Artist: Donovan King
Confronting Bodies: University of Calgary, Alberta. The Department of Drama and the Office of Graduate Studies teamed up to censor King's work, AND HIS VOICE!
Date of Action: January 2002 - present.
Specific Location: University of Calgary, Alberta; and Cyberspace.
Description of Artwork: Meta-play. This is an Introduction to "CAR STORIES: WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD?" - incidentally nominated for Canada's most prestrigious prize in theatre - siminovitchprize.com Introduction It is my absolute pleasure to write the introduction to this meta-play, as it is something I have been following very closely since Donovan King & colleagues began their theatrical experiments with Optative Theatrical Laboratories. King has been branded again and again during his tenure at OTL, by everyone from media, professors, theorists, producers, artists, spectators, and just about anyone who hears about his theories and the subsequent meta-plays which evolve. Some of the more colourful descriptors include: maverick, stage disturber, enigma, artistic facilitator, theatrical anarchist, New Débord, media assassin, terrorizer, performance artist, mental patient, post-modern scholar, Nanabush, culture jammer, satirist, trickster, fool, player, “highly destructive individual,” “highly deconstructive individual,” humanitarian, Reflectionist, and “the Artaud of the 21st Century.” Generally those who believe that they are in positions of power make attempts to label King negatively, largely because the meta-play has forced them to reflect, hence challenging their authority. Others with apprehension towards unscrupulous individuals and the negative and bureaucratic politics of hierarchical institutions, praise and applaud his efforts at destabilizing hegemonic thought patterns and oppressive systems. The concept of the meta-play is perhaps the most misunderstood and controversial idea in contemporary drama today, as it draws on what Derrida fondly calls the Différance: the actively disruptive space where language, thought, and meaning are not to be allowed the comfort of their daily routines. Sometimes described as Otherness, pharmakon, the Double, or undecidability; it is an ontologically challenging realm, both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. One good example of Différance is the zombie: between life and death it inhabits an uncertain space. It might be EITHER alive OR dead, but it cuts across these categories: it is BOTH alive AND dead. Equally it is NEITHER alive NOR dead. The zombie short-circuits the usual logic of distinction. Having both states, it has neither. It belongs to a different order of things: in terms of life and death, it cannot be decided. Likewise the meta-play inhabits the realm of Différance: it is BOTH a play AND playing, yet is equally NEITHER at the same time. There can be no denying that there is a dramatic script (I am writing an Introduction to it!), complete with characters, monologues, a story-line, conflict, and other theatricals; but at the same time it is a real set of documents with profound effects for some people in the real world which may affect their careers, reputations, self-image, understanding, and worldview. Some of the playwrights are real people, whereas others are fictional characters. Some have deliberately added their artistic input, whereas others refuse to recognise the validity of their own documents as part of the dramatic story. Often the characters are more real than the people. The meta-play is an undecidable: in terms of drama and life, it cannot be decided. The meta-play can be produced on the stage by a talented director, made into a film, written into a book, or can be used as raw material for any artistic project. Yet it can also be played, in that there is a real story, which anyone can join in at any time, as both themselves and characters. The dramatic story in this case is an extremely important one; the power-brokers of the corporate worldview are successfully challenged by artists. How will they respond, if at all? Journalists, theorists, artists, and others may join the play at any time, and add their input to the meta-play, or have it added by others. The meta-play inhabits the realm between fiction and reality; between people and characters; between playing and being; between theatre and life. Coined as “Global Invisible Theatre” by King, it is the pure theatre. It is “equal to life” as Artaud predicted in The Theatre and It’s Double: The theatre like the plague is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure. And the plague is a superior disease because it is a total crisis after which nothing remains except death or an extreme purification. Similarly the theatre is a disease because it is the supreme equilibrium which cannot be achieved without destruction. It invites the mind to share a delirium which exalts its energies; and we can see, to conclude, that from the human point of view, the action of theatre, like that of plague, is beneficial, for, impelling man to see themselves as they are, it causes the mask to fall off, reveals the lie, the slackness, baseness, and