The Abreaction Theater was established in 1979 as collaboration between Geoffrey King, a composer in Boston, and me, a visual artist in NY. To produce the theater we established Proleptic Productions, a 501-3-C not-for-profit foundation. I had just finished working as a stage manager for the avant-garde playwright and director, Richard Foreman. The result of my experience with his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre was a script called Disparate Acts.
Through a mutual friend, the script ended up in the hands of Geoffrey King who proceeded to accumulate musical ideas and references as he manipulated the text through recording sessions and at his editing table. The success of Radio Sonata at its premier on May 4, 1979 at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston convinced us both to create a theater focusing upon a unique fusion of acoustic and performance environments.
By November, the Abreaction Theater presented Disparate Acts [At A Distance] in a small loft on Crosby Street in lower Manhattan. Confessions of A Conformist: The Lists followed in 1981 as the theater’s second production. The last work was entitled Beginning Terrain and was staged at Squat Theater in 1983.
156 Crosby Street, New York City November 15 - December 16, 1979
DISPARATE ACTS: AT A DISTANCE was entirely in black and white and was performed in a theater measuring approximately 54 feet by 26 feet. The walls of the theater were painted black and the floor off-white. The set consisted of four stage flats: a wall, two windows with interior and exterior design, and a doorway.
Each flat was 9 feet x 5 feet x 1½ feet and constructed of nine-sixteenth inch cardboard reinforced with furring strips and painted white. The furniture was constructed of identical materials and painted black. The men wore black suits, white shirts, black ties and shoes. The women wore white evening gowns.
The lighting was specific rather than general and required precise blocking. A 2,000-watt rheostat dimmed 36 individually controlled (i.e., on/off) lights. Sixteen 600-800 watt rheostats controlled sixteen spots. The spots consisted of 75, 150, 200, and 300 watts. There was one floor fluorescent and two hand-held lights.
The original Radio Sonataand other sound materials for the production consisted of two 2-track tapes operated according to a precise time schemata. Desired sound quality was obtained by placing the stage-rear speakers approximately two feet higher than stage front speakers. Channel 1 went into a stereo preamplifier with balance control to the loudspeakers left rear and right front; Channel 2, likewise over a second stereo preamplifier, went into the loudspeakers right rear and left front. Two additional speakers were placed stage right and were manipulated by the actors.
The play ran seventy five minutes.
About the 1979 Disparate Acts Video
The video taping of the production was an after thought. No one had worked with video before and it is obvious that the lighting (which we thought was adequate at the time) wasn’t bright enough to illuminate much of the play. That’s an understatement. Since at least a third of the play was actually performed in pitch black to create the acoustic environment we sought and scene transitions consisted of the actors moving the set on wheels over a wooden floor in that same darkness, it is amazing anything at all got on tape. It’s also obvious that the camera is not so much documenting the play as following it.
Shot with now ancient reel-to-reel b&w video stock by one of the actress’ husbands without any direction by me, there was only one take. By the time I saw some of the playback through the eyepiece of the camera it was too late to call back the actors and I packed the three rolls away never intending to look at them again.
I found only one place that could transfer this video stock into VHS format. Another ten years passed before I got around to transfer Disparate Acts [at a distance] to DVD and finally as a quicktime movie on the web.
Watching the tape after nearly 27 years, I’m not as bothered by the loss of details as I was at the time of the filming. Frankly, I’m thrilled that this bit of 70s downtown theater has survived in any format.
man first seen coming down the wall with a piece of chalk
“I am the servant of the future …”
“I said it would be forever.”
“It was a night of many eyewitnesses and eavesdroppers.”
the one who is not fascinated by love
“I haven’t much choice.”
THE GREAT MAN
* Appearing through the courtesy of Actors Equity
Written, Designed and Directed
Composer & Sound Designer
Poster Design and Production
Special Thanks to Shirish Korde and the Holy Cross Electronic Music Studio and Proleptic Productions' Boston Matrix
Dedicated to Marvin and Janet Bailin, Patti Justis, Scotty Snyder
Disparate Acts Production Script
In 1978 I became Richard Foreman's stage manager for his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre production Madness And Tranquility: My Head Was A SledgeHammer. I had seen Rhoda in Potatoland and felt I had seen the most complete and satisfying work of art in my life. I went to his studio a week later and offered to work for him.
