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In following his demented Muse, Kevin did something onstage that can only be described as COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
A college age Kevin discovers that:
WHEN IN DOUBT: DO IT!
> Since I couldn’t make an actual film in filmmaking school, I had to think, as they like to say, “outside the box”, and come up with something within the realm of possibility to justify a grade at term’s end. Well- not a grade actually. Ever the rebel, I chose the impossible to evaluate, “evaluation” alternative to standard letter grades- making it essentially a pass/fail option. I had already explored the world of cause-and-effect, making my Rube Goldberg inspired kinetic sculpture constructed from found art, in “SUSPENDED DISBELIEF”, (again, because unlike producing a film, it was something I could do), and now I had to look to other interests and capabalities for inspiration.
. I had recently seen the a piece of performance art that knocked my sox off. It was a hybrid like nothing I had ever experienced. It awakened me to a world of possibility that had hitherto remained hidden to me- and it got me to thinking in less narrow terms, toward something that might be in some way multi-media. I had recently reunited my extended drama crew for my “MADNESS AND INSANITY” theatrical review- and theatre was something I knew. I also knew a bit about the counter culture, being in no small degree, a classic hippie of the era. Fascinated with my great forefathers in this rebel guard- icons like Abbie Hoffman and Jim Morrison, I developed a minor obsession with the crazy optimism of Jerry Rubin’s Yippie declaration “DO IT”, and began to fantasize about adapting a theatre piece from the book, for my geriatric mentor Jules to come “evaluate” during the upcoming Spring Open House. I began hacking away furiously at what text lie between the subversive photos and psycedelic drawings of the wildly imaginitive comic book manifesto. A set of recurrent characters evolved, and discrete scenes began to form, as a narritive began to gruelingly take shape.
. I figured out how to navigate channels to reserve a big, cavernous performance space for my event, though the theatre department was perplexed about why a filmmaker wanted to use their facilities to produce theatre. The animation department I was registered in was confused as well. Jules wondered why I wasn’t in the theatre department, and the chair of the theatre department wondered why I was in the animation departmant. I was a man without a country, and nobody knew quite what to do with me.
. But plans proceeded. The hall was booked and the announcements went out.
. So I called together my comrades from the now defunct Most Wonderful Pandemonium Theatre Company and we met for a first read-through on the backyard stage we built to host “MADNESS”, but never used after we were busted by the L.A. County Building Inspector. Having ignored his orders to tear the platform down, it still offered a great weekend rehearsal space. There was a promicing turnout of talent that first afternoon- even if the script was still a mess. But my peers seemed enthused by the project and I was confident we were off to a good start.
. These good tidings, however, began to fade fast, and receed into troubles, as one-by-one, cast members called or dropped by unannounced to declare that they had decided to drop out. Real Life had finally overtaken all of them- and they found that though their hearts were still in the theatre, economic realities had changed all their priororities in ways they could have never imagined or foreseen. Regatabbly, so sorry to disappoint, if only I could… and blah, blah, blah. It got worse almost every day.
. But we perservered, doubling up roles and tripling them, using a new vaudeville approach where everyone used hats and glasses and scarfs to establish distinct characters in kind of a circus atmosphere. Some segments no longer made sense, because an actor would be playing both characters in a two-person scene, prompting rewrites and more rewrites. We suffered defection after abandonment- until it was down to my ol’ pal Johnny B. and I. Just the two of us. We soldiered on, (Impossibly!) for all of a day or three, until it became painfully apparent my theatre piece was dead in the water, and I would have nothing to show for a whole semester’s worth of work. And make no mistake- I was always busy with something, making art was (and is) a kind of compuslion for me, a daily artistic devotion that could not (and cannot) be denied. I was creating furiously- under the radar. But what would I have to show for it all without DO IT?
. Naturally, I went into a deep funk, bummed to the core by the premature failure, and at a total loss as to how to redeem myself. I stayed up late brooding, smoking pot and drinking beer and writing breathtakingly bad poetry, then slept until noon, aimlessly wandering through my days, until I picked up Jerry Rubin’s looney book again, and began to thumb through it. It suddenly struck me that I had missed the forest for the trees and misrepresented the entire essence of the credo. This was a wild, unruly, almost anarchist tract, a kind of loose cannon firing broadsides at mainstream culture, elucidating the zietgiest of its time, in an attempt to articulate exactly what it was that the Yippies, and by extention all Amerian youth, were striving to rebel against. The book was like a Be-In on bound paper. Yeah. DO IT was not a narrative, it was an event. I had been trying to tame it, and force it to be something it wasn’t. DO IT was a Be-In! (In effect, a rave long before its time!)
. I went from the basement to the attic within an hour, as inspiration after inspiration struck me, and the overlooked possibilites suddenly opened themselves to me like a sky clearing after a tumultous storm. I would need help. Lots of help. But I wouldn’t need actors. I would need… hippies! And in the spring of 1978, hippies were everywhere!
. I began to think of DO IT as an environmental piece, suggested by the book, though not a representation of it. How was I to convey the political content contained in those potent photos and graphics that pepper almost every page of the book? Without that textural narrative, how would I show the “revolutionary” context? I noticed there were several giant mirrors on rollers in storage inside one of the dance studios. How interesting it might be, I thought, to arrange the mirrors in a small circle with a large projection screen, to make a room people could stroll into and sit for a spell inside, to watch a repeating slideshow featuring the photos of merciless police beatings and the R. Crumb and Peter Max inspired psychedelia, the glorious protests by The People and relentless repression of The Man depicted in Jerry’s propaganda piece. Amazingly, the dance department said the mirrors weren’t being used for any performances that crucial weekend, and agreed to loan them to me. So I photographed slides of the visual content of the book, poorly, and convinced an more influential senior student to borrow a projector in his name for the event.
