Godsil. Do you remember Theatre X’s “Insult the Audience?” Might you talk about Theatre X’s history a bit, its locations, and this particular play?
MoynihanThe play is entitled “Offending the Audience” by Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke.
In 1966 his very first play was “Publikumsbeschimpfung”(“Offending the Audience”)
I recall that when Theatre X first produced it there was no English translation available so Conrad Bishop would translate at home and then come to each rehearsal with the lines to be staged that day (or night probably). The best person to tell the story is probably Conrad. He is now in the San Fransico Bay area I think. He and Elizabeth (her name was Linda while at Theatre X) are now in Sebastopol, CA. They do a lot of their work on the radio now. You can listen to their plays online and also reach them at:
Handke called his play a “Sprechstucke” (speak-ins).
The entire extraordinary script is now online at:
Here is a translation of Handke’s own introduction to the actors who would perform “Offending the Audience”:
“NOTE ON Offending the Audience
The speak-ins (Sprechstucke) are spectacles without pictures, in as much as they give no picture of the world. They point to the world not by way of pictures but by way of words; the words of the speak-ins don’t point at the world as something lying outside the words but to the world in the words themselves. The words that make up the speak-ins give no picture of the world but a concept of it. The speak-ins are theatrical inasmuch as they employ natural forms of expression found in reality. They employ only such expressions as are natural in real speech; that is, they employ the speech forms that are uttered orally in real life. The speak-ins employ natural examples of swearing, of self-indictment, of confession, of testimony, of in interrogation, of justification, of evasion, of prophecy, of calls for help. Therefore they need a vis-à-vis, at least one person who listens; other wise, they would not be natural but extorted by the author. It is to that extent that my speak-ins are pieces for the theater. Ironically, they imitate the gestures of all the given devices natural to the theater.
The speak-ins have no action, since every action on stage would only be the picture of another action. The speak-ins confine them selves, by obeying their natural form, to words. They give no pictures, not even pictures in word form, which would only be pictures the author extorted to represent an internal, unexpressed, wordless circumstance and not a natural expression.
Speak-ins are autonomous prologues to the old plays. They do not want to revolutionize, but to make aware.” – Peter Handke
Locally, one of the founding Theatre X members, John Kishline is probably a good person to talk to. He and Deborah Clifton and their son (Sam) used to live in Bay View, but moved to Whitefish Bay to get Sam into a better school. I have not seen John or talked with him for a few years. I do not know how to reach him, but Deborah was in NEXT ACT’s December play, RED HERRING. So they might have household contact info (firstname.lastname@example.org). John is a brilliant playwright and great storyteller. He could write all about the old Theatre X days.
Godsil Did you do any work with Yaakov Sullivan?
Moynihan Working With Yaakov Sullivan
After one has been involved in a few hundred theatrical productions over 30 years (actually over 50 years, since my 1st play was at age 6) some of the details get lost offstage. But here is what I recall:
I heard about Yaakov Sullivan a few months before I ever met him. Someone from the original Theatre X troupe mentioned meeting this actor with an extraordinary voice and a Jewish/Irish name in a local bar. Theatre X was famous for making many of their most important decisions while in bars, so I looked forward to meeting him. I think the first time we both worked together was in a play produced by Luis Arata’s now defunct Paradox Studio Theatre. It was written by Henry Timm and directed by David Rommel, who was still with Theatre X at the time.
Yaakov and I both played Nazis. We were sort of a Mutt & Jeff team in the script. Yaakov portrayed Hitler’s propaganda/PR guy, Joseph Goebbels and I played his morphine addicted WWI hero, Hermann Goering. The play was entitled Van der Lubbe, named after the poor Dutch kid, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was made the patsy for the burning of the 1933 burning of the Reichstag. I had always wondered how Hitler and his hideous crew had managed to take over the German government and the play handily laid out how they used the Reichstag fire to knock off their political competition, getting the German Communist Party banned and it’s leaders jailed by linking them to van der Lubbe, who was a disabled (by a work accident - he was a bricklayer by trade) member of the Dutch Communist Party, which he joined to try to get some rights for workers. It was an all male cast of 6 or 7 of us and was just as much fun as any sort of team sport.
My other Yaakove project was in early 1991, I think. We got around $29,000 to stage a play for the short lived Milwaukee Theatre Festival. I worked from a literal translation of the Italian language script by the great Dario Fo and adapted a Milwaukee-ized version of his play THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST. I hired Rick Ney, a Texan trained in Paris by the French comic theatre genius, Jacques Le Coq, to co-direct and Rick cast Yaakov to play the lead character, a tour de force role that Dario Fo had originally created for himself. The play marked the last Friends Mime Theatre production and the first Milwaukee Public Theatre offering, in that we used the occasion to announce our company name change. The story was 2 acts set in a crowded, messy police station. For our production we invented two entertaining/bizarre set elements. Between acts the entire set was reconfigured (the audience was on 3 sides of the Todd Weir Theatre stage) as if the entire room had moved 90 degrees. Plus there was an onstage holding cell. In the cell for the whole play was master percussionist Carl Storniolo, who created and played a live percussion score during all action & dialogue. The show was a huge critical & audience success. I think it was the first production of a Dario Fo (who was banned from entering the United States for a number of years by our State Department) script in Milwaukee.
Those were days when controversy was tolerated, even celebrated, and overtly political art was enjoyed by audiences who enjoyed thinking for themselves. My how times have changed.
