the stage in a ridiculous, cartoonish argument. The two monks are played by two women.

The feedback I received was both encouraging and troubling and I plow ahead with the hope that the larger context that will grow around this snippet will ease some of the troubling feedback. I also didn't give any background or information about what we were doing, we just got up and did it. Even so, I'm not sure a program or show publicity will completely erase what I don't want to convey.

Here's the thing. I think it was Balanchine, in talking about his abstract ballets, who said, "You put a man and a woman on a stage and you have a story." (Or something like that---maybe one of my readers will know the exact quote and correct me if it wasn't Balanchine.) I got a lot of feedback about gender roles, gender traits, that sort of thing. The two men arguing were displaying masculinity and abundant testosterone, the women were being woman who are more peaceful. I actually hadn't considered all of that, but I had considered that if I had a man and a woman arguing, that's a whole other rack of luggage to unpack. And a man and a woman living in peace together for decades leads us to another type of relationship. So I went with the same gender pairs (using, by the way, the people who came to play---I didn't cast these looking for any particular sex to play any role), thinking we'd at least keep away ideas about comparing marriages. I didn't completely---people still spoke of both pairs as "couples," which is its own sort of progress. And I wonder if we'd had the women arguing and the men living in peace together, if we would have had the "male=calm rational thinking, female=irrational emotion" dichotomy (cf Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund).

So, I'm left with no good solution with a mixed sex cast. And, well, we control what we can, we must let go what we can't.

It does cause me to reflect on the fact of humans having sexed bodies. I really don't want that to matter, but I'm always confronted with it. Whether it's on a stage where a man and a woman on stage creates a story, no matter how abstract the material presented or whether it's in real life where I meet people for whom having the correctly sexed body is worth surgeries and prescriptions to have some peace of mind. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." My desire is to focus on the Imago Dei, but the male and female of it keeps causing me troubles. Which, of course, means the Imago Dei causes me troubles. And really, depending upon the person in the audience, personal histories, other "texts" (to use the deconstructionist term) will influence what is seen anyway. Any two bearers of the Image of God on a stage creates stories that the storyteller can't control.

The work before me is going to be challenging. And worth doing.

On a lighter note, I remain crazy happy with the people I have working with me on this. One of the familiar Fielders asked me, "where did you find these people?" I said, "I posted some things on an internet site and they showed up." Which is a long way of answering, "Grace."

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