WHY WE'RE EXCITED
Throughout the leadup to Festival 2014, Festival staff and volunteers will contribute a video and a few notes on events that we're particularly excited about. This week, Cathy Edwards, who scours the country and the world for shows to bring to Arts & Ideas each year, shares what makes Arguendo special. Click above to watch, and read on!
We're excited about Arguendo
by Cathy Edwards
Director of Programming
The theater group Elevator Repair Service is one of American theater’s brightest lights. They have rightfully received accolades for their inventive and highly physical approaches to making new work, and it’s very exciting for us to bring to Arts & Ideas their most recent project, Arguendo, in which the company uses a verbatim Supreme Court oral argument transcript as its theatrical jumping off point.
A signature aspect to Elevator Repair Service's work is that the ensemble members often “repurpose” existing texts: they identify a text that they want to explore, and discover a way to bring that text to life in dramatically, by finding a theatrical language that does it justice. One of my favorite theater-going experiences of the past decade was seeing the company's piece Gatz at the Public Theater in New York City, in which Elevator Repair Service brought to stage the great American novel The Great Gatsby. That was a six-hour performance in which every word of the novel was read and brought to life on stage.
There are so many ways to appreciate the humor, smarts and spectacle of Arguendo, but above all what I love is the way the company finds the theater inherent in the spectacle of the Supreme Court. They reframe the proceedings in a way that foregrounds the rituals, gestures, personalities and physical trappings that are largely invisible to the public because Supreme Court arguments are not videotaped or televised. The company interrogates the Court on the terms in which it knows best—those of the theater—and by bringing its own “hyper theatrical” approach to the theater of the court, they lift the veil on an all-powerful American institution to reveal both the absurd and the poignant.
Ben Rubin is the visual artist and designer who collaborated with the company to create the phenomenal video backdrop to the theater piece. He is one of today’s most important contemporary digital artists. The design he creates for Arguendo illuminates the complexities and connections of laws, legal precedents and judicial writings in a way that simple, sophisticated, and deeply revealing.
Of course, Arguendo also finds theater in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, in the legal case that is being argued. Who decides what constitutes art if a group of exotic dancers claim their first amendment rights are being violated when they are not allowed to dance in the nude? This is a case that is perfect fodder for a contemporary theater company. Especially when the distinctions between “high art” and popular culture are increasingly meaningless, it will prompt many a debate about the lines we draw in the sand, current interpretations of the First Amendment, and the ways in which justice works in the United States.