When I walk into a museum and find an abstract work with elements of realism I enjoy it on two levels. The first is a purely abstract one. I open my eyes wide to let the form, color, and textures invade me. It fills me with something I have not experienced. I sense from the artist a view, an attitude, an emotion that is not communicable in other way.
The other way I look at abstract work is by trying to determine from where it was abstracted. I take the word abstract to mean the art was abstracted from life. It began with something in the real world: a landscape, a still life, a portrait, an emotion, an event.
In my upcoming production Zugzwang I work in both these realms. I have in the back of my mind a very simple story – a man’s battle with life, and at the same time I am working on abstractions from this story.
Years ago, I was sitting in an office of a very famous artist director in a large theatre in the United States. He was criticizing me very harshly for my lack of concrete vision in the production I was staging at his theater. In one scene I had an actor raise his arm to a 45 degree angle. It was purely an abstract gesture. The artistic director said to me, “What the **** does that mean!?!?” At the time I was unsettled by his anger and the confrontation and didn’t know how to respond. In retrospect I could have given him about three reasons (metaphors in the theme of the play) for why the abstract gesture was included. But looking back on the conversation, the correct answer was simply: “because it’s the right thing to do”
So much of my theater work in abstract form is that. You build content, conflict, resolution – but the bits and pieces, the looks and gesture, the moves and dances are included simply “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Zugzwang plays from Sept 29 to Oct 22nd.