Thursday, January 28, 2010

Now You See It...

I read today that the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London may close this spring. Obviously, since I don't live in London (or even visit it more than once a decade), the direct impact of this news on me personally isn't all that dramatic. But both times we were in London, the ICA gave Catherine and me two of our best theater experiences on those trips.

We discovered the ICA by accident. On our honeymoon, in 1993, we poured over Time Out and What's On (which seems to be defunct now) to find as many different kinds of theatre experiences as we could cram into 7 days. One production that was highly recommended in both publications was by a company out of Sheffield, Forced Entertainment, performing at the ICA. The minute we arrived, we could tell that the ICA was our kind of arts venue: it had galleries, spaces for performances, film screening rooms, extensive arts education programs, and a nice big bar that was absolutely packed the night we attended (which I think was a Wednesday—not an evening that most joints are jumpin'). On top of that, the production we saw, Club of No Regrets, was absolutely fantastic: an incredibly savage and brutal play in which a kidnapper forces her captives to perform for her enjoyment. The acting was so simple and yet so raw—sometimes forcing me to lean forward to try to understand the almost mumbled poetry before exploding again in vicious attack after vicious attack; the imagery that the director, Tim Etchells, and the ensemble created was so original, so vivid, so beautifully horrible: it still ranks among my all-time favorite theater experiences.

Our second ICA experience, in 2004, was ATC's production, Jeff Koons. Rainald Goetz's play is not about the artist: it's about the art... or at least the process involved in making the art. Using very koosely-connected vignettes, he offers brief glimpses into the creative process from inspiration to execution. It was an ambitious project that wasn't always successful—the threads between the storylines were occasionally too strained—but Gordon Anderson and designer Becs Andrew created a stunning environment for the work that visually complemented the script. Nevertheless, Catherine and I both thoroughly enjoyed the production and, to this day, we can't go into a New York deli without being reminded of one of the primary images: an enormous Koonsian recreation of a Kinder Surprise.

Needless to say, I don't want to see any arts venue disappear forever. I've got a special fondness for the ICA; I'd hate it if, on our next visit, it was no longer there.

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