Friday, November 13, 2009

PANEGYRIC FOR THE SALOON




There’s a lot of hand-wringing to be done about the struggle of theater to be relevant and popular in a digital age, but you wouldn’t know it if you came to an edition of the Vampire Cowboys’ Saturday Night Saloon (the next of which is tomorrow, so look sharp!).

Their name may imply a take-no-prisoners form of swaggering, maverick carnage, but despite all appearances the Vampire Cowboys are have pitched their tent squarely in the camp of the angels. Supplementing the great productions they stage each year and their ongoing fight workshop, the Saloon is a theater experience unlike any other, in my opinion, and one that is of great benefit to both artists and audiences: a raucous, beer-drenched monthly affair in which dozens of enthusiastic showgoers cram into a sweaty room for several hours to whoop and holler and stomp their feet for not one but SIX intricate serial narratives crafted by an astounding menagerie of incredible artists. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am one of these awesome artists.)

Despite the immense stylistic divergences that have characterized the work I’ve seen over the past three seasons (kite-flying revenge musicals, post-feminist Catholic spook shows; outer-space high-school sit-coms), the shows at the Saloon all have a few things in common:
  • They all draw from diverse pop-culture elements to create unique and strange personal mythologies.
  • Each episode is made for approximately no dollars.
  • Every single artist – from the writer to the director to each individual performer – seems to be having a blowout time.
  • The shows provoke immediate and visceral audience reaction.
  • Though each serial stands on its own, they come together in a flare of friendly one-upsmanship, with artists and companies consistently trying to top each other’s successes.
  • The level of writing and conception is such that you can hop on at any time and find something to hold onto, even if you’ve missed the previous episodes.
  • Each show is built upon a rock-solid framework of (ahem) Love.
Together, these attributes flip a fat bird in the face of the reigning modes of the more boring elements of American theater culture. The Saloon is not a commercial enterprise for tourists, nor is it middlebrow not-for-profit fare, nor is it avant-garde onanism. It’s the embodiment of a nascent community, one that lives in the culture of our present moment and combines the DIY aesthetic of punk with the geek’s love of genre minutiae to create something both more ancient and more cutting-edge than either: a public forum where artists are invited to experiment out loud, in real time, with ways of having fun in a roomful of people thirsty for stories.

To give them their due, the audience has much to do with the success of the Saloon. Over the course of anecdotal conversations with friends and strangers, I’ve seen that many people have arrived strictly as fans of the Vampire Cowboys or one of the participating artists/companies and then left burning with excitement for them all. The format is conducive to this – everyone wants to know What Happens Next, and the Saloon offers more cliffhangers per month than a 1930s movie matinee. Storytelling as community needn’t be confined to online chats about Mad Men and Lost – it’s something we can create right here, right now, together, in Brooklyn, with actual beer and belching for all.

Several works from the Saloon are moving on to have lives outside of it the fecund confines of the Battle Ranch, as well they should (Piper McKenzie for one is planning a multi-season rep production of our contribution, Lady Cryptozoologist, to choose an example entirely at random). But in order to do so, they will have to be translated from the rough nuggets of playmaking dug up at the Saloon into something a bit cleaner and shinier. In the end, whatever success they find won’t be a substitute for the distinct pleasures of the Saloon, which Hope and I and all of our collaborators have been so fortunate to be a part of these past few years.

And yes, of course, I’m biased – that’s the whole point, isn’t it? But seriously, come check it all out this Saturday. Here’s the rundown of the shows, all of which ROOL:

LET'S NINJA SCIENCE RANGER TEAM GET!
by Dustin Chinn (Member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab)
directed by RJ Tolan (Co-Artistic Director of Youngblood), Qui Nguyen, & Jeff Whitted

MOTHER SACRAMENTO
by Mac Rogers (Universal Robots; Viral; Hail Satan)
directed by Jordana Williams (Member of Gideon Productions)

ENTRENCHED
by James Comtois (Infectious Opportunity; Adventures of Nervous Boy)
directed by Matt Gray, Patrick Shearer, & Adam Swiderski

HACK
by Crystal Skillman (The Telling Trilogy; 4 Edges; Birthday)
directed by John Hurley (Artistic Director of Impeteous Theatre Group)

JACK O'HANRAHAN AND THE TROUBULATION OF DOOM
by Brent Cox (The Dog & Pony Show)
directed by Padraic Lillis (Member of LAByrinth Theater) & Courtney Wetzel

LADY CRYPTOZOOLOGIST: SEASON 2
written & directed by Jeff Lewonczyk (Babylon, Babylon; Macbeth without Words)

Produced by Lex Friedman, Robert Ross Parker, Daniel Rech (Thanks, guys!)

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Jeff! I particularly appreciate your referance to the "sin of Onan." Filthy little rotter!
    -rrp

    ReplyDelete