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Friday, March 10, 2017
CONRAD BRUNSTROM ON 'DIONYSUS IN '69'
"THE AUDIENCE WONDERS WHETHER THEY ARE WATCHING A STAGED OR A REAL ARGUMENT"
Conrad Brunstrom, literary scholar and blogger, posted today about Dionysus In '69:
Many years ago, I read a book by Bill Shepherd about the experience of preparing for and performing Dionysus in 69. Shepherd describes the process of rehearsing for Dionysus as something akin to cult membership – [an] exhausting and all demanding process that lasted many months. This kind of “living theatre” has a tendency to treat the performance as a mere symptom of a process rather than as the defining end product.

I recall that Shepherd describes how Richard Schechner created and sustained The Performance Group in that garage that wasn’t really a garage. At one point, he reported to the cast that Jerzy Grotowski (no less) had seen an early production and complained that the partial nudity looked a bit tacky. On Grotowski’s second-hand authority therefore, Schechner persuades the cast to get the rest of their kit off.

The name Dionysus in 69 does a number of things in the context of a 1968 production. 69 is a rude number – which helps. It’s also “next year” – an imminent revolution. And of course, there is the important context of the 1968 US election, in which the Vietnam War is a decisive issue. [Finley]-Dionysos is the candidate to become President in 69.

The casual use of “real” names alongside Euripidean roles has a genuinely unsettling effect in the production. The audience wonders whether they are watching a staged or a real argument, a play or a group therapy session.

Does it all work? Is the blood and the nudity and the dicing with mental health all justified in the name of art? Well…. yeah… I think so. I was worried that the production would seem desperately ponderous and self important. In fact, the wit of the production is what shines through. Euripides is a disturbingly funny playwright, and enough of the Arrowsmith translation is integrated into this theatre work to demonstrate the joyous absurdity of religious conflict. And William [Finley] is a remarkable Dionysos – calm, comical, terrifying and seductive. The scene where he demands oral sex from Pentheus and/or Bill Shepherd is as careful and exquisitely delivered as anything I’ve ever seen on stage or in a film, or in a film that’s also a stage or a stage that’s also a film. Yes, it’s heavy on sex and death and liturgy – but there is a constant playfulness on show here as well. It’s consistently entertaining.

Brian De Palma uses a split screen technique to show the audience and the cast simultaneously. It’s a technique he would use in more famous films like Carrie and Dressed to Kill. On the one hand, this reminds us that everything we see is designed for a live audience. On the other hand, this “division” of the screen is precisely the division that is continually being violated by the Performance Group. It is increasingly impossible to separate cast from audience – and not just when they’re all groping one another. Apparently, this film joins together two separate productions. I for one, cannot see the join.

The one barrier that can’t be transcended of course is the essential “pastness” of film itself. The cast transgress every conceivable barrier between actors and audience, between cast names and “real names” and finally, with the triumphant bursting forth into the streets – between theatrical reality and the so-called “outside world”. The final gimmick that De Palma might have added might be a smashing through a cinema screen to terrify a theatre full of complacent movie goers. And then we’d be able to extrapolate and imagine Dionysos and company bursting out of our smaller screens to invade our dull and safe little worlds.


Posted by Geoff at 9:21 PM CST
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Sunday, November 20, 2016
'DIONYSUS IN '69' SCREENS NOV 29 IN NEW ORLEANS
30TH ANNIVERSARY OF ZEITGEIST, WHICH CLAIMS THERE ARE 2 MORE PERFORMANCE GROUP PRODS FILMED BY DE PALMA...!
Dionysus In '69 was the first film ever screened at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, and now it will be included in next week's six-day program, celebrating Zeitgeist's 30th anniversary. Brian De Palma's split-screen documentary, filmed with Robert Fiore and Bruce Rubin, will screen at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, November 29th. The description of the screening at the Zeitgeist website claims that there are two more Performance Group productions that were filmed by De Palma: Makbeth, which they did in 1969, and The Tooth Of Crime, a Sam Shepard play they staged in 1972. The site states that Richard Schechner brought 16mm prints of all three films to be screened at a Zeitgeist fundraiser for its production of Schechner's Commune there in 1989. Here's the full Zeitgeist description:
An experimental theater film by Brian De Palma, Robert Fiore and Bruce Rubin; directed for the stage by Richard Schechner; portions of the text adapted from "The Bacchae" of Euripides as performed by The Performance Group. Schechner approached "The Bacchae" not so much to re-interpret the play as to re-experience some of the impulses surrounding and informing it—to which end Euripides's lines were sometimes useful, and sometimes not. Schechner's troupe, The Performance Group, would by turns chant, or dance, make love, plot murder, whisper to the audience, or among themselves hold group therapy sessions. With its full nudity, its audience-participation orgies and its range of theatrical invention, "Dionysus in 69" strives for a degree of sensuous presence. De Palma uses a split screen, and he uses it in a variety of ways. Both sides of the screen always record the same moment in the production. But sometimes they show different parts of the arena (the Performing Garage was a kind of multi-level theater in the round, with cast and audience often sharing spaces). Sometimes they develop different points of view toward a single action. Sometimes they place an apparently random event in formal perspective, and at the same time isolate important detail.