My audition was to create a doctor's examination tool using a flashlight as the base. After a couple of weeks of balancing my Master's course load, a graveyard shift UPS truck loader and a five hour stint in the theater at night, I asked to go full time and get a small stipend. In return, I would drop out of school (ironically, taking an incomplete in a directing course taught by legendary stage director, Harold Clurman), quit UPS and work exclusively for the Theatre.
Foreman taught me everything about directing, about creative thinking, about translating script to stage, lighting and sound.... and while getting to my loft early in the morning, I’d spend several hours working on my own script Disparate Acts. It was lucky that at the same time Foreman decided to close the production to concentrate on his film, I finished my script and contacted his actors to begin staging mine.
Script on wall during rehearsals, 1979 • Collage on Cardboard
Stage Mockup [destroyed], 1978 • Collage on Constructed Cardboard
A vast desert of recognition, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
It was all in the manner of approach, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
You see - he thinks of me as an enemy, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
Making their own monument, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
The pictures and descriptions of his life seemed to be preceded by music, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
Beneath the pedestals there seemed to be a sense of falling, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
She has grown out of my recollection, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
A fabulous display unique in the entire world, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
There is always a faint air of unreality from any complete list, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
Her father, another's brother are among the legion of the lost, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
And so they dance, our friends, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
I was just thinking I could never follow my own footsteps, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
What I seemed to know seemed to be a photograph of something far away, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
You are becoming a caricature of someone I know, 1978 • Collage on Cardboard
Disparate Acts Production Stills
You are becoming a caricature of someone I know
There are plots, and bombs, and lies.
He draws along the wall
Didn't you see … A Passing
The account had an authentic air...
True identity reveals itself...
Here unfolds the bizarre acCount...
Tick Tick Tick
This combination of legend and real circumstances
Making their own monuments
She composes herself
Rehearsal Scene, October 1979
Rehearsal Scene 2, October 1979
Photography by Craig Massey
CONFESSIONS OF A CONFORMIST
Ohio Theater, New York City March 15 - April 15, 1979
What was implicit in DISPARATE ACTS in the clear spatiality and weight of each line said and each bit of information used is made explicit in the form of the list in CONFESSIONS. And the primary list upon which the musical and visual processes are based is as follows:
1. A PLAZA: the monument in whose shadow they are standing, the grid of some gigantic game of tic/tac/toe. The caption: The isolated pawn is a very complex factor. 2. PATIO DINNER: (with the family) multiple exposures of private parts in public places, extra limbs and digits, and two additional dinner guests. The caption: There will be others later. 3. PLEIN AIR: birds in the trees, a desk littered with pieces of incriminating documents urging the naming of names, a layer of forgotten memoranda, phone numbers, unanswered letters, tattered sheets of carbon paper. The caption: The background of a decision. 4. BETWEEN EMISSION & ABSORPTION: a large format photograph of a polaroid, of a life-size painting of a couple on a sofa in front of a mirror. The caption: An exchange of tokens of appreciation. 5. P0SING FOR A PHOTOGRAPH: (on the lawn of an estate) close-up of a rose, displaying the wounds (self-inflicted or otherwise) of a personal stigmata, slight blurring around the edges, the wind blows. The caption: Identification is masked by environmental factors.
This list neither establishes a raison d'être for itself or the resultant actions. But the dynamic actions of the play—the setting and unsetting of a table, a kidnapping, a woman leaving her lover, the rumination of a 'Hamlet-type'—have their roots in this list. Each broad body of musical, visual, or literary information has its own independent process distinct within a spatial/temporal organization of foreground and background events. Here the processes of accumulation are broken down into discreet elements. The. play pivots on the conformist, who attempts to find security in shifting contextual demands of his world without hesitation. It is a viewpoint tinted only by some blurred image (derivative, ultimate, and ideational) of himself and his world. He hides, as the audience does, in this saturation, secure in the knowledge that he still has options. These options he expresses in his final list:
1. CONSIDER THE CASE OF SUICIDE: business failure, unhappy love, physical illness, lost hope. 2. CONSIDER ADDING YEARS TO LIFE: correcting the minor defects, toning the muscles, relaxing the mind, letting off steam, establishing a pattern of life. 3. CONSIDER IF THERE IS NOTHING TO BE SAID ON THE SUB!JECT: that too is interesting, and the irony is not lost.
The audience is left with that irony as well.
The play ran 120 minutes.
Confessions of a Conformist Review • April 9, 1981