Thursday, June 5, 2014

Visceral Entertainment

When we glamourise urban transportation cycling, a favourite fantasy activity of this genre is cycling to the theater. A civilised evening out and you can do it on a bike! Oh my. Wistfully we picture elegant sophisticates pedaling stately steeds unhurriedly, their tranquil faces luminous in the neon glow of storefront signs. 

Meanwhile, there I was… bracing against the headwind, sweat streaming down my face, as I cycled 7 miles past endless fields stuffed with grazing sheep, the smell of freshly spread manure filling the evening air. Ah, rural cycling at its finest. A civilised evening out and you can do it on a bike! 

At last, and only slightly worse for wear, I arrived in the tiny town of Limavady to see the much-recommended Flesh and Blood Women. The community arts center where the play was staged has this multi-purpose room that makes for an intimate auditorium, with the audience clustered close to the stage. When I walked in, the place was packed. The only available seat that offered a decent view was in the front row. I took it. And, as the lights dimmed and the performance began, I found myself face to face with the actress delivering the first monologue. 

I have seen my share of plays, but it's been a while since I'd seen one in a venue this small, sitting this closely to the stage. I had almost forgotten that, when a play is good, the physical presence of the actors is so viscerally engaging as to be overwhelming. It is as if a real event unfolds in our presence. We don't just watch it happen; we feel it happen.  

The actress in front of me was so very there I could see her eyes tear up, her forehead glisten with sweat and her calf muscles twitch as she paced in stiletto heels. I could feel the force of her breath when she spoke. Her emotions vibrated and these vibrations in turn resonated through my own body. Weakened and relaxed by the physical effort of having cycled into town, I found myself especially receptive to this stage presence physicality. There was a rawness to watching the play that matched my own state of being.

Feeling all this, I could not help but recall the previous week, when a friend and I had driven to see a movie. These experiences were parallel, but so interestingly different. Seeing a movie on a screen versus seeing a play, and driving versus cycling. In one there is a degree of separation introduced that dampens the visceral and makes for a more detached, abstract experience. In many ways, this is a more comfortable way to be - to travel, to observe, to seek entertainment. There is privacy, protection. There is a reduction in effort. But in spite of this - or perhaps because of it - it cannot pack a punch as strong as direct experience. 

Riveted by the persons on stage in front of me, I hear the final click of their heels as they leave the stage and imagine pedaling home in the cool country night. What a strange and visceral entertainment. 

40 comments:

  1. Penultimate? Really?

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  2. You're stating the obvious but, yup!

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  3. How these actress are feeling with bicycle? Far, close or obsessed ?
    When I was writing this small question it reminds me I have to read one day a writer from my country named Alfred Jarry; according to my knowledge he had strong link with bicycle all his life.
    L

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  4. Very good comment.

    Cinema is to visual story telling as the auto is to personal transit.

    Live drama (and other performance) is more consistent with what we experience riding a bike.

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  5. So, if riding to the theatre is a "penultimate fantasy activity" for urban transportation cyclists, then what would the *final* fantasy activity be for urban transportation cyclists?

    Are you suggesting that many transportation cyclists will meet their demise on the ride home from the theatre?

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    1. Oy vey. I've changed this controversial wording.

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  6. PS- i'm liking the truckbike on the stage

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  7. Love that delivery bike!

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  8. PS: Delivery bike was not part of the play; there was an "our town back in the day" exhibition out in the hallway.

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    1. The delivery bike is great - can't imagine what it would be like to ride however. As for the theatre experience, yes, watching a play is entirely different to the cinema, live theatre is just that - 'alive'. I took a group of students to watch a play - "Animal Farm" - they were mesmerised and it was so pleasing to see them engaging with something that was not on a shiny screen.

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    2. Some of these old delivery bikes were surprisingly floaty. A local man has an old postal bike I'm eager to try.

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  9. You articulate the beauty of biking for transportation. It's not glamorous but profoundly connects. Funny the ways in which we connect all we encounter to our passions or vocation. I draw a lot and it seems everything I do has some relationship to the act of drawing. Mass, movement, space, light....They can be experienced so many ways. I feel the same when on a bike and the key is the visceral takeaway from the act which makes the intellectual, also, ever changing.