In 1989 Zeitgeist Theatre Experiments, inc (our original name) staged a large scale theatrical production at X ART GALLERY, at 333 Girod St. in the CBD (a cutting edge space run by the late-great Clinton Peltier, an early partner and patron of Zeitgeist and all things ahead of their time) of COMMUNE (aka White Exorcism), an environmental theater piece by Richard Schechner and the Performance Group. In Commune, actors and volunteers from the audience restaged the “Pattern of butcheries in American History from the point of view of the Manson Family as a justification of their actions”. One night we even got a pregnant biker chick in the audience to play Sharon Tate as the actors brutally killed her as she screamed for them to spare her babies life. Although the production was savaged in the local press, the production was a huge success and ran for three weeks.

Richard Dodds in the Times Picayune said “Call me a reactionary pig but…” and proceeded to attack the production “under the fascistoidal direction of Rene Broussard” claiming that cast members “soiled, stretched and scuffed his 180 loafers when they wore them on their filthy feet to reenact the murders”. So for the remainder of the production cast members wore tie-dyed t-shirts saying “Richard Dodds Is A Reactionary Pig”.

As a fundraiser for the production as well as to afford bringing in Richard Schechner for the opening of the play Richard loaned us 16mm prints of Dionysus in 69, Makbeth and Tooth Of Crime (three films of Performance Group productions filmed by then NYU student Brian DePalma). DIONYSUS in 69 was the very first film Zeitgeist ever screened. So please enjoy this very rare look back at Zeitgeist’ history.

The Times-Picayune's Mike Scott provides a nice set-up for next week's Zeitgeist program, with background information, in an article posted Saturday:

It started with a protest of sorts. Which, in this particular case, is fitting to the point of bordering on poetic.

It was 1986 and Rene Broussard, then a student at the University of New Orleans, was directing a stage production of the giddily depraved "Blood on the Cat's Neck." It was a production chock-a-block with sex, violence, necrophilia, human bondage and other such provocations that so tend to tickle and titillate undergrads.

Then, days before the first performance, the department head dropped in on one of the final dress rehearsals. He was neither tickled nor titillated. He was, however, provoked.

"He was shocked by the graphic violence and nudity and said, 'You can't do this at UNO!,'" Broussard recalls. "... And so the production got canceled and I ended up taking it off-campus and running it on Bourbon Street as a benefit for Artists Against AIDS. It ran for three weeks. That became the first Zeitgeist experiment."

Thirty years later, Broussard's Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center is still going, and still working hard to provoke, regularly delivering or the promise of its guiding principle: "Something for and against everybody."

On Friday (Nov. 25), Zeitgeist will kick off a week of special programming marking its first three decades in operation. Highlights include Brian De Palma's "Dionysus in 69," which was the first film Zeitgeist ever screened; Broussard's own autobiographical triptych "The Fatboy Chronicles"; the music documentary "Liquid Land," which was filmed at Zeitgeist; and other selections intended both to highlight and celebrate the theater's history.


Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2016 12:32 AM CST
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Saturday, February 6, 2016
EVERY '70s MOVIE LOOKS AT 'DIONYSUS IN '69'
"AS HEADACHE-INDUCING AS IT IS MIND-EXPANDING"
Today at Every '70s Movie, Peter Hanson looks at Dionysus In '69. "Experimental theater being what it is," Hanson begins, "any document of this offbeat genre is sure to divide audiences. As such, something like Dionysus in ’69 can’t be appraised in only one way. Those with adventurous spirits and an eagerness to see postmodern rethinks of longstanding storytelling conventions will be able to appreciate Dionysus in ’69 as a form of artistic exploration. Concurrently, those who enjoy understanding what the hell they’re watching will lose patience quickly. Even those who seek out Dionysus in ’69 because of Brian De Palma’s involvement are likely to be confounded. The picture has a couple of significant connections to the director’s later work, but he didn’t conceive or singlehandedly helm the piece, [and] the execution is avant-garde in the extreme."

In the concluding paragraph, Hanson focuses on the film's use of split-screen throughout: "De Palma, who shares an 'a film by' credit with fellow NYU students Bruce Joel Rubin (later an Oscar winner for writing the 1990 hit Ghost) and Robert Fiore, employs one of his favorite cinematic devices, split-screen photography. Therefore, the entire 85-minute film comprises two angles of grungy-looking black-and-white images projected side-by-side. As with everything else about Dionysus in ’69, the split-screen effect is as headache-inducing as it is mind-expanding. Incidentally, Dionysus in ’69 received an X-rating during its original release, though its edgiest elements are full-frontal nudity, rough language, and simulated sex."

Posted by Geoff at 5:44 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 6, 2012
'DIONYSUS IN '69' RECREATED IN NEW YORK
RICHARD SCHECHNER TO JOIN DISCUSSION AFTER FRIDAY NIGHT PERFORMANCE
New York Live Arts presents a reconstruction of the Performance Group's Dionysus In '69 (a re-imagining of The Bacchae) beginning with a preview tonight, and continuing through Saturday. The production is by Rude Mechs, the Austin-based theatre collective which first staged a painstaking recreation of the original 1968 production in Austin in 2009. Not only did the group use Brian De Palma's film of the play as a key source material, but they even got Richard Schechner himself, who staged and directed the 1968 production, to lead some of the early rehearsals. They now bring Dionysus In '69 back to New York City, 44 years after its premiere there, notes the Live Arts website. Schechner will join a discussion following Friday night's 7:30 performance.

Posted by Geoff at 12:34 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 12:36 AM CST
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Sunday, April 1, 2012
'DIONYSUS' FILM APPROPRIATED INTO ART INSTALLATION
OVERLAPPING PROJECTIONS FORM PIECE BY ROSE KALLAL AT GALLERY IN SCOTLAND
The Hidden Noise gallery, located in Glasgow, Scotland, is currently hosting an exhibition by New York artist Rose Kallal. Kallal is presenting Implicate, Explicate, a 16mm film installation "created especially for The Hidden Noise with a soundtrack produced in collaboration with Mark Pilkington," according to the gallery's web site. "The overlapping projections appropriate footage from sources as diverse as Brian De Palma’s Dionysus to contemporary 3D simulations of fractals, as well as her own original footage." The exhibition, which includes works by Anni Albers, Josef Albers, and Victoria Morton, runs through April 14th.

Posted by Geoff at 10:27 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011
WATCH 'DIONYSUS IN '69' ONLINE
COURTESY UBUWEB
UbuWeb, the independent resource that posts materials for noncommercial and educational purposes, has uploaded Dionysus In '69, the split-screen documentary of Richard Schechner's play filmed by Brian De Palma, Robert Fiore, and Bruce Rubin that was released in 1970. Back in March, UbuWeb uploaded De Palma's documentary The Responsive Eye.

Posted by Geoff at 12:15 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 12:16 AM CDT
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
'DIONYSUS' AT SAN FRAN MOMA THURSDAY
POP-UP MAGAZINE SIDEBAR PRESENTS SCREENING AS PART OF WINE-THEMED EXHIBIT
Another early Brian De Palma documentary is getting attention this week, this time at the San Francisco Musuem Of Modern Art, which has been running an exhibition titled "How Wine Became Modern." Pop-Up Magazine, a quarterly live-on-stage format "magazine" that exists for only one night, in one place, debuts a new "Sidebar" series Thursday at SFMOMA to tie in with the wine theme. As part of the evening, Dionysus In '69 (a film produced, directed, shot, and edited by De Palma, Robert Fiore, and Bruce Rubin) will screen at 7pm. The film documents in split-screen the Richard Schechner-directed restaging of The Bacchae by the Performance Group. The evening kicks off at 6pm with a wine and food tasting curated by Meatpaper magazine and Blue Bottle Coffee, and then following the film screening, the Pop-Up Magazine Sidebar will commence with various artists, authors, and filmmakers tackling "the politics, humor, history, art, science and craft of California's favorite drink," according to the Pop-Up website.

