Notorious RRZ: Outlaw Artist!
2004-02-29 - 4:30 p.m.
Move over, Robert Mapplethorpe. Get out of my spotlight, Karen Finley. Back of the line, Holly Hughes. There's a new, edgy, outlaw experimental artist in town, and his name is The Notorious RRZ.
On Friday night, a man stormed out of my show, cursing at the top of his lungs, because we did a scene about sexual abuse while there were children in the audience. Now, the children were in the show. They were not, however, in the scene. Their mother new about the entire content of the show and had talked to her kids about what was going on, and why it was important to have it on stage. The scene itself showed NOTHING of abuse. It had three women talking about the experience of child abuse. Yet this guy feels the need to make a big exit out of the theater . . .
And call the cops.
So, right before intermission, the cops pull up outside. They need to talk to whoever's in charge. So, on of the people at the venue said that the kids who were here, as well as their parents, knew exactly what was involved and were okay with it. At this point, the cops asked to speak to the parents. We had to tell them that the parents were unavailable, as they and their kids were performing their own scene.
How perverted was the scene that actually INVOLVED the children? Well, it was a fairy tale called "Sleeping Handsome" in which the princess saves the prince. In other words, it made your average episode of The Golden Girls look like Last Tango in Paris, and now that I've put THAT mental picture in your heads . . .
Once the scene was over, and intermission had started, the kids' mom came out to talk to the cops, saying that her daughter was an actress who did work at various theaters, and that she didn't want them making her feel threatened or embarrassed about her performance. Then the cops demanded to see the kids themselves. So we brought out the kids, who pretty much told the cops that, yeah, they were okay. They were having fun, and getting applause.
So, eventually, the cops left, satisfied. This meant, of course, that I had to make a statement to the audience, who had already been unnerved by the ranting asshole, about the cops and everything.
I told them that all parents who have brought kids to this show either to participate or to watch have been informed about the content of this show, and are free to pull their kids out at any time. Then I said I was sorry. I was sorry that sexual abuse and rape occurred, and said that I'd much rather not have to create pieces about such traumatic subjects, but that as long as these horrors continue to be perpetrated, art must respond to and challenge them.
Later on, we found out that the guy who felt the need to make a scene is a very devout member of his religion, and some people suspect that he might be physically abusive towards his kids. I don't know whether that's true or not, but it would figure. Whenever you point a finger, three others are pointing right the fuck back at you.
So, yeah, the cops nearly tried to shut down my show! If that's not the mark of kick-ass art, I don't know what is. I am currently bragging about this to everyone who'll listen. I hope cops always try to shut down my art. If the show had been going on for even one more weekend, I would have called the newspapers. And scheduled a facial. And gone shopping for some really cool, edgy looking clothes.
I actually need to be honest about something though: I wasn't that comfortable with having kids there. I talked to their mother a lot about making sure that she was okay with having the kids involved in a show that dealt with sex and sexual violence, even if their scene would have been one of the most innocuous parts of it. She said that she wanted her children to know about sex and sexual violence because they were pre-adolescent girls, and because they were going to be facing a lot of the things that we would be talking about in less than five years. She said that, having been raised by European parents, she was taught never to be frightened of or ashamed of sex, and she feels like she benefitted from having sex explained to her early on.
She does, however, regret every instance of violence she saw growing up, and therefore monitors her kids' TV and video choices carefully. The Lord of the Rings is about as much violence as these kids get.
I feel that all of that is valid, and I respected her decision.
After the kids saw the sexual abuse scene for the first time, they asked one of the actresses what was going on. She was reluctant to tell them, but I took them aside and said that they were talking about a little girl who had been hurt by her babysitter.
One of the kids said, "You mean sexually?"
"Yes" I said.
She took a moment, "That's what I thought."
I told them that sometimes very bad things happen, and that it's important for us to talk about it so that people who have gone through things like this will know they're not alone. The kids accepted this, and went backstage to get ready for their scene.
Are these kids going to turn out to be good little church-going Republicans? No. They are going to probably be left-leaning punk rockers like their parents. Until then, they're no more or less well-behaved than most other children, and, I think, a little more prepared.
I was not prepared, however, for the fact that some adults said that they were offended by the show because we did not warn them that we would be dealing with such explicit subjects. Actually, offended was not the word for a lot of them; the truth was that they had flashed back to some of their own experiences as rape and incest survivors, and had to leave the theater in order to calm down. I felt very bad for them, and assured them that we would make that more explicit next time. However, these weren't the only statements made against the show. One person even called my show trans-phobic because the first scene featured men in drag for comic purposes. Out of respect for hir being upset, I didn't mention that the men in drag come back at the end of the show and perform a scene that has a lot more to do with poignancy and pathos, but in retrospect I probably should have. I also didn't mention my extensive work with gender and theatre, partcularly with transgender theatre, and I'm glad I didn't, because ze didn't need to get the Notorious Smackdown.
Instead, I came out at the beginning of last night's performance --our final show, with a sold out, standing room only house--and said that we would be dealing with sex and sexual violence in an explicit manner. I told the audience that all parents whose children were in the show or in the audience had been informed of the nature of the show. I told them this show was written as a response to episodes of sexual assault within our own community, and that as such no subject or approach was taboo. If another writer disagreed with the message of somone else's scene, they could address the issues in their own scene. I told them that they were free to leave at any time, because sometimes catharsis is a painful process, but I also told them to reserve judgment of the show until the end, when all viewpoints had been presented.
Finally, I gave them my favorite quote from my late mentor, Dr. Lynda Hart:
"Desire, like theater, takes place in a fantasy that we create with others, and like any communal experience, requires a relinquishing of control. We love, and we play, in order to learn how to survive letting go."
And with that we started the show, and we rocked the house like there was no tomorrow.
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