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The Audience Responds to red, black & GREEN: a blues

By April 30, 20122012 Director's Notes

My artist friend and colleague puppet master, John Farrell of Figures of Speech Theatre  wrote a moving response to “red, black & GREEN: a blues” that he has allowed me to share here. and I quote:

I awoke an hour ago from a dream in which I had smuggled myself onto an airplane that was on some kind of clandestine or dangerous mission, some experiment, and the plane had to make a crash landing. With the scream of the engines obliterating thought, I still heard the pilot speaking, telling the ground control tower that we were coming down, that someone from an insanely non-compatible world was on board. I tightened my seatbelt as the plane descended and the pilot counted down the seconds to impact, warning of the explosion that might happen as we struck the ground. Miraculously, the plane skidded off into the grass and rolled over and I spilled from the fuselage and crawled/ran into a gully to be away from the fire.

The dream ended but thoughts emerged from the dream that connected to the performance of rbGb somehow. Maybe being at the show was like being on a strange flight; maybe the awareness deep in my subconscious is that there will be no safe landing when the flight is an interracial, experimental, dangerous journey into the unknown. But there was no explosion, and we did make it to the ground, and now there are just so many questions.

I hardly know where to begin. There was so much happening, so many ambitious lines of inquiry in play at once, so much at stake but engineered with a margin of safety that made it OK.

I left the performance frustrated that we were not guided more to answers. But [my wife] Carol said that maybe there couldn’t be answers to such big questions. The performance opened itself (and pushed us away) in complex ways, showed me a way of experiencing the “black experience” (if there is such a thing) in a humanizing, baffling, passionate and profound way.

The questions raised about how to bring green consciousness to situations in which people have other, more pressing worries, are questions faced not only in Houston, Oakland, Chicago, Harlem, but in every heart. Who can’t find reasons to place between him or herself and the necessity of change? Whose history can’t be probed for circumstances that inspire rage or apathy or slumping indifference?

I may in many ways be an alien in Bamuthi’s world, but I feel like I have just spent time inside a mind not unlike my own, survived a crash landing in the company of people who share the same beginning and end as me and have many of the same questions about what happens in between those dark terminals.

This was an amazing performance. Other than [Japanese] Noh [theater], I have never seen a performance that made such an authentic whole out of the disparate elements of music, poetry, dance, text, theater, sound…… thought. It was inspired and inspiring, frightening in some fundamental way because it took hold of so much and didn’t want to let it go, at least not let it go unobserved. I would have stayed for the conversation after the performance, but [ my daughter] Delia really needed to move on from so much everything! And I don’t think I had had enough time myself at that moment to be ready to talk, though I think it was a generous gesture by the performers to welcome us onto their front porches  —- a gesture that puts a finger on one of the remarkable things about the performance as a whole, the notion that there may be safe places for conversation to take place, and that the performance itself embodied a metaphor we desperately need to project to each other, that our worlds may be very different but they are all contained in this world, and we better start talking to one another.

That awareness makes me wonder all the more about the feelings and questions I had in the first movement/part of the piece, when we were sharing space with the performers and the performance structure. Did Bamuthi intend to make that moment unsettling, off-putting, a way of conjuring the unease of voyeuristic looking? Do all encounters between performer and audience begin in confrontation? Do all encounters between black and white begin that way? Are we different people at the end of the performance? Is there a defensiveness embedded in the opening that undercuts the ending? Why are we told not to touch the performers?