Friday, October 10, 2014

Top 5 Pieces of Theater I Wish I Could See.

Yesterday I saw the news that Punchdrunk is planning an immersive theatrical experience in Los Angeles. A trip to LA, at some unidentifiable time in the future when I have more money and time off, seems completely doable, much more so than London. Within the past year there have been so many productions that I've been unable to see, because I am in Austin Texas and they are in Elsewhere. Aside from "The Drowned Man," here are a few others for which I would have happily bought a plane ticket, had it been possible:

1."Imagining O." This, more than anything else, I wanted/want to see - I hope that it's restaged or remounted at some point because I would happily travel to see it. The idea of an immersive Story of O...I don't know if I've heard of another work being developed as immersive theater that has intrigued me so much and made me wonder just how far the artists were going to push the boundaries of the audience members. And, as an aside, I would LOVE to create a performance inspired by O myself, as I think there's an interesting feminist take to be had there. Because as brilliant as Schechner is and as much as I want to see this piece, I am far more interested in a woman's perspective and voice on Reage's novel (the first piece of published erotica written by a woman? or at least with a fascinating backstory about the writer's identity and outrage around its subject matter) than I am in a man's. I've been brainstorming a couple of things and merging "O" with other images, stories, pieces of literature that I love. I don't know if it's "immersive" or "performance art" or installation but I've wanted to say SOMETHING about this book ever since I discovered it tucked away in props storage at Surflight Theater back in 2000. This is one of those projects that will probably kick around in my brain for a couple of years until I'm someday in the right place, financially and geographically and mentally, to create it.

"Imagining O"


2. "BrainExplode!" It's not really an immersive piece but definitely one in which the audience gets to exert some control over the play, using game mechanics in a fascinating way. I heard about this piece over the summer, and it was just one of those huge YES moments. The concept is so ridiculously simple and elegant. I would see this several times, and probably most of those would be just to watch the audience.

3. "STRATA." This piece was on the cover of American Theater Magazine last summer and wasn't around long enough for me to hop on a plane to Pittsburgh for it. The design is what struck me first, the image on the cover of the magazine was beautiful and I'm a huge sucker for immersive/interactive/non-linear work that is well-designed. Furthermore, STRATA played with giving the audience members a degree of agency over their journey that actually led to a number of different ways the show could progress.
"STRATA"

4. "Fifth Column." If this extends...oh god. I'm going to London. Or moving there. I mean, all I hear about London theater lately are experiences like this. PS, my birthday is coming up, and they have the perfect one-of-a-kind gift.

5. "Ring." I saw this group's piece "The Bench" at Fusebox a couple of years back, and it was probably the first piece of theater I experienced that involved the "audience" wearing headphones and taking instruction on what to do next as the "performer." "Ring" dispenses with the visual elements entirely and leaves the audience with only sound and darkness.

 And also...
6. "GamerGate! The Musical." Please, dear god, someone make this.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sexism, Entitlement, Art & Geek Culture.

I've been following #GamerGate for the past two months, despite my better judgement. It is, at turns, hysterical and infuriating and stressful. Hysterical because to the outside world, a lot of what has happened in this controversy looks absolutely ridiculous. Infuriating and stressful because unfortunately, it has actually affected quite a few actual lives, and not in a good way. During load in for one of my recent shows I told a friend, artistic director of a well-respected company in Austin, all about this "scandal," and it was quite satisfying. He is the type of person who doesn't pull punches when talking about the world around him and the oppression of different groups of people that is inherent in our culture. We had a good, long laugh at the idea that #GamerGate happened at all, that people are "fighting" this "battle" with the tactics that they are using. Given that #GamerGate started at the same time as the events in Ferguson, it was insane to us that energy and airtime was being given to this issue. My own twitter feed was like a surrealist piece of performance art - dueling threads about Ferguson and the oppression of white men in gaming culture. One seems like an actual problem, and the other like a whole lot of whining.

Except #GamerGate has had real-life impacts on the lives and careers of actual people, mainly women. The next time anyone at any college sits around wondering why it is that they can't get more girls interested in majoring in computer sciences, point them towards this issue. Why would they want to, if it meant risking this kind of treatment?

Katherine Cross's tweets, on women in the gaming industry leaving

It's not just a problem with gamer culture though, it's a larger problem with, I believe, geek culture. And it's not just a problem with misogyny (though that is a huge part of it). It's a problem of entitlement.

