"Dionysus in 69" is the first performance of The Performance Group that emerged in 1968 from a workshop led by Richard Schechner in November 1967 shortly after he arrived from Tulane University to teach at NYU. "D69" was the first environmental theater production shown at the Performing Garage, the long-time home of TPG and later, the Wooster Group that emerged in 1980 from TPG. A free-wheeling adaptation and distortion of Euripides' "The Bacchae," "D69" is notable for the combination of a number of "firsts" for the New York theater, including audience participation, man-to-man kissing, and full-frontal nudity of both women and men. The Performing Garage was filled with platforms and towers, the floor covered with carpets. There were no seats which meant that performers and spectators shared the space, sitting on the floor or perched on scaffolds. "D69" was created during a long period of workshops and rehearsals. The production -- like all of Schechner's work that followed -- was never finished. Before each performance, Schechner gave extensive notes and made many revisions. Over the 14-month run, the roles were rotated among the cast, including a woman playing the god Dionysus (Joan MacIntosh). The Performance Group used their performances as a means of confronting the psychic, physical, social, and political work of the performer and the spectator. The film was made by De Palma and his colleagues from footage shot during two in June and July, 1968. The film uses two screen images shown simultaneously to give some feel of the totally inclusive environmental theater technique pioneered by Schechner.
The video tape begins with people arriving and mingling during a reception held in the Dean's Conference room at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Thirty to 50 people gather and talk in small groups while the camera moves among them, recording parts of their conversations. Michele Minnick, a member of the ECA, is host for the event. Soon, people find chairs arranged around a large rectangular grid of boxes made of tape on the floor: the rasaboxes. Richard Schechner announces the beginning of the event and suggests that the audience consider the work of ECA as a "rethinking the arts." He discusses the rasaboxes work as a way for performers to express emotions immediately, without forethought or emotional recall -- or any other standard actors' exercises. Paula Murray Cole explains the grid on the floor -- the outline of the nine rasas. Rasaboxes offer a unique approach to enacting the eight basic emotions as specified in the Sanskrit theater manual, Bharata's "Natyasastra." The ninth, the center box, is left blank because it represents "shanta," the ultimate emotionless state of total bliss. Rasaboxes combines the Indian concept with Antonin Artaud's call for the actor to be "an athlete of the emotions." The eight, or nine, rasas of Sanskrit/Indian performance theory are: adbhuta (surprise, wonder), sringara (love, eros), bhayanaka (fear, horror), bibhatsa (disgust, revulsion), vira (courage, the heroic), hasya (laughter, the comic), karuna (sadness, compassion), raudra (rage, destruction), and santa (peace, bliss). Workshop participants move within the boxes, jumping from one emotional state to the other and at times engaging interactively. Then ECA members demonstrate the rasaboxes technique. Several speakers, including Richard Schechner describe the RasaBoxes technique and its usefulness in a variety of contexts.
Video documentation of East Coast Artists' performance "YokastaS," presented as a part of the 4th Encuentro of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, celebrated in July of 2003 in New York City, United States under the title "Spectacles of Religiosities." "YokastaS," a play written by Saviana Stanescu and Richard Schechner and directed by Schechner explores the central figure of Yokasta -- Oedipus's Queen-Mother-Wife -- by presenting theatergoers with four Yokastas, each representing distinct parts of her life and different approaches to her experiences. Audiences see Yokasta as a pre-teen, a young woman, a happily married woman, and an older woman who intelligently recollects all aspects of her life. Post-performance discussion led by Luis Peirano. East Coast Artists is a professional theater company performing new plays and classics in new interpretations. ECA also conducts training workshops. Founded in 1991 by Richard Schechner, ECA has produced "Faust/gastronome," "Amerika" (after Kafka), Chekhov's "Three Sisters," and "YokastaS." ECA emphasizes a long developmental workshop and rehearsal process, open rehearsals, and continuous revision throughout the life of a production.
This performer-training workshop features the rasaboxes exercise devised by Richard Schechner. Michele Minnick and Paula Murray Cole lead the workshop in a yoga warmup, intensive breathing and vocal exercises, slow-motion and other exercises invented or adapted by Schechner, and finally the rasaboxes. Taken as a whole, the workshop is an exploration of psycho-physical embodiments connecting the personal to the social. Rasaboxes offer a unique approach that begins with finding a particular form for the eight basic emotions as specified in the Sanskrit theatre manual, Bharata's "Natyasastra." In the workshop documented in the film, four student participants along with the instructors commence with a warm up and then draw words and pictures in each of eight connected rectangular boxes mapped out on the floor with masking tape. The ninth, the center box, is left blank because it represents "shanta," the ultimate emotionless state of total bliss. Rasaboxes combines the Indian concept with Antonin Artaud's call for the actor to be "an athlete of the emotions." The eight, or nine, rasas of Sanskrit/Indian performance theory are: adbhuta (surprise, wonder), sringara (love, eros), bhayanaka (fear, horror), bibhatsa (disgust, revulsion), vira (courage, the heroic), hasya (laughter, the comic), karuna (sadness, compassion), raudra (rage, destruction), and santa (peace, bliss). Workshop participants move within the boxes, jumping from one emotional state to the other and at times engaging interactively.
Richard Schechner's East Coast Artists bring this foundational Western myth forward to the end of the 20th century with Faust as a cook-alchemist. Food preparation and consumption is the ruling metaphor for the destructive appetites of Western expansion culminating in both the Nazi crime of genocide and the post-industrial excesses of globalization and genetic manipulation. Schechner and his colleagues rework the story. Mephistopheles played by a woman dressed as a man but not disguising her "actual" gender is assisted by Hitler, also played by a woman. Part One of "Faust/gastronome" draws heavily on Goethe, tracing Faust's seduction of Gretchen (aided by Mephistopheles) and his abandoning her to her death. A considerable portion of the dialogue is Goethe's, performed in German. Part Two Schechner describes as a "tragedy of development." Here Faust heads the "Fist Group" of corporations involved in genetic engineering and global exploitation. Just before his death and damnation, Faust meets Gretchen who has come to seek him out and help bring him to hell. At one point, Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, appears on a talk show justifying World War II and the Holocaust. Later, Faust and a neo-Nazi teenage appear on the same show. The set features three sturdy wooden tables used in many configurations to contain the action. On a platform upstage, composer Ralph Denzer leads a small jazz ensemble.
For this East Coast Artists production, Schechner largely used the 1603 First Quarto and character names derived from earlier source texts. Schechner proposes a collision of 21st century American popular culture, Elizabethan poetry, and a medieval Danish story. Using contemporary U.S. idiomatic expressions, ballroom dancing, and pop icons such as Marilyn Monroe (Gertred) and Shirley Temple (Ofelia), "Hamlet" embodies a cyclone of tragedy enacted within the postmodernity of the 21st century. As Schechner writes in his program note, Monroe and others steal the words of Shakespeare's characters and haunt the play from the future -- just as Gertrude, an ancient woman, haunts it from the past. Claudius is both a Viking pirate and a contemporary globalizing marauder, blustering and handsome. Polonius is a talking head, a TV pundit full of shopworn sagacity. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are literally rats, their tails trailing behind them as they do tap routines. Claudius hums Broadway tunes. The "Get thee to a nunnery" scene transforms from a ballroom dance number into a violent encounter. Polonius is in an incestuous relationship with Ofelia who is much too old to wear the clothes she does. When her father is murdered, Ofelia cracks up. Hamlet is angry, lost, an outsider in his own home, ironic, crazy, and determined in his indeterminacy.
All three plays of "The Oresteia" in one 3-hour performance were staged in a converted bandshell in the Da'An Forest Park at the center of Taipei. The bandshell was completely made over into a circular orchestra and skene. More than 2,500 spectators sat on the hillside. Some of the action took place among them -- for example, Agamemnon makes his triumphal entry after the victory at Troy by being pulled in a chariot across the crest of the hill through the crowds of spectators. The doomed warrior-king, greeted by his regal wife Clytemnestra, steps onto a 75" long strip of purple cloth. As Agamemnon disappears into the palace, Cassandra, in the back of the chariot howls her despairing prophecy. In the second act, "The Libation Bearers," Orestes arrives at his father's tomb, set far up on the hillside. During the third act, "The Eumenides," the Furies pursue Orestes through the audience. The production is in jingju (classical "Beijing Opera") with its distinct singing styles (accompanied by a full Chinese orchestra), costumes, and staging. But there are also surprising interruptions of post-modernity. The leading performers Wu Hsing-kuo and Wei Hai-min are Taiwan's leading classical Chinese actors. The play is performed in Mandarin with portions in older kinds of Chinese particular to jingju. There are some lines in Taiwanese as a character in modern dress explains the story to the Taiwanese-speaking audience.
