Friday, July 28, 2006

The Iowa Fringe; The Political Fringe

I won’t get back to The Fatalist until the upcoming Minneapolis Fringe Festival is over.
Here’s a brief report on our trip to the Iowa Fringe in Des Moines:

The reasons for the mess that was the festival became apparent over the weekend, and I certainly find them adequate. One person, John Busbee, seemed to do almost all the work, communicating with the performers, renting the spaces (including one that had to be arranged three days before the festival, when one of the venues was shut down), sitting at the ticket/check-in table when he wasn’t running last-minute errands for people, and also doing tech for our performances (this hadn’t been the plan), as well as constantly taking phone calls from performers and ticket buyers. He did all this with a slipped disc and a calm, gentle, good-humored demeanor. Really a lovely guy. Pretty amazing, especially since he’d only been asked to organize the festival a few months before.

Attendance was low, which I’d expected (we were doing a weird, 90-minute play in a thoroughly unknown city). I hadn’t expected a truly inadequate performance space: we’d asked for a quiet room that got pitch black with the lights out, and for stereo CD playback, and we got a “gallery” with all the air compressors for the building making a loud thrumming noise overhead, and that even with the black plastic we taped up on the entire wall of windows twenty minutes before the first performance (other ensembles were doing the same in other spaces), never got dark enough for some scenes to work. There was only one speaker (luckily, we’d brought along our own ad-hoc sound system), and we had to project a lot to make this rather quiet and delicate play heard.

I’m writing all this not to make the festival look bad—John Busbee is amazing, and this is only the second year they’ve tried to do this—but to warn anyone who might be considering going to one of these: if the needs of what you’re performing are highly particular, and it doesn’t seem pretty certain that everything is taken care of, write endless emails and make endless phone calls, until you’re sure you’re getting what you need.

One problem might be that, for much of what went on at the festival (and I expect this is often the case in Fringes), the performing situation isn’t nearly as sensitive. Lame comedy improv and hysterical trauma-drama about landmark interpersonal crises can basically be heard and seen over any kind of audiovisual noise. In a way, I don’t care that the standards for theater are so low, so TV-based, in this country; I just consider it to be a different art form… but it can lead to the assumption that all portable theater is energetic fluff that can survive a really adverse setup.

All in all, though, we had a good time. I enjoy performing the piece a great deal. Des Moines is one of those rather interesting cities that’s caught between decline, gentrification, and grassroots reconstruction, as far as I can tell. Plenty of beautiful, empty old warehouse and factory buildings (any of which might have made for better performance venues than the new glass-and-metal cultural spaces that were used, and which stood starkly next to the collapsing buildings). The best part of the trip was staying in the large attic room of the Des Moines Catholic Worker house. Everyone I’ve met from CW has been amazing, and these folks were no exception: extremely generous, compassionate, funny, and often potty-mouthed, undogmatic, unprejudiced, and committed to the ethic of voluntary poverty and social justice. Having lunch every day with the large number of people who came around to get a free meal and talk was great—some fabulous talkers and generally fascinating humans of all kinds are destitute in Des Moines.


On another note, what’s up with the inability of most progressives to include queer issues among the causes they work on and discuss? Somebody named Ishaq sent a fascinating set of articles to the Buffalo poetics list on GLBTQI organizations in the Middle East and their responses to the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, and all the subscribers can do is have the same (thoroughly relevant and crucial) arguments about the status of Israel that socially concerned people always have, over and over and over. It’s so rare that anti-assimilationist, activist queers get any publicity (I’m always delighted at CA Conrad’s blogging in this regard), and when they do, too may lefties just go on having the same conversation they were having before. The rift between largely straight, white, middle-class peace activists and intellectuals (and people like myself, a pretty safe bisexual, white, shit-broke antiwar activist and intellectual from a just-below-the-very-middle-class background) and everybody else (people who have to deal, on a daily basis, with race- and sex-based prejudice) is a real problem, not just ideologically but for the sake of ending any of these forms of oppression, and it’s stupid to ignore it. Thanks, though, to Ishaq, for pointing to Palestinian queers who consider their struggle as GLBT people to be quite interwoven with the movement for a free Palestine in general.


