There is a lot to like about the ambition and scope of 4 Wars by Concrete Timbre, so I am going to start with that. The idea of looking at four different revolutionary movements in 1968 rather than focusing on one is a great idea. To attempt to the show the depth and breadth of the level of rebellion going on around the world offers an excellent corrective to focusing in one narrow event as if that is all that was going on.
Mixing excellent music with story-telling worked very well. I am not a musician or composer, so don't feel I have enough expertise to comment on this - very important - aspect of Concrete Timbre's work. But, suffice to say, the original compositions played by live musicians added a lot of nice texture and resonance to the various sections.
The use of projections to give context for a student revolt in Poland, the defiance of the Czech leader to the Soviet invasion following Prague Spring, a Mexican student march (which ended as a massacre) and the Yippies in the East Village, was effective most of the time.
The most effective section embodied the Czech leader, Alexander Dubcek's negotiations with the USSR, most likely because it was done in a highly stylized way that conveyed the complexity of the situation in a simple but sustained motif.
Before I write about the other three sections, I need to take a bit of a side trip to discuss the complexities inherent in representing eras of real upheaval. I have rarely seen the late 1960s-early 1970s represented in a way that feels anything like having lived through them - or even that appears as raw as any of the video footage or photos we have seen from the period. My suspicion is this is because the level of upheaval and confusion during this period cannot be represented, because only stable images or stories can be. That level of seismic shift can only either be experienced or somehow embodied, which would mean leaving oneself open as an artist to an extraordinarily uncomfortable level of vulnerability and confusion. Audiences, too, would have to be challenged. I am thinking now of the work of Richard Foreman, for example. His plays at times have touched that sense of the world tilting on its axis. To attempt to tell a linear story in general is going to fall flat.
Regarding attempts at more naturalistic representation of the late 60s-early 70s, just for starters costumes always seem too put together or ironic, when - in the U.S. especially - people rebelling were wearing clothes that did not convey anything like coherent sense. While this may seem superficial as an observation, it reveals the problem. From where we stand now - in a place far removed from that time - we want to impose some kind of order or coherence on it - to say they worse this or that type of clothing. The chaos and chance of it, that is almost impossible to truly engage. The same applies for the use of language, ideas, interactions. No one can represent something that won't stand still.
For all of these reasons, I had the hardest time believing the last section - which was meant to show us the Yippies in the East Village after Nixon was elected. Not only the costumes but the characterizations of the people seemed kind of cartoon-like and didn't bear any real resemblance to the political engagement of the time as it played out. The craziness, the confusion, was real. To truly embody that reality would mean letting go not only of a slightly cliché view of the people involved but perhaps of a traditional theater frame, which favors stable stories with beginning, middle and end, that does not ultimately care to disrupt the existing reality.
The facts about the Polish and Mexican student rebellions or cultural milieu I don't know very well so cannot speak to issues of veracity, but I could not sense - as I could with the Czech section - the stakes of the heroic confrontations. The heroine in both cases felt more like she was standing in for heroism itself than being fully human. If perhaps those sections were as stylized as the Czech section this might have worked, but because there was a more naturalistic frame, the tension - and resonance - was lost.
I don't think naturalism is always bad (though I do have a preference for more experimental modes of acting), but to address these large issues in short segments, this is probably not the best mode. I also wanted there to be more interaction with the live music and musicians and, indeed, the audience. With ideas about rebellion being played out, it seemed odd to have the actors avoid the presence of people in the room.
Finally, at the end, when there are scenes of hope shown on the projections - where the sacrifices the rebels made appear to have born fruit years later (the Wall falling down, Solidarity, Nixon's impeachment, etc.) - perhaps there could have been more reference to current struggles - such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy and the like (for US) and the complexities that face the old Eastern Europe now - and any new movements for change in Mexico.
I hesitate to be so critical of this production because the goals are so laudable and the amount of work that has gone into it is immense. However, when attempting to show such explosive periods of time, it is important to consider the means. Having said that, there are precious few examples anywhere - in film or theater - of anyone having pulled this off.
I applaud the effort and ambition - and hope this company keeps finding new ways to approach their material.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani