In Maine we did a lot of talking. We talked about jobs we’d had. We talked about bad meetings we’d gone to. We talked about advertising. We cooked and we talked. I won’t say everything we talked about. It was a talky trip—in a wonderful way. It was an eat-y and a talky trip. Which was—bear with me—part of the point.
This is Tiny Little Band I’m talking about. I went with them to Maine almost two years ago to begin to make their new play.
One night we played kickball in the field across the road from the house where we were staying and the ball stung my ankles and the mosquitoes were everywhere and the moon came up. The next day we hiked to an outcrop at the easternmost tip of the continental United States and sat on the rocks around tidal pools looking at creatures and plants. Fiddling with our hands, shading our eyes. A man came by in a big black t-shirt that had a picture of a microscope and said “I love Science” on it. He had a black dog. We talked to him and his dog.
I am going on like this not because I’m sentimental but because there’s a sweet spot between an Experience and an Interpretation of an Experience where thoughts haven’t quite fallen into the dryness of System—but Experience has been lifted just slightly out of the daily, ongoing steady rush of sensory input. It is still personal, and particular, but it is also possible to hold in common. It is maybe a kind of Thinking, or maybe a kind of Art.
And one way of getting at that sweet spot is—and this is where I’m getting to the theater company Tiny Little Band—one way of getting there is: talk.
So—you’re talking about something while you’re doing something. Maybe you’re cooking or drawing or fiddling with the grass—or applying sunscreen—or climbing up to a loft bed in a barn—and you’re also talking about marketing and capital and the ways in which your parents talk to you about ambition. And then something happens that’s got a fuzz of life growing on its belly, and that fuzz is what Tiny Little Band cultivates and harvests to make their plays.
Tiny Little Band is the collaboration between Jerry Lieblich (playwright) and Stefanie Abel Horowitz (director). Their newest project, Your Hair Looked Great, opens at Abrons Arts Center this month.
I was a part of the early conversations that grew the fuzz for this show. That’s how they make their shows. They talk—with a group of artists who are often also friends—and then at a certain point Jerry and Stefanie put their heads together, and Jerry goes and writes a script, and he and Stefanie think it through together and build it into a piece of theater.
There’s no kickball or black dogs in the play you’ll see at Abrons. But it does swerve and flop like a fish. Or focus shifts like we’re watching a movie shot by a drunk—from exterior life to interior life, from one context to another, with a few startling (thrilling) jump-cuts (fish-flops—splash) across time and space.
Tiny Little Band’s last play, Ghost Stories, was stripped-down and intimate, a suite of voices telling stories, often in darkness. The stories did some ducking and weaving, but the means were elegant and simple. Textures: cloth and coziness. Themes: spookiness and faith.
Your Hair Looked Great sounds like it’ll be thicker, lusher—almost entirely underscored, with outsize, externalized emotions. The non-space of a business conference, with screens and curtains and projections, meets the heightened emotion of opera.
The play asks: What is success?
And also: Is that a useful question?
That word, “success,” careens through New York. It lights fires, topples apple carts. It maybe ruins neighborhoods? It maybe saves lives? Spend some time with the word and things get rather personal. Find Jerry and ask him about the moments of paralysis this piece provoked. Or find Stefanie and ask her about how this project led to her packing up her life and leaving New York City for Michigan.
A few years ago the Institute for Precarious Consciousness published a report called “We Are All Very Anxious.” “Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious,” goes the report. “Anxiety has spread from its previous localized locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety.” And: “It has become the linchpin of subordination.”
When I read this it struck me as the negative image of all that we’d talked about in Maine. The wages of success is anxiety—and I take that anxiety on as a private burden, rather than the shared, structural affect it actually is.
But there’s useful work to be done in talk—returning the privatized-public narratives of Success (and Anxiety) to the shared-investigated space of theater. “I think that Jerry and my ideal of living,” Stefanie told me recently—and laughed a little at the sweep of what she was starting to say, “is to be thoughtful, to be in conversation, being with people outside of technology, in some ways, being with people in music. How can we all come together and think and feel through something that’s difficult?”
“The play dances through all these complications and roadblocks and spirals,” Jerry said, “and to try to end the play is such a hard thing to do. You can’t quite articulate what the ending is of all this. Ultimately the hope is to just build a space for the audience to take the last step themselves.”
Tiny Little Band’s Your Hair Looked Great runs February 8 – 28 at Abrons Arts Center’s Underground Theater. For more information and tickets ($25) visit http://www.abronsartscenter.org/on-stage/shows/tiny-little-band-hair-looked-great/.
Alexander Borinsky is a writer and performer from Baltimore, living in Brooklyn. He makes work at Rustchuk Farm.