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Performance to Party

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I started last weekend by asking a distinguished art historian why most people think performance art is pretentious, opaque, and dull. "Because it's true," laughed RoseLee Goldberg, the pleasant and intelligent scholar who wrote the groundbreaking Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. Goldberg is a visiting lecturer at Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, and will speak at On the Boards on March 8.

"Performance is often provocative," she continued. "It has that 'offend the bourgeoisie' history. But performance provides fertile ground where a lot of new ideas emerge. It is often difficult but, in the end, explainable."

Then Goldberg mauled one of my favorite casual assertions--that performance art is just theater with a pretentious name.

"There are many differences between the two," she said. Performance artists usually play themselves instead of specific characters. They "work across disciplines, in many disciplines or between disciplines." Performance art is high on content but low on narrative, and "the audience should expect to focus on stage pictures."

Which is a good description of my recent adventure in doing theater instead of writing about it. I played a small part in Delaware, the merrily weird, high-content/low-narrative spectacle that closed at Re-bar last Saturday. Favorite topic of conversation that night: the "stage picture" potential in destroying a beautifully ostentatious anniversary cake stowed backstage, waiting for its debut at a private party after the show.

Sitting on the stage instead of in the audience was an odd, educational experience. I have more and less sympathy for artists now. They bust their asses for weeks to perform two hours of material that might be despised--but they seem to have too much fun doing it to justify whining about bad reviews.

They also have great parties, where Reggie Watts rocks his standup/musical improv in the living room, there's a working player piano in the hall, and the band Awesome! (of Delaware fame) plays to a houseful of the grittily glamorous--flirty, gossipy, stoned Art People.

Somewhere between the keg and the front yard, I heard the night's most popular rumor: 14/48 is seriously considering leaving Consolidated Works for another home. The wildly popular theater endurance contest was tailor-made for the ConWorks caverns, but the messy firing of ConWorks executive director and 14/48 coproducer Matthew Richter has soured the relationship. 14/48's departure could be the rallying moment for an anti-ConWorks faction. A few local artists have staked their loyalty with Richter and pulled out of ConWorks events, but most seem to be doing the Seattle thing: sitting on their hands and waiting to agree with whatever consensus emerges.

Then the conversation with the drunk and stoned turned to me. "I liked Delaware but you were kind of weak," said one of the boozers. "How does that feel, Reviewer Boy?" One of the stoners asked, "You're not putting this in the paper, are you?"

brendan@thestranger.com

 

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