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January 7, 2008 9:09 PM   Subscribe

New Orleans after Katrina, as the world knows, is a bleak, desolate place, devoid of hope and perpetually awaiting the change that never arrives. Where better to stage Waiting for Godot?

And yes, that is Bunk Moreland.
posted by Bromius (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why oh why didn't you post this before the fact?!?! I seriously would have done an NYC-New Orleans road trip just to see this (and also to spend some tourist $$ in the city that still needs some love). What's more: Bunk!
posted by tractorfeed at 9:24 PM on January 7, 2008


New Orleans after Katrina, as the world knows, is a bleak, desolate place, devoid of hope and perpetually awaiting the change that never arrives.

It's not bleak in the French Quarter, especially not tonight.
posted by plexi at 9:29 PM on January 7, 2008


New Orleans after Katrina, as the world knows, is a bleak, desolate place, devoid of hope and perpetually awaiting the change that never arrives.

Only parts of New Orleans. Most of it is clawing it's way back, thank you very much.
posted by ColdChef at 9:38 PM on January 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Damn. I wish I could have seen this.
posted by brundlefly at 9:41 PM on January 7, 2008


Yeah, and what ColdChef said.
posted by brundlefly at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2008


Only parts of New Orleans. Most of it is clawing it's way back, thank you very much.

Point taken.
posted by Bromius at 9:43 PM on January 7, 2008


Godot in San Quentin, 1957.

Godot in Sarajevo, 1993, directed by Susan Sontag.

And while the piece on Sontag's production takes issue, perhaps rightly, with her claim that "people are enthralled by something that mirrors life," there's something heartwobblingly moving about an apparent piece of gnomic Francophile wankery cutting through the horrors of history and speaking directly to the bloodied and dispossessed.
posted by dyoneo at 10:06 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I'm down in the city it does seem very different than before the great unpleasentness. But the folks down there have always known how to act. Interesting post Bromius, thanks for bringing it to my attention.
posted by nola at 10:08 PM on January 7, 2008


Here's a better article from the New York Times talking about Paul Chan and Godot. Brought to you by the respectable organization Creative Time, who also produced the "A Psychic Vacuum" exhibit/piece, as well as the Sleepwalkers film on the MoMA, and the more well-known Tribute in Light.

(I'm not related to the organization, just an ardent appreciator of the work they do.)
posted by suedehead at 12:28 AM on January 8, 2008


(I mean - not a better article, but just another one. Thanks for your post, Bromius!)
posted by suedehead at 12:29 AM on January 8, 2008


If you have a Harper's membership, this is good: In the Year of the Storm.
posted by chunking express at 4:48 AM on January 8, 2008


It does feel pretty bleak and desolate this morning. My head is killing me.
posted by gordie at 7:33 AM on January 8, 2008


I am related to Creative Time (I'm on their board, no Givewell here) and deeply involved in the organization. For years I've wanted to find a way to post about them in the blue, but obviously I felt it wouldn't be appropriate to do so, so I'm really glad to see a post now. I will say that, if you believe in this kind of project or in public art in general, I hope that you will consider joining Creative Time. We rely in large part on small donations from individuals to make these projects happen, and have done so for more than thirty years. If you live in New York and are the kind of person who is lucky enough to be able to give $300 to an arts organization, the Creative Council membership is a fantastic way to get to know young, up and coming artists (through studio visits and events curated by CT's staff) and stay in touch with the New York art scene while at the same time helping an organization that, in my opinion, does some of the best public art projects in the world.

I'll bow out now, unless I get asked a specific question, but I've been waiting years to make a plug, so I hope it's okay.
posted by The Bellman at 7:55 AM on January 8, 2008


I couldn't even get in to any of these shows they were so packed.
posted by eustatic at 8:10 AM on January 8, 2008


Registering another objection to your characterization of New Orleans.
posted by rush at 9:02 AM on January 8, 2008


New Orleans is doing its best, I think.

Godot is one on my favorite plays (Although my favorite Beckett is Mercier et Camier*, at least I think it is), I've seen it at least 10 times, including the one with Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Bill Irwin, F Murray Abraham and tapes of a much later San Quentin production (late 80's I think). Man, that play just gets in my head.

I see the point of putting it on in New Orleans, I guess, but the San Quentin production makes more sense to me in the "let's comment about the place we are putting the play on" way. I mean, the point, in as much as there is one, is that the wasteland where Vladimir and Estragon are waiting forever is whereever the human soul seeks to understand why it exists and the answer, of course, is "don't hold your breath, fucker."


