We Were Young

We were young and in traffic
He offered work for food
We had no work to offer
We barely had an apartment

Embarrassed in our Chevy Citation
By our conspicuous wealth
We gave him our strawberries
Which he protected with the shade of his body

Older, wiser, and better off
We look forward to a prix fixe menu
He offers a balm to our consciences
We offer cash in large denominations

(2009)

Peter Sellars (YGtCTO #207)

Theatrical director

We have gotten fairly comfortable with the sort of acting that we see on television and in movies. On top of that, we have internalized the idea that we should be able to see whatever we want whenever we want. I can compare the original television series One Day at a Time to the Netflix reboot next month over breakfast. If I wish, I can compare the acting capabilities of each cast while devouring my allotment of Pop Tarts.

If I so desire, I can also see how I feel about the various attempts at portraying Hamlet: Derek Jacobi vs. David Tennant? Kevin Kline vs. Kenneth Branagh? Of course, they are all products of late 20th schools of acting. We expect their efforts to feel realistic.

Shakespeare never really waned in popularity, but we don’t have the luxury of viewing 19th century productions (or earlier), though we can rest assured that they were pretty different: diction and voice mattered a great deal; emotional expression mattered, but was conveyed through the text and the delivery. Word is that acting was less physical, but I find it somewhat difficult to imagine the final sword fight if the cast stands still.

Anyhow, we do constantly update our art. Theatrical productions are the most obvious case, but painters do go back and look at the same things again. It does beg the question of why we feel compelled to revisit something that has already been done to bits.

Peter Sellars

Something about it still speaks to… who?
Generally, another artist- that’s the real answer. We decry when it speaks only to their bank account, like another summer movie sequel, but we praise the artist that can bring a fresh eye to a classic.

I have mentioned my troubled relationship with opera before. I knew the music was good, but the stagings were tedious. Unaccepting of the unfamiliar as a youth, I complained when I saw a Shakespeare play transferred to the Old West, because it was not authentic. A few years later, I was enjoying any ridiculous interpretation as long as they kept things moving.

The opera world was no different, but I had far less expectation that anything would be done a particular way. I just wanted something that could talk to me without requiring dubbing or a week’s study beforehand.

Enter Peter Sellars with his production of Mozart and da Ponte’s Così fan tutte.

Look, I know this might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it connected with me. And it is a different interpretation than had previously been available to me. I connected with the presentation of the story in a way that I had not been able to before because Sellars brought his artistry to the creation of Mozart and da Ponte.

I have hesitated to say that this was my way in to opera. Truly, it was a bit of a slog finding productions done by others that held my interest as well. I watched whatever else Sellars did, but that wasn’t so much the same thing.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 93 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Evan Connell (YGtCTO Words #69)

The White Lantern


Book written by Evan S. Connell

I haven’t decided yet how much I want the author to intrude into the text when writing non-fiction. That probably means that I never will decide. For that matter, I’m not too excited when the author overtly comments on the action in a work of fiction.

But I am being disingenuous. On the traditional proscenium stage, the actors are surrounded on three sides with the audience composing the fourth. If any of the cast come out of character and address the audience, it is called “breaking the fourth wall.” Think of Romeo and Juliet– the idea goes way back. Dobie Gillis and Moonlighting and many more television shows have utilized this conceit. We take it for granted in documentaries without thinking too hard about the fact that the onscreen host is not actually talking to us as part of his true experience. There is an aspect of pretending for him and for us.

So, truth be told, I probably care less about the intrusion of the artist in the work that I thought. The problem only arises when I notice and feel jarred out of the consumption of the art.

Then, there is non-fiction, running the gamut from memoir through scientific journal writing. We expect a certain amount of verisimilitude when that book wrapper bears a non-fiction imprint. While we might forgive the intrusion of an individual point of view, we are less likely to forgive opinion defrocking the facts.

When I started haunting the science and history sections of the library, I tended to read anything that caught my eye. Connell was a successful author and his publisher did a good job packaging his non-fiction. I noticed them and became absorbed by the wide range of subjects covered.

Evan Connell

In The White Lantern and The Aztec Treasure House,
Connell wrote about the details and characters that floated around the edges of other history books. This was before easy access to weird history and the lunatic fringe. Connell’s thesis was the stutter and stumble that marked human progress, but he illustrated it with the sorts of stories that felt like you had curled up with Fox Mulder. Everything was not weird (and most was pretty much human nature), but the presentation would have fit right in with a flashlight and a big sheet.

That’s always been the big picture commentary of the best art about the weird: presentation and point of view are everything. Ultimately, that is true of all human endeavor- it is the difference between a colonist and an invader.

Connell intrudes in his essays with personal commentary about how certain incidents are playing out again at the time of his writing. Re-reading him, that time of writing has also become history. The cycles that he highlights have had the opportunity to return yet again. The comments of the moment are once again spoken to an audience that the artist never really envisioned.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 94 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.