..all a sudden, wind changed. Blew up wet and strange from the south…

(Why am I naming days?)

3/07/14, Day 13,798: …all a sudden, wind changed. Blew up wet and strange from the south…

… Jem smelled it. Next thing, he packed up separate and ready to walk…

This day is so quoted because I’ve been thinking about Dog Act  again. It may truly be my favorite play, even beyond those of Shakespeare; and of late, it has seemed to me the Patron Play of Ensembles.

In this frame,  Zetta’s long monologue about Jem in the second half of the play is not an odd digression, but central to the the play’s true concerns. Zetta comes from an ensemble; she was raised in it, and she carries with her not just the plays they made but the memories of those who made them. These memories live in the props, costumes and instruments packed into and hung from the cart they carry behind them. Her Mam, her three fathers, Jem; even those roadsters she never knew, who played the gigs before she was born; she carries them. And so, though at the play’s beginning, her ensemble may have shrunk to the size of two players, as long as there are at least two players, it is always much larger than that.

Then, suddenly, their living ensemble doubles after they meet Vera and Jo-Jo. Now, they can perform the old plays again! And again, moments that may seem secondary to the plot are revealed to be the play’s center: the song “Sling joe, fleet Cherry-Anne” unites the four for one perfect moment–whatever machinations and troubles that lie beneath are for one moment gone–and you see clearly the real fire that they sit around and tend to, a very old fire that has been passed down from the very first time a group of players changed through the grace of playing into an ensemble, a fire that says:

Only this play, only these songs,
With just these players, for just these people,
In this very here, right this very now,
And no other world.

Of course, there is another world. Vera has her own agenda, Jo-Jo her semi-feral destiny, and their temporary ka-tet will be torn apart. There is another world, and like Jem, some of our ensemble’s best players have already gone: “one of those things you can’t help. Where you belong got a gravity and it going to pull you hard.” They are gone, and not gone; and more will go and not quite go; we will still carry them with us in this cart called Flux.

It will come as no surprise to you that framing device we’re exploring for Faust is one of an ensemble. In a polarized world of oppositional political binaries, of exclusionary hierarchical systems of governance and business, where the zero-sum games of capitalism and false gods of fundamentalism simplify and commodify the unruly uniqueness of the human spirit, where industrial forces hide the means of production and digital powers re-inscribe our prejudices, where the songs are not our own and the players interchangeable and we labor for some other here, some other now; where we must have faith in some other world because this one is unbearable;  that small, fragile, secret fire tended to by ensembles seems to me like a very old, new way forward. As I write these words right now, in many places and languages across the world, ensembles are carrying forward their carts of players, and holding up the little light of that secret fire that sings:

Only this play, only these songs,
With just these players, for just these people,
In this very here, right this very now,
And no other world.

“But I am the opposite of the stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” Most of our modern world is an illusion with the appearance of truth: buy this now and be happy! believe in this and live forever! look at how stupid the other side is, and how smart you are to judge them! ten ways to become a success! fifteen ways to lose fifteen pounds! you really can have it all! you really must have it all!

But for just a moment, an ensemble play can remind us through illusion of the hard, limiting, illuminating, beautiful truth: this is all there is. So be good to each other in the time we have together. Find your own ensemble, and carry the stories you have to share as far along the road as you can.

Only this play, only these songs,
With just these players, for just these people,
In this very here, right this very now,
And no other world.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 58 out of 68 days (Angel Juice) 
Spanish: 58 out of 68 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

Categories: Uncategorized

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