Academic journal article TheatreForum

Bellona Destroyer of Cities

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Bellona Destroyer of Cities

Article excerpt

Destroyer of Cities, is like a performance by a talking dog. (The audience finds) it so cunning that he speaks at all, they couldn't care less what he actually says." (49) This quote from Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, adapted by Jay Scheib after Samuel R. Delany's epic science fiction novel Dhalgren refers to the poems written by Kid, a mysterious newcomer to the city of Bellona, whose writings are puzzling as well as fascinating. They conjure a dark urban world, an autumnal city past its prime with desiccated streets and crumbling walls that rearrange themselves. Roger Caulkins, a publisher, is impressed with Kid's poems and wants to publish them. Lanya, who, in Scheib's play, is already a published writer says that Kid's poems are over-emotional and dull, and anyway, she tells Kid, most people are content to just hear about them, not read them. Like the talking dog performance, they are only interested in the spectacle that surrounds their publication.

In his Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, Scheib confronts this dilemma head on: how to get an audience to see past the spectacle and appreciate the poetry of the piece? Scheib's stage designs are so enticing, his use of live video streaming, and freeze frame video projections, so visually alluring that the audience may sometimes miss the important issues that Scheib raises. [Photo 2] His plays may seem at times to be overly chaotic or too densely packed for audiences to take everything in, but isn't this just what Scheib is aiming for? He has been engaged in a search for new ways to mix theatre, dance and video for some time now and these include an emphasis on live action.

At first he experimented with naturalism using actors and live cameras in order to "get as close to reality" as possible, to play real people. He filmed them going about their lives, and then cut the footage and projected it during performances. He called this period, from 2003 to 2007, "The Flight Out of Naturalism." It was his first "makeshift season" (a term he has coined to capture his trajectory as an independent theatre artist) and it included nine productions dealing with the collision of fiction and reality in the theatre. With his production of Tennessee Williams's Demolition Downtown in 2007, he used a three camera livefeed video installation, switching from close-ups to other perspectives in order to capture and magnify intimate moments in the characters' lives. Scheib also experimented with repeated dance movements. In one scene, for example, his performers (a couple with serious marital problems) wrestle and fall over and over again, like a film being played backwards and forwards.

In his current season (2007 to the present) "Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems," a trilogy of science vs. fiction performance works of which Bellona, Destroyer of Cities is the second, Scheib continues to investigate ways of using emerging technologies and multiple perspectives to capture what he refers to as the "phrases, gestures, exaggerations, surprises, and mood changes that mirror life's unpredictability" (Scheib 23 Aug. 2011). "Motion theater" (his current term for his special style of theatre) aims to be a total theatre experience composed of live action, film, video, poetry, and dance.

Scheib is a playwright who believes in writing directly on the stage in close collaboration with his actors, set designers, costume designers, and video designers. Together they work to tell contemporary tales using contemporary means through improvisations and frequent rewrites, live and on camera. The written script is the result of this ongoing conversation and as one can imagine it changes frequently, even up to the last minute. Referring to the rowdy multilayer ed Gang Bang scene in Bellona, for example, Scheib agrees that "once the spectacle takes off, there is much that escapes the audience.... It is definitely part of the talking dog routine" but, he adds, "even the most chaotic moments are wildly crafted, and when the performance settles, these moments usually fall into a stable system" (Scheib 23 Aug. …

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