I'd like to first say that Vimeo, Veoh and Youtube will not accept my film because the file size is too big, so while it is available on Veoh, I really despise the shape it's in.
In a way I'd almost like it if I could have a lot of time to pass between when I shoot something and when I deliver it to the public because I feel like time equals activity and thus a more interesting story to tell about how the film came to be. This time around mostly what kept me from editing this, my second documentary, my first film of any kind to be sorta, kinda feature length (70 minutes is nothing to sneeze at, I suppose. Of Time And The City is 65, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is 80, and my film is nowhere near as good as either. Staying Alive is 96, though, so I guess I could have shaped up a bit). Anyway, I still feel a swell of pride even knowing that my amateurish work is going to turn some people off. So, from the top then.
Lindsay Anderson, one of the greatest directors who ever lived and one of the most brilliant critical minds of his generation, summed up the waning appeal of Shakespeare perfectly in an unpublished article for a Russian film journal in 1959. In talking about Laurence Olivier's slavish Shakespeare adaptations, he said "Shakespeare has today become merely a respectable evasion of the present. His plays are performed without any feeling for their significance for today. Perhaps [audiences] could be helped...by presenting [the plays] in a different way, specially calculated for the present-day audience..." Though the disco era isn't exactly a going concern I can think of nothing that more perfectly encapsulates Anderson's wish than A.R.T.'s immersive Shakespearian studies and specifically The Donkey Show. There isn't a song played in the show's 60 minute running time written after 1981 but this is an era where barriers need to be torn down once and for all, where notions of sexuality need to have the doors blown off of them. The patrons of The Donkey Show, gay and straight, have come because the difference between heterosexual and homosexual doesn't mean a thing. Many of my friends have shown me pictures of themselves in drag for the first time at college parties. I've always been a little bored by those novel displays of androgyny because I'd never needed that torn down. I've unselfconsciously worn women's clothing before and objectively see the appeal of women and men alike; it's hard not to when the fairies at the heart of the play dance around in their underwear for as long as they do. My film will hopefully be seen as a celebration of the human body as something to be celebrated, not hidden away, nor for that matter exploited, rated or chastised. The opening in this way is my dealing with the intimidation of letting go of the confines of hundreds of years of America's sexual identity. You have to ignore everything you've been told. With any luck people will see No Fourth Wall and realize that the notion of their being a huge difference between finding men attractive and women attractive is altogether counter-productive. People are wonderful and often they look great in their underwear.
But how did I get here? On the syllabus for Theatre Appreciation was the option to make a short film profiling a theatrical designer. The trade-off: you don't have to take the exam or the mid-term. I went looking for a subject that day. My first idea was to track down the geniuses responsible for Sleep No More, a non-traditional, immersive theatrical production run out of an old high school and sponsored by the American Repertory Theatre in Harvard Square. Well, that turned into a dead-end and every show until closing soon sold out. Panicking I looked at the A.R.T. website and remembered everything I'd heard about the other option listed, The Donkey Show.An underground sensation for the six years it ran in New York and the other cities it had hit since, the bright colours and costumes were too exciting to ignore; I was so there. Two weeks later I found myself walking to the Oberon, a chic cabaret space a few blocks away from Harvard Square known for its sexually charged content. So what is the Donkey Show? It's Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream performed in a way that you've never seen before, in fact it's all but unrecognizable. But you know what? I'm glad it's so different. Having seen the play in a few straight (and squirm-inducingly boring) contexts, I was happy to have the academia stripped away and see the subtext become text.
