Saturday, December 22, 2012

Peggy Shaw Took Me Inside Her Stroke

No one wants to go see a performance about a stroke, it sounds way too depressing.  But Peggy Shaw's bio already suggests she's not your run of the mill performer.  She's gotten three OBIE's* and several other impressive sounding awards, like a Lambda Literary Prize for Drama and Performer of the Year from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Theater.

[LAST SHOW:  Saturday, Dec. 23, 2012 - 8pm Out North]

This is a serious performer who invited the audience into her brain through her monologue, her virtual on the wall band that appeared and disappeared throughout.  She had three large monitors with her script - memorizing is hard for people who have had strokes - which she shared with the audience.  She talked, she sang, she danced, and she exposed her lapses along with her powerful personality as part of the show.

The photo was taken after the show. The show is dedicated to Ellen Stewart, La Mama, who never allowed green on stage because it was bad luck.  Peggy had her stroke right after Stewart died, and in this piece uses this huge roll of green paper which seemed to be a loud declaration of independence from Stewart, despite the clear admiration and love for her. 

Things went from normal music and video to sounds and visuals that probably simulated what the world is like to a stroke victim.  There was a great 60 second or so spot on how to know you're having a stroke.   There were floating fish.  Audience members were asked to hold onto things for Peggy until she needed them.

After the show
There was an intro that warned us of things that might happen - like she could start coughing, in which case to just hold on until her cough drops take effect.  What that did for me and I think the others there, was to include us as part of the insiders rather than just being an audience.  It was as though she were relating things to a friend rather than to an audience of strangers.

For people looking for drama with a plot line, this isn't it.  For people who find drama, as I do, in a heart-to-heart with someone who shares their near death experience and its aftermath, this is definitely worth attending.  And the show I saw Friday night was only the second time this piece has ever been performed before an audience.  The first time was a dress rehearsal Thursday night.  Shaw is still getting aligned with all the audio-visual aspects.  Though I was pretty impressed by how most of the time she was already synchornized with  the sound and video.

Out North consistently gives Anchorage audiences these incredible opportunities to be on the inside of contemporary international art and theater.  Here's this serious, award winning, very New York performer with helpers from Australia and Boston here as they spent ten days in Anchorage getting this performance piece ready to take to New York and London.  It's amazing what we have here.

The performance made me think of Anchorage's Peter Dunlap-Shohl, the cartoonist who has been communicating with the world about his Parkinson's through his medium - comics on his blog.  Like Peter's work, Peggy's uses art to experientially, and with humor, share her stroke experience with the world. For me the content was interesting as was the presentation. For someone with a close friend or relative who's had a stroke, this is the artist's, rather than the doctor's story of a stroke, that helps you understand a little of what is going on.  And it follows the stroke's story line, which includes lack of clear direction, even knowing where one is, not Hollywood's neatly packaged kind of story line.

The second video is mostly Shaw's co-writer, director talking after the show.  This is just a snippet.  She's talking about the moving images that had been on the green space that I had thought were brain scans.  It turns out they were the signals from an actor's body that are used in animation to get the character's body movements right.  Then she talks about the band.

*The Village Voice OBIE Awards were created soon after the inception of the publication in 1955 to publicly acknowledge and encourage the growing Off Broadway theater movement. The VOICE OBIES were purposely structured with informal categories, to recognize those persons and productions worthy of distinction each theater season. The OBIE Awards are an important part of the VOICE's long history of championing Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions. [From The Village Voice]

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