  • At July 30, 2006 at 9:56 AM, Blogger Ian Keenan said…

    Conrad masterfully uses of the public square both in Q and A in live events and the internet, in refreshing contrast to his inside-pool literary counterparts from more privileged backgrounds. He often brings up gay rights in political discussions that otherwise overlook the issue, such as in Selma James' talk on Chavez that I attended as a result of his promotional efforts in which I was able to spark a discussion amongst the Haitian community in attendance about their parallel experiences with US policy.

    At that event he asked about gay rights in Venezuela. After Chavez’ ‘98 election the gay rights movement took on a force never before seen in the country. By 1999 the Ley Orgánica de Trabajo (Organic Labor Law) outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for the first time in the country’s history, and in the same year the government recognized Gay Pride Day for the first time in their history. During the drafting of the constitution, Chavez battled the Catholic church in an attempt to draft provisions banning gay discrimination, and was unsuccessful at the stages of ratification but has campaigned thereafter for anti-discrimination amendments.

    Homophobia is a byproduct of Catholicism in Latin America and there’s no question Castro had a problem with this at first but has changed his ways. It is no accident that the exaggerations of Reinaldo Arias in Before Night Falls (about policies which were certainly brutal) was made into a propaganda movie by Julien Schnabel without any qualification of later policies, and to the exclusion of narratives of the problem of homosexuals currently in capitalist Latin America. Outside pressure could easily result in government initiatives such as Cuba’s Center for Sex Education to be implemented throughout the hemisphere.

    Throughout the ‘developing’ world there is the strain of emigration of young people from rural areas to urban centers leading to unsustainable patterns of growth, which is in conflict with the Marxist belief in maintaining the rural population, implemented relatively successfully in Cuba and less successfully in China and with significant implications caused there by the undocumented status of millions of people who emigrate to China’s cities. Homophobia is globally prevalent in rural areas and less prevalent in cities, and homosexual community globally takes root in urban areas.

    Roger Bartra in his book of essays Blood Ink and Culture treats the problematics of the Zapatista movement’s notion of progress based on the preservation of rural and patriarchal values. This phenomenon of the conflict between the necessary preservation of rural life and pre-Columbian culture and the urbane values of diversity has to be handled creatively and constructively hereafter so as not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Likewise with Islam, recent years has seen an escalation of massacres, displacement, and repression of Muslims by Western powers. Neocon think tankers often make an issue of women’s and gay rights in Islam but the client states they set up (as Conrad has also noted previously) make the situation much worse, without fail. In fact, it has been documented repeatedly that the movement from secular administration to Islamic extremism has come as a direct result of Western aggression in the region.

    One of the byproducts of linking gay rights with Middle East conflict is the redistribution of solidarity from away from ethnicity and the simple fact that to discuss the sexuality of someone is to humanize them.

    I am a straight man that unequivocally supports recognition of same-sex couples but has written about how Karl Rove has seized on the anti-assimilationist militance of the gay rights movement to polarize the country and gain rural support, causing poor Americans to overlook the shipment of jobs overseas and the unprecedented corruption of the Bush Administration. There’s no question that rural and Southern backlash against same-sex marriage was used by the Republicans to mobilize support amongst its electoral base.

    We have models to look at, such as countries like the Netherlands, where same sex recognition legislation has the support of the majority of the population and it is politically expedient for politicians to support. These models suggest that population density has a relation to sympathy for same sex rights impacting national policy, but also reflect a history where public support was transformed over time, at the grassroots as well as with appeals to legislative and jurisprudential entities.

  • At July 31, 2006 at 6:31 AM, Blogger david raphael israel said…


    I was going to remark on the nice critique (as I thought) of your work; but on closer look (and seeing no byline), I realized in fact I had read your company's own blurb. Good stuff anyway.

