Slide: What Is Out of Focus
What does it mean if the Dresser engaged more with the question and answer period than the performance of a new creative work by an artist of interest? What does it mean if the Dresser even raises such a question? Has she gone soft as a critic? Has she become more conservative in her view of experimental theater? Has her world narrowed down to only certain kinds of exotica?
CREATORS ON STAGE
On April 9, 2010, the Dresser took in Slide, a experimental theater piece co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center as well as Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University, Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program, and six other commissioning groups. (The Dresser assures you, Dear Reader, that she was not intimidated by the large community that gathered around this work seven years in the making, but rather wants to account for how large the audience is for this work.) The creators of the work--Rinde Eckert, Steven Mackey, and eighth blackbird (a sextet of musicians who break convention by not staying in place and do more than play musical instruments)--also convey the action of the work. This means the writer/librettist Eckert, the composer Mackey, and eighth blackbird players perform. Not a problem for the Dresser. She has seen this happen on stage and in film to good effect. Examples that come to mind start with Rinde Eckert's And God Created Great Whales, Horizon, and An Idiot Divine but also include but are not limited to Spaulding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia and any number of Woody Allen's films such as Annie Hall.
These insertions of creators as actors in their performing arts work to create alternate realities. Thus the creators can stare back at the audience (if they are live on stage) or attempt to influence the exactness of meaning in an attempt to understand or control what effect the work has on those who came to watch. By the way, Q & A sessions also work like this, even for creating artists who do not step out on the stage until after the curtain closes on their piece.
The Dresser will not neglect to say there is a musical number called "Stare," which Mackey calls the centerpiece of Slide. He describes this composition as containing "persistent juxtapositions of clarity and blurriness."
What's Slide about? If the audience puts their attention on Rinde Eckert, who plays the role of Renard, they will see a psychologist who runs an experiment where he shows participants out-of-focus slides to gauge how much time it takes them to identify the object once it is shown in focus. Next Renard adds a shill who disagrees with the unsuspecting participant to further confound the participant's need to defend his original guess on the unfocused object. One of the things Renard talks about is the "ritual humiliation" of not guessing correctly. Eventually Renard comes to the conclusion, "Some things are better left unsaid. No sense in clearing up the past. Leave questions unasked."
Besides the experiment, the audience sees that Renard has a musical hobby for which he plays the tuba. After he becomes disenchanted with his slide experiment, he fixes on eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan (she is the only woman on stage) as an object of his unrequited love to stave off his loneliness. By the close of Slide, Renard wants to retreat to the windowless room that he describes as a cheap hotel but nonetheless a comforting place of retreat. (The program notes say this is where he lives.) The Dresser isn't sure, and didn't bother to ask, if Renard wanted the pianist to join the disillusioned psychologist in this room. The Dresser had already retreated into her own head thinking about a scene in Jim Jarmusch's film Mystery Train where a Japanese man shoots photos of an unremarkable cheap hotel room in the United States and when his girlfriend asks why he is doing this, he says, everything else he will remember but this he will forget.