Getting back on the horse
September 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
Our September flyer for 2001.
We have suffered immeasurable loss. Not just the palpable and terrible loss of life, but loss of a sense of peace, of civil order, of security, and above all, of spirit.
We did not close that terrible Tuesday, we did not close any other day. People seemed grateful to have a familiar place to come to, a place in which to hang out, touch each other, grope towards some understanding of the shape and nature of our collective wound. Staying open helped us, too. It helped, in that marvelous phrase of Vladimir’s in Waiting for Godot “to give ourselves the illusion we exist.” We went about our much reduced business, we helped collect clothing for rescue workers, some of our staff volunteered in shelters and distribution centers. We are continuing to supply food where it is needed (right now, the cops in our local precinct, who are working 17-hour shifts 7 days a week).
But since we are also a performance space, one of the discussions that have gone on here is about art, and how we as artists clamber back on the horse. Musicians in some ways have it easiest: there is solace in music; they don’t have the pitfall of language and its limitations. Poets have it harder—do you address this or don’t you? In some ways you’re damned either way—sentimentality, banality, irrelevance, name your poison.
But the guys who have it hardest, surely, are comedians. And yet, in some ways, they are the most sorely needed. The thing we lose when we lose our spirit is our sense of humor. It’s like a phantom limb. It’s there, somewhere, surely. We have a memory of it, but when we reach out to touch it, it’s not where it used to be, it’s not what it used to be, and if we can indeed locate it, it’s not supple, it’s not flexible, it’s not familiar or easy or quick.
We had a show which ran here over the summer, called The Front Page Follies. It was a wonderful, witty collection of songs written and performed by Peter Ekstrom and Michael Quinn, about, you should pardon the expression, the Bush Administration—well, not simply the Bush Administration, but such diverse and related topics as the Supreme Court, the collapse of Russia, the rise of a certain Governor from Texas, abortion rights, Boy Scout wrongs, such obscure objects of American desire as guns and dot.coms.
Those seem like innocent days now. Can we recover a sense of outrage at the last election—can we even remember it? Can we possibly poke fun at our mayor, who before a stunned citizenry transformed himself into a genuine leader? What kind of joke is the stock market now? And so on.
Well, we intend to find out. We had planned to bring back The Front Page Follies for an unlimited run beginning on Monday (the 24th of this month). That is clearly not appropriate. But Peter and Michael are revising their show in the light of these difficult questions and in October we plan somewhat gingerly to unveil it. In all likelihood there will be a series of previews to test the waters. And if we are lucky, on November 5th, election eve (oh, yes, remember, there’s an election coming up?), we will have a delayed opening of a necessary, deeper, fuller, and, yes, perhaps even funnier, show.
It strikes me that there is a larger lesson to be learned from our comedians. If they feel a compunction to get back on the horse, what about the rest of us? If the airlines are in dire trouble, and with them, the hotel business, the restaurant business, the entire travel industry, it seems almost a national duty to fly. Instead of laying off thousands of workers and bemoaning the lack of paying customers, could not the Administration and the airlines band together and offer a week of free domestic travel? Anybody could go anywhere for a week. God knows, we could all use a break. Together, we would take back the skies, and perhaps in the process, rediscover our spirit, and with it, our wonderful, irreplaceable, unique American sense of humor.
Clamber aboard that pantomime horse!
–Robin Hirsch, 2001