12 September 2010

Questions for the Altar Machine

Been busy with school starting, traveling to D.C., and early book promoting.

Fortunately this weekend, I was able to participate in the 24 Hour Festival sponsored by the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Florida Gulf Coast University. In short, the festival is a celebration of the creative process. After receiving highly specific and somewhat random prompts, the participants have 24 hours to create an artwork, film, or performance piece satisfying those prompts. Most of the participants work in teams, and the performances last night ranged from the comical to the absurd to the moving. Students outdid themselves in creating and performing dance, film, and comedic/multi-media performances, as well as static artworks.

The prompt required the following elements:

A flawed damsel.
A flawed dragon.
Black birds on an iron gate.
Something in the wrong place.
Something a little too hot and a little too close.
Something alive and uncontrollable.
Title must have in it or as a subtitle, "The Altar Machine."

And accompanying the prompt was the following narrative, which was there simply to inform the work:

A Snake Doctor lives in the wilderness. You can see him only when you look to the side of him. You look him in the eyes and he’s already gone. If you’re patient, he’ll treat you. Everyone’s got sickness one way or another. The bells are ringing. The church is ready. The old lady sticks a finger in her shoe.

For my piece, I imagined the actor being someone who's already been treated by the Snake Doctor. In the performance, he lies on a bed, the floor of the stage, after entreating the audience to sit on the stage as well. He struggles somewhat to become comfortable, staring at the audience, trying to gain focus as the video below plays.

Once the video is at the mid-point, the actor shifts toward the other end of his "bed," rests his head on a pillow, remains open-eyed, and speaks:

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?
Was I sleeping, the sun?
Was I sleeping, the sun, did she?
Was I sleeping, and did she, the sun, too near, too approximate?
Was I sleeping, and the sun burning, did she want?
Was I sleeping, while she primped and propped, while she suffered unto another?
Was I sleeping, while she suffered, while she came?
Was I sleeping, while she shopped?
Was I sleeping, while she shopped, while the sun ran close, ran off, ran away, ran wild?
Was I sleeping, while the sun skirted away, an animal gone feral, checking out?
Was I sleeping, while he took her, becalmed her, became her, here?
Was I sleeping, here, her, here?
Was I sleeping, here, while she and he bought things, watches, beach chairs, good Scotch?
Was I sleeping, while they drank Scotch and soda, eating olives and cheese, he would break it off with her, leaving her to suffer,
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?

* * * * * *

And that's it. The line "Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?" is from Didi's speech near the end of Waiting for Godot. And the lines about the sun echo lines from Barry Cavin's Wooden Mouth.

The highlight of the evening performances had to be Brittney Brady's remarkably dense performance, which included film, poetry, script, found sounds, pre-recorded voice, found objects, process painting, costume, banjo plucking, ceremony, snake skin, sand, crate boxes with cranks, and something like prayer. In all, the performances and artworks were treasures, all this done on the fly.

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