No Lame Plays Please. Thank you!by Trish Harnetiaux
Once a month, on a Monday night at Dixon Place, you will find twisted, adventurous, and multi-talented artists spinning their ideas into gold (most of time) in front of an equally ambitious, off-the-mark audience that has shown up to see what in the world will happen this time. You are at Little Theater, of course. In its 11th year, this theatrical jambalaya has shaken up its curatorial team again. Its fearless leader Jeff Jones, who has led the charge for the last nine years, was joined at the start of this season by a team of blistering downtown talent: Scott Adkins, Rob Erickson, Tina Satter, and Normandy Raven Sherwood. The unofficial mission statement for Little Theater? Nothing over 20 minutes and no lame plays.
The format remains the same. Four or five performances introduced by the man in the White Coat: the imposing Jeff Jones who, at a certain point in the evening, usually in the second half, will profile someone of importance who has recently died, often accompanied by music or slides. This idea came to Jones “after Hunter Thomson’s suicide,” he says.
“Some of the ones that have stayed with me, over the years, are Candy Barr, early porn star; we screened her 20 minute film Smart Alec while I read a piece about her later in life, after the Jack Ruby years; Doris Lessing (still alive, but upon the occasion of her Nobel—a stunning passage from Golden Notebook); Bella Akhmadulina; Robert Creeley; a passage from David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More–his book on math—on the anniversary of his suicide. Peter Benchley—the shark attacks from Jaws, accompanied by that score, Charis Weston (who haunted my teenage youth) and Nan Kempner.”
The curators rotate months, so each has the opportunity to curate a night. Here you’ll find excerpts, sketches, partial bits of longer works, songs, dances, plays, monologues, and more. “When curating, I am looking for colliding indecencies,” tells Erickson who will curate a month this spring. “I love things to be wrong in new ways. I love a narrative bicycle gone nuts spinning its progressive wheel one way and a digressive wheel another way such that an audience is truly worried for the writer, for the performer, for the curators, for itself. Dizzy and nutty. I like an audience gone nuts.”
And for the most part, this philosophy seems to be shared by the others. When asked for a quick, don’t-think-just-speak hit list of past Little Theater performances, the styles and theatrical sensibilities run the gamut. At first just names come up—Jenny Seastone Stern, Sibyl Kempson, Mike Iveson, Lumberob (ahem, a.k.a. Rob Erickson), Tom Murrin, and Young Jean Lee to name just a few. But then images and animals. Adkins recalls his love for “Dr. Jason Schüler and his red string,” and he speaks of something from years ago with “the guy who rode his trike onto the stage and told about the blueprints of the building blown-up in Oklahoma City.” Sherwood mentions “Barbara Allen’s dog trick act with her Jack Russel Terrier, Ms. Jones.” One of Erickson’s favorites was when Jones (the host, not the terrier) read the Peter Benchley bits from Jaws—the simplicity of the passages, the music, the terror. “It was stunning,” he says. “It was not on the bill. I was rendered absolutely terrified by this man, this genius academic impresario, this Jeff Jones.”
In March, Little Theater will have a unique night—presenting the work of the mad curatorial team for one night only. The line up:
SCOTT ADKINS: will present “Black Dot—a mash-up of choral odes inspired by Islamic art and the story of Ruth, a woman who loses her husband to sudden death.”
ROB ERICKSON: will present For We Trust We Have a Good Conscience, performed by Lumberob. He will only describe the piece with reference to a Laurence Sterne quote, circa 1960: “Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine—they are the life, the soul....All the dexterity is in the good cookery and management of them... this is vile work.”
JEFF JONES: will present “excerpts from a new play, A Letter from Omdurman, a dream weave of our thousand year war against the infidel…. Bad history, on purpose.”
TINA SATTER: will present FOX CAMP/HEARTBEAT CLUB PART 2. Tagline? “I don’t know how to make political theater. I know what I hate. And I know what I love. And I am scared of a million things. And I want to see transcendence. Welcome to Fox Camp/Heartbeat Club, a place and a performance for showing you what its like to try. Only fake raccoon tails allowed.”
NORMANDY RAVEN SHERWOOD: will present Madame Lynch: Instructress of Languages. Sherwood says, “It is structured as a list of demands. It is something new I have been working on that conjures Madame Lynch herself, who was an Irish prostitute (or “courtesan” or “English teacher”) who became the (self-proclaimed) Empress of Paraguay in the mid 19th century.”
The longevity of Little Theater is impressive. That this community can continue to find, support, and host a variety of experimental and dynamic work is testament to our continuing need as theater makers to provide space and opportunity to present and perform, to succeed and fail. Do we need more acts with animals? Of course! Where are the naked puppet shows and finger operas? At Little Theater you can pronounce it, project it, dance with it, and sometimes even eat it. It is unanimous that if something fails, to fit the mission of Little Theater, they best fail on a massive, horrific scale. Go big, or go home. Regarding the value of creating work in an environment such as this, Adkins thinks it’s important to stress how “it can make artists think of theater in a less precious and literal way and focus on the performative aspect. It’s not about perfection... It’s about the work.”
And, wow, are they on to something. Perfection is so boring—right?
The mad curatorial team’s special presentation of Little Theater will occur Monday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street (btw, Delancey & Rivington). For more information, and for info on future Little Theater events, call (212) 219-0736, or visit www.dixonplace.org. Little Theater will accept submissions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.