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  10. I know it's gone now, but I thought cycling to the hospital in labour might be an ultimate fantasy!

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  11. That experience must have made for a really different ride home. I might have found it hard to drift off to sleep for a while after arriving.

    The sheep manure thing made me smile.
    I've done some rides in west Marin and southern Sonoma counties that featured lots of silage as a sort of scent-counterpoint to the scenery.

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  12. What you're talking about here is the fourth wall of the stage. The stage is a room with three walls. The fourth wall is defined only by the proscenium arch, it's made of air. It's a very real wall. The fourth wall comes down when the play is good, when the cast is good, when the audience is good. The audience enters the room on stage. This requires active collaboration between actors and audience. Velouria sounds like good audience.

    Over-the-top examples of the fourth wall coming down would include performances of King Lear where the audience rushes the stage to protect Lear from his evil daughters. (A good cast can ad-lib in iambic while Guards remove the patrons from the stage). Or the Kit Kat Klub girls come into the audience and dance on tables, sit and drink Champagne with the audience. (This is Chicago, of course we do Cabaret in cabaret style with cocktail tables.)

    While great theatre is more likely when there's a thriving theatre community and an audience that participates weekly any community theatre anywhere anytime can create extraordinary art. It happens. Like bike rides.

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  13. Almost every day for the last month I've bicycled to a play, actually the same play. I've watched them set the stage, rehearse, and now perform. It's an outdoor play in my community and since I've no other entertainment (or electricity) it serves quite nicely and on many levels. Each day is different depending on where I sit, who is around me, the weather, my mood and on and on. It's not at all glamorous riding there, or home, but certainly lovely. Biking places makes everything better.

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    1. "since I've no other entertainment (or electricity)"

      Ah. So, like me, you must power your internet off a dynohub. Keeps one pedaling, doesn't it!

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    2. How do you manage without electricity? Not driving is 'doable' but no power would be difficult.

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    3. Jokes aside, one of my neighbours lives without electricity. This is actually extremely uncommon in Ireland now, but he is deliberately retrogrouchy. So small cottage + small working farm, him and the wife, no electric. I have visited them and examined it all with interest. Heat and hot water are powered via wood/coal burning stove, just like at my house. Gas oven &cooker with those refillable bottles they use over here. Oil lamps. Corded landline telephone. Brooms and mops. It's all very doable, if you don't require computer and internet use.

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    4. It's doable even if one does require computer and internet use.

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    5. I understand this blog is about high end but many of us on the low end side of things also enjoy bikes and the ways in which they enhance our lives. I know many with wealthy lives and no money just as I know many with lot's of income. We share the same things. We walk, we share, we ride, we share, we experience, we share...Bikes connect which is what makes them lovely. Period.

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    6. It is not about high end, but about well made, comfortable, inspiring products with a focus on handmade and small scale production. I welcome affordable options that fit these criteria.

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    7. Anon 2:20 - If by that you mean using computers and internet at a public facility such as a library, that works if the user lives reasonably nearby and does not require online access outside the facility's business hours. Otherwise, not so much. You can rig up things at home, but it isn't a simple affair. My electricity runs off solar panels, which is pretty interesting.

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    8. Hm. I didn't know that your place was mostly off the grid. That's pretty neat.
      (Interesting also that you've enough sun exposure to make it work. Due to the tree cover and coastal fogs here, it wouldn't be sufficient.)
      Do you have well water, or run off of municipal supply?

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    9. Solar panels? V I can't tell anymore when youre joking! Is this true?

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    10. Well made usually means high end. I paint for a living and many say they wish they could afford my work, 'it's beautiful' they say....The reason I live in poverty is it's pointless to compromise. Bikes, I get, they're wonderful and functional and help many of us get around. I wish I could afford the kinds of bikes you ride but I also know how to put them together and make old things work. It's really not that difficult. Actually, I should give up painting and just recycle bikes for the many, like me, who might benefit from cheap and reliable transportation. Ah, another crisis decision!

