06 March 2014

Shaliko's 'Strangers,' Part 2

[Here’s the second (and last) part of my analysis and examination of Leonardo Shapiro’s last big performance piece, Strangers, built with his New York City company, The Shaliko Company.  I pick up here where I left off in Part 1 (posted on 3 March and which I recommend reading before getting into Part 2) and move into some performance description.  I said that Strangers was potentially a first step towards the realization of Shapiro’s search for a new form of theater, the goal toward which his lifetime of work in theater was aimed.  Shapiro never completed the work on Strangers, due almost exclusively to funding, and that was one of his greatest disappointments at his death in 1997.  Unhappily, the concept and the script were far too personal a vision for any one else to complete in the director’s absence, and with the additional passing of composer Max Roach in 2007, an integral element in the mix that was the collaborative effort of Strangers, it’s unlikely a finished text will ever be staged.  The greater loss, beyond that of a fascinating artist and an ambitious project, is that Strangers is precisely the kind of work for which experimental theater exists: immensely innovative ideas that may never succeed on stage but which will forever alter our notion of theater’s possibilities.  Michael Wright said as much when he explained his rationale for writing “In Process: Leonardo Shapiro, the Shaliko Company, and Strangers” 24 years ago: “My personal scale for appreciation of a given performance work has generally been whether it . . ., at the pinnacle, moves me to want to learn everything I can about it and how it was made because it has changed in some way my basic assumptions about theatre.”] 

In conjunction with the diverse narrative strains, the separate production elements each played a significant role in Strangers.  Past Shaliko productions often included coordinated use of dance, music, sound, speech, design, and technology.  Shapiro promoted and employed a synthesis of arts as an important philosophical aspect of his work; however, the complexity of Strangers led Shapiro to see these elements differently this time.  Unlike Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk (usually translated as “total work of art” but gesamt can also mean ‘synthesis’ or ‘collective’), this synthesis wasn’t intended to subordinate the other arts to language or blend them into what Brecht described as a “muddle.”  As Richard Kostelanetz delineated this structure in The Theatre of Mixed Means (1968), “the components generally function nonsynchronously, or independently of each other, and each medium is used for its own possibilities.”  Speaking of the diverse collaborators, Shapiro put it thus: “The idea is to use what is strongest in each artist in order to create something new rather than force them into an homogenized predictable ‘blend.’  Collaboration,” he observed, “is not compromise!”

Each element in Strangers was to remain independent but further the “common task” of illuminating the important ideas.  Shapiro built Strangers out of four distinct layers which he called “tracks,” an analogy to the recording industry in which each instrument and voice is recorded separately then assembled into an integrated performance.  A significant difference between Shapiro’s work with tracks and its record-business analogue, however, is that the final recorded rendition could never exist live while Shapiro assembled the tracks for Strangers on stage at each performance.  Another difference is that the producer of the recording mixes the separate tracks together, whereas Shapiro deliberately elected not to mix the four elements of Strangers, leaving them “independent but inter-related.”  “What we are looking for,” wrote Shapiro, “is a sung image theater that is layered, dense and deep, but that makes sense on first hearing.”

The four tracks roughly corresponded to the elements of the Navajo chant ceremony noted in Part 1: action (theater), visual (graphic art), vocal (poetry), and instrumental (music).  It’s significant that the major collaborators who helped develop Strangers were each independent artists who worked in areas allied to each of the tracks: Robbie McCauley, an actress and performance artist; Polly Walker, a visual artist; Shapiro, a writer and poet; and Max Roach, a composer and jazz percussionist.  Had final plans for a La MaMa production been realized, they’d have been joined by Kei Takei, a dancer and choreographer, who was expected to work specifically on developing the action track further to make it more dance-like and less mimetic.  (As dramaturg, I would have concentrated on the action and vocal tracks with considerable focus on the visual as well.)

With each track operating independently and contrapuntally at the same time, the director suggested, “To imagine this form, it may be helpful to think of the music and narrative action as being like a dance and the verbal and visual tracks as being the music the dance is set to.”  The action track was “an operatic and choreographic enactment of” the Goiania story in which very few words were spoken.  This narrative, which Shapiro regarded as dance rather than pantomime, was the “heart” of the performance.  The visual track included the set, costumes, props, and various effects Shapiro engineered with shadow, light, and color.  These devices were intended to “parallel the music, mirroring the intrapsychic dimension of the central narrative . . ., and making tangible the inter-connectedness of modern urban streetlife.”  Strangers’ environment, created in collaboration with Walker and designer Kyle Chepulis, centered on the frame of a house made of metal pipes and covered with newspaper. 

Like many Shaliko environments, the set was redesigned specifically for each performance site and interacted with the performers rather than functioning merely as a backdrop or picture frame.  At the one-hour-forty-five-minute Washington Square Church performance, the venue was essentially a large, open room.  The audience was seated on three sides of the acting area with the projection screen made of newspapers forming the fourth side.  (At Yellow Springs, the audience sat on two opposite sides of a long, narrow performance area, sort of like a fashion runway.  For the unrealized staging at La MaMa, Shapiro had been discussing with artist Walker a way to use the Annex’s balconies for “visual elements that would come in from above and that would work . . . the way a mobile works.”)  The action took place in the center of the space while the vocal track was delivered from four microphones placed on stands at the corners of the acting area.  At certain times, an actor spoke lines in silhouette over one of the microphones carried by hand behind the screen.  At the edge of the performance space, but well within view of the spectators, were the keyboard and drums on which Francisco Mora or Max Roach improvised on Roach’s compositions.

The principal scenic element was the metal-pipe house, which represented the Ferreira house, the Steinberg home, a hospital, and other locales.  Covered with newspaper pages, it served as a screen for shadow play and other effects of light that Shapiro devised.  The discovery of the radiotherapy machine (Act 1, scene 1), for instance, was seen in shadow play within the frame (representing the abandoned clinic), after which one of the scavengers, played by Du-Yee Chang, burst through the newspaper covering into the playing area with his find.  The structure, which was mounted on casters and rolled onto, off, and about the playing area, looked like a child’s drawing of a house and was thus symbolic of the main theme of Strangers, demonstrating how the childlike house couldn’t withstand the onslaught of the technological culture, offering no protection to the families who lived in it.  Other scenic objects included shopping carts, which served as the main form of transportation around the stage; cardboard coffins; and various hand-held rhythm instruments the actors played on top of Roach’s or Mora’s sideline accompaniment.  One common element in many Shaliko productions involved symbolic matter falling from the fly space; like the interactive sets, this was a Meyerholdian “attraction” in Shapiro’s productions and Walker intended to extend its use in the redevelopment of Strangers. 

The several levels on which the visual track, for instance, functioned could be seen in the shopping carts the actors used.  Actors were wheeled about in them, props were transported in them, and, topped with a sheet-draped board, they became gurneys and examination tables in both the Brazilian clinic and the alien spaceship.  (The doctors in the clinic were the same as the UFO aliens, reinforcing another thematic point of Strangers.)  They were reminiscent of the carts of the Mexican Day of the Dead pageants while at the same time evoking the homeless street people often seen pushing all their possessions in them. 

The vocal track, or libretto, was made up of the first-person accounts taken from the published sources mentioned and delivered over the microphones.  Except for the Ferreira family narrative, the events of Strangers were more heard than seen.  The vocal track neither narrated nor served as dialogue for the action or visual tracks, though it might comment on these, or suggest connections which the audience was expected to fill out for themselves.  It was one of Shapiro’s strongest held principles of theater that the audience was an active participant in the theater event, “connecting the dots,” as the director liked to put it.  For example, in the sequence described below, when