What follows are sliced variations on a presentation I gave September 16, 2001 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It was part of a panel on the Future of Theater for the CyberArts Conference. In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, I chose to speak about the unique role and responsibility that artists/culture workers have in helping us all to do what needs to be done, namely transforming reality.


Art as a Sword/ Theater as Life

Art is brief and life is long. It is easy sometimes to assume, particularly in the face of recent events, that actions taken in the name of BEAUTY AND PLEASURE are somehow inconsequential. They are not. They are rather essential. We need them desperately. We need them now. And, we need them always.

• We need art so that we might do important things, such as RAISING HOPE where there is none. We need its inspiration so that we might be able to transform reality through ACTS OF MAGIC like raising the SPIRITS OF THE DEAD to inspire the hearts and minds of the living, or reinventing the very MYTHOLOGIES by which we live and dream.

• We have the power to move mountains in the name of love. To do this we must release our art and our theater into the world. We must begin to direct our actions to have a greater effect on the common good. To put it in active terms, we must DISAVOW fear and prejudice. We must CELEBRATE the Earth and all of its peoples. We must STAND for what we believe in. Achieving such goals might require us to turn to some seldom used but ancient weapons in the theatrical arsenal; spirit possession, ritual transformation and poetic terrorism too. To do that will require some focusing.

• I am not using the term "theater" here in any conventional sense. I am rather talking about building and extending the range of creative activity that already exists all around us. Everyday I watch more INTERESTING PEOPLE and more UNBELIEVABLE SHIT parade before me than I could ever dream of putting on a stage. We are drowning in a sea of talent. It's time we started swimming. As I see it, reality has blown the doors off the theater and we are back on the streets again. It's commedia time all over again.

• Look around you. The world stage is becoming populated with an inordinate number of incredible and beautiful beings. In the face of such cultural activity (formerly known as art), great numbers of us are being reborn as FREAKS of a wholly different order. We are SHEDDING THE WEIGHT OF OUR PASTS faster than 'isms can build new ones. We are picking up and putting down MASKS faster than data packets stream. We are as INSEPARABLE from the network as we are from each other and we are ALL MELTING together all kinds of art, media and life experience into one great river of orchestrated chaos. We are consuming more of the UNKNOWN than ever before, and more and more of us are finding that perfectly to our liking.

• Of course, there are dangers inherent in this free-flying approach; rootlessness, alienation, obsession, despair, - but hey, that's the price you pay for living in the LAND OF YOUR DREAMS.

Life artists - that's what we have become and we do what we do in the name of SELF-EXPRESSION. It's comes down to that - down to theatricalizing experience to make ourselves more TRANSPARENT TO OURSELVES, to others and to the world at large. More than ever, it's about TRANSFORMATION and COLLABORATION. And it's about pulling DIVERSE STREAMS of ideas and people together into a unified and celebratory whole. Now, if that doesn't qualify as THEATER, then I don't know what does.

• It's a NEW THING you see, but it's also an old thing too. It goes right back to the roots of theater; to the Dionysian festivals and to the Eleusian Mysteries, to ritual dancing and drumming, to spirit possessions, to direct contact with the gods. Theater for the rest of us. Here today for the making. And as hard as it might be to believe, it's also POLITICAL theater, in that it's a theater of LIFESTYLE and deeply intrinsic to the people who make it.

• So on one side, we've got art - this marvelous revival of the theater in a very pure and innocent state. And on the other side, we have LIFE, with all its staggering confusions and sufferings made far too real for us all this past week. And as if that weren't dangerous enough, to stretch it beyond belief, we've got the visionmeister himself, Mr. George W. at the wheel of the warship of global capitalism trying to steer it through the straits of Armageddon. Leadership does not necessarily require poetic thinking, but in times of great change, good leaders must know how to tap into a people's need for MYTHOLOGICAL renewal. Can we expect that from Mr. Bush? My fear is that he has vacuum-sealed himself into a view of the future built on replicating the sad mistakes of the past - American as it was, not as it will be. Like it or not, it is to ourselves that we must look for leadership into the future. We do it already with people we love. Now, it's time to do it with people we don't even know.

