Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Wall at the Back of the Theater

The Brick Wall at the Back of the Theatre

A couple of Sundays ago, I decided to do a performance for Occupy Baltimore-- Baltimore's version of the Wall Street Protests-- which started a few weeks ago in a public square in the Inner Harbour area of town. The performance was inspired by a project I was assigned in a performance class (I still have yet to do the actual assignment in class on Monday...this wasn't the school assignment) where we were asked to develop a character or alter ego.  For this piece in McKeldin Square, I became an out-of-work "popcorn lady" who lost her job because the theatre she worked at (In the present? In the 40s or 50s?  I'm not quite sure...) closed down.  The performance consisted of me kneeling on the ground for two hours, spelling out a long quote in popcorn kernels.  The quote belongs to the annoying, but highly quotable (Baltimore-born) Frank Zappa, who once said: "The Illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion.  At the point where the illusion becomes to expensive to maintain, they will take down the scenery...pull back the curtains...and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre."  The quote was slightly abridged from it's original form for the performance, for the sake of my knees and back.

The Brick Wall at the Back of the Theatre

This performance was obviously inspired by my time in Baltimore-- and the United States.  It is a crazy time to be here-- there have been protests across the country, and Baltimore itself has been a troubled city since the 1960s.  The downtown core of Baltimore is beautiful, but largely deserted.  There is poverty and blight everywhere.  While the arts community and a select few are fighting hard for the city to have a chance at a renaissance, it will be a long, hard road.  What are the odds that it will happen?  This is a city made for a million people, and the population has steadily declined since the 1970s to 620,000 people.  Poor Baltimore-- in so many ways, the city and its people have been really inspiring, but I leave for good in December.  I know it will haunt me, and I will wonder and worry about it as if it was a wayward friend.

The Brick Wall at the Back of the Theatre

On a lighter note, executing this piece was rough.  I did a somewhat similar performance with popcorn kernels last spring that took just under half as long, and that was hard enough.  Because the piece is at least partially about labour, the endurance aspect of the piece was fitting.  About a third of the way through the quote, this sweet little man offered me a bit of help.  He did one letter-- an F-- before I shoo-ed him away because he was slowing me down.  The poor guy was very disappointed, and reluctantly left me to my work after a while.  I really hit my stride after he left.

The Brick Wall at the Back of the Theatre

This was the first piece of "work" that has materialized since my arrival here, and I'm glad to have it more or less behind me. There is definitely more to come soon.  I'll end this post with the lyrics of a Randy Newman song I only just heard for the first time yesterday.  While my photos don't really illustrate the Baltimore this song speaks of, the idea of it is definitely simmering close the core of this piece.

Beat up little seagull
On a marble stair
Tryin' to find the ocean
Lookin' everywhere

Hard times in the city
In a hard town by the sea
Ain't nowhere to run to
There ain't nothin' here for free

Hooker on the corner
Waitin' for a train
Drunk lyin' on the sidewalk
Sleepin' in the rain

And they hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
'Cause the city's dyin'
And they don't know why

Oh Baltimore
Man it's hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it's hard just to life, just to live

The Brick Wall at the Back of the Theatre

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