I should be writing my dissertation.
This is a phrase that repeats over and over in my head pretty much all day every day. But I almost always end up needing to jumpstart that process. Today’s distraction is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. To be be fair, whatever show it is I’m working on is usually what the distraction is.
This first week of rehearsal has been AMAZING. Readthrough, tablework, blocking, photos, music rehearsal, and starting to dig into those juicy, juicy monologues between songs.
I know Ive vented in this space before about how we as a critter like to pigeon-hole shows.
“Oh, it’s a gay/black/Jewish/insert-marginalized-group-here show?” The phrase is usually accompanied by a polite but somewhat uncomfortable face.
That’s almost always code for “I’m not coming then, because it’s obviously not for me.” As if our stories stop being relevant when they begin to cross categories of difference …
Hedwig strikes me as one of those shows that has several strikes against it with people, and all I really wanted to do today is skeet-shoot at a few of these before diving back into my dissertation.
If you think, or if you hear anyone else say anything that goes like this, I urge you to reconsider:
1) “It’s a gay show and I’m not gay so I should ignore it”
2) “It’s a drag show and I’m not into that so …”
3) “It’s a loud rock show and so …”
If you listen closely to the lyrics, and if you pay any attention at all to the stories that Hedwig tells over the course of the show you’ll find that Hedwig is far too complicated of a character to just classify (and particularly to dismiss) as “just” a homosexual. He’s also not technically transgendered. Or a drag queen. Hedwig is a great postmodern metaphor for all of us who’ve ever felt incomplete, cheated. He’s what Victor Turner would call a liminal figure. What a writer for CL Atlanta astutely observed in 2008 as being a bricoleur. Someone who makes something new out of the refuse around them.
Hedwig exists betwixt and between, as Stephen Trask’s lyrics in “Tear Me Down” point out:
“Ladies and Gentleman,
Hedwig is like that wall,
standing before you in the divide
between East and West,
Slavery and Freedom,
Man and Woman…”
“There ain’t much of a difference
Between a bridge and a wall
Without me right in the middle, babe
You would be nothing at all …”
Bosky notes that “On the simplest level, that which separates is often also that which joins; one example is the semicolon.” And isn’t that precisely what good theater does? The separation between stage and audience, that space between, is not only what connects the audience to the performer, but it’s what helps the audience to connect with one another and allows us as individuals to connect to an Other. Someone not like them. As Martin Buber details, we can only engage one another (what he calls dialogic engagement) in the space between. I can’t ever really be in your head, and you can’t be in mine, so that connection happens in the middle — in the space between.
In live performance we not only have that opportunity to make that connection with the performer, with a general Other, and with those who share that experience with us in that room, but through that we may also reflect some shard of light generated from this experience back on ourselves and experience a personal illumination.
The more I sit with this show, the more I work these artists and really listen to these words and these lyrics, the more painfully obvious it becomes that this is an incredibly profound human story. That’s all I’m focused on, and it’s all I’m asking Spencer, our Hedwig, to focus on. The broad/camp/drag humor is a weapon in Hedwig’s arsenal. It’s a wall over a mask (or a mask over a wall?). That part will come without much help. Finding and releasing the heart of this story is what’s of central importance. And damn if it can’t just move you. It does me. It also makes me laugh, think, and yeah … even feel a bit uncomfortable.
Finally, to point 3 above — yes, it’s rock music. It’s real rock music, and we’re playing it like real rock music. If you consider the music in RENT or Spring Awakening too hard, ok, you might not like this. I’d never call those other two musicals true rock anyway (as much of a fan as I am of the latter aside). But the music is also only part of the experience, and this show just wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t land the same, it wouldn’t work the same if it sounded any other way.
Well, I guess I’m warmed up and get back to writing that dissertation. I hope, if you’ve had any reservation in coming to this show based on anything similar to what I outline above, that you reconsider. It’s worthy of your time.
Thanks for listenin’.