hypocrisy of our world; it shakes off the asphyxiating inertia of matter which invades even the clearest testimony of the senses; and in revealling to collectivities of men their dark power, their hidden force, it invites them to take, in the face of destiny, a superior and heroic attitude they would never have assumed without it. Faced with a theatrical plague that causes personal masks to fall off like leprous limbs and reveals the disfigured and repulsive hypocrisies of the world, laid bare for all to see, people tend to find Différance of this sort extremely disturbing on many levels. Due to the inevitable ontological shock at being exposed to it, there is the potential for a transformative theatrical space to be opened for anyone participating in any way. This can sometimes lead to reflection, re-enchantment, enlightenment, and humanistic transformation; or other times scepticism, rejection, and antagonism. The meta-play is an example of Reflectionism through performance. Professor Steve Mann of the University of Toronto, who invented EyeTap to literally mediate monocultural reality, proposes: …Reflectionism as a new philosophical framework for questioning social values. The Reflectionist philosophy borrows from the Situationist movement in art and, in particular, an aspect of the Situationist movement called détournement, in which artists often appropriate tools of the "oppressor" and then resituate these tools in a disturbing and disorienting fashion. Reflectionism attempts to take this tradition one step further, not only by appropriating the tools of the oppressor, but by turning those same tools against the oppressor as well. I coined the term "Reflectionism" because of the "mirrorlike" symmetry that is its end goal and because the goal is also to induce deep thought ("reflection") through the construction of this mirror. Reflectionism allows society to confront itself or to see its own absurdity. The participants of the meta-play who do not wish to see themselves in the mirror (thus confronting themselves) quickly turn away, but are left with the lingering image of grotesque ugliness, which will haunt them until a profound internal resolution is reached. Drawing upon traditional folly, but appearing in a disenchanted post-modern society, the concept of The Fool is resurrected, challenging and satirizing oppressors in order to cause reflection on their positions, attitudes, and worldviews. Harvey Cox describes the Fool’s perennial message in his 1969 The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy: It is the eternal message of The Fool, who takes the stage whenever greed, arrogance, authority, pride and sycophancy lay claim to the public headspace. These are the acts of real fools, without which The Fool would be useless and mute. The Fool is a looking-glass. She is male and female, he is human and animal, they are one moment immersed in the workaday routine and the next overturning the norms of daily life. When we play The Fool, we are The Other, strangers who are in this world but not entirely of it. The ancient term Narrenfreiheit means "freedom of the fool." That freedom reminds us that in a moment of ecstasy we can sweep away the illusion of so much of what we endure. The Fool breaks the trail; the revolutionaries follow. Those who participate, reflect, and achieve the “moment of ecstasy,” will soon realise that playing the Fool is not only one of the most satisfying and liberating experiences they will ever encounter, but is also an urgent direct action to reclaim the public headspace. To counter the oppressive and ubiquitous corporate monoculture that is so prevalent in late capitalist society, culture jamming through performance may well be the only solution to cause reflection, hence shattering a dystopic corporate reality. The idea will, I sincerely hope, spread like a virus until such a time whereby all human beings are free to express and play without fear of reprisal, are free from oppression and exploitation of all sorts, and are truly equal to one another. Because everyone plays the lead role in the Optative Theatre, you must decide how to cast yourself. Do you want to play the reader, the sceptic, the critic, the editor, the producer, the casting director, the scholar, the player, the villain, the media, the bully, the artist, the character, the spectator, or any other role? It is up to you. Break a leg! Dr. Ropes, April 1st, 2002
