Saturday, November 27, 2010

Percussion! A Change of Pace

Something from that energetic musical STOMP!

Note from the Nostalgia Front:

When time was, well before STOMP! made it to the boards, every now and then members of most of the theater companies I was involved with would spontaneously form themselves into percussion ensembles of three or five or fifteen drummers/bangers, usually out on the lawn, but sometimes indoors, too. It was a necessary way to relieve stress, for one thing, but it was also a vital means of developing community.

These percussion ensembles would spontaneously form when two people -- not one -- would commence drumming sometimes on their bodies or trees or benches or garbage cans or whatever -- sometimes even drums! -- and others would join in. More and more would find their own complementary rhythms, and sometimes the results could be really-really intricate. It would continue for a few minutes or half an hour, I don't think it would ever last any longer than that, and then the participants and their audience (because there was always an audience) would say YAY! and go on about their business of rehearsing, planning, preparing, fixing, building, or what have you.

I assume that spontaneous percussion ensembles still occur in theater companies, and they have long been a feature of protest marches, rallies, and parades, hippie communes and so forth.

I'm sure there were people thinking of putting this sort of spontaneous percussing together into a Show, even in the long ago, and when STOMP! arose, I was quite delighted. It's a thrill to watch.

Oh but. It's extremely difficult to do, over and over again, making it look spontaneous when it isn't. Not at all. Oh, no. It is very carefully planned, choreographed, rehearsed and refined to death. The performers go into a kind of automatic trance-like state in which they don't really have to think about their actions, but they are still working extremely hard, under immense tension, and a show like this is by its nature a physical and psychic drain. And yet it can energize, too. If you're in the right frame of existence. Which you may or may not be.

I got to thinking about performances like this because of some of the lengthy discussion over at Glenn's Place about the value of individualism, community, "tribalism," libertarianism, "Stalinism"(!), totalitarianism, plethoras of New Hitlers, war and peace, life and death, and everything.

Yes. Well.

The tension between the individual and the group is fundamental to the operations of a theater; it's integral and it is basic. The individual does not exist without the group, and the group needs the individual as a spur -- in a manner of speaking. Theater companies run smoothly when everyone understands and appreciates the fundamental dynamic, and that often requires a strong, visionary leader. An individual, in other words, who sets the pace and the standard and maintains them over time.

It's a deeply ingrained form of social organization.

A spontaneous percussion ensemble operates differently. There can be ad-hoc leaders and individual performers, but who they are in the ensemble changes during the time the ensemble exists. The spontaneous ensemble is an intentionally temporary community of like-minded individuals. It arises and disappears in a few minutes. A theater company is going to continue over a far more extended period, even if it is only to produce and present one production.

Even getting one production opened can require very intense work over a long time -- something that is rarely recognized by those who are not part of the production itself. Creating dozens or hundreds of them is a monumental task.

But it all begins with the dynamic tension between the individual and the group. You can't have one without the other.

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