Posted by Geoff at 2:38 AM CDT
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Thursday, December 10, 2009
SCHECHNER DISCUSSES FILMING DIONYSUS

Above is video of Richard Schechner discussing the filming of his play Dionysus In '69, following a screening of the Brian De Palma-directed film this past Sunday at Austin's Alamo theater. Schechner said that just as when he adapts a play and makes it his own, he felt strongly that the film was De Palma's, and that he could (and should) make it any way he wanted to. He said that De Palma rearranged some of the chronology of the performances via editing, so that the film (in De Palma's view) would play better dramatically. Schechner revealed that he and De Palma decided to make cameos at the beginning of the film: Schechner is a "kind of chubby moustached guy at the door," while De Palma walks in as a "sleek-looking young mafioso in a suit," according to Schechner. Schechner also confirmed that a gong heard on the soundtrack was added for effect during editing. The video here comes courtesy of the Austin Film Society's P.o.V. journal-- see more videos at their site.


Posted by Geoff at 6:50 PM CST
Updated: Friday, December 11, 2009 12:21 AM CST
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Saturday, November 28, 2009
DIONYSUS RECREATED IN AUSTIN
SCHECHNER TO ATTEND OPENING NIGHT, WILL HOST SCREENING OF FILM THAT WEEKEND
Richard Schechner's Dionysus In '69 will be presented by Austin's Rude Mechanicals, using Brian De Palma's filmed version of the play as a key source material. It is a "painstaking" recreation of the original production, which was performed by the Performance Group in 1968. The play will run Decemeber 3-20 at The Off Center in Austin. Schechner himself led several rehearsals for the new production, and will be on hand opening night (listed as December 4th-- presumably the Dec. 3rd performance is a preview), when he will "briefly introduce the piece immediately before the show and will attend the opening night party following." Meanwhile, to coincide with the production, the Austin Film Society has programmed a screening of De Palma's film at 1pm on Sunday, December 6th, with Schechner in attendance. The screening will be at the Alamo theater.

Posted by Geoff at 2:54 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, November 28, 2009 2:55 PM CST
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Monday, August 24, 2009
DIONYSUS IN 2009
41 YEARS LATER, JOAN MACINTOSH REPRISES ROLE OF AGAVE
When Joan MacIntosh portrayed Dionysus' aunt Agave in Richard Schechner's Dionysus In '69, itself a 1968 adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae, she was twenty-something years old. Now in her sixties, she is playing the same role in a new version of the play directed by Joanne Akalaitis (and with music by Phillip Glass), now running through August 30th at the Public Theater's Shakespeare In The Park in New York. MacIntosh was once married to Schechner, and of course, De Palma's film of the 1968 production was released in 1970. This latest version of Dionysus is getting mixed reviews, but Theater Mania's Andy Propst likes it, and has priase for MacIntosh's performance:

But the greatest tragedy belongs to the spellbound Agave, who returns to the city proudly holding her son's head, announcing that she has killed a young lion. It's a horrific moment, made all the more so by MacIntosh's fierce commitment to the woman's wild delusion.

And while several reviews find that the show's biggest problem is finding relevance in modern society (see the reviews at Backstage and the New York Times, the latter of which calls the production "toothless"), Propst noted an interesting element of the stage design:

John Conklin's scenic design, an arc of bleachers that's backed by jutting beams, suggests the rubble at the World Trade Center. Indeed, this visual only reinforces one's sense that The Bacchae remains a call to moderation in the face of the incomprehensible.

I also have to mention the amusing anecdotes regarding raccoons rustling about amidst the outdoors production. Ben Brantley at the New York Times themes his review with the raccoons, while the Financial Times' Brendan Lemon actually felt the tug of a raccoon and looked down to see the animal "hopping up and down and nibbling on my right shoe."


Posted by Geoff at 11:36 PM CDT
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