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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

An Ode to Late Nights @ Machineworks 

Festivals create an interesting psychic space, one filled with awe, debate, idle banter, and inspiration -- as well as failure, grief, envy, and yes, even the occasional hang-over.

Connectivity is facilitated and a sense of community is fostered. For some the connections and the sense of community dissipate mere moments after the closing party, but for others the conversations linger and the phone numbers and email addresses exchanged see continued use. It all depends on who you are and what you need and what you found when you were neck deep in the moment.

At the moment we’re neck deep in it. Half way. But, as with all good things, the end is approaching at an alarming speed – one which seems to double with each performance viewed. For those of you who haven’t extended your days of Time Based Art with an after-hours trip to Machineworks, you might want to think about it.

Each night, the warehouse and courtyard are descended upon by festival goers in search of decompression – some seek it at the bottom of a bottle, some in the chest enveloping bass pumping from the speakers, and some in the warm embrace of critical conversation.

At Machineworks, conversation drifts from break-dancing to the use of hypnotic suggestion in film, modern dancers attempt to ignore the social lines which separate Yo La Tengo from Master P, and smokers marvel at the fickle wonder that is Portland weather. People compare notes and schedules and lament over opportunities missed. They talk of performances past and artsy experiences in which they have participated around the globe. Some sit alone at tables, just happy to be surrounded by the buzz of art and music, others fidget nervously with the fireworks of ideas ablaze in their minds.

Last night, I found myself engaged in a conversation with a woman who has spent the latter part of the last few evenings working the dance floor so hard it’s a wonder she can still walk. She told me about an eleven-hour, subtitled play she had seen at a recent European festival.

The conversation – inspired by discussions we had both overheard and participated in with regard to Heather Woodbury’s six-hour Tale of 2 Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks – was about being an audience member with an inexplicable sense of commitment to a challenging work of art.

(What follows is a slightly "reconstructed" highlight from our conversation.)

"There I was, five hours into this eleven-hour play," she said, "doing my best to keep up with the subtitles scrolling across the LED screen, thinking about all the other things that were taking place at the time. I kept telling myself that I was going to get up and leave, but I just couldn’t seem to do it. I would look around the room at the other audience members and knew that there was something compelling all of us to stay. I still don’t know why I didn’t leave."

"I know what you mean," I replied. "There were moments in Woodbury's Joyride, where I was overwhelmed with a compulsion to stay, despite the forces and obligations entreating me to flee."

"But, from what I've gathered, the difference between the experience I had with the eleven-hour play and Woodbury’s Joyride," she continued, "is that Woodbury's piece seems, at the very least, to be littered with moments and characters that people can point to and say, ‘Wow.’ Am I right?"

"Yup."

"I can’t tell you why I stayed for the conclusion of that eleven-hour play, but I keep hearing Woodbury’s audiences talk about dead grandmothers and a pot-smoking, Starbucks-frequenting, Hasidic Rabbi. There’s obviously something there."

And she was right. There was something there -- there is something there. Something worthy of conversation and examination and critical dialogue. Something to discuss at Machineworks over $4 beers and breakbeats.

We'd love your two cents. Perhaps we'll see ya at Machineworks?


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