Allegra Libonati, the supervising director, was good enough to sit down and do an interview with me before the show began. She coaxed two of her star players into it as well and so for 15 minutes I did my best to get a few things straight before the night turned into glitter and a colour pallet that'd make the Wachowski Brothers jealous (any Speed Racer fans in the house? No? Moving on). One thing that was clear immediately and you can see it in her eyes, which is why I was so keen to get her in close-up, is just how much Allegra believes in the show. Having seen it, I understand why. It is genius in that it makes something everyone knows to the point of irrelevancy (namely disco but also the bard) and gives it new life in a way I would never have thought possible. In fact if you'd told me in January that the most fun I'd have this semester was going to be at a mostly-drag version of a Shakespeare play, I'd have laughed in your face. And yet I'm still laughing because there are some people who will never get to have the fun of those who've been to a Donkey Show, who are willing to submit entirely to it. Those people are going to live a long, long time and have much less fun than those of us willing to have their shirts pulled off by women wearing only boots, hot-pink underwear and butterfly shaped pasties. At the risk of sounding of self-assured, The Donkey Show is the kind of thing you need to be open to to know what living feels like. I can tell you that when the show began and I was in the thick of things I wanted nothing more than to put the camera down and just join in the fun. Anyone who's seen me dance can probably tell you that it's a good thing there was an exam on the line.
The film proper starts with the show itself. Following the two characters through the pre-show ritual of audience gauging was exhilarating because it was like filming a movie I hadn't rehearsed. The players already had their lines down, all I had to do was capture it all. Following Dr. Wheelgood, the Donkey Show's Puck surrogate, inside the Oberon I couldn't help feeling, even as I was filming it, a little like P.T. Anderson following Mark Wahlberg around Burt Reynolds' house. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm nowhere near any of that, but the feeling was there all the same. But something remarkable took place when the show started. That night I'd been trying to shake a cold, my head hurt, it was freezing and I was just generally in a bad state. Yet, when the show got started, when the action began and I started following it, all of that went away. My sinuses cleared for the duration of the evening, my body righted itself and let me make my movie; somehow filming cured me momentarily. Walking home, the frenzied shoot completed, and realizing that I'd gone two hours without coughing made me remember just how much I love doing this. This is what I'm supposed to be doing. I got a long way to go before Boogie Nights, but there's no way I'd be happy doing anything else...though I'm pretty sure P.T. Anderson used 35mm and not a handheld camcorder. And a more experienced or professional documentarian probably would have made arrangements to have the sound recorded from the PA so I could synch it later. I am neither professional nor particularly experienced, so the audio is what my little camera picked up. I followed the action the best I could feeling at times like a combat photographer, just trying to stay afloat and get everything in focus while the show exploded around me. The Oberon is almost a black box and the space was designed so that the players could make the most of every inch of the place. From the very start the players dance athletically on walls, chairs, tables, the bar, the stage, the balconies, the two movable blocks that were the play's only real set and with whomever was nearest. The four men who played the fairies were in perpetual motion the entire time and they do of these most weekends; I get tired just thinking about it. Even more impressive is that each character is...well, perhaps I'll let you just watch and figure that out for yourself. I was as floored as anyone when the bows came around and I found out who was who.
There was a lot I wanted to do. I wanted to do ten times as many shots of double exposures. I wanted to mess with the colour way more than I did. I wanted to edit the film into a ten minute seizure-causing cluster of images. The montage set to Cerrone's "Give Me Love" is the one bit where I let myself get carried away. There was a solid half hour of dancing before the play actually started so I let my baggage get the better of me and turned three minutes of dancing into me time before I let the play run the show. If I were to do more than I did it wouldn't have been fair to the subject. The Donkey Show was the reason I was there and so to make the film about anything else would have been disingenuous. So as the Cerrone song ends and the real audio comes in, I start to integrate the opening action inside the club and from there theDonkey Show is on and you, like I did in capturing it, simply have to stay afloat. Because really they did everything. I was simply an observer, more often than not lost in the Plato's retreat they'd concocted for anyone willing to spend an evening doing something slightly out of the ordinary. There were very few moments I had any control over, but those few I feel rather proud of. They're little things, to be sure, the angle at which I captured Tytania's waking from her drug-induced stupor, capturing the ending full-on, making the bows and final dance perfectly symmetrical (goddamn how I love symmetry), those were things I made sure to capture but I can't take credit for their appearance. I can't stress enough that I was simply there with my camera while this meticulously crafted evening unfolded. The elaborately dressed regulars served as a constant reminder that I had no control, that this had happened before and would happen dozens more times after I left. I was just glad to be allowed to capture what I did and present it to those who can't make it themselves or who want to relive it whenever they feel like it. I obviously can't charge money for this film but I wouldn't anyway, this is for everyone and it's on me.