Collaborative efforts yield play about American brutality
Insatiable Infatuation With Violence started as a simple video to pass the time. Paul Vaughn said he was “kind of playing around” with video footage of violence and a track of the national anthem.
“And then it kind of grew from that, and I was like, ‘You know, this could be a play,’” said Vaughn who pitched an outline of a play to Denton’s Sundown Collaborative Theatre. Vaughn appeared in the company’s staging of Macbeth and is the group’s marketing director. “So, kind of coming from that, I started trying to put a ground plan together and just kind of a basic outline to it on how that might look on stage as a mixed-media thing.”
The result, Insatiable Infatuation With Violence, opened last week and closes this weekend.
As Vaughn crafted the backbone of the play, he found he was riffing on the American fascination with violence — a reality that plays out in contact sports, in entertainment and in the streets.
“I guess it’s probably just something I've noticed for a while, how America sees violence,” Vaughn said. “Like if you compare how other countries are pretty open about their sexuality and we’re not in this country — but violence is OK. Not to say they don’t have the same level of violence, but they don’t have the same opinion we do. I think there’s a kind of a general opinion that there’s a lot of cases where violence is OK. And I don’t think the rest of the world necessarily thinks that way.”
The American appetite for violence is hard to dispute. The horror genre — famous for its gleeful gut-bucket imagery — is enjoying unparalleled popularity now. You need look no further than your own television or computer. Violence is king in American media.
The AMC’s TV zombie series, The Walking Dead, lovingly documents all manner of wet, torn skin — undead and living. The series is so popular that immediately following new episodes, viewers can tune into Talking Dead, a talk show that deconstructs the blood, guts and human condition tested in the previous hour.
Another television series, American Horror Story, gives terror and tissue damage nearly equal play. Bates Motel carefully chronicles the slow march of horror icon Norman Bates to serial sexual sadism — a cocktail of sex and violence.
Vaughn said the violence in Insatiable deals with everything from abuse of power to verbal abuse and, finally, murder.
“Yeah, and that’s something I specifically thought about, too,” Vaughn said. “I think you can’t get to a violent act, you know, without having an array of emotions and other things that come into play with that. I think you can have a verbal, violent reaction to somebody as well as a physical one.
“I guess I think of emotional abuse and abuse of power as violence because of what it does to you. It has the same effect, in a way. I guess what I see is that a lot of people have a disconnect. If it’s not physical, then it’s not violence.”
Insatiable considers violence from a broader perspective. Coercion, threats and implications of physical violence, or the disruption of someone’s sense of stability, are all considered in the play.
Insatiable Infatuation With Violence is about a woman who wants her brother’s killer to be brought to justice. On top of dealing with the loss of her brother, the central character has to endure people hindering her pursuit of justice — even from within the justice system itself.
Executive producer Tashina Richardson said the play critiques violence, but not from a soapbox. The company specializes in contemporary theater and devised work.
“Almost everything we’ve done this season has been devised,” Richardson said. “Not everything, but a lot of the season was devised theater.”
Devised theater is a form in which a company of actors and technicians produces a work that isn’t a published and produced script. Devised theater can also involve work produced from a basic concept — without a script.
“You know, the big thing I think is that, even though we’ve done a directed, devised piece before, this one had more structure to it, more story from the outset — which was an interesting story for us,” Richardson said.
Vaughn’s idea for an exploration of violence hit on topics Sundown hadn’t touched on before.
“The idea he had of approaching it from this absurdist bent fit our aesthetic well,” she said.
Vaughn said the actors wrote much of their dialogue and lines. The company used a workshop approach to flesh out the story. They started with movement and then wrote as a cast.
Vaughn directed the project, and acted as the dramaturge. The cast played an active part in the process, and a script was produced through the project.
“I had an idea for these characters and I could have taken it further, but I just kind of held back because I’m like, ‘No, I want to see what they do with it,’” Vaughn said. “And there were just some instances I thought that were interesting — based on the brief [outline], when I narrowed it down, they were finding some of the same things I thought of. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s kind of interesting.’”
The company took Vaughn’s outline and brief character biographies and built the show from there. The piece includes video, music and dance.
“I’m reading a book about devised theater right now, and this is from a company that does repertory, too,” Richardson said. “And there was a really good quote that I read today that said, ‘A devised piece is never finished, you just happen to perform it at a certain time.’ You have the script that they will be doing, and that will probably be set three days before the show opens. But if you decided to do it again, it would still evolve and change. They’re performative, but they don’t ever have to be finished.”
Sundown Collaborative Theatre is an actor-based company, and Richardson said that naturally inclines the company toward the process of making theater as well as making a product for audiences. The trick is to satisfy actors while entertaining patrons. The company’s leaders are careful, though, to keep its attention on serving the projects, which means each show is produced by a unique process. Previous devised pieces have communicated mostly through movement or music.
“The big thing for us, in general as part of our mission, is that it’s about the collaboration,” Richardson said. “The product should reflect the process. Process is very important for us even when we’re not doing devised pieces. Bringing new people in, fresh blood, people who have different perspectives and ideas, is important. I think the biggest help is bringing in people who haven’t lived in the process.”
For Insatiable to satisfy the company and people in North Texas who love theater, the actors have to perform a play that tells a story and lands its emotional arrows on the right target.
“Something that we’ve said as a company is that we don’t want an audience to sit back. We want them to sit forward,” Richardson said.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
INSATIABLE INFATUATION WITH VIOLENCE
What: Sundown Collaborative Theatre presents a devised theater performance, with concept by Paul Vaughn.
When: 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Where: Green Space Arts Collective, 529 Malone St.
Details: Tickets cost $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 940-220-9302. Cash or check is preferred; a 50-cent processing fee will be added to purchases made with credit cards.
On the Web: www.sundowntheatre.org