Sunday, June 24, 2007

Anna Bella Eema

"Cry theater in a crowded fire" -Artaud

Crowded Fire is a standout among SF's scores of young, hungry theatre companies; producing young, fresh, relevant works with a surprising level of polish. Last weekend I had the pleasure of catching Sunday afternoon's performance of Anna Bella Eema at TJT; I decided I had to go see it after a friend said at Zeitgeist "Three women sitting in chairs that they never leave the entire show and it's not boring." This I had to see.

Anna Bella Eema's story coalesces slowly as if out of the scraps of sound with which the show starts; The story is told in fragments that (worry not) slowly cohere to comprehensible language and story. Imagination and reality are interwoven in a meditation on the worlds that we create, choose, and fight against. The show is playing through July 1 at TJT in Potrero, San Francisco. After a brief lull it will be extended July 5-15 in Berkeley. I'm glad I didn't have to cross the bay to see this play but it's one that's worth it. Its exploration of the problematic relationship between wild things and the restrictive but expansive modern world affected me very profoundly.

I stayed after the show for the talkback, not something I normally do. The intimate setting and young company emboldened me; often this can devolve into something very dry. It was disheartening to hear some of the older audience members' confusion about elements of the production which i thought were very well executed. The show interwove reality and fantasy in a very deliberate way, reminiscent of that Latin style of romantic surrealist fiction whose proper genre name escapes me at the moment. A woman asked afterwards about various fluid events meant to blur this boundary, wanting clarity on which had "happened" and which had not. How do you explain the leap she is failing to make here? The (co-)AD who led the talkback was very adroit at handling these kinds of questions. All of the actors came out and were very clearly engaged and invested in the creative whole of the production, which was refreshing. It's frustrating, though, to see a so fully effective (for me) play, and then see it sail right past other members of the audience. Part of me thinks that a play about the modern world caging wild things is naturally going to have more resonance and appeal for a young artist than someone of a certain age in a stable and adult job/life situation. So must artists make work relevant to their audience instead of themselves? Are the concerns and lives of artists necessarily separate from those of their audience? How does an artist compile an audience that they would like to speak to? Ooh, that's a good one. Who do you want your audience to be? What are you trying to accomplish? I make small and populist work because I would like to interact with that audience, I know how to access them, and I understand their needs and motivations the best. It would be nice to reach a broader audience, to spread my thoughts wider than a circle that already believes me. Must an artist create separate works of art for their peers and those who they would like to draw into the fold? How can you present separate works of art, to appeal to a broader array of people, without alienating them into those that 'get it' and those that 'need help'? There is such a real and regrettable social division already between young artists and those who are not artists but educated and mature enough to appreciate their work in a thoughtful way, it's important not to emphasize this.

During the talkback the (co)AD also made a regrettable comparison between theatre and fine art that hangs on the wall. There is a viscerality to a theatrical experience that cannot be paralleled, but there is a pretty clear and delightful way to integrate various levels and styles of work in the visual art world. There is also, I think, something of great value in being able to reference a work over years, through different periods of time in your life. The painting may only sit there over the years, but you can come to it every day and compare your ongoing life experiences with that same (hopefully) soaring, complex vision of reality to see how they change in relation to each other.

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