In so many of the pieces I've read about this controversy I see an angry group of people who want desperately to be taken seriously. And that's been true of the gaming medium for years. Many gamers wanted their hobby to be something more than the thing they did that was a waste of time, that was pure consumerism and entertainment and that parents and educators believed was worthless. Games were art, it was argued. And I agree: they are art. And the larger culture in recent years has accepted them as such. Games have now been included in the Smithsonian. Games have invaded how we create theater. Games are now part of advertising. Scholars write and speak about how games can actually improve the world around us.

Someone told me this guy's famous.
And now, gamers are mad. Because when what you do enters the realm of cultural criticism, it's subjected to the viewpoints of people who weren't looking at it before, weren't taking it seriously. It's exposed to feminist theory, queer theory, scrutiny from all angles by journalists, academics, other artists, prominent critics, women, men, people of color, the LGBT community. In short, people who may or may not have fallen under the traditional white male gamer demographic.

Guess what guys. You can't have it both ways. You can't expect the world to take you seriously and not at the same time subject you to cultural criticism. Filmmakers can't make movies without feminist scrutiny, favorite TV artists are criticized all the time. The growing awareness of how women have long been represented in media and art has led to us taking a hard look at rape culture and its effects. And games are a part of that. That is what you wanted when you asked to be taken seriously.

So games are now art - a viewpoint with which I wholeheartedly agree. Add onto that the fact that games now have a much wider, more diverse audience. Add onto that serious discussions about entitlement, rape, racism, queer issues, and the fact that people of different demographics want to be portrayed as diversely as white men have been for years.

You are not entitled to a seat at the big boy table of cultural discussion while simultaneously being allowed to not evolve with culture. No one is. The discussion is happening everywhere, not just in your niche. And by and large, in other mediums, when pieces of art are criticized on social issues the reaction is...wait for it...discussion. DISCUSSION. Not threats, not harassing, not huge online manifestos, not delusions of being qualified to "peer review" academic journal articles based on having played games lots (FYI - I have a terminal degree in my field, and I don't know if *I* am qualified to peer review something IN MY FIELD). I'm not saying that ridiculous sexism and misogyny doesn't occur in other media - it certainly does. Ask Jennifer Lawrence. But to take part in this, and to be taken seriously, you have to participate in civil discussion. You have to consider the other side. And until that happens, your movement is NOT going to be taken seriously. People outside of gaming culture will continue to laugh, continue to scratch their heads and wonder how the hell this got to be so "important," and people will CONTINUE to side with those who have been undeservedly harmed by members of your movement. You have to respond respectfully.

Just as the showrunners for Game of Thrones have to.
Just as every regional theater that produces seasons of largely white male playwrights has to. 

The Guthrie: All White Men, All The Time.
And you have to take a look at the way ANYONE is portrayed in your medium, and every medium is guilty of portraying women not as people but as things to win. You are not entitled to women, any part of them. Ever. I know that The Big Bang Theory has shown you that geek guys get the hot girl. I know, because I watched hours and hours and hours of that show while dealing with depression, that women in that show have been unfairly represented. There is one episode in particular that makes my blood boil. In it, Penny (who is of course blonde, beautiful, not regarded as very intelligent and never given a last name) reacts to Howard's outright gross misogynist comments in the way that she should, in the way that all women have at one time wanted to react to a man who thinks that catcalling is a compliment. She flat out rejects him, in not-very-nice words. And 15 minutes later is apologizing to him for it. I know you've been told that saying those things to women is ok, and the woman is overreacting and in the wrong. You are not entitled to the hot girl next door. I have seen, throughout this whole #GamerGate fiasco, references to parts of our bodies as though that's all we are, slut-shaming as though we aren't allowed to have private sex lives. I have personally been subjected to name calling (my favorite was being told I was a "batshit crazy penis-hater"), nowhere near the level of what some women have had to endure, for simply engaging in the discussion. This may be a vocal minority, but it is still a very visible part of your movement. And just as you have to take responsibility for how your art form is perceived by culture as a whole, you have to take responsibility for those within your party who are ruining your good time.

Just as Christians have to.
Just as FEMINISTS have to.
Just as any sub-culture, any group, has to deal with the fact that some of its loudest voices are the least attractive.

And you might want to consider not only distancing yourselves from the hashtag #GamerGate but outright rejecting it, and starting over. #GamerGate started with attempts to destroy the lives of two women. You can't recover from that, and claim that your movement is about ethics. You just can't. No one will take you seriously. You are not entitled to that.

The good life.

Recently I asked my first year students the following question: At this time, what constitutes the "good life" for you? What per...