This film (1974) documents and to some degree rearranges the scenes of TPG's production (1973). In "The Tooth of Crime" Shepard draws on popular/mythic figures and motifs of the American imaginary such as the cowboy, the rock star, the girl friend, the disc-jockey, and the drifter-outsider. The language of the play is rhythmic with a richness of alliteration and syncopation that The Performance Group actors further embroidered through their verbophysical techniques to produce harmonies, tensions, and emotional and physical states. The drama embodies the contradictions inherent in a star system that creates "personalities" only to discard them when they are no longer commercially productive. Using their own version of rock music, TPG explores in a complex physical environment a world of gangsters and urban cowboys. The performance presents a myriad of comic book characters that underscore the deceptions and failures of the "American Dream." The subtleties of the characterization, environmental theater mise-en-scene, music, and movement make this production unique. Because the environment makes viewing all of the action from one place impossible, spectators flow with the action from one part of the theater to another. The performance of Spalding Gray as Hoss is perhaps his best work in the "regular" theater.
Rather than lock Chekhov's "Three Sisters" into its own or any other single period, the production moves through time. The first act, performed realistically, takes place in 1901 in a provincial Russian town. The action centers around the 22nd birthday party of Irina, the youngest sister and the arrival in town of the handsome officer, Colonel Vershinin. The second act is staged in biomechanical style, as the Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold might have done in the early 1920s, the high point of Soviet revolutionary aspirations. The stage is bare except for two benches, a couch, and a piano. The actors sing Red Army songs. The third act takes place in the 1950s in a Siberian labor camp. The prisoners enact Chekhov's play as they build walls of cinder blocks. The last act takes place in the here and now of the theater. The performers, speaking through microphones, address the audience directly. In the background, fragments of dialogue from the previous acts are spoken in an undertone. The sisters? dream of returning to Moscow has been shattered; the love affairs have ended. As the sisters wonder what their suffering means, the old doctor Chebutykin mutters, "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter." Though performed mostly in English, Chekhov's Russian text is also heard as the role of Anfisa is played entirely in that language by Michele Minnick who translated the play from Russian. The cast also performs a number of East European songs from the 19th and 20th centuries. In this production, East Coast Artists test and explore the relevance of "Three Sisters" as drama, physical theater, fear and hope in desperate times, farce, and soap-opera.
"YokastaS Redux" portrays the mother of Oedipus at four different stages of her life, played by four different actresses. Breaking Yokasta into multiple characters enabled Schechner and Stanescu to reconfigure the story as a plural narrative of conflicting desires and life experiences. The multi-faceted work combines irony, tragedy, humor, sexuality, murder, and pop culture. Yoyo, a prepubescent girl is determined and hopeful as she insists she will not live the life fated for her. Yoko is first seen on the night she abandons Oedipus and last seen on the night before Laius leaves for his last journey to Delphi. Bitter and angry, Yoko seeks vengeance for her ruined life. Yono welcomes youthful, lusty Oedipus back to Thebes, marries him, bears four children, and trains him to be king. She also describes how, before Oedipus re-entered her life, she drowned her boy newborns. Finally, Yokasta, around 55, a sage and sharp-witted cynic, tours talk shows to denounce the "lies?" that Sophocles and Freud wrote about her. Laius-Oedipus-Talk Show Host is foil, partner, lover, son, and father. In one talk show scene the Yokastas, representing Yokasta, Medea, and Phaedra, argue over who is "tragedy's baddest mama." The multiple Yokastas share the stage interacting and disagreeing with each other and, finally, with the audience.