–this post is part of a series of that suggests performance concepts. please see the intro for more info.–
in a way, unless we are presenting a world premiere, every play is a kind of remix. the play can be seen as the original “song”, presented first with an original “mix”, then when re-produced, the play is re-mixed with different actors, settings, staging, etc. but remix culture has taught us that there are as many ways to remix songs as there are individual approaches.
the remix was developed by jamaican dub producers beginning in the late 1960s and disco DJs in the 1970s (most evidently in new york city). “dub” versions of popular reggae tracks were given renewed life and adaptability (as well as spaced-out atmospheres) by engineers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry. on disco dancefloors, DJs (like Walter Gibbons and Larry Levan) played hot singles but were looking for ways to extend the tracks into a constant groove (and to mix seamlessly into other tracks). this practice has become a cornerstone of dance, DJ and electronic music culture. songs continue to get new play by the recurring recontextualizations in a mix, remixes in new styles by new artists and new reinterpretations of rediscovered tracks in local scenes and cultures. in this way, a song becomes a living, evolving entity.. unfixed, open to metamorphosis, much in keeping with open source culture.
the practice of reinterpretation is one that has thrilled me in the theatre, leading me ultimately to directing. it’s striking to consider how many times we’ve attempted to enact the rituals of Death of a Salesman (1949), Hamlet (1599) or Oedipus Rex (429 BC). we find this less in other media than we do in the theatre. although there are notable exceptions, we less frequently remake movies, rewrite books or repaint pictures. but in theatre, it is important to revisit these works, faithful that there is ever more to unearth.
from this ancient impulse it seems natural that the theatre would effortlessly combine with contemporary open source/remix culture and yet, this is rarely the case. unyielding literary agents and petrified practices strictly inform us that there are things we may and may not do with pre-existing works. while a few forward-thinking writers are setting new standards (Charles Mee, Richard Foreman), most playwrights do not share the enthusiasm for postmodern appropriations. so it is that contemporary artists/companies look to public domain works, affirming their relevance and relegating the “modern” playwright to bourgeois status, relevant only to those who are satisfied in seeing what they’ve seen before, doing it in ways that are worn out.
take, as an example, our usual way of presenting plays. we rehearse and rehearse until we have hammered an unpredictable, live event into fully controlled, predetermined series of actions, the highest praised reserved for those that approximate utter repeatability, unaffected by anything exterior to the “life” of it (with the occasional grudging intrusion of an audience response). we may not change-up our expression after an audience comes, or if we need special permission to do so, we give it a special characterization: “previews” (offered at discounted ticket prices).
what if performance production were less about presenting a perfect, frozen product and more about offering a continual re-evaluation of a work that grew and changed as it lived? can you imagine what it would be like to produce (or see) a show that constantly refined, rethought and renewed?; one that brought in new actors, changed their existing ones around?; that would be “remixed” by new directors for special events, played in new spaces? a possible exploration could include an evening of one scene alone, “remixed” in a variety of ways, by a variety of artists. this would be a production that had life, that breathed. for those managing directors and box office professionals out there, imagine the repeat business!
the more ways we are allowed to engage with a work of art, the deeper the impression it makes on us. let’s give audiences new and exciting ways to become familiar with the work that we produce.
for 200 bonus points, count how many times a word begins with “re-” in this post.