*I mean, wow:


"Oh I gave it to them! Potopompos scroton evohe. Like that, hot and strong! Picked up at nightschool- He burst into a wild raucous laugh- free nightschool for glimmer-thirsty wrecks. Potopompos scroton evohe, the soft cock and buckets of the hard. Step out of here, I said, with a stout heart and your bollocks in your boots and come again tomorrow, tell the missus to go chase apes in hell. There were delicate moments. Then up I'd get, covered with blood and my rags in ribbons, and at 'em again. Brats the offscourings of fornication and God Almighty a cheap scent in a jakes."

Stirs the heart, every time.


posted by Divine_Wino at 9:29 AM on January 8, 2008


Bromius: New Orleans after Katrina, as the world knows, is a bleak, desolate place, devoid of hope and perpetually awaiting the change that never arrives.

And yet I'd still rather live in New Orleans than in New York City. But leave it to a crew of people from New York-- the most filthy, the most pretentious, and the most condescending city ever to have existed-- to take on this obnoxious project.

In case any of the wankers from Creative Time are reading this, I'll clue you in a bit: the existential dread, the emptiness of being, the sadness and horrendously vacuous pain, all those things that you thought you found in New Orleans weren't there before you got there. You brought them from home.

I am so fucking tired of reading pieces in the New York Times et al about 'those poor people' and their plight, all of which seem to be written with the tacit sense that 'it must have been hell before the hurricane-- imagine what it's like after!' It's just one example of the cloaked racism that these people indulge in, the depth of their ignorance rivalled only by the level of condescention to the people there. News flash: the people in New Orleans took fucking care of themselves for hundreds of years before Katrina hit, and they'll probably continue to do so. They had to. They've always known the reality of the situation as well as we all do now: that the people at the top don't give a damn. But they forged a vibrant and diverse community far more beautiful and multifarious than any living New Yorker has ever seen. New Yorkers don't need all that; they've got their kultcha and their snobbery and their detached statements of aghast social despair, like this particular moment of masturbation in which Waiting For Godot (I like Sam Beckett too, at least when I was a lot younger, but come on people, can you get more cliched?) is somehow supposed to speak to people whose entire situation is not only foreign to to empty and depressing themes of the play; it affords a fuck of a lot more hope than any of the sodding bastards from NYC can ever imagine.

Sorry. Signing off. But this was in extremely poor taste, in my opinion. Leave it to a bunch of theater idiots to lack any sense of discretion or consideration, not to say irony. But I must say I'm looking forward to their production of No Exit at the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan.
posted by koeselitz at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fuck man, circumstances of birth cause you to be from a certain city and koeselitz tears you a new one, life just ain't fair, as Beckett fans and citizens of NO are very aware. You're right though, koeselitz, it's trite as hell.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:51 AM on January 8, 2008


Sorry. It just pissed me off. I shouldn't have been quite so strident.

The point, more clearly, is this: New Orleans is a lot bigger than Katrina. Katrina is not a useful subject for 'art.' The city itself is getting by, but this is no thanks to people who'd like to make its name synonymous with tragedy (some of whom, I admit, are residents). We didn't do it when 9/11 happened; we shouldn't do it now.
posted by koeselitz at 10:11 AM on January 8, 2008


The city itself is getting by, but this is no thanks to people who'd like to make its name synonymous with tragedy (some of whom, I admit, are residents). We didn't do it when 9/11 happened; we shouldn't do it now.

I think it did happen with 9/11 and that was how America has ended up being so fucking crazy right now. But you are right, if you define yourself by your tragedies then that becomes the scope of your world.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:14 AM on January 8, 2008


Man, this is excellent. Godot is one of my favorite plays... they should also stage a production of No Exit!

Hell is other people... that work for FEMA.




If you are a nice person working for that agency...
(cough) NOT FEMAIST! (cough)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:28 AM on January 8, 2008


I don't get the obsession with the location of the play. It shouldn't happen anywhere. The setting isn't anywhere. That distracts from the point of the play, or the lack of a point depending on how you look at it.

There's a road. There's a tree. There's... ground? There's maybe something to sit on that's slightly higher than the ground. That's about it.

It should look something vaguely like this in terms of mood and set design. Perhaps slightly better lit. The genders of the players shouldn't even really matter beyond the obvious requirements of the dialogue. It's a very minimalistic play. The focus should be on the words, stage direction, and character interaction.

