THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
by Nick Fracaro
A landscape is such a natural arrangement for a battlefield or a play that one must write plays. — Gertrude Stein
Or one must write wars. Which I think is closer to our impulse in attempting to stage site-specific works. Theater put into the “reality” of an environment is at war, or in harmony, with it’s own fascist set designer. When we put a tepee in a shantytown we are at war with the surrounding community’s perception and value of not just “shantytown,” but also whatever romantic notions they may have a la Dances with Wolves.
They close off New York’s Midtown Tunnel at 1am and the big wagons with lions and tigers and bears proceed through from Jersey. The camels and elephants walk in without their carts. The elephants are the best, with all the little ones in a line walking with their tails and trunks intertwined.
Most of the people watching the Circus coming to town weren’t really watching; they were photographers.
I’m thinking site-specific theater should try to be like that walk of the elephants from Jersey to the Big Top Madison Square Garden, but without the permits. Squat Theater were the masters of site-specific theater in NYC with their 23rd Street storefront mostly because they brought out the photographer in their audiences. By photographer I mean the recorder of reality who then tells the rest of us the story. The audience member who leaves and says later “you won’t believe what I saw!” He’s not just talking about theater now, but talking about something that really happened. A witness.
In Squat’s productions there was always something untamed, something dangerous breathing on you. PIG, CHILD, FIRE was always threateningly close by, ready to jump in and overtake any “theater.” As “the audience” watching the 300 lb naked witch perform her “real” ritual, you were also able to watch the 23rd Street passer-by crowd steadily gather, pressing their noses against the window, wondering what-the-fuck and who-the-fuck was going on with this crowd inside watching this fat naked woman lighting candles and such.
Squat Theater were usurpers of reality, not just a form of theater.
And of course on certain nights the cops should also stop by and attempt to close you. And if you try to keep it up forever, they will close you. I’m using the term cop broadly. Again, he’s merely the fascist set designer you’ve hired by default for this site-specific play/war you’ve written and performed.
Our landscape now makes it almost impossible for The Circus to come to town. Theater should be that curiosity just within the realm of the landscape’s possibility. Something to write home to mom about.