Wallace Shawn / Richard Foreman talk at CUNY Grad Center, 3/3/04

This moderated talk about theater was itself like a play, with Shawn exactly reprising his My Dinner With Andre character speaking very slowing and trying to work out something reasonable to say, and Foreman playing a perfect brilliant introvert character coming out with funny, provocative statements.

Foreman: "I have always hated theater."

Foreman suggested that working in theater has been appealing for him because it has allowed him to relate to other people in relation to his own fantasy life.

Foreman: "I like theater because it's real people and real stuff in front of you -- like life." He suggested that poetry is a contrast to this. He's thinking of Mallarme here? If I had stayed for the Q&A I would have asked why language isn't stuff or something in front of you. Later Foreman says his is a language based theater and I again wonder why the the presence language isn't like the presence of the actors or sets...

Both Wallace Shawn and Foreman discuss their respective relation to narrative. Shawn talks about having to have something to follow when he's seeing a play -- and that too much abstraction and lack of narrative create a situation where the play is like a sequence of abstract paintings. There problem with this, he says, is that you can take in an abstract painting very quickly. With abstraction in a play the first few "paintings" are interesting, and then his interest drops off steeply as the play goes on. He also talks about not liking narrative that is too obviously going for a verisimilitude that a theatrical performance can never create the way a movie can -- a character kicking the snow off his boots as he comes in the door, for example. Foreman says that in a film, his suspension of disbelief with the narrative is deep and almost automatic, and that in a play it never happens because the physical presence of the actors and sets destroys it for him.

Foreman spoke of a new play he's working on called "Pancake People" about internet culture and the general effects of information disbursal in the present era. This is something I think about a lot and feel is a important force operating on my generation of writers. I continue to wonder if we are in a period where the artistic phenomena are increasingly vertical (chordal) -- or that the vertical and the horizontal, the synchronic and diachronic are in the process of fusing.

The comically uptight moderator (unintentionally providing a great theatrical performance here) asks both of them how they start a play, a question which makes both of them uncomfortable and a little defensive, as though the maintenance of some kind of mystery in regard to the inception of the creative process is important to them. Foreman says he starts with "sentences" and Shawn says "sentences, including grammar."

The Moderator character asks about politics in plays and Foreman said the way he addresses politics is by exploring his own inner fascist in the plays. Shawn more or less concured and said "When I'm here talking to you or at dinner I'm a progressive guy, but putting the play together, I'm a progressive, I'm a conservative, I'm a fascist, etc. the whole spectrum..."

Foreman also relates this to being adopted and said, "I could have just as easily been adopted by the Bush family, and then I be like them!"

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