In Progress: A Prelude 2014 Reflection
As a relative newcomer to the City, my Prelude 2014 experience lacked just that: a prelude, or much context at all, for that matter. And for that, I am grateful. In place of expectation, lay openness. In the absence of prior knowledge, the inclination to talk less and listen more acutely. The performances I viewed—the brain children of Ariel Stess, Christina Masciotti and Paul Lazar, and Harrison David Rivers and David Mendizabal—all illuminated, for me, different aspects of what it means to be in progress.
Heartbreak by Ariel Stess, situated under the ‘Endurance/Loss’ festival guidepost (of which, there were four), surprised me by exploring such a wide range of complex themes in a relatively brief excerpt of a much larger piece. Heartbreak explores family, legacy, memory, and dependency, to name just a few threads. Though deeply reflective, the play didn’t take itself too seriously. Inherent in its theatricality is a playfulness that kept me laughing. For example, several of the characters’ names happen to rhyme, which, as you can imagine, lends itself to endless possibilities for rhyming sequences and wordplay. Ultimately, it was the central character, a despondent, yet charismatic man, who actually ended up sleeping for much of the play, that communicated the most. Through him, perhaps, did I see the most striking societal reflections of loss. Aloof and probably narcotized, the juxtaposition of his authority and infantilization spoke volumes about the power of distance, need for closeness, and implementation of people and things as intermediaries. In other words, how—in the Western world—do we choose to self-medicate in face of loss and change?
Social Security (guidepost: All Together All Alone), written by Christina Masciotti and directed by Paul Lazar, was presented more as an ‘open rehearsal’. During the performance, I found myself retreating not into the world of the characters, but more deeply within myself. Centered around June, a retired pretzel factory worker whose sustained labor has caused her to go deaf, Social Security asks provocative questions about ability and touch. A few of the questions I walked away with include: what factors complicate and/or hamper our ability to touch and be touched? What are consequences of imposing touch upon other bodies? How, as artists and citizens of the world do we present a wide range of abilities—from physical and mental to emotional—on stage in ways that honor those who live with those identities? Above all else, it was a lovely reminder that each person exists as works of progress.
Finally, And She Would Stand Like This, Harrison David Rivers’ adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, was scintillating, thought-provoking and penetrating (no pun intended). Paired with David Mendizábal’s directorial prowess, the piece was a welcomed re-imagining of a story that—let’s be real—was in desperate need of a makeover. Or, to borrow verbiage from ‘drag’ and ‘ball culture’ —foundational spaces in the world of Rivers’ play—The Trojan Women needed to have its ‘face beaten’. Euripides’ tragedy takes place during the Peloponnesian War, and depicts the women of Troy grappling with the brutal deterioration of their lives. Steeped in rich, poetic language, Rivers’ adaptation tells the story of an unconventional family fighting for preservation, for survival, in the midst of an HIV/AIDS crisis. Featuring a powerful and sizable cast containing all actors of color, And She Would Stand Like This drew what I perceived to be the most racially/ethnically diverse audience over the course of the festival. For me, dwelling in beautiful, theatrical spaces that reflect the city in which we live is always a treat. Additionally, Rivers armed the chorus with nuanced interior lives that, though recounted painful details about growing up in marginalized bodies, shone brilliantly. Furthermore, I appreciated that an authentic sense of love and celebration transcended the piece’s heartache. At one point in the opening moments of the piece, Hecuba utters, “A bitch can’t catch a mother fucking break,” which is exactly how I felt throughout the performance, in the best possible kind of way. I laughed, I was startled, I was disturbed, but above all else, I was thankful for the opportunity to reflect upon the power of chosen family.
As I reflect, even now, upon my experience at Prelude, I am left with air of anticipatory energy. Not one of the aforementioned performances I witnessed was a polished product. And that excites me. Instead of finality, I got to walk away with a sense of possibility; a feeling that there’s urgent work to be done. For me, and for all of us, I think, part of theatre’s magnetism is a renewal of sorts, a reminder to embrace a sense of the possible.
Korde Arrington Tuttle is an award-winning playwright, poet, and visual artist hailing from none other than the Dirty South: Charlotte, NC, to be precise. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is pursuing a MFA in Playwriting at the New School for Drama. Korde is currently trying to figure out how to get pizza-grease stains out of his Timberlands and would love if it you tweeted him @kordetuttle if you know the answer. Korde happily resides in Brooklyn with no pets.