The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism

By Elinor Fuchs | Go to book overview

6
When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters

How can business men and women stand in a room and
discuss business without even one reference to their genitals?
I mean everybody has them. They just pretend they don’t.

—Maria Irene Fornes, Fefu and Her Friends1


Foreword

The following account catches, and strives to understand, a moment in the life of the New York alternative theater of the early and mid-1980s.2 It was the brief moment before obscenity on the stage became a political scandal, before Jesse Helms attacked, before the Mapplethorpe show, before the NEA de-fundings, but these soon changed the artistic climate. One result of the polarizing events was that the theater community—both artists and audiences—had little opportunity to examine its deeper responses to the kind of material I describe before being enlisted in a “patriotic” defense of artistic freedom. This was unfortunate, for just as to Helms and the right such work was unproblematically “wrong,” so to its defenders it became unproblematically right and good. Audiences confused and sometimes frightened by Karen Finley went on shortly to greet her with knowing laughter and standing ovations. Spectators ready to walk out of Annie Sprinkle’s porn routine at the Performing Garage lined up to inspect her cervix with flashlight and speculum at The Kitchen. Everything that was “disturbational,” in the resonant term used by Arthur Danto to describe Mapplethorpe’s photography, was lightened into entertainment by audiences determined to support their artists. The most absurd extreme of this loyalty occurred in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Museum in June, 1992, where several obscene performances, some of embarrassing ineptitude, were all but canonized by the museum director, who had been pressed into the fray by Martha Wilson of the Franklin Furnace. By that time, the national furor had not only forced audiences into shallow responses, but artists into shallow work, where attack on the NEA now became a fitting substitute for exploring the complex of issues surrounding the breaking of sexual taboo in an art theater setting. A further stage in the willed forgetting of what once promised to be a debate of some depth came with the commercial exploitation of the censorship controversy by Madonna and commercial advertisers. What follows below comes from a more molten, less certain time,

-108-

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The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Drama and Performance Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Modern after Modernism 19
  • 1- The Rise and Fall of the Character Named Character 21
  • 2- Pattern over Character the Modern Mysterium 36
  • 3- Counter-Stagings Ibsen against the Grain 52
  • Part II- Theater after Modernism 67
  • 4- Signaling through the Signs 69
  • 5- Another Version of Pastoral 92
  • 6- When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters 108
  • 7- Theater as Shopping 128
  • 8- Postmodernism and the Scene of Theater 144
  • Reviews and Articles 1979-1993 Reports from an Emerging Culture 159
  • Notes 199
  • Index 218
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