Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Culture Clashing Artistophanes' The Birds

Notes from an Interview with Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas
Michael Sedano

La Bloga’s Tuesday columnist sat recently with Culture Clash minus one. Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas shared some insight into their upcoming one-weekend only run at the Getty Villa, and ongoing work as arch satirists of contemporary events.

Culture Clash's version of Aristophanes' The Birds first took wing about ten years ago, when John Glore and the Orange County Performing Arts Center wanted to bring Culture Clash to an Orange County audience. Because a performer's first obligation is to its audience, the group understood its signature brand chicano-latino satire would not be within the OCPA audience's ken. However, given the audience's experience and interest, a satiric work from the classical canon, Glore suggested, would reflect the audience's theatrical interests while allowing Culture Clash room to maneuver in a familiar milieu.

Comes March 2007 and another appropriate site comes kata kairos, the Getty Villa's fledgling season of theatrical offerings at the Getty Trust's renovated Malibu pleasure dome. Not from the stage of the beauteous outdoor amphitheatre, but within the confines of the Getty's four wall stage. Outdoor events distract neighbors, limiting the number of outdoor events. The Birds is read from manuscript, and sung—there are numerous songs—accompanied by a large chorus of USC drama students and musicians. Probably would bother neighbors or scare the horses, it will certainly fill the auditorium with joyful noise, one anticipates eagerly.

The reader’s theatre presentation will be an interesting spectacle. For the audience, surprise that the performance is not staged. For the performers, how the constraints of recitation with text draw out their vocal presentation without all the business. Music and singing should echo the setting to its 414BC origins, but little of Aristophanes’ politics, time, and language will show. They write, say Siguenza and Salinas, from the world around them, from reading the newspapers and following current events.

Siguenza and Salinas did not recommend a particular translation of the play. They’d gone through various to understand the play. Then they tossed out the Greek puns and Athenian social references and kept the plot backbone Aristophanes set down relating to the personages, values, and practices of the day. Aristophanes’ wit and use of current resources motived the writers’ imagination, along with research that carried them into mythology and an exploration of Heroes and journeys and how this helps move along a plot line.

They wrote the adaptation as a group, speaking of heroic tasks. Ultimately, one or another person will put together the words that come out of writing conferences. That compiled work produces the script that goes on stage. When the team cannot talk out a sticky point the group hews to a squeaky wheel theory.

Only four audiences will see the group perform this 2007 rewrite. I’m happy I have tickets to the Saturday matinee. With the theatre seating only 450, this means only 1800 people will get to see the show. The Birds, Culture Clash, is theatre: bound to time and place, it's now you see it, now it's gone. Culture Clash does not tape its performances. Perhaps technology will catch up with opportunity and classroom or home audiences can take in a performance.

Audio and text resources abound. Visit Culture Clash’s website to explore ipodcasts of audio programs. The group has published two collections of their work. They contemplate a third in the series to include Zorro, Chavez Ravine, Water and Power, and The Birds.

Culture Clash has brought its art to cloud cuckoo land, and that’s a good thing, or so it seems, from this side of the Malibu performances. The Getty reported the free tickets were snapped up faster than any in the storied history of this treasury of ancient art. The Birds goes into rehearsal with a workweek to prepare. Break a leg, gente!

It seems almost cruel for La Bloga to report on something so rare as a live performance. Print, the internet, is highly repeatable, multipliable, completely free from constraints of time and place. A live performance comes into view for a few hours on a given day to the audience seated at the footlights. True enough. Apologies to those tormented by this reminder that you missed it. Better reason to get a ticket the next time Culture Clash comes to town. The Culture Clasheros spoke in awe relating that August Wilson had attended two nights in a row to take in Water and Power. He pronounced it Culture Clash's "first play". That's remarkable praise from an exalted critic. Wilson's endorsement sets up a high standard the group now must persistently equal, or surpass. Therein lies the energy that will permeate the curtain at any performance.

Audiences will be pleased to learn Culture Clash plans a five month run of Zorro in Hell at Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban Theatre. Look for details at La Bloga and in the dailies. More immediately, they plan several benefit performances, in San Jose and for Tia Chucha’s bookstore. The extended run promises a challenge to the group's endurance. They've had to cancel only two performances in their history owing to illness. Alert understudies will read between the lines here.

If you miss the current performance, or one of the upcoming benefits, ask your bookseller to order you the full collection of Culture Clash on paper. Published by Theatre Communications Group:

Culture Clash in AmeriCCa. NY: Theatre Communications Group. 1-55936-216-2

Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy. by Richard Montoya, Ricardo Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, Culture Clash. 1-55936-139-5

Almost the middle of March, Julio. Wacha.

I will wachar you next week.


1 comment:

Lisa Alvarado said...

He shoots, he scores! Great column today on CC, their ephemeral and powerful nature of a Culture Clash performance, and good performance in general. Their fearlessness in subject matter and means of presentation never fails to dazzle and inspire me...You make me long to get out there!