Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TOLD: Storytelling at the Borg Ward

I told a story at FTAM's first (of many, hopefully) storytelling nights. It was a very good time. A video of my story (missing the first minute or so) is up here.

But, if you'd rather read it, i wrote it down too, here:

I’m going to tell the story of one of my greatest accomplishments. Something that I call a “complete experience”. It happened summer of 2007, the best summer of my life. That summer was full of experiences that approach completeness. It was the summer of Play in a Day 2, the summer of Made in the Mouth, the summer I met Kate, and the summer of magical Sundays which almost every week started with fambly breakfasts, moved to a Frisbee field and ended with theatre workshop. But, most relevant to this story: it was the summer we did a lot of Lucky and Pozzo.

A “complete experience” is a phrase I made up while laying post coital in bed and discussing JP Sartre’s Nausea. Great pillow talk, I know. This book is one of few things I consider the closest I’ll ever get to a “sacred text”. You can keep your holy books, your ancient traditions and your afterlives. If your belief system doesn’t have a futile gut wrenching disgust with your own existence at its very core, then you might as well worship by sucking on a big ole gold leaf pacifier, far as I’m concerned.

Another text pessimistic enough to approach sacrament for me is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It’s a play about people waiting for a lord and master who never shows. Lucky and Pozzo are a couple or pitiful side characters in this play, who seem even more senseless than the waiting protagonists. Pozzo is the decrepit remains of an arrogant aristocrat and Lucky is his half-dead indentured servant. They travel the countryside, Lucky on a noose at the end of a rope carrying all Pozzo’s worldly goods. They occasionally encounter the main characters, hijinx ensue. So, when I say we “did Lucky and Pozzo a lot that summer” I mean we dressed up as them and wandered the streets of Milwaukee.

For you to understand why we do this (or at least why I do) you’ve got to understand what a “complete experience” is. Which means I’ve gotta talk about Sartre some more. We start with the assumption that there is no meaning or purpose in life, that Godot will never fucking show up. Which is to say that all systems or ideas that require belief are a lie. God, spirituality, love, existence, everything: a big steaming pile of holy horse shit that we bury ourselves in like a security blanket to feel comfortable and ignore the fact that we are actually miserable lousy failures every one of us. Now Sartre says that even atheists, people with the full knowledge of futility and meaninglessness, even those of us who can smell the stink of our own bullshit, we still choose to act like our lives are predetermined, like we are objects and aren’t obviously free to do and be anything we want all the time. We keep waiting even after we know waiting is fruitless. He calls this Bad Faith.

This brings up an interesting thing about Lucky and Pozzo, something I hadn’t thought of until putting this story together. How Lucky and Pozzo works: I’m Pozzo, Peter’s Lucky (put noose on, perform) anything you want, ANYTHING. And see, I now realize that at this point in the Lucky and Pozzo gimmick, what we are doing is denying Bad Faith. We’ve given people absolute assurances that Lucky can breathe fire, levitate, leap over tall buildings, sing songs he’s never heard before and do backflips, lots of fucking backflips. Of course the results are mostly disappointing, but for a second there we offer a random stranger the whole fucking world for one dollar.

But anyway, back to Sartre: in Nausea he explores a couple examples of ways that even atheists will practice bad faith: adventures and perfect moments. An adventure is when you invoke an energetic euphoric approach to some otherwise unremarkable set of activities. You go out, you take a walk, but you imagine that it's special. You make yourself feel like you're in love with something. This, like any love amounts to suspending your agency, to not being responsible for your actions, and in a way, escaping yourself. You become an object, a pinball, bouncing willy-nilly through the night. Drugs and alcohol often assist.

You all know what i'm talking about?

Perfect moments on the other hand, are an almost opposite thing. Here you create a specific situation and insist that everything in that situation goes perfectly. When one little thing is misplaced or poorly timed, when some insensitive slob comes through and clumsily insults your careful arrangement, the perfection is lost forever. You've done this too, right?