So, what are the steps? How do we bring our precious little dreams into reality?

The first thing we must do is NOT UNDERVALUE OUR DREAMS or think them insignificant. We must cast aside some of the sensitive person's insecurities, and live LARGE in our bodies.

There is NO THEATER WITHOUT THE BODY. There is no art without the body. There is NO IMAGINATION WITHOUT THE TESTIMONY OF THE SENSES. The body is the theater, ladies and gentlemen; this is the house, the hero, the villain, the beast, the heat, the flower, the tower, the temple, the palace ... the great globe itself - as Shakespeare would say - and "ye all which it shall inherit..."

Theater is this wondrous REFLECTION OF LIFE that allows us not only to view, but also to reshape in real time the collected foolishness and wisdom of all of us who daily breathe in and out the air of life and the dust of death. Believe in your body.

Will we be tested? Of course, we will. We must fight for those dreams.

We must say ART IS WHAT WE DO WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS TELLING US WHAT TO DO, so now, we shall speak our truth. This is the big TA-DA! We must try not be afraid - neither of criticism nor even of death. We have worked too long and hard to attain these kinds of freedoms to give them up without a fight.

And we should not forget THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE US and the part they played as well. The late William Burroughs said of the late Allen Ginsberg, and I think it applies to the generous heart in all of us, "He was a pioneer of openness and a lifelong model of candor. He stood for freedom of expression and for coming out of all the closets long before others did. He has influence because he said what he believed." That's a fitting epitaph for any of us to try and live up to. Believe in your history.

And, so what do we look for? What are the signs? How will we know?

We must step forward and vow to make at least some of those dreams come true. If we choose to be, we are all a part of a GREAT WORLD CIRCUS now; an IMPROMPTU AND COLLECTIVE ANALOG AND DIGITAL ART FORM that is being created as we speak.

With practice and with the support of like-minded spirits, this GROWING HOST of participatory artists/clowns/ technologists and angels, if you will, are being pulled towards some mysterious magnetic pole.

And I am being pulled along as well, and so are many of you. FOR SUCH PEOPLE as we, for those of us who seek TRANSFORMATION through art and not simply entertainment, life and imagination grow increasingly inseparable.

The more we look, the more we see just how relative the truth is, and how much of it there is yet to find, if only we can work our way past the mountain of opinions, postures and prohibitions, and let ourselves as Frank Zappa suggested 30 some years ago, just "freak out!" It's O.K. It's a good thing. It's what we need to do. Believe in yourself.

 Believe in each other!

It's not difficult really. Just say you will. Drop some email to friends. Have them over next Sunday for a little tan your titties party. Shoot some video. Someone you know says funny stuff. Someone else makes cool music. So good, so get together. FORM A PARTICIPATORY PARADIGM. Activate yourselves! Make your costumes. Share your skills. Get to really KNOW each other. Meet once every two weeks, bring a pot luck and do something. - set a date - TAKE THE PARTY PUBLIC.

Borrow some LCD projectors from work and project your video onto fabric and white walls. Have some fun, laugh, dance, rap, play - that's all creative activity. Who knows what might result? Perhaps, you'll find yourself one day there on the stage, in the midst of some great life-changing piece of theater. As my friend Holcomb says, "I know, I know, but you never know." I wouldn't put it past us.

We have the time and we have nothing to make with it but good honest mistakes. I can only suggest we make them quickly and with some measure of style. I leave you now with an invitation to check out a few short video documents of two recent theatrical parties that our little art collective D•I•S•H threw this past April and June. One was called BunnyJam and the other Junebug. Who said silliness couldn't be revolutionary too? Let me talk to that guy.


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