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CALIFORNIA COOL Soon 3/Helimuth-Reynolds/Snake Theater Theodore Shank A major California earthquake is inevitable. Some seismologists say it is past due. Still people keep coming. Nearly enough each year to make a new city the size of Sacramento. These refugees from other states move on rather than make the best of where they are. In their imaginations the weather will be milder, the beaches more beautiful, the trees taller, the jobs more lucrative, the society freer'than where they are. They are optimists who know the earthquake will happen, but apparently not to them. They are active rather than contemplative. They are focused outward rather than inward. They are less interested in psychological and sociological problems than in how things appear. They are more perceptual than conceptual. To continue with the generalized history. Having reached the Pacific and unable to move on further west, most of the immigrants have had to lower their expectations and accept whatever the state can offer. A few attempted to escape further. Some flower children left San Francisco to live in the unpopulated hills of Northern California and grow marijuana which has become a major crop in the area. Others crossed the border into Oregon where they were confronted with bumper stickers saying "Don't Californicate Oregon." A few, with their backs to the Pacific, headed east to Idaho and other less populace states. Jim Jones led his idealistic followers to Guyana. Those who remain must deal with the reality of California. In keeping with the myth of rugged individualism they are cool-on the outside, that is. Inside it is a different matter. Among the states California is second only to Nevada in per capita alcoholism. In actual numbers it leads in suicides and divorces. 72 Still Californians are thought of as layed back and uncomplicated. It is the surface that counts. It is no wonder that hyperrealism in painting and sculpture is importantly, although not exclusively, a California phenomenon. California artists are keenly aware of the perceptual tendencies in the state where there is much to see. Californians, at least by reputation, have reached the pinnacle of material well being and have begun to slide down the dark side. They achieved the dream of a perpetual vacation where the sun always shines on the most beautiful scenery in the world, where each family owns its own house, has a swimming pool in the backyard, two cars in the garage, and a boat in the driveway. It is the belief in material possessions, in appearance, that is reflected in hyperreal painting where the surface is the meaning, the metaphor for the tarnished golden age of consumerism. While New York art tends to be conceptual, introspective and often turned in on itself, in California it tends to be perceptual, phenomenological. Three theatres in the San Francisco Bay area that are especially in tune with the layed back attitudes associated with California are directed by people who have a close affinity with the visual arts. Although the work of these artists is not realistic, their detached attitudes are similar to those of the hyperrealists. Focus is on the surface, not on what may be implied. They carefully avoid overt sociological or political meaning and intend the performances to be perceived in real time and place rather than in a fictional time and place. One can devise a continuum of audience consciousness in relation to performance. Such a continuum would extend, on the one hand, from the spectator's complete awareness of perceiving to, on the other hand, complete psychic absorption in the fictional world created by the performance. The first of these modes is typical of the way a viewer relates to a hyperreal painting; the other mode is that intended by the traditional realistic theatre. Plot suspense, the chief traditional technique used to keep the audience absorbed in the illusion, is not important to these three theatres. Such suspense keeps one focused on the evolving future, on what is about to happen , rather than upon the actual present. It is a kind of hypnotic state in which one does not perceive keenly. In fact it is similar to the way one experiences the...


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pp. 72-85
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