. So what happens at a Be-In? Music of course. And dancing… and drugs. And I had all thee covered! My comrade Shannon had a friend we liked to call “Crazy Andy” (because he was crazy!). A thin, pale fellow with a huge shock of fiery red frizzy hair, Andy was playing in a Greatful Dead-like band called “The Face of Technology” that perfectly approximated the raw, almost talentless sound of the live bands of the era. They were happy to play fer nuthin’- and the rhythm section was good enough to ensure that people would dance. As for the drugs- Andy just happened to have a near-infinate supply of high-grade blotter acid we called “Red Dragon”. He showed us big sheets of 100 hits, perforated into tiny squares: one Chinese dragon printed in red over each square of four doses, so each hit amounted to a quarter-dragon. He had so many of them, he was glad to give some away… to those in the know. Keeping very much in the spirit of it all, we made a big banner to hang above the band, reading; “FREE TRIPS”. Anyone who asked about it was to be given a quarter-dragon.
. Shannon and John and my old mate Rett Zero became my crew, everyone working furiously toward the same end. Now the only thing missing seemed to be the light show and all those shimmering blobs of undulating psychedelic color you assosiate with the experience- the smoke, explosions and laser lights. I requisitioned an overhead projector- nobody semed to use those anymore, and Shannon set to work experimenting with clear pyrex chafing dishes filled with vegetable oil and water. He would drop dyes into them and place a clear plastic film on top that trapped and distorted the mixture as you manipulated it. The effect was pretty cool! Rett set to work creating a lighting scheme punctuated by a few minor effects like a fog machine, firecrackers and a rotating colorwheel. Together, they were complete unbridled visual anarchy, with no rhyme nor reason whatsoever- in short: they were perfect!
. With just over a week to turn the tables on an event that was teetering on disaster, I was somewhat giddy- feeling proud of myself for having a Muse that was flexible enough for the task. Things began to gel quickly, and by the time they let us into the venue late Friday afternoon, we were confident Saturday’s event would prove a smashing success.
. There were risers and folding chairs for the audience and a perfect space to make a stage for the band. The Face of Technology arrived (it was a big band: there were seven of them.), and began loading in vans full of equipment. John helped me set up the media room and agreed to run the slide projector. Rett began hanging and focusing lights, while Shannon set up his effects booth. It was scarcely orchestrated chaos. There was barely enough power in the room to cover our needs, so we had a crazy tangle of extention cords running every which way, taking advantage of every possible outlet. We all worked feverishly well into the night. When the public began to arrive at 2:00 the following afternoon, we were still not ready for them- running pell mell in a desperate urgency that resembled the aftermath of mayhem.
. Yet, almost miraculously, only fifteen minutes after posted starting time, I heard back from the band, the lighting director, the effects supervisor and our media man that all was ready, and the Be-In could finally begin. But just as I was preparing to give the opening cue… an unsupervised toddler began to careen across the stage, resembling as they do, a diminutive zombie lurching from spot to spot. I saw disaster about to happen, but was powerless to stop it on time. The little tyke bounded forward and tripped over the main powercord, causing a total power blackout in the theatre!
. I saw that my mentor Jules had arrived, and had taken a seat with his lovely bride to examine the program. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, as Rett strugled to regain power in near-darkness. But something had shorted out in the incident. It took a good quarter-hour to diagnose and fix the snafu, and by then Jules had given up, and moved on to review other student projects he had to evaluate that afternoon. No matter what happened now, as far as my evaluation went- I was screwed.
. Then, as suddenly as the power was cut, it was restored. The cue was given, the band began to play and DO IT was underway. And surprise, surprise: it worked! Well! The masses had fun. They “got it” and began to make of the performance, a big raucous party. Whole familes got up to dance to the beautiful noise, including the toddler who had nearly derailed the entire affair. Though clearly against the rules, someone produced a pony keg and the beer began to flow. I don’t know who was responsible, but the sweet smell of pungent marijuana smoke began to waft through the dance floor. (Rett said band members were lighting up on stage!) Word began to spread about just what “FREE TRIPS” meant, and Crazy Andy disseminated ten or twelve hits. People really enjoyed the mirrored slide show, despite some of the suitably horrific images, prompting just the discussion I had hoped to invoke. DO IT was a roaring success! People loved it, and three hours later the room was still full of happy revelers letting their hair down and grooving to the happy vibe.
* * *
. Two days later, Jules called me into his office for a conference. It was time for Kevin to face the music. The old man announced that although he was unable to stay to actually see what I had concocted, he was inclined to give me a passing evaluation anyway, because he was mightily impressed by the obvious effort I put into it. He seemed flabberghasted that I could rally so many people to help stage the event, and he conceeded that it must have been something special to motovate so many people to work together on it. I left his office greatly relieved and once again, feeling proud of myself for having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
. And the moral of my little narrative? There are always so many reasons to throw in the towel when confronted with what seems to be intractable obstacles- none of them good ones. Shoemaker Nike was not kidding when they offered the slogan: “Just DO IT”.
> No shit.
Now a crazy college boy at Cal Arts, Kevin turns performance artist, taking A FROLIC IN THE ZEN ROMPER ROOM.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.