Starting Here, Starting Now
Those of you who actually read the byline will notice that a new name appears this week. I thought it might be useful on this first day to tell you that I want Aisle Seat to be a place where you'll look for gossip, tidbits about the local performance scene, the occasional interview. Mostly, though, I hope that we (you, the readers, and me, the typist) will make Aisle Seat a forum for the issues that inform, assist, and sometimes betray the performing arts.
Like money, for instance.
I noticed when I called around to various theaters that my reference to “issues” was frequently greeted with talk about money. “Economic censorship” was the pithiest remark referring to the threatened destruction of the NEA, but there were lots of angry words about the end of federal support for the arts. I wonder if we're not getting into trouble when we depend on, or spend too much time wishing for, Big Brother (or Big CEO, since corporate funding frequently has as many conditions as government money) to save the day. How can we be comfortable asking for financial support from the very people who ought at least to be challenged, if not threatened, by the art and the artists involved? I've seen theater companies build seasons around what will fulfill the conditions for grants; there's a scary circularity in doing art that will get grants to do more of the same art to get more of the same grants.
Now I know that the great artists of the past were supported by patrons who often exercised more than a little control over the output. I can't but wonder, though, what kind of extraordinary stuff might result if the energy put into fund raising was instead channeled into the arts. Theater, at least, needs no more than “bare boards, two artists, and a passion,” and I think it's possible to come up with that without a staff of fund-raisers.
The diatribe over for now, let me say that, despite grants from various private and public foundations, Antenna Theater's latest, Skin & Bones/Flesh & Blood, is an extraordinarily powerful piece of political theater — funny, frightening, fabulous. Using masked actors and a killer soundtrack of artfully arranged interviews, Antenna skewers our culture's devotion to physical perfection and the racism that assumes physical perfection begins with white skin. The connection between the Black and White Ball and illegal immigrants brought an exceedingly painful shock of recognition. S&B is site-specific with a vengeance, since the walk-through production is held at the Marin Recycling Center — you know you've arrived at the right place when a deep breath brings the pungent aroma of decay (and of the pig farm across the road). It is definitely worth a trip to the wilds of Marin. Call 331-8512.
By Deborah Peifer