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1. Money

Exchange of currency that maintains its value outside the performance. Perhaps it is also necessary that it be a zero-sum game (one person's gain corresponds directly to another's loss)?1


2. Nakedness

There's a caveat here, something about the difference between the naked and the nude?  Nudity on stage is always scripted (barring wardrobe malfunctions, though those should be cross-listed with Accident, below) but it doesn't change the fact that, well the person is naked. Nakedness trumps scriptedness.


2a. Sex

Same caveat as with Nakedness, but the caveat is probably even more irrelevant.  (But you can see the difference in full force in one's varied responses to watching pr0n, and looking out your window to see you neighbor getting it on.  Or even, say, the difference between professional and amateur pr0n.)


3. Accidents / mistakes

This is why it is so exciting to see performers go off-script to deal with a technical error or flubbed line---we all sense the sudden injection of a moment of the real into the controlled artifice of the stage.


4. Chance / synchronicity ("Is it real or is it Memorex?")

Moments of the unexpected and unplanned interjecting themselves into the performance, but in such a perfect way that one wonders if it wasn't somehow planned.2 Sometimes overlaps with or augments the "Accidents / mistakes" category.3


5. Fire and burning things

The smell of it, the smoke. When it's burned, it's burned.4


6. Dirt + mess

Mud caking on skin. Water being sprayed on people and their clothes. Food being thrown on people and ground into their hair and clothes. The smells that ensue of wet earth, crushed fruit loops, ketchup and Jell-o.4




1 The Money Conversation did this for me, in a kind of revelatory way.  I ended up staring at Ben Franklin (which I had fished out of her pants in front of a full house at PS122) for half an hour after the show, trying to decide what to do with it.  Keep it?  Give it back?  Walk out of the theater and give it to first homeless guy I ran into?  Walk out of the theater and into the deli across the street, break the $100 into 10 $10s and give them to the next 10 homeless guys I saw?  Keep the $100 but then buy the artist $100 worth of stuff off of her Amazon wishlist?  Or maybe buy her $50 worth of stuff and keep the other $50 for myself?  The options were endless and rarely has a performance affected by real-world decision-making to such a profound (and paralyzing) degree.

2 I'm thinking of my experience seeing small metal objects in Hannover. The audience sat in stands overlooking a public plaza at the entrance/exit to the subway. We wore headphones through which music played, and eventually the voices of the four actors. At the beginning, however, we didn't know how many performers there were, or who they were in the crowd. And this uncertainty about the scope and details of the performance allowed everything to be potentially a part of the performance, as when, on a crescendo in the music, dozens of pigeons rose up from the plaza and circled overhead. My immediate, irrational response was, "How did they get the pigeons to do that on cue?!"

3 When I was in high school I saw an outdoor production of . . . well, it was something Shakespearean . . . in an arcaded courtyard at UVa. At some moment a plane flew overhead, making it hard to hear the actors, who responded by stopping and looking in puzzlement at the sky. This part I would classify as an impromptu response to an "Accident" (although I'm sure it happened often enough that they were prepared to deploy their airplane bit as necessary). But my memory is that the airplane became audible just after one of the characters said something about birds, or a great noise, or the gods in heaven---something that then made the bit with the airplane seem perfectly scripted.

4 These both arise from the Sam Gold's production of Sophocles' Electra at Williams (opening this week.) Dirt is spread across the stage by Electra, who rubs it over her skin, buries herself in it, waters it to make mud which she bathes in. Flowers and polaroids are burned and then extinguished with libations of milk. When Clytemnestra is killed the Chorus (the whole cast, really) celebrates with a food and water fight, which is absolutely disgusting: actors sliding about in crushed tortilla chips and fruit loops and Jell-o and milk. The smell of the fruit loops is bizarrely overpowering. While this takes place Electra strips down and is hosed off, and the washing clean of her is quite affecting. There is a visceral quality to the whole play which hinges on the absolute reality of Electra's abasement in filth and mud.

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