Thoughts From Loving Repeating Director Allison Hendrix
As we began to put together this blog post, our intention was to give audiences some background on Stein – a quick overview of her work and her life with Alice B. Toklas – along with information on how Loving Repeating was originally developed locally at Northwestern University, then further developed and produced by About Face Theater in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art. But it seems that anything I could say about Stein has already been said, any insight has been covered, and my greatest hope is that you will all come see the play and experience the joy, humor, illumination, and wonder for yourself. So. Rather than ticking off a list of facts for you, I’d like to share some of the inspirations – both words and pictures – that I have used in creating the concept for this production. Some words are Stein’s, some about Stein, but all serve to point us in the direction of discovery.
“And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself.” As our Gertrude looks back on her life and her works, it is not a surprise that memory is blurred, softened, enlarged, and sometimes irresponsible.
“A Lyrical Opera Made By Two To Be Sung” – Originally a standalone opera written by Stein. Within the context of Loving Repeating, Lyrical Opera becomes the method of courtship for the two women. A critic has written of Stein that after meeting Alice, “…a more complex eros came to charge her work: her fascination with human behavior intersected with a love of words themselves…” And so our Lyrical Opera “is not merely about making love, but it is making love, a creation of the two, a love lyric, a duet. Two become one in making love and in singing the words that create the opera…Two sing it, two say it, two are in it, two are it, two make it possible and indeed make it one, as a bouquet.”
“We do not purpose to be mean and bitter in discussing Tender Buttons. It lends itself to invective and satire, it is an excellent butt for ridicule, and offers a rare opportunity for all sort of sarcasm and funniness..The book does not make sense…we heartily wish to condemn this book (Los Angeles Times, 1914).” Stein’s early works were critically divisive; About the same work, Tender Buttons, was also written: “We are never burdened with a mass of detail, but when these lives are over – as all lives must be over some day – we have learned to understand passion, feelings, and thought which we seldom recognize in ourselves, much less in others…Let us welcome the new art, if it brings such wealth of simplicity and effectiveness as Miss Stein has shown in these sketches (Philadelphia Public Ledger).” We embrace the incongruities and invite audiences to form their own opinions about the accessibility and meaning of Stein’s language.
(Repetition) “Repeating a word over and over gradually breaks the bond of word and reference. A form of punning, repetition gives body to the word and assaults meaning. What remains is, on the one hand, a physical compound of sound, tone, rhythm, length, weight, look, shape, thrust, or whatever one wishes to call these things, and, on the other, a meaning which, abstracted from its carrier, tends to vanish. Free of convention and meaning, words can be used in new forms.” (Ulla E. Doyd, Getrude Stein: The Language That Rises 1923-1934)
Set design inspiration: I was most interested in the giant walls of Gertrude and Alice’s Rue de Fleurus 27 atelier, covered floor to ceiling with paintings they collected. Unable to afford the most popular painters, Gertrude first with her brother Leo and later with Alice, discovered the next generation of artists, the moderns we all know today: Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, et al.
“Is performance always in some sense erotic? What does an eros of language mean? In part, its about pleasure in the words as fondled objects of poesis, radiant in their everyday connotations, not needing to point to transcendent meaning. But the performance of language is also a performance of a particular kind of desire – a desire to touch others, to know and be known through others.” – Joan Retallack, Intro to Selections