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Behind The Proscenium: April 2008 Archives

April 2008 Archives

Performance Art

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pussy_show_poster.jpgI remember living in the "80s".  It was the time of Wham! and Careless Whisper.  It was the time of Broadway's Les Miserables and Big River.  Sadly, it was also the time of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Fallwell and his "Moral Majority".  The reason I bring any of this up is the reminder of the ghastly "Moral Majority".  Why?  Because in my circle of theater aficionados we had a saying - "The Moral Majority is neither."  Neither "moral" nor "majority."  What is the relevance?  It is this; today I'm going to talk to a performance artist.  I must admit that I have no idea what performance art is supposed to be.  But I do know this; performance art is neither.  Neither "performance" nor "art."  Earlier in the week I had the misfortune to be invited by a (no longer) friend to a "show" by noted "artist" Zenobia Lassiter.  The "show" was called Pussy.  I thought it might be about cats (I love my kitties, they are adorable), but I was horribly wrong.  I talked to Lassiter after the "show."

 

Kyrle Lendhoffer:  I don't know what to say...

 

Zenobia Lassiter:  There is no correct response.  When everything is deconstructed to its most base level, there is really nothing left to say.

 

KL:  No, that's not it.  At times I thought I was going to be sick.  You call that "theater"?

 

ZL:  Of course I do.  It's the only kind of theater that matters.  Think about what made you sick.

 

KL:  All right, I'm thinking about it.  Oh, god...

 

ZL:  And it makes you sick again!  My work has power!  You will remember this forever!  You can't say the same about Rent.

 

KL:  I thought Rent was very powerful.  And I'll remember it forever because it was INCREDIBLE.  Because it had artistic integrity.  Because it had a beginning, middle and end.

 

ZL:  Those things are over rated.  You long for the theater of your grandfather.  I'm giving you the theater of your unborn great grandson.

 

We bickered for a moment about whether or not I'd have a great grandson and how that really mattered in the grand scheme of things.

 

KL:  Zenobia, what the hell was your piece about?

 

ZL:  You tell me, Mr. Lendhoffer.  What did you think it was about?

 

KL:  (thinking for a few moments) I think you were trying to explore your own sexuality and the tenuous relationship between man and woman.  I think.

 

ZL:  Wrong!  Try again.

 

KL:  Really?  I mean, it must have had something to do with your sexuality in some way.  There is no way that it wasn't.

 

ZL:  You're not setting your mind free.  Why would you say something like that?

 

KL:  Well, that thing with the fish.

 

ZL:  What about the fish?

 

KL:  Madam, you put a fish into your vagina.  How the hell does that not relate to your sexuality in some way?

 

ZL:  Your mind is trapped.  Ossified by the world.  Let me help you out.

 

KL:  Oh, please do.

 

ZL:  My piece was a scathing indictment of our consumer culture.  It's about everything that is wrong with the media turning us into "sheeple", making us follow every fad, making us buy every product, making us into automatons that will buy everything - from Coke Zero to the war in Iraq.

 

KL:  Putting a fish in your vagina is an indictment of the war in Iraq?  You have got to be kidding me!

 

ZL:  Fool!  The fish represented Big Media's message!  We were my vagina.  You, me, everyone!  The message was being crammed down our throat.  Our collective throat was my vagina!  It's so obvious!

 

KL:  Ms. Lassiter, I am NOT your vagina!  I will never BE your vagina!

 

ZL:  It's too late, Mr. Lendhoffer.  You are already my vagina.

 

KL:  Can we stop using the "V" word?  I'm getting sick again.

 

ZL:  Your sickness is your subconscious mind actually getting my show.  Deep down inside you know what I'm saying and you agree with it.  Admit it.

 

KL:  I will admit nothing of the sort.  You have problems.

 

ZL:  Oh, really...

 

KL:  Yes!  And I find it insulting that I had to watch you go through your own psychotherapy on stage.  See a psychiatrist!  Get some help!  But in private!  Theater goers do not want to see you solve your psychosis - especially when they have to pay for it!

 

ZL:  Let's hear you say that when I win another "Obie."

 

KL:  Good God...

 

With that I got up and ran from the room.  What is theater becoming?  It's bad enough when I have to sit through "monologists" like Spalding Gray (may he rest in peace) and Eric Bogosian.  But now I have to watch a woman put a fish into her "V" and be impressed?  It's only impressive when it's part of a show for sailors in Tijuana.  Someday - someday in a more beautiful future I'll be able to put this "show" out of my mind.  Performance art?  Get real!  Performance art is neither.

