June 19, 2007
After Many Moons…

A new entry and a new website. Old things have served well, but we’re now at one of those cyclic points–for us they happen about every seven years–when we refocus on the whole form & purpose of The Independent Eye.

It’s been an eventful season. Finished a two-year run of the Hitchhikers’ Cauldron, then put it to bed. Staged Ragnarok with Shotgun Players in a Berkeley amphitheatre, frequently sleeping in the abandoned Radio Shack that was their rehearsal studio. Dream House opened in San Francisco and Sonoma County, then began California touring. Staged our extreme adaptation of Carlo Gozzi’s The Green Bird with Cinnabar‘s Young Rep. Even six micro-plays about Greek myth created with sixth-graders at Old Adobe School. The work has been deeply engaged, yet somehow uncentered.

As the incorporated will of a couple of quirky souls, The Independent Eye has taken many shapes. We’ve been a touring duo, a touring quartet, a resident theatre, a public radio producer, a benign virus for collaborative fertilization with other ensembles, etc. etc.

And in terms of story and style, we’ve been utterly promiscuous. A story grabs us and we’re off with it, using realistic drama, audiodrama, sketch comedy, experimental puppetry, music drama, surrealism, movement theatre, every conceivable style–whatever mode of storytelling that might work best for the story. So we’ve never “branded” ourselves as any specific “type” of theatre. That’s been good in a way. On the other hand, it’s made it pretty impossible to develop a reputation. And it’s also meant that we’ve never truly gone all the way in mastering one style. We’ve proven that we can deliver a skilled project in just about any of the myriad languages of theatrical storytelling. But do we really need to prove we can produce video games or water ballets?

So we’re feeling an urgency–impelled in part by our own spiritual evolution, in part by the daily news–to focus our stories more clearly and to evolve a vocabulary of style that can tell those stories in the strongest possible way.

We’re seeing a visionary theatre whose prime language is mask & puppet.

For us, “visionary” means limning a world we really want to wake into. The stories that need to be told today, we feel, are stories of transformation. There can’t be a better future if we have no strong vision of it. And yet it has to be grounded in present reality–both mythic & mundane–and the actual road conditions of the journey. Can we tell stories of vision, of mythic dimension, of hope, that still remain grounded in everyday reality? Can New Age vision meet the challenge of life at the kitchen sink? Not feel-good theatre, but theatre of discovery.

Why masks & puppets? Because they expand our resources hugely, allowing very large stories to be told with limited means. Because some of our best work over the years has been in a mix of humans, masks, puppets, and shadows: Macbeth, Medea/Sacrament, The Shadow Saver, Rash Acts, Alice in Wonder, etc. And because there’s great power in the theatre of figures: at its best, the lifeless icon becomes more than human–the difference between the scent of the flower and the perfume distilled from its essence.

A fortuitous moment of validation came on a puppetry e-list this week when, replying to an inquiry about puppet stagings of Shakespeare, I described our 1979-95 Macbeth. Someone followed up with “I was lucky enough to see The Independent Eye’s Macbeth at The Performing Garage in New York. It was amazing. I refer to it, even today, when I teach Shakespeare.” That’s 28 years ago.

So that’s our new challenge. Despite the fact that we’ve probably produced some of the most depressing shows in the history of Western theatre, we’ve always thought of ourselves essentially as comic writers. We write about survival, and given the present state of the world, that’s pretty optimistic.
–Conrad Bishop