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A Theatre Salon on the Theme of Violence

July 13, 2011

On Monday, myself and my regular group of theatre salonistas (Mark Jackson, Rob Avila and John and Kimball Wilkins, and Beth Wilmurt) produced the latest in our ongoing series of "theatre salons" at Z Space in San Francisco. We've been doing these ad hoc salons every few months since 2007 as a way to bring artists and others from the Bay Area performing arts community together together to eat, drink and talk in-depth about some theatre-related subject. We pick the topic, date and location and ask our guests to bring themselves, possibly a friend, and definitely a bottle of twine. The topic for Monday was "violence."

Mark captured my feelings about the soiree in a long, reflective email about it which he sent out to our group yesterday: "No matter how we organize or disorganize it, the event always seems to turn out pretty well in the end, serving as a rare non-networking gathering of people with differing points of view and a shared interest in theater as something worth talking about."

I was very much against the topic of violence when it was suggested months ago. I was worried that the theme was too diffuse and would end up being like an undergraduate social studies seminar. But it actually turned out to be one of the best salons we've held to date.

The diffuse nature of the subject actually ended up being its biggest asset. Instead of spending most of the evening trying to define the topic (this is what happened at the last salon when we attempted to parse "realism") participants explored violence in all kinds of ways. Some of the talk was practical (how do you sever a hand on stage effectively?), some was political (how does the violence we perceive in the world feed into our work as theatre artists?) and some was rhetorical (does a critic violate an artist with a negative review?)

There was an element of boring / uninspiring banter as there often is during the course of our salons. But I was also completely absorbed by a few of the ideas that circulated.

The line-of-discussion that stood out the most for me centered on the fine line between simulating violence on stage (e.g. one actor pretending to stick needles into another actor) versus actually committing a real act of violence on stage (the same action actually performed before the audience's eyes using real needles and real piercing.) The latter is normally the terrain of S&M sex clubs. But if you bring this into the theatre and place it within the context of a play (as one or two of the guests at the salon who are involved with a particular experimental theatre company in town do on a regular basis,) it takes on a very different meaning.

The topic for the next salon is apparently going to be criticism. Date to be determined. Once again, I'll probably object. Once again, I'll have those objections soundly dashed by my cohorts. And once again, it'll all probably be a blast.

P.S. The image above depicts Rob (a fellow theatre critic and salon organizer) after I smashed a cream pie in his face. Theatre critics are a violent bunch.

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