Beyond that, we're a thousand monkeys overthinking a broken typewriter.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:14 PM on January 8, 2008


ZachsMind, I agree with you that the play doesn't have a specific, geographic sense of place. If I'm reading you correctly, I also agree that it shouldn't. However, if you hit the link, you'll see that the folks behind this production seem to be making a big deal out of putting it on in NOLA, and the MJ article that discusses it certainly underlines this creative flourish. So does Bromius in the post.

Beyond what I take to be our agreement that it's a distortion of the work, koeselitz is suggesting that it's an offensive one. I couldn't agree more.
posted by rush at 1:58 PM on January 8, 2008


Thanks koeselitz. I thought the same thing when I read this in the NYT. To me it felt similar to The Laramie Project: thank god those New York theatre people swooped in and sorted things out for the unwashed in the middle.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 1:58 PM on January 8, 2008


This is the "West Side Story Conundrum."

When Shakespeare said, "In fair Verona, where we lay our scene," some people presume that Shakespeare meant Verona Italy. If he wanted that to be a certainty, he woulda said that. If Becket wanted Godot to be "God," he woulda said God.

When I see Romeo & Juliet done as modern day gang war, it's fun. It brings an immediacy to it. However, it's not how Shakespeare intended it.

Should we do Beckett's work as Beckett intended it? Based on what I've read of him, I'm not even sure if he was sure of his intentions. Sometimes he just wrote, and wants the audience to interpret what it means to them.

So by narrowing down the setting, the cast & crew are deciding for the audience, where they lay their scene. I don't hesitate to call that OBscene.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:09 PM on January 8, 2008


The production was pretty awesome, though beyond packed. There were four shows of it and I went to one of the Gentilly ones. There was a huge buzz about it in town.

The posted article mentions the people that died waiting for rescue; I don't think that was what the audience was reminded of. To me and the group I went with, it was much more evocative of the bullshit waiting you go through after Katrina: is insurance going to cover anything? Is FEMA ever going to give this supposed money, or the keys to my goddamned trailer? Is anyone going to do anything about the levees at all? And even though there's this part of you saying come on, you always knew they were bullshit promises, let's go... You can't. You're waiting for Allstate.

I'd never seen Godot done before, actually. I'm really glad I went.
posted by honeydew at 3:55 PM on January 8, 2008


...not that I am a prude or anything. Obscene is as obscene does. I've always thought it'd be fun to see a performance of Godot where Estragon and Lucky were cast as women. Beckett surely never intended that.

I lost my train of thought awhile ago. The point I was trying to make is that the West Side Conundrum brings into question alterations an aberrations made to any given original source material, and at what point does it stop being what it is? How much can one change about Romeo & Juliet before it's West Side Story without music? How much can you pin down regarding a surrealistic work before it stops being surreal, or an abstract work before it starts being concrete?

Not that there's anything wrong with such changes, if the audience is happy. Then again, the audience might be happy if you perform a Neil Simon play in the buff, but if it's not funny, is it still California Suite?
posted by ZachsMind at 4:23 PM on January 8, 2008


In case any of the wankers from Creative Time are reading this, I'll clue you in a bit: the existential dread, the emptiness of being, the sadness and horrendously vacuous pain, all those things that you thought you found in New Orleans weren't there before you got there. You brought them from home.

Wow, what hostility. Koeselitz, did you even read the New York Times article about Chan? Also, Creative Time produced the piece: your anger should be really directed at Chan and the Classical Theatre of Harlem, if anything.

"While all these arrangements were pending, the artist sought the advice of locals with strong thoughts on the project, among them the artist Willie Birch, the community organizer Ronald Lewis and Robert Green Sr., whose granddaughter had died in the flooded Lower Ninth. Initially, they were skeptical of what looked like to be another carpetbagging venture: privileged outside artist comes into a stricken city, makes a dramatic gesture for which he gets credit, and departs, leaving nothing useful behind.

Mr. Chan answered the doubts by committing himself to several months of teaching in public schools and universities before and after the “Godot” run. Through Creative Time, he also established a “shadow fund,” in which donors would match dollar for dollar whatever the project cost, with the money staying in New Orleans, distributed among grass-roots organizations involved in the city’s recovery. "


The production was far from a star-studded blockbuster event that wanted to draw as many viewers as possible. The NYTimes mentions that there was no advertising other than cryptic signs in the streets, and the press they happened to get. The point is that it was more of a performance piece, a sort of quiet ritual or an internal ceremony, like how Joseph DeLappe logs on to America's Army and types in the names and dates of soldiers killed in the war. The actual act/performance has a relatively small viewership in the scale of things, but the process of the performance gains importance and significance because of the almost futile effect that it has.

