Friday, April 27, 2007

Blind Donkey Hopscoth

Mom Update: They catheterized her heart yesterday. All the by-passes she received four years ago collapsed. They put five stents in. Apparently, this is a fairly common and comparatively minor procedure. They used local anesthetic. She may be back home sometime today. Yeah, Mom!


WNEP Theater has been indelibly linked with dadaism and it's my fault.

In the fetal days of WNEP, before it was WNEP, I experimented with what I was then calling "performance comedy." Somewhere around 1992 or 1993. Without really being able to articulate it, I was trying to deconstruct typical sketch comedy into finding humor in the moments of odd performance art-type pieces. I think I described it as Sesame Street for adults. Even did a short show called "Floyd and Meme" with Don Hall, Jimmy Rhoades and Meme Meket. It was fun, but didn't develop into anything.

In 1995, I became an understudy for a popular Chicago show called KLOWN: Prick Us and We Burst. The show was created by Joel Jeske, Kevin Sherman, Bruce Green and Dave "Otto" Schmidt. While in and of itself it was a brilliantly, dark, evil piece of work, it also had a life off the stage. The guys billed themselves as a European clown troop. They did interviews in costume and always spoke in German accents. They promoted a whole fictionalized history for themselves, the company and the great director who silently directed them with hand gestures from a room outside the theater and never watched them perform. The show was messy, bloody, violent and fun as hell to perform. We all had to develop our own unique Klown persona - I was Hugo Klopicht - who tended to all his personal hygiene needs with a straight razor, only ate oranges and played ukulele. During the rehearsal process, Joel began to talk to me about the origins of the Klown show and Dada. After Klown: Prick Us... closed, he and I began to work on a series of Dada pieces. He took the lead, introducing me to sound poems and simultaneous poems. He came up with the name Soiree Dada. We performed our first show as a duo in the back room of Sheffield's at an open mic night. For any hardcore Soiree Dada fans, that's where the infamous "Number 7" premiered.

After that show, Joel brought two more people in - Circus-Szalewski and Bob Wilson. Circus had been another understudy of the Klown show. I'm not sure how Joel knew Bob except that Bob was also a part of WNEP. I began to write Dada pieces like a mofo. Some of my favorites being "Death Eating Celery," "Dead Men Don't Talk" and "The Frog Prince." Writing Dada pieces opened up a valve in my head. I love to write Dada. There's no wrong way to write a Dada piece. You can let utter nonsense flow out of your head, you can bang on your computer keyboard upside down, you can let your cat walk across your keyboard, you can cut pictures and words out of magazines and books and paste them willy-nilly on paper.

We ran Soiree Dada over the summer of 1996 performing at a few different venues. Joel was having internal issues with the boys from Klown, so this was developed as a co-production between them and WNEP.

I'll spare you the true Dada history lesson about the gang at Cabaret Voltare. But in embracing Dada, I began to embrace the time period from which it sprang forth, after World War I. I began to listen to music and watch films from that era - especially Buster Keaton films. It criss-crossed in my mind with one of my other favorite art forms, Vaudeville. I began to write the seeds of a play that would become Metaluna and the Amazing Science of the Mind Revue - sort of a Dada five ring circus. It was very successful for WNEP and very successful for me. We performed it at the old Annoyance Theater space in Wrigleyville on Sunday and Monday nights. Mick Napier was working with Second City at the time on Paradigm Lost - to me, the best show to ever come out of Second City. Mick caught bits and pieces of Metaluna and then next thing we knew, people from Second City and the mainstage began to show up in our audience. Critics loved the show and The Reader posted it as one of the best of the year for 1996. I don't remember the exact dates, but I believe we opened in November of 1996 and ran into early 1997. It led to me being hired by Second City. I was riding pretty high and since then, WNEP has been forever linked with Dada.

So, here I am twelve years out from Klown: Prick Us and We Burst and developing another Dada show, SOIREE DADA: Blinde Essel Hopse with WNEP. It's huge. There's nine of us in the cast with Don Hall directing assisted by Steve Lund and Bob Fisher. And I'm having a blast writing material for it. What I learned from creating Soiree Dada and Metaluna, is that the world is your orchestra. Listen for the music everywhere, bring it in and spit it back out. My favorite piece so far was cobbled together from bits and pieces of a book called A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya - a journalist believed to have been assassinated by the Putin regime in retaliation for her honest, straight forward reporting on the war in Chechnya. The book is quite an eye-opener to the state of things in Russia and how civilians are the real victims of all wars. There was a chapter about her meeting a newlywed couple that lived in a bombed out flat. With the war going on around them, this sweet crippled couple lived like they walked out of a 1950's American sitcom.

Here's the poem I wrote:

Ihre Küche by Dada Mondo Yippeeeeeee (v2)

You keep your rooster and hen salt and pepper shakers in a jar made for cookies.

The rooster is dusted with ground pepper.

The hen is crusted with iodized salt.

Their corks are dried and split.

They can no longer contain themselves.

You keep your comb in the ice box.

Your oven is full of twigs and broken wishes.

Your pots and pans are just symbols of your struggle for a better life.

You have an unusually high regard for your sink, but only tooth paste for your pipes.

Your trousers don’t mean a thing.

They’re just a figment of your imagination.

I am ashamed to cry for you in your presence. So, I don’t.


Anonymous said...

To be frat for a a moment, "The poem is bitchin'!"

Joe Janes said...

Thanks, Henri. Good to have you on board the Soiree Dada project.