Godsil. I first became aware of your great work in theater and with young
people at a 4th of July celebration at Gordon Park, back in the early
1990s. I was astonished to find very elderly Polish and German working
class men and women clapping their hands and moving their bodies to the
music that a group of African American and European American young people
were dancing on stage to.
And then I saw this very large Irish-American looking man who appeared to
be central to this splendid drama. Might you share some of the story of
Michael Moynihan and the Riverwest 4th of July Celebration at Gordon Park
back in the 1980s or 1990s?
Moynihan The initial company, The Friends Mime Theatre,(1973) was defined by our intial production, A MYTH OF CHANGES, which was created by Barbara Leigh & me with music(live flute & percussion). It played various indoor sites in Milwaukee and toured in the midwest for several years. Our 2nd show was just a 2 person touring show of short sketches and songs as well as a mural on stage created by us during the show and finished by the audience after the performance.
We met Karen Kolberg while creating & directing Milwaukee Improvisation & Mime Troupe, thru a now defunct UW outreach program. BL and I were also commissioned to create a 10 minute mini show about world hunger (which later became a longer one act musical). We invited Karen to join us and the 3 of us created and toured two controversial but popular one act musical agit-prop comedies: FAREWELL TO FARMS & DR. PLUTONIUM’S ENERGY CIRCUS! These shows played mostly on the road, outside Milwaukee. Got to meet E.F. Schumacher (SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL), Michael Jacobsen (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Francis Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet), Environmental activist Sam Love (who labeled us: “surrationalists” ), Buckminster Fuller, members of the San Fransisco Mime Troupe, The Provisional Theatre and other distinct voices/minds of the 1970′s.
While on tour we got the urge to spend more of our lives in Milwaukee. The first attempt, 1975, was a Softball Team/theatre troupe. We’d show up at park ball diamonds and challenge whoever was around to a game (we’d juggle softballs, bats, gloves. etc) or just put on a little show.
My main contribution, because I was a very marginal juggler, was to script write words & grant proposals. I decided to attempt to create a theatre experience that could not be mistake as a commodity. That is, not bought or sold. It would be free in the parks. Performers would be paid by grant money and contributions from those with too much money, but free to all and any audience that showed up for the outdoor park or vacant lot performance.
So we asked any and every funder for a grant or contribution and raised enough to do the first summer. I had the germ of an idea for the script, about a neighborhood struggle against the forces of government and corporate evil (based on a real west of the river conflict). I set off for Baltimore and the New Theatre Festival specifically to take a playwrighting workshop with the SF Mime Troupe’s main playwright (and best political playwright of her generation), the great Joan Holden.
Joan clued me into understanding Aristotle and helped me outline the script. I came back to Milwaukee ready to go. That first summer was the first of many July 4th Gorden park performances.
Godsil. What was “A Myth of Changes” all about? Might you have the script to share for the generations?
MoynihanThis was over 30 years ago. A script sort of existed but was really an outline of movement activities. There were no spoken words whatsoever.
Renae Richmond (who in addition to being a trained musician, was a carpenter & auto mechanic) was seated upstage right during the performance with her flute and various small percussion instruments.
Just upstage center was a freestanding backdrop curtain actually made up of a patchwork of curtains (made from curtain panels found in resale shops, we had no money). There were many openings in the curtain and a few large pockets. It stood just over 6 feet high and about 8–10 feet across. There was a large cube down stage left.
The production was sort of an ancient/contemporary creation myth.
At the time the use of the word “myth” was not used to mean a “lie” but rather in it’s more traditional sense of a tale that represents truths that can only be understood by using fictional stories (myths, legends, tales, etc.)
The first scene of the show was all animated objects that appeared above and thru the curtain. This would now be called Object Puppetry, but at the time few used the term. I cannot recall all the objects but there were balloon (which inflated & deflated and flew around as they do when inflated and released), an umbrella (which was rigged to move & fly via fish line, if memory serves), gloved hands, and other things.
In the second scene a large cloth bag emerged and moved around exploring the stage and front row audience and like some sort of big amoeba-like creature. With much effort it managed to climb onto the cube. Inside were BL & I. To hide the shapes of our bodies we also had filled the bag with about a half dozen various sized, but quite large & hard to find, balloons. It was quite acrobatic to manage, but we were young, fearless and able.
In the third and final scene we finally emerged from the bag. We were sort of born and had to discover how to move, interact, etc. Once we were more or less human-like, conflict and destruction developed. Death resulted. Transformation and rebirth/transcendence ended the performance.
It sounds rather tediously philosophical but audiences off all ages seemed to enjoy and get it on whatever level worked for them, from toddlers to senior citizens. Much of it was meant to use humor, and people laughed a lot. Of course a small number of people didn’t know what to make of it.
We had wanted to explore a mythic theme in theatrical ways that neither of us had done before. BL came from a background of French influenced mime & pantomime. Mine was more of a naturalistic, American version of Stanislavski, which I was quite finished with, and sketch/ improv comedy. We had both studied and trained in Japanese Kabuki, Noh and had begin exploring Italian Commedia del Arte, Circus Arts & street performing traditions, which played more heavily in future work.
It was an exciting time. The only two pro theatres in town were the Rep and the young Theatre X. The entire X company saw our very first performance (down in the old basement snack bar of Student Union at Marquette University) and invited us to use the third floor of the building they were in on Water Street at no cost. Boox/Books, which later became Woodland Pattern Bookstore, was there too. You had to step over sleeping wino’s to get in the back door in the morning and it was not legal to even be up there, but we were young & creatively hungry.