Come Over to My House! Performing and Politick-ing of House Theater

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On Friday, Oct. 15 through Sunday Oct.
17, you are invited to come over to our
house – 122 N. Franklin, Urbana for
House Theater! There will be 5 performances;
Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5 and
9pm, and Sunday at 2 and 6pm. (To
attend, please make reservations as space
is limited: 384-0299, or )
House Theater is a non-university, non-commercial
context for mixing experimental composition and political
satire in a lived in setting. AHouse Theater makes use
of the doors, windows, stairs, porch, kitchen, bathroom
of a rented house in Urbana to create a quasi cabaret
atmosphere with small cafe tables, flowers, candles, coffee-
can-clip-on lights hooked to the frames of windows
and doors, and with food and drinks served at the intermissions.
The atmosphere, program, and performance are
so designed that a person might find herself addressed by
experimental attempts in art or discussing politics with a
stranger at intermission.
If you find a home with space enough for 30 people to
sit; build 8 small tables for people to place their drinks
on; if already a few friends live in that home and pay
rent; if you design a program that “mixes neighborhoods”
by putting political satire next to experimental
composition and a rowdy poem next to a highbrow
dance; if, inside this semi-nightclub atmosphere you
serve wine and cider and good food during the intermission;
and if a weekend of five performances is followed
up a month later by another program – then, you have a
House Theater!
The upcoming house theater in October is the result of
an invitation sent out a few months ago, asking local and
not-so-local people to write political satire for these performances.
A satire is a form of writing that “exercises”
the logic of one’s opponents, we thought satire might
enable us to see that though Bush may be stupid, it doesn’t
follow that stupidity is powerless or ineffective. In
addition to satires by Joe Futrelle, Mark Enslin, Beth
Simpson, this house theater will also feature
singers/composers Rick Burkhardt and Andy Gricevich
of the Prince Myshkins, who will be presenting a range
of music and theater compositions.
The idea of House Theater grew out of discussions in
composer/activist Herbert Brun’s class, the Seminar in
Experimental Composition, offered at the UIUC Music
School (taught by Brun from 1967-2000).
There, in 1985-6, classmate Candace Walworth and I
analyzed Theaters and Concert Halls: as much as we
loved those places, they seemed to prejudice and limit
our imaginations. When people enter a typical performance
space, their expectations
become obedient, conditioned. A n d
this, not only for the audience – but
also for the creators of that event. If
you accept the stage and the imperative
to fill up the seats, then you can accept
a lot of other things, too: that the audience
needs to “like it”?, that a liked
piece is good for society, that a huge
audience is better than a small one. All
of these things come from commercial
criteria, not artistic! – but swallowed
hook, line, and stinker by most artists.
However, we mused, if we were to
invite people to our house? And then
present our theater and music there,
along with good food and home-made
wine, to the people we had invited?
Sounded good.
We decided to make House Theaters.
Since 1986, we’ve made 27 house theaters hosted at
homes of various friends in Urbana (in addition to house
theaters in Chicago, Sarasota Fla, Virginia Beach Va,
Germany). Past house theaters have presented the poetry
and comedies of poet Michael Holloway; theater and
mime works of Jeff Glassman and Lisa Fay; skits and
music linking pornography with commercial performance
standards written by students of the University of
Michigan; theater and music composed by students of
Uni High; a 1993 house theater portraying the “rise of the
free market in Eastern Europe” as Capitulate-ism; experimental
music by many composers.
House Theater is a context which allows for a large
range of risk-taking, where we can try things considered
inappropriate by commercial standards but which we feel
are needed by our society – with the knowledge we can
“fail” and nobody gets hurt!
But really, why do things in a house? Doesn’t that just
mean everyone sits cramped in a little space, trying to
look over someone’s head just to see an amateur goofing
o ff on stage? Good question. Here are a few answers: A
while ago, if something was home-made, it was considered
inferior to store-bought. Though home has lost its
reputation as a creative center (after all, who sews, or
cans, or makes wood-work anymore), store-bought has
met a worse fate, meaning CHAIN-store-bought. Nowadays,
there’s a kind of hope in, and respect for, something
made and presented at home. Home-made can mean more
v a r i e t y, or a different kind of variety, than what we find in
commercial venues. Who can resist home-made cookies?
Another answer: every home has all the makings of a
performance space so anyone can put on a house theater!
Your home (yes, I’m talking about your house or apartment)
already has chairs, tap water for dry throats, lights,
friendly relationships between you and your guests, and a
door for your guests to arrive in and to be told to leave
out of. That’s all you need – and, oh yes, something to
say or perform or discuss. But, take a look at our current
political scene; don’t you, indeed, have something to say
or perform or discuss?
The Internet activist organization, MOVE-ON, has
been encouraging people to hold salons or potluck dinners
in their houses, inviting the neighbors over to discuss
our society. The film, OUT-FOXED has been presented
in non-commercial venues, with the request to follow
the showing of the film with discussion.
Maybe “home space” could be added to the public
places where we invite strangers in, not keep them out.
Invite us to your house theater!
You’re invited. You walk up the stairs of an unfamiliar
home. A child with a top hat greets you: Welcome to
the House Theater! You see amidst the knick knacks of
a home, a small stage, some 30 chairs arranged around
small wooden tables. You take a seat. You face neighbors.
From the staircase, someone seems to be arguing
with someone upstairs. At first confused, you realize
the performance has begun. Then follows thirty minutes
of more performance. Political satire makes you
laugh, experimental music leaves you puzzled. Your
neighbor has the opposite reaction: laughs during the
music, is silent and blank during the satires. You make
a mental note to talk about it later. Intermission. You
hesitate, but when the “waiter” who brings you your
glass of wine turns out to be the musician who brought
you your piece of “experimental music”, you can’t
resist: a discussion with neighbor and musician keeps
you busy until the lights dim for “Set Two”?

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