Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rambling I: Here and Nowhere.

This post is stream of consciousness brain/word vomit. You have been warned.

Sometimes I assign "weird" things to my first years to read. Today we discussed Foucault's "Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias," which has been on the syllabus since August, along with a discussion of immersive theatre and the connections (?) between the two.  Some of these "weird" readings were intended as palette cleansers between the main plays we read and saw in the class (Romeo and Juliet, Wedding Band, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) but as we've been getting close to the end of the semester and their focus has been on their final papers, I've been able to devote a couple of classes to different kinds of performance, and that's where this came in. Plus - I want to expose them to a variety of challenging readings and relating those possibly back to theatre.

So - a discussion on what the hell is a heterotopia anyway? ensued. I haven't stopped thinking about that discussion all day.

Karolina Sobel; Color 2013 Photography "Heterotopia"

Hetero: the other, otherness. Topos: the place. Here and nowhere, a place with an ambiguous relationship to reality. Places in which to contain that which is outside the norm. A physical representation of a utopia or parallel space; a space with more layers of meaning than meets the eye......

Liminal spaces. Occupying a space at a transitional phase. Liminality is my favorite word.

The way Foucault describes a heterotopia feels very much like a space that is separate from other spaces, existing outside of reality or time. And I'm feeling in a lot of ways as if much of my life fits into that right now. Parts that I thought were headed towards permanency are feeling more transient than I originally believed. When we landed here I believed this was it, we would settle here, buy a house here. I had never wanted to buy a house before, but it suddenly seemed like a possibility. Of course, the house I wanted was at 9005 Palace Pkwy in Austin Texas, but with a new kitchen and fewer foundation problems and an actual living tree growing out of the deck but other that that yeah, a house in Saint Paul. Totally. A house was a completely achievable goal once tenure happened.

Vadim Zakharov, Black Birds, 2007 installation

Then came the heart attack, and that changed. And now, another possible and likely setback. Things change all the time. Life is change, that was one of the things spray painted on the bridge over Town Lake once. Everything that was ever spray painted on that bridge was brilliant.

The stage itself is a heterotopia. We never use it as a stage, its purpose is always to create other worlds, parallel spaces, layered spaces, other realities. Especially once we step outside realism and start placing those worlds next to one another, in ways they don't logically relate, where symbolism and semiotics carry more weight than physics and math. We ask audiences to follow us into these worlds from their seats in the house and they accept the impossibility of it in the same way that they accept the rules of other heterotopias - libraries and hospitals and universities and churches, spaces that are separated from the norms of "reality" and have their own rules and cultures within that need to be followed. Theatre is just one that stretches that lack of reality a little further. There was a review once a long time ago (omg it will soon be ten years ago Dustin Lisa Kim Kim Emily Chase Gabe we should have a reunion) that referred to our design of Ophelia as a "haunting nowhere."

Immersive theatre goes even further than that, because now the heterotopia the audience is experiencing is a physical place they can walk through, not just one they are looking at. And, in the case of something like Sleep No More or The Drowned Man, different locations placed next to each other (Macbeth's bedroom next to the cemetery next to...) don't necessarily make sense but contain meaning. Why are we telling the stories of Macbeth AND Rebecca simultaneously?

(I just realized that I sound like I honestly SHOULD like The Unconsoled and I really, really hate it. On an insanely visceral level. Sorry Mark. I can't ever forgive Ishiguro for that book.)

Vincent J. Stoker, photographer

Next week, I am going to LA. Again. Third time this year? Fourth, if you count LA-Taipei-LA as two trips. I'm going to an event for The Lust Experience (Anointment) - another heterotopia. According to Foucault, "...a heterotopia is not freely acceptable like a public get in, one must have a certain permission and make certain gestures..." In the last several days I've received emails regarding my attendance at this event and its rules - signing waivers, following orders, don't touch, etc. but also that I must dress formally and wear a mask. The entire immersive experience that is Lust is a great big blurring of heterotopia and reality - can that even be possible? A bit like a visible parallel universe transposed on top of this one...Lust sits on top of reality and isn't really separable from it but also isn't part of it. Though maybe in a way it is. The Cloudmakers argued, back in 2001, that The Beast WAS actual reality for many people, and we only lived that for four months. And that in no way resembled this level of intricacy and emotional depth. There were really no actors/interactions at all.

