April 1, 2012

All Rave, All Play

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At 6:05 p.m. last Thursday, I received a short voicemail message from a close friend:“Hey Tom, I reserved you a seat on stage for the Rave Play tonight, ‘cause I just assumed that you’d be going, so whatever, bye!”I put my phone back in my pocket and asked myself the same question that was on everyone’s mind that night: What the hell is a Rave Play?No one really knows, in part because Adult Roy’s Badland, the Rave Play performed Thursday by the Latino theatre troupe Teatrotaller, was, to the best of my knowledge, the first of its kind. The playwright, Jorge Silva ’12, conceived the idea of a Rave Play a little over a year ago, and since then has been working together with a host of talents from Cornell and the broader Ithaca community, essentially constructing the medium from scratch.The results? Groundbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it. By the time Badland was done with me, bits of my mind were splattered all over the stage like broken glow sticks and my conception of what theatre could be and do had been raved into a sweaty oblivion.Amara James ’13, gave a powerful performance as Roy, a gun-toting nomad wandering through the hedonistic savagery of Badland. Dan Bartholomew ’12, stirred the crowd into a frenzy with his antics as “Da Trak,” an androgynous personification of all that is wild and trippy. Bartholomew’s mania played especially well in contrast to James’ characteristic gravitas. Lacie Buckwalter ’11 and Adam Romero ’14 also performed well as Badland’s heroine and villain, respectively, although the script gave them little chance to flesh out their characters. What really made Badland an epic Rave Play was not its characters or its plot, but rather the dynamic ways in which the audiences interacted with the performers. I say “audiences” because Badland really had two distinct audiences: one on stage, raving with the actors, and one in the house seats, watching the play unfold. Thus, Badland wasn’t just a rave-inspired play, or a rave-themed play. It was something completely new: a Rave Play. Fully rave. Fully play.From the onstage audience, I have heard nothing but stellar reviews. Speaking for myself, raving in Badland was a theatrical experience unlike any I’ve had in my life. Every scene coursed with a maniacal, cathartic energy. Thick beats from Sound Designer Samuel Tannert, mesmerizing projections from Video Designer Lanny Huang ’14 and an appearance by the IC Breakers, an Ithaca College-based breakdancing group, kept the audience raving well past the point of exhaustion. The feedback from the seated audience, however, has been mixed. I’ve heard everything from, “Badland was visually stunning,” to “I left the theater five minutes in because watching you guys dance was boring.”Over the weekend, I sat down with the production crew and tried to get their take on the divided reactions from the audience. Director Casey Minella ’14 gave her interpretation:“As a director, I knew that there were going to be two different audiences, that there were going to be two different plays that people were going to be watching. The people [seated] in the house are not being active, and I think they noticed that. Watching art, not actively engaging with it, is something completely different from being onstage in the production, completely submersed in the story.”Silva describes this dichotomy as the difference between the “spectacle of rave” and the “experience of rave.” As a member of the onstage audience, interacting point blank with the actors, I experienced Badland, on a raw, emotional level, but I can’t exactly say that I saw Badland. I can try to tell you about some of the places this production took me (and believe me, it took me some places), but I can’t give you the dispassionate thematic analysis that is usually the bread and butter of theater reviews.There’s a tension, then, between Badland the rave and Badland the play. The more critical members of the seated audience would argue that the Rave Play succeeded as a rave but failed, to some extent, as a play. There may be some merit to this criticism. Badland included sometimes lengthy dance breaks which, while powerfully cathartic for those dancing, might have gotten dull for a seated audience. The play also refused to follow some conventions of theater which a seated audience might expect. I discussed that tension over the weekend with Tannert:“We had one comment that the play needs more of an arc, that it needs to go up, and then down. And I thought it was great that we didn’t do that. We really followed a DJ set, where you have many climaxes and then releases. I think we were very successful in that.”While I can empathize with the frustration seated audience members may have felt towards the unconventional aspects of Badland I remain in awe of the production. Silva, Minella and their cast and crew have created something completely new and immensely innovative. A promising new medium was born on Thursday night. Badland was the first of the Rave Plays, but I seriously doubt that it will be the last.

Original Author: Tom Moore