    I was also going to mention here (for comparative interest) the just-passed innaugural DC fringe fest; -- but I decided to lift that out of comment-land into a proper blog post.


  • At July 31, 2006 at 2:53 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said…

    also btw Andy -- the Ron Silliman blogspot bar (I mean, comment boxes) is(are) open.

  • At August 1, 2006 at 4:20 PM, Blogger andy gricevich said…


    I didn't know that about Venezuela, and have wondered, and have meant to find out.

    So far I feel positively about Chavez, while maintaining some skepticism (not actual disbelief, but skepticism) about his repeatedly told story in which he tries to push something progressive through and is blocked by obsolete government bureaucracies.

    Has Cuba in fact made progress on gay rights? Another thing I've been meaning to find out more about (I should ask my friends who have been there, and don't know why I haven't).

    As far as the Republican mobilization of homophobes is concerned, all I can really say is "fuck 'em..." by which I mean that, at this point, I can't accept any argument that calls for strategic moves on the part of, say, the Democratic opposition, without first denouncing the spinelessness and lack of offering anything appealing at all that characterize the political behavior of even relatively progressive dems like Obama. There's no excuse for a general attitude of playing to a statistically posited middle when the result is always that the middle moves farther to the right; to put it less in terms of Politics, there's no excuse for remaining silent to retain advantages when those advantages coldly mock those who would be denied them, were they actually preserved (which they never are in these situations).

  • At August 1, 2006 at 7:36 PM, Blogger Ian Keenan said…

    Same sex relations became legal in Cuba in ‘92 although there’s no legal unions. Gay clubs are also illegal, which I should have mentioned in the earlier post but I didn’t know. Fidel’s niece Mariela runs the NCSE I mentioned which has proposals on the table to reform these laws this December, including providing government funding for sex change operations and hormone therapy. That would lead to a relative bargain for foreign pay-their-wayers, which would make Havana a popular destination for that.

    Mexico City is highly dispersed and somewhat dangerous to wander around at night, but the gay scene I ran into in Mexico was in Guadalajara, which consisted of three huge clubs right next to each other, right around my hotel which was 16US$ for 2-star comforts despite very loud music til 4am. I drove straight into the garage, checked in, and then took a walk around, and I thought, wow this is the friendliest city I’ve been to, everyone’s saying ‘Welcome,’ then I realized the friendly people were standing with drag queens and were trying to bed the new gringo. I also met a young college prof at a subway in Mex City and we hung out (he had a Francesco Toledo watercolor in his flat) and went to dinner, which he insisted on treating for even tho I said before I wasn’t gay, which I’m sure he was but wouldn’t clarify.

    The People’s Guide by Carl Franz says that Latin American cantinas support a macho, un-talked-about bi scene, but I can’t confirm this.

    Vis a vis Rove, the ‘turn out the homophobes’ strategy is bound to have diminishing returns, but the longterm strategy is to use one short-term trick then another.

    The ‘strategic move to the center’ or ‘stand your ground’ debate is endless, but what I notice is that it exists concurrent with an absolute lack of liberal views being competently argued in major media. The triangulation method is to agree that the conservative philosophy is better, but wait for your opponent to go too far (Clinton and Gingrich). In a presidential general election, the air time the candidates get is sufficient that a persuasive liberal candidate could surprise the conventional wisdom.

    What irks me about triangulation is that the people who debated in 2003 that the Iraq war was an illegal and unwinnable quagmire waiting to happen instigated by intelligence that has been definitively proven to be knowingly falsified are still considered radical. It was then considered moderate to be like John Kerry and say that you are an intelligence expert but pretend that you were fooled by Bush’s claims of Saddam buying nuclear materials from Niger. Do you know anyone who reads the news closely that thought Bush was telling the truth?

    Then there’s the people who voted for it but are stridently against it now, who are believed to have more ‘talking head integrity’ on the issue. They don’t have more integrity; they’re incompetent.
    The liberals have proven they are the only ones with the foreign policy know-how to rule and that should be made abundantly clear.


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