TDR: The Drama Review 45.1 (2001) 31-58
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a performance text by Rachel Rosenthal
When I wrote and presented ZONE in 1994 at UCLA, a few days after the earthquake, I wanted to comment on the contemporary world of "Them vs. Us" that I felt was a clear and present danger to our society and our species. I used the metaphor of "whiteness and nonwhiteness" and translated it into the historical end of Tsardom in the Russian Revolution of 1917. At that time, my company was composed of six Caucasian players, and I put us in white costumes and whiteface, representing the Romanoff family. I had another 50 players, most of them people of color and wearing multicolored clothes as the Throng. The piece was a meditation on Western society and civilization and its encroachment by other cultures in the 20th century, perceived by Europeans and their descendants as demeaning, threatening, and dangerous. Some segments are specifically illustrative of the "cluelessness" of the Tsar's family faced with the uprising of the Russian people, but many other segments, still using the Romanoff metaphor, referred to Western civilization's depredation of the planet, our contempt for other groups, our fear of "the other," our resistance to inevitable change, and class distinctions still alive and well in today's world. The structure of the piece is based on chaos theory. It was conceived therefore as a many-layered performance that touched upon issues of racism, class, xenophobia, science, and ecology.
ZONE was presented at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles, by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts, as part of their winter 1994 season. I received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant in 1993 to support the production of ZONE, and UCLA provided rehearsal space and other sundries.
I had chosen the members of the Throng carefully (they were all volunteers) and prepared them for possible misunderstanding of the piece as "racist." Mehmet Sander choreographed the "Throng." He was extraordinary. Every scene presented the Throng's movements in a brilliantly simple yet eloquent manner. The arc of the piece featured the mimed creation of a "raft in space" (our planet). First, the raft carried only the "Family" (who barred the Throng from coming aboard). The second time it appeared, the Throng was on the raft, fighting off the Family. At the end, everyone was on the raft, "in the same boat" so to speak, with the ending repeating the initial image, but "integrated." We were also showing how power, regardless of who wields it, is eminently corruptible. Mehmet worked with 50 people of totally diverse [End Page 31] backgrounds. Some were dancers, some performers, some had nothing to do with the arts. They were also of very different ages, young, old, and middle. None were trained in his kind of spectacular athleticism, and quite a few were out of shape. Yet Sander's gentle but convincing attitude--which allowed no question or hesitation and instilled total self-confidence--managed to weld this real throng into an enthusiastic, dedicated, and homogeneous "corp" that flew through the air, slammed into each other, took bone-shattering falls, were tossed above heads, and performed other acrobatic and breathtaking moves like old pros. The ensemble looked like a seasoned and disciplined company.
The earthquake of 1994 was devastating. It happened during the rehearsal period at UCLA. The tower above Royce Hall was structurally damaged and deemed out-of-bounds, yellow cordon and all. Our rehearsal hall was right beneath it. We were all jolted, raw, and scared after the earth moved. But I believe that rehearsing ZONE was the best post-traumatic therapy any of us could have wished for! I want to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Mehmet Sander and all the Throng for their priceless contribution to ZONE.
The show was presented twice, Friday and Saturday. By Saturday, it just began to feel good. Another show on Sunday matinee would have clinched it. It needed audience reviews, but got none, of course, and had to come together during performance. I had obtained a great...