 

Kyrle Lendhoffer has been writing "Behind the Proscenium" for Broadway Manka over 20 years.  In that time he has had the pleasure (and burden) of interviewing some of the most powerful visionaries of modern theater.  He studied Theatrical Criticism at Cal-State Northridge and Astro-physics at MIT.

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I must admit that I was appalled.  Appalled, and then fascinated.  I was thumbing through Backstage West while sipping a Green Tea Frappuccino at Starbucks (oh, this is a horrid vice, but the Green Tea is so good - except I find that I'm getting a little belly, cute on the young and hairless but not so much on the middle aged) and in the back I saw an ad.  It was an ad for the "Straight Male Theater Group."  "Oh my God!" I thought, "the most entitled group in the history of theater needs a group?"  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Then I thought it must be a comedy group.  Then I thought I should just call their number and arrange an interview with their "leader."  I called, and two days later had set up an interview with Robert Blanton.  We met at a local coffee shop (not Starbucks - no Green Tea Frappuccino, sob) and we discussed Mr. Blanton's little group.

 

Kyrle Lendhoffer:  Mr. Blanton, why a "Straight Male Theater Group"?

 

Robert Blanton:  Well, Mr. Lendhoffer, like any other minority group we felt that we needed a support group.  A place we could go to and share our feelings of isolation.

 

KL:  You've got to be kidding me.

 

RB:  It's exactly that kind of attitude that makes the SMTG necessary.

 

KL:  SMTG?

 

RB:  The "Straight Male-

 

KL:  Yes, of course, I've got it.

 

RB:  You have no idea what it's like.  Say you're doing summer stock.  You show up for the first read-through of Annie Get Your Gun and your gay-dar is screaming like a fire alarm.  You realize that out of twenty-five men in the company that only five of you are straight.

 

KL:  But Mr. Blanton, that sounds like heaven.

 

RB:  How is that?

 

KL:  Five straight men and at least twenty straight chorus girls, not including the leads.  I would think that you would be happy as a little clam.

 

RB:  Oh, yeah, that part is fantastic.  Not at first... the women always think they can straighten out the gay ones.  Then after a week or so they realize that they're banging their heads against a pink wall.  That's when things get awesome.

 

KL:  I still don't get it.  What is there for you to complain about?

 

RB:  Well, there is the social aspect.  Yes, we're part of the company, but no one ever asks us what we think about their clothes or where there's a great place to dance or if we're having a good day.

 

KL:  Maybe they could ask you about NASCAR.

 

RB:  There you go again.  Just because I'm straight doesn't mean I like NASCAR.

 

KL:  Yes, it does.

 

RB:  No, it doesn't.

 

KL:  But you like football.

 

RB:  Well, yes, I do.  But I know lots of gay men who like football.

 

KL:  But for different reasons.

 

RB:  What?

 

KL:  I digress.  So you think you're being discriminated against?

 

RB:  Absolutely.  But it's very subtle.  Let me give you an example.  Just last year I was in a production of Urinetown.  One night I overhear a conversation and my fellow cast members are talking about an American Idol viewing party that they're all going to.  Have I heard about this viewing party?  No.  Were any of the straight guys invited to the viewing party?  No.

 

KL:  It's common knowledge that straight men only mock American Idol.  You wouldn't have been any fun at a party.

 

RB:  That's exactly what I'm talking about!  That's bullsh!t!  I love American Idol!  I just happen to like sex with women!  What's wrong with that?

 

KL:  Some people find that icky.  And I don't believe you.

 

RB:  Oh yeah?  Season one winner, Kelly Clarkson.  Season two, Rueben Studdard.  Season three, Fantasia...

 

KL:  Wow, you memorized a list.

 

RB:  Season four, Carrie Underwood...  What?

 

KL:  You memorized a list.  Nothing more, nothing less.

 

RB:  You're an asshole, Mr. Lendhoffer.

 

KL:  And you're a whiney little suck-tit, Mr. Bender.

 

The interview devolved from there.  I couldn't possibly feel sorry for Mr. Bender and felt nothing but contempt for the "Straight Male Theater Group."  Oh, please.  All I can say to Mr. Bender is you have no place in MY theater.  The theater that I love.  Go watch your NASCAR "buddies" drive around in circles and then beat their wives.  Take that, sir!  I will now retire to Starbucks for a well deserved Green Tea Frappuccino.

