Between our work-in-progress reading of The Hannah Complex and this most recent performance at Movement Research at Judson Memorial Church, many things about the show changed. Actually, most things. Most notably, Patrick and I did not perform the piece at Judson. Every slide changed. Much of mine and Patrick’s text changed. A musical score was added. And to the chagrin of some, one whole element of the show was completely removed: each vocalists acknowledgment of the other.
In the discussions I’ve had with friends after this performance of Hannah one thing comes up repeatedly: they miss the interaction between the two vocalists. Previously, the vocalists would gently rib one another, or interrupt each other. There was a sense that the two sides of the argument presented in The Hannah Complex were – for the first part of the show atleast – mutually exclusive. The two vocalists were vying to be most convincing, to lure the audience to their side.
In this go, Patrick and I decided to remove that idea, to see what would happen if the text spoke for itself, without tacking on any sort of conflict. The two arguments are not in fact mutually exclusive, so why pretend like they are? The vocalists instead are reveling in the complexity of their presentation, perhaps using their very performance as an example of the phenomena they are discussing.
And I think we fell a little short. My close friend Dylan put it really well (I’m paraphrasing, so forgive me Dylan): “The text is strong, but the performance of the text is even stronger. Between the two versions of the show, removing performative elements does your text a disservice.” He’s right. Our pieces are performances, not scholarly papers. Judson Hannah was really focused on each vocalists dramatic delivery of his and her text: they had a grasp of it, they managed to engage it and engage the audience as directly as they could. But not each other; it was kind of like having two Jo’s from Pressure on stage. The vocalists both plead with the audience, but never with each other and so the audience has no hint about “who is right” or even if there is a “right.” This idea vanishes and it becomes wholly about the concepts of the piece. And while it does the complexity and severity of the text a service, I can see how the lack of any human drama would make this piece difficult to penetrate for an audience member.
So… how do we moderate this problem? Patrick and I are interested in the complexity of the ideas and their delivery. That is the thing we want the audience concentrating on. The visual element (slides, video) help to reinforce the themes of the piece. The musical score helps to position the audience within sections and digressions. So then does – on top of that – adding human drama give the audience too much to worry about? Or does it give them something else, something other than the brutality of information, to latch on to when they can’t take it any more?
So the lesson is that in a performance about there being too much information in the world, well… don’t shy away from having too many elements. Next time, I’ll be on stage with Patrick controlling the score and we will have a repertoire. And both of us with the vocalists. And hell… maybe even the vocalists with each other.