So anyway, I'm in bed with Kate, I don't remember exactly when, maybe even on the first night we spent together, which followed the first time Kate played Lucky to my Pozzo, and I'm talking about how she seems to be an adventurer, whereas my past relationships tended to prefer perfect moments, with me playing the insensitive slob. She asks me the obvious question: what is my bad faith? If all belief systems, ideals, relationships, drug use, nostalgia and even things like adventures and perfect moments are bad faith then so is everything else. You can’t escape it and life is really just about choosing which bad faith you'll pitifully submerge yourself into. That night, I realized that my bad faith of choice is "complete experiences".

Lucky and Pozzo is a fine example of organizing the possibility of a complete experience. There is the potential for this one act to simultaneously advance me toward my goals on every dynamic variable, this is what makes an experience complete. Financially, artistically, philosophically, physically, mentally, politically, socially, the action moves all things forward and none back. Lucky and Pozzo encounters strangers with the unexpected and absurd while also earning some DIY money, challenging myself body and mind, meeting people and promoting insurgent theatre, which exists not only to create theatre, but more importantly to participate in the way DIY approaches are reshaping our society. I can go on about that forever, but I don't need to, cuz now I'm finally ready to tell you the story of my most complete experience.

It was Ian Clark's first time playing Pozzo, I was Lucky. In the first ten minutes we met someone who I consider one of Milwaukee's greatest cultural assets, someone who I really respect and who for various reasons will likely achieve my goals better than I ever will, without even trying. Faythe Levine. This was the first time I'd met Faythe, and well... unfortunately, she was kicking us out of Art vs Craft.

See, Pozzo doesn't need permission for anything! Lucky and Pozzo never ask permission, we'd been kicked out of MAM, and been surprisingly tolerated at Vogel Hall, and we’ve had various other experiences at various other art institutions. Besides, Lucky is a master of the performing arts, surely Art stands no chance against craft without his support! Or so we figgered.

As it turns out, Faythe didn't think letting us in would be fair to her fee paying vendors, Ian was too green to plead our case, and I was mute at the end of the rope. We were out on the curb before performing a single stunt for a single dollar. They did give us our admission money back though. We went back to the east side, hit Brady Street, and then made our way up Farwell. I don't remember many of the stunts we pulled, but I do remember feeling pretty good in spite of the set back, which leads to the climax of the story.

We're outside the Oriental theatre and this young couple, late high school / early college age I'd guess, are getting out a dollar for Pozzo and the girl, she asks: "will he hang himself from that stop light?" I'm Lucky, so on auto pilot. I'm not there, a bad faith object. Lucky sighs and walks over to the stop light, stands on the crate, tosses the end of the rope over the metal bar, grabs the other end and kicks the crate out from under me. I don't pause to think about how in most hangings it's the snap of the neck in the rope, not the strangulation that kills. Luckily the fact that I'm holding the other end of the rope means some of my weight is distributed to the arm, and the initial shock is reduced. But, I'm there, hanging. A few seconds later I realize that I can't breathe and that my throat's really beginning to hurt. I let go of the end of the rope, which slips loose and I hit the ground.

The girl who requested this action was horrified, her boyfriend was puzzled, even Ian was standing agape as I wedged my fingers into the rope so I could get a breath. She was a kind of heavy set young woman with an eccentric sort of arrested development fashion sense. bright clashing colors, lots of pins, and I seem to remember stuffed animal parts sewn onto her hoodie somehow, maybe even barrettes. She started to cry and asked Ian if she could hug me. He didn't charger her another dollar. I assured her I was okay and walked away massaging my layrnx and talking with a frog in my throat for a week.

The greatest thing about Lucky and Pozzo is that when we open up any possibility, when we offer the opportunity to see someone do anything you want, you put a little bit of yourself out there when you respond. Lucky performs, and sometimes you get yourself reflected back at you. You get what you want. I can't think of another work of art that I've done where I get to show someone something so powerful. This girl walked away knowing something that she didn't before. She realized, in a deep and true way, that sometimes at least, her first impulse on meeting a stranger is to want to see them dead.

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