Here and nowhere pretty much describes my life right now. Liminal.

I have found a few relationships in the last 2 1/2 years that I believe might be permanent. Until recently I considered that number higher, but now, I think it might be fewer than five. The problem, I think, is subcultures. No matter where they are, what kind they are, what purpose they serve, there seems to be a pattern of toxicity to them - a group of people drawn together around one single thing, an idea, a purpose that bonds them together and makes it nearly impossible to actually relate to them in its absence. I don't think of theatre in general or specific shows as being subcultures because they are so temporary. We come together and form a community to put up a piece of art, and then disperse. It's the ongoing, never ending (or without a known ending) relationships centered around ONE thing. When we can't leave that one thing behind and do a different thing - go out for a drink, have a conversation, support each other through a thing, it starts to feel more like a construct, a false sense of a relationship. 

Or, perhaps, it's me that's the problem in thinking that "friends" was ever a term that should apply. "Friends," for me, now that I really think about it, are the people who are not part of any thing in my life. They are outside of all things. I have one close friend from grad school, and that's probably the only example of that. One from my undergrad theatre department, though that's not where we met. Two who were friends of mine growing up. One who was a roommate from my 20s. I have a group of college friends that are good friends - that could be considered the closest thing to one of these groups, but I've always been on the outside of that, and that group has become so porous over the years that it hasn't developed any kind of toxicity. I don't know if it was like that back in college. I have all the Austin friends, but they probably fall under the same category, and in either case, those "groups" aren't spending all day, every day together as a whole, doing one thing. My close friends exist in permanent spaces, in realities - their own homes and families or apartments in New York or Austin or Los Angeles. We occasionally talk or see each other once or a few times per year or maybe more. I rarely, if ever, have to worry about what they think about me. I never really feel unwanted.

Becoming a part of a group that I don't know well, in any context, and being with that group long term, as in a subculture - that's a different story. I worry, constantly. Especially if my membership in that group is uncertain. Especially if my future depends on it. Especially if my self-worth is riding on it, which it all too often does. Everyone is fixated on the one thing that brought them together and sometimes, I'm not. Sometimes I am the one blurring the line between the reality of my life and the heterotopia of that relationship. I'm treating these subcultures and groups of people that should be compartmentalized as transparencies that I'm layering over reality.

As usual it's me that's the problem, not them. I relate to people differently. That's how it was described to me over breakfast recently. (By the way, Minnesota, get your damn migas straight. Those were NOT migas.) I connect with so few people that when I do, it holds meaning for me - but not always to the other person.

This is getting seriously close to Sputnik Sweetheart-levels of contemplation of liminality and crossing over and I may now need to watch Picnic at Hanging Rock and call Torry and really convince her of the urgent need to adapt Murakami's book into a multimedia/puppet show NOW. (Mark, do NOT call Murakami a "lightweight" just because I never ran screaming out of a Forced Entertainment production for making me feel like I was stuck in The Unconsoled.) There is always a part of me willing to cut ties in order to cross over into something else. Another layer of reality. Another space. Another...

Maybe the heterotopia needs to be sacrificed to see if there is actually a friendship worth cultivating.

Once you know for certain exactly what people think of you, is it easier to stay? When you're no longer wasting energy on paranoia and worry? I know that many would ask me why I'd want to but there are very simple answers to that question. I'm not going to put them out here, but they do exist.

So. I have learned things. A lot of things.
Next time, I'll be much better at this.
More cautious. More reserved. Less trusting. More filtering.
More likely to remember who the top 9 "favorites" in my contacts are. More likely to call them. They are what is real. What is constant.

Yeah, I'm being vague on purpose. And this post will not likely still exist in the spring.

Driving away from the wreck of the day and it's finally quiet in my head...
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