Listen -- this is a performance piece that involves staging a play about a lot of things, including the human condition. I don't think that there's any play more applicable than "Waiting For Godot", in that Beckett deliberately allows the play to be seen in so many different interpretations and analyses. This piece is set in New Orleans, because Katrina happened to it, and it's now an integral part of the place New Orleans has come to be. Yes, there's an incredible alignment with post-Katrina New Orleans to be sought in the starkness of the play, both in terms of a minimalist stage and vocabluary, and also sense of loneliness and desolation on Godot.

The point isn't to exploit your city, koeselitz, or to utilize it emptily as a 'prop' on stage. The point is Chan was trying to make a shared wandering, a sort of tracing-your-footsteps, a talking-out, thinking-out, performing out for the sake of private understanding and public dialogue. I mean, the play was performed for locals, not for New Yorkers express-transported to NO via private jet. A large part (or all of it) of Waiting for Godot is the waiting without resolution, the same way that a large part of its interpretation involves emotion without understanding. The point is not to make New Orleans synonymous with tragedy, but to understand what happened -- not by explaining it, by communally experiencing the emotion of a play that gains resolution and deals with chaos with incoherence and illogic.

The point, more clearly, is this: New Orleans is a lot bigger than Katrina. Katrina is not a useful subject for 'art.' The city itself is getting by, but this is no thanks to people who'd like to make its name synonymous with tragedy (some of whom, I admit, are residents). We didn't do it when 9/11 happened; we shouldn't do it now.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Tribute In Light was created. We did create art out of 9/11, and it was a highly aesthetically driven piece of art: huge and pretty columns of light -- that's all it was, literally. But it was much more than that to viewers, of course, and I really do think that it was part of the public healing process that the city was attempting to undergo and enact. Yes, I'm in New York, and I know you hate the city, but I'd rather live in a community that has the tenacity and vitality to be able to have this kind of art that attempts to challenge and heal.
posted by suedehead at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, suedehead. I know that I was too angry and bitter in my response, and far too insulting in the way I laid it out. I hadn't read the New York Times piece, only the Mother Jones one in the link above, but I've read it now.

By way of apology, some perspective on precisely what I was feeling when I said all that:

A good friend of mine from New Orleans and I were on the bus last week riding home from work, and he was telling me about life growing up there (I didn't, by the way). He told me about all the places he missed, all the things he'd like to see again, and how hard it was to leave. "But I had to," he said. "There was no way for me to stay."

"Yeah, things got pretty bad there for a while," I agreed.

He stopped me and told me I misunderstood. He'd never had a lot of money; he worked coffee shops and libraries most of his life, and had little apartments; when he and his girlfriend and his two cats were stranded outside of the city during the storm, he didn't lose much, and it wasn't hard even to find his old apartment, which wasn't too damaged. He told me that he did go back for a while, and got by pretty well, got a job, went back to living. But one day about six months after the storm, he was sitting in a cafe, his favorite, which he'd worked at when he was 15, and he realized that everyone at every table in the entire cafe was talking about Katrina. He went out into the street-- everybody there was talking about it, too... and on the bus. And everywhere he went. "It's on the top of their minds," he said. "And it'll be on the top of their minds for the rest of their lives. And that's not what New Orleans is about. So I had to leave."

I don't know what to make of that. I'm still trying.
posted by koeselitz at 9:35 AM on January 9, 2008


koeselitz - I'm touched by your response, but please don't be sorry. I know exactly what you meant, because when I first heard of the staging of the play in New Orleans I was enthralled, then immediately wary. Fortunately, it seems that there was a large amount of thought and dialogue behind everything...

Thank you for the anecdote -- it's really haunting, and I'll be thinking about it all week.
posted by suedehead at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2008


Waiting for Godot is a play where nothing happens twice.

What was Katrina. A hurricane. A hurricane is a cyclone. A cyclone is a bunch of wind under pressure spinning in a circle. A hurricane is air. Hurricane Katrina was a spinning bunch of wind under pressure.

Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23rd of 2005. It dissipated a week later. It affected not only New Orleans but most of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, as well as southern Florida and the Bahamas.

Yet it was air. It was nothing. It killed. It destroyed. It was real. It was tangible. Yet it was nothing but air.

And what is Hurricane Katrina now? A memory? A bunch of statistics? Something upon which so many of us still dwell?

It's gone. It's not there. It has no mass. No dimensions. No space. No heighth or width or depth.

Hurricane Katrina IS nothing.

It WAS nothing.

Twice.

I suppose this play and that place deserve each other, but then Yorick thought Beth 2 and Hero deserved each other and look how that turned out.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:07 PM on January 9, 2008


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