Description of Incident: Pages of the meta-play were submitted to the University of Calgary Department of Drama via the Internet (along with other mediums.) The following incident put a stop to the project: October 5th, 2001 EXPRESS POST – CONFIDENTIAL Dear Mr. King, This letter is to inform you that on the basis of your email correspondence, the Faculty of Graduate Studies considers your behaviour to be non-academic misconduct. Your e-mail correspondence has been reviewed at the request of the Department of Drama and found to be characterized by defamation and highly erratic and unprofessional behaviour. Two of these messages were 74 and 96 pages long. Non-academic misconduct is defined in section 1 c) and 1 a), page 52 of the 2001/02 University of Calgary Calendar, Non-Academic Misconduct as “conduct which seriously disrupts the lawful educational activities of other students or staff” and “conduct which causes injury to a person”. Dr. Jim Dugan, Graduate Coordinator, and Dr. Douglas McCullough have expressed serious concerns for your emotional and mental stability and concerns for the security of students and staff within the Department of Drama. Given the severity of the situation , as the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, I am placing you on probation for non-academic misconduct for the remainder of your Graduate program. The conditions for this probation are the following: 1) You to cease and desist from sending ANY emails whatsoever to either students of staff at the University of Calgary. Any attempt to send email will be treated as an offense and will lead to full suspension with a view to expulsion. Any communication with anyone at the University of Calgary will take place in writing in a professional and concise manner and should be confined to the parameters of your graduate program. 2) You are required to change your specialization from directing to theatre studies. Dr. Dugan assures me that you will be able to write your thesis on McDonagh’s The Lonesome West. When you return to campus in January 2002 you will have to find another advisor, since Dr. Dugan resigned as your supervisor. 3) You may not undertake any studio projects on campus and you may not engage in any practical theatre activity with any other students in the Department of Drama. 4) You are to conduct yourself in a professional, ethical, non-threatening way towards all students and staff at the University of Calgary. This means there is to be no harassment, intimidation, or conflict of any kind. Sincerely, Dr. Robert Mansell, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies CC: Dr. Miriam Grant, Dr. Ann Calvert, Dr. Jim Dugan, Dr. McCullough, Ms. Rhonda Williams, Dr. Gary Krivy.
Results of Incident: It will be going to the Alberta Human Rights tribunal soon. Here is a call for advocacy: Dear _______, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Donovan King, and I reside in Montreal where I run an experimental theatre laboratory. I am writing today to ask for your advice, and hopefully some advocacy regarding a very disturbing and bizarre censorship case I have become embroiled in. Due to my theatrical theories and our use of the Internet as a tool for playwrighting, I have been attacked, labelled, marginalised, and discriminated against by the University of Calgary, Alberta. My human rights to Freedom of Expression and Opinion have been thoroughly violated, and the University's ethics are called into question. [Copy of Dean's "probation"] I am an MFA Grad student (Drama,) and this is the case I am having to deal with. It will be going to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal very soon unless the "probation" is dropped. I am asking you for any advice you might have to help me acquire some strong advocacy and legal aid (Canada.) What is especially disturbing in this case is that I have been not only defamed, but my work AND VOICE has been thoroughly censored, all because the Dean and the Department misunderstood the nature, source, and purpose of email which we use to facilitate a form of contoversial theatrical play-wrighting. By the Dean's argument, probably Shakespeare would be censored for expressing unsavoury topics such as incest, murder, and scheming, and would be labelled as mentally unstable and as a security risk! This represents an obvious kick in the teeth to artistry, freedom of expression, human rights (especially in regads to mental health!), academic freedom, and both university and provincial guidelines on Education. Perhaps the creation of a task force would be a good idea to analyse the situation, thus ensuring students are not abused like this in the future. Luckily, Canada's leading theatricians understand my work, and the company I facilitate has been nominated for the Siminovitch Prize (siminovitchprize.com) in playwrighting - the country's most prestigious and sought-after award. Adjudicated by the leading theatrical minds in the country, they have recognised that the theatre I extoll is "among the best contemporary writing" in Canada, and NOT the defamatory nonsense speculated by the Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Mansell. I know there are extreme cultural differences between our respective provinces, and that Calgary is renowned for the "cowboy mentality", however I never expected to find it at the higest level of university education. I am hoping you can help by doing everything within your power to ensure the University of Calgary begins respecting academic freedom, human rights, and university and provincial education guidelines. I thank you for your consideration, and hope to hear from you soon. Reagrds, Donovan King, Artistic Facilitator Optative Theatrical Laboratories: otl.20m.com (514) 842-1467
Source: otl.20m.com Optative Free Press
Submitted By: Donovan King
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