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THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE (AMERICAN) AVANT-GARDE Why It Happened and What We Can Do About It Richard Schechner This is the conclusion of a two-part essay which originated In our previous issue, PAJ 14. No, there are deeper currents. And out of these come not only the bad smell but some evidences of renewal. To get to these I must talk about the solo work. From the point of view of performance theory solo works are very interesting . As performed by Gray, Sack, Sherman, Weiss and others, they exist in the relationship between "as is"-their documentary base involving the performer as subject and as presenter of the subject-and "as if," the fictive technique of public performance. So Sack's The Survivor and the Translator shows Sack translating her own grandmother's recollections of the Holocaust. Translating in both its senses of literally bringing the stories from Polish into English (in the piece we hear Sack speak and sing English, Polish, Yiddish, German) and in the sense of making the events of two 9 generations ago actual for Sack's own epoch. The staging runs the gamut from experimental theatre shtick-Sack running with all her might on top of a bunk-bed, its slats rattling like a freight train, its sheet the black-andwhite stripes of the concentration camp prisoner garb-to Sack simply sitting on the bed, about two feet from the nose of the closest spectator, talking . But the shtick is a necessary preparation for the simplicity of the end: a stripper can't start a dance naked. Weiss, on the other hand, is a crowded world unto himself-although Arlene Kalenich has recently proved that Weiss's style, and text, can be played authentically by another, a heterosexual woman no less. Weiss roars through his works-How the Rent Gets Paid, Dark Twist-playing more than twenty different fictional roles that nevertheless entwine with his own life-history. Weiss switches personae swiftly and totally. I am reminded of an old Kerala form of Sanskrit drama, Kutlyattam, where the main performer , over the course of three hours, may play as many as twelve roles, including humans, gods, demons, animals. This kind of performing is akin to story-telling: the performer narrates, describes, becomes. This is not a review article so I won't go further into description. But I repeat: if there is any action in today's theatre it's with Gray, Weiss, Sack, Sherman-oneperson shows whose dialectic is between the "real" and the "fictional." Why has it come down to the solo performer on a bare stage? Is it the outcome of Grotowski's eloquent pleading for a "poor theatre"? Not at all. Grotowski's poor theatre exists on a budget unheard of here. Am I jealous of the Polish subsidy? Yes. Would it help here? Yes. Am I not afraid of institutionalization ? Yes. But it would be fun to wrestle with that devil a few years. Anyway, solo work does not derive from Grotowski, Brook, or Schechner; it doesn't mainly come from that kind of work-in-theory-intonew -work. Nor does it come from the stinginess of the NEA. It comes from the passing of the authority to make a performance from the writer to the director to the performer. Along the way, but not often, designers have originated productions too. When the sixties began, a challenge was proclaimed by directors against writers. We directors wanted to shape texts-the whole collection of "texts" theatrically speaking : words, space, audience interaction with the performance, performer training, acting. Directors wanted writers to cease dictating their "intentions " to us; or to insist that directors and performers ought to be mere "interpreters ." A distinction grew up between directors who would treat written texts "with respect" and those who would "violate" the texts. The violators, usually working with material in public domain (no lawsuits, no agents there), constructed collages, new works, and versions of classics. Almost every director who made a name in the sixties did some kind of work in this fashion: Malina and Beck, Chaikin, Brook, Grotowski-to name just a few leading lights. The more orthodox directors-Guthrie...


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