 

Kyrle Lendhoffer has been writing "Behind the Proscenium" for Broadway Manka over 20 years.  In that time he has had the pleasure (and burden) of interviewing some of the most powerful visionaries of modern theater.  He studied Theatrical Criticism at Cal-State Northridge and Astro-physics at MIT.

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There are times when one is a witness to history.  This week was such a time for me. I sat in on an early rehearsal of what is bound to become the most talked about, most loved theater experiences in the history of man.  Hyperbole?  I think not.  Mankind will see what I caught a mere glimpse of... and mankind will be IN AWE.  Yes, finally, a production of The Mahabharata that will make Peter Brook cry like a little girl.  I sat down with the man who adapted this great piece of Vedic literature, Gustaff Hinter.  As we talked, the genius director Jackson Nitrate joined us.

Kyrle Lendhoffer:  Gustaff, how are you today?

Gustaff Hinter:  A bit harried.  I'm falling behind on my translations.

KL:  Translations?

GH:  Yes.  We first took The Mahabharata and translated it from Sanskrit to German.

KL:  Yes, it was shocking to see the great Indian gods talking in German. Why the change?

GH:  Both Jackson and I thought that the guttural sound of the German language gives anything more emotional weight.  More weight than if you could actually understand the play.

Jackson Nitrate then entered the room, and the conversation.

Jackson Nitrate:  But then the f-----g producers demanded that the play be in English.  I said "no"... that I would walk off of the production if it were in English.  But then I had an epiphany.  The theater would be filled with smoke.  And then laser lights would shoot through the fog and the audience could read what each character is saying in English.

KL:  You mean like Lazerium?

GH:  No!  That's so 1979...

JN:  LaserFloyd was cool.  That was 1979.

GH:  Well, of course, but this is 16th century India colliding with 2007.  That is not LaserFloyd.  Not even LaserZeppelin!  Anyway, I've now got to try to take everything that was translated from Sanskrit to German and now take it from German to English but then have the English version still be consistent with the Sanskrit. It isn't easy.

KL:  Sounds like a labor of Hercules.  But back to The Mahabharata.  The epic poem itself is a collection of over 100,000 verses.  How long do you think this particular production will last?

JN:  According to the producers, they don't want it to be any longer than my award winning production of The Bhagavad Gita which lasted five hours.  I then told the producers that that hack Peter Brook's version lasted nine hours.  If Peter Brook was allowed that much time, then I should have a play that would run over the course of three days... some 36 hours.

KL:  But 36 hours of brilliance.

JN:  That's what I said.  But you know the suits.  All they care about is that the play and the theater make money.  I say "f---k money!"  Theater is about art.  And if art has to be 36 hours long, then so be it!

KL:  My sentiments exactly.  Who is playing the lead?

JN:  Emerson Lightlander.

KL:  Does he speak German?

GH:  Uh, no.

JN:  No, he doesn't speak German NOW, but he will.  Right now he's learning all of his lines phoenetically.

GH:  Our German technical advisor says that he sounds like a German retard.  And right now he does.

JN:  Gustaff, do you have to bring that up in front of Mr. Lendhoffer?

GH:  Uh, Emerson Lightlander will not sound retarded for very much longer, I can assure you of that.  Better, Jackson?

KL:  No quarrelling you two!  I must ask this final question - how hard is it for the two of you to be in each other's presence, to bathe in the light of each other's greatness, to be making history with every breath that you take?

GH:  Uh...

JN:  I'm the great one, Gustaff is just a writer.  Kidding, Gustaff, just kidding.

And with that gem of humor Jackson Nitrate and Gustaff Hinter began to "bicker" comically for the next half hour or so.  My skin is redder from basking in the light of their combined greatness.  I am convinced when the world sees The Mahabharata it could quite possibly change the course of human history.  In a good way.  Make a date to be at The Manka Black Box Experience.  You will want to say that you were there the day the world changed for the better.  As I said, no hyperbole.  No hyperbole whatsoever!

Kyrle Lendhoffer has been writing "Behind the Proscenium" for Broadway Manka for over 20 years.  In that time he has had the pleasure (and burden) of interviewing some of the most powerful visionaries of modern theater.  He studied Theatrical Criticism at Cal-State Northridge and Astro-physics at MIT.

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This week I had the pleasure of talking to Simon Ambrose.  Intense.  Forceful.  Unique.  Not just words, but an apt description of someone who is bound to become a theatre great.  His most recent work, Monkey Spanking Time won several national awards.  His newest work, Graveyards vs. Mars, opens in two weeks at the Manka Bros. Drama Garage - THE place for experimental theatre.  Mr. Ambrose talked to me for over two hours, but was in such a state of creativity that only portions of the interview were intelligible.  And here they are.  Let's go... BEHIND THE PROSCENIUM.

Kyrle Lendhoffer:  Simon, it's good to see you.

Simon Ambrose: (giggling)  I see you, too!

KL:  Yes, you do.  Congratulations on Monkey Spanking Time.  An amazing show, yet very controversial.

SA:  Yeah...

KL:  It must have taken a lot of courage to write an entire show about the pleasures and variations of masturbating.  Why masturbating?

SA:  (giggling) Whack!

KL:  Whack?  What do you mean by "whack"?

SA:  Dude, I love it.

KL:  What do you love? 

SA:  To whack.

KL:  Oh, my. I see.

Simon giggled for a minute or so.  When he calmed down, the interview proceeded.

KL:  So tell me about Graveyards vs. Mars.  What is it about?

SA:  Dude, Earth is invaded by Mars.  And the Martians enslave us Earthlings.  And they're tall and green!

KL:  The Martians?

SA:  Huh?

KL:  The Martians. They're tall and green?

SA:  Oh, the Martians...

KL:  Are tall and green...

SA:  Totally!

KL:  And?

SA:  Huh?

KL:  And then what?

SA:  Oh yeah... Then the earth people wrack their brains for a way to get rid of the Martians.  Dude, nothing works.  Then this guy figures out that bringing back the dead in the form of brain eating zombies would be cool.

KL:  Really?

SA:  Huh?

KL:  So that's what the Graveyard part of the title refers to?

SA:  Yeah.  Graveyards vs. Mars.  How cool is that?

KL:  Cool, indeed.

SA:  Yeah...

KL:  The brain eating zombies... How do they know to only eat the brains of the Martians?

SA:  Dude! They don't! It gets totally intense!

KL:  Well, we wouldn't want to give away any more of the plot.  Let's talk about your process.  How did you come up with such an original and fascinating idea?

SA:  I worked on it a lot around 4:20 in the afternoon.

KL:  Intriguing.  So this time has some significance to you...

SA:  Well, yeah. 4:20.  Time to enter an altered state.  You know?

KL:  I love that movie.

SA:  Huh?

KL:  Altered States with William Hurt.  Powerful actor.  So, you mean you were getting in touch with your primal side?

SA:  Sure, that's it.

A giggling fit started here that lasted several minutes.  I have been told that many theatrical genius' get ideas while in a giggling fit.  I cannot image what was going through Simon's mind.

KL: Are you all right?

SA:  Whoo! Yeah... What were we talking about?

KL:  Altered States.

Simon had another giggling fit that lasted for approximately two minutes. I was overwhelmed to be in his presence.

KL:  Tell me what you're thinking about right now.

SA:  Dude, I could go for a cheeseburger.

KL:  A cheeseburger?

SA:  Right on! Feed the head - feed the face!

Such gems would continue to drip from the mouth of Simon Ambrose.  He was in such a creative frenzy that he laughed non-stop until we got him to White Castle where he ate several cheeseburgers.  "Fuel for the muse" I like to call it.  And what a muse does Ambrose have.  Graveyards vs. Mars opens very soon at the Manka Bros. Drama Garage.  Be there and sense the greatness.  I know I will.

Kyrle Lendhoffer has been writing "Behind the Proscenium" for Broadway Manka for over 20 years.  In that time he has had the pleasure (and burden) of interviewing some of the most powerful visionaries of modern theater. He studied Theatrical Criticism at Cal-State Northridge and Astro-physics at MIT.

About Kyrle Lendhoffer

Kyrle Lendhoffer - Blogger - Behind the ProsceniumKryle Lendhoffer has been writing "Behind The Proscenium" for Broadway Manka over 20 years. In that time, he has had the pleasure (and burden) of interviewing some of the most powerful visionaries of modern theatre. He studio Theatrical Criticism at Cal-State Northridge and Astro-Physics at MIT.

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