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    11. Maybe you could do both - recycle bikes and decorate them with your own artwork - that would turn 'cheap' into 'high end'. Anyone buying one of your bikes would be getting something original - you could do the artwork to individual orders.

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    12. I am not joking about the solar panels. But I am not off the grid. My electricity is connected to the farm next door which runs on a mix of solar energy and standard electric. I am not sure how exactly this works, but when you use electricity in the daytime it runs directly off the solar panels; when you use it after dark it runs off stored solar power if any remains and when that runs out the standard electric kicks in. The process is seamless, so the end user never feels a difference, other than seeing it in their bill (electricity used during the day is free). Solar panels are popular here; you see small ones on roofs of houses and larger scale structures on farms. In the latter case, I am pretty sure the farmers get a government subsidy for switching to solar power, which helps with the tremendous installation and upkeep costs.

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  14. Yay bikes!
    So I guess you're not getting a car?

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    1. Who knows, I might eventually. Driving here is actually pretty fun. But at the moment the costs would far outweigh the occasional benefits.

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  15. nice analogy with driving and cinema v. cycling and theater. never really thought about it in those terms. though i've probably seen more less inspired plays (probably why I don't see lots of plays), then bad rides.

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  16. Last time I went to the theatre was too visceral for me – I fainted. It was a production, believe it or not, of King Lear, at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, with Derek Jacobi in the lead role. I wasn't even sitting at the front, I was up in the Gods, but there was a scene where the Earl of Gloucester was tied to the wall at the back of the stage and had his eyes gouged out, leaving two big bloody red holes.
    I've passed out at the sight of blood since I was a kid, even at the cinema, and I've never learned how not to. I tried giving myself a right talking to, telling myself not to be so stupid... It wasn't real, they were just actors... It wasn't real blood, it was just tomato sauce... It wasn't The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it was f***ing Shakespeare, ffs... But it was no use. My temperature went up, my blood pressure went down, there was a buzzing in my ears, I put my head down between my legs and then it was like, lights out.
    I woke up all woozy, to the sound of the person sitting next to me, one of the people I was with, saying, "Are you alright?" I wasn't, though.
    After I realized where I was (it's a horrible feeling – you always think you're in your bed), I became aware that the person to the other side of me, who I wasn't with and didn't know, had his head between his legs. That actually made me feel slightly better until...
    He sat up and I asked him, "Were you away, too?"
    "Sorry?"
    "Did you faint too?"
    "Eh? Oh, you fainted? Oh, sorry, I thought you'd dropped something – I was trying to help you find it."
    Aw, man... I just wanted to go home. :(
    I absolutely get everything you've written about here – active v passive as a way of life – but maybe I should just stick to the cycling and forget the theatre, huh? :)

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  17. To a bookish teenager in rural Co. Sligo in the 60's the dramatic and intellectual highpoint of the year was the North Western Amateur Drama festival. This was held in Tubbercurry, a 15-mile cycle from home. I went, on my black Raleigh roadster, every time I could afford the entrance fee.

    The cycle there was fueled with excitement and anticipation. If the drama was compelling then the cycle home in the dark was strange and wonderful and frequently terrifying.

    As a 15-year-old I saw a production of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' there. As I cycled home, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse and Thomas Danforth appeared in every shadow on the roadway!

    The dark, the silence and the physical effort of cycling combined to make it the most intense dramatic experience of my life.

    Cycling is the only way to go to the theatre!

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  18. I've seen a lot of plays, in Boston, New York, and Wellfleet (WHAT, if you are back in town during the summer) and I always enjoy seeing people act in front of me rather than on a screen, editing, etc. But I went to the theater on my bike yet ...

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  19. The stage is a room with three walls. The fourth wall is defined only by the proscenium arch, it's made of air. It's a very real wall. The fourth wall comes down when the play is good, when the cast is good, when the audience is good. The audience enters the room on stage. This requires active collaboration between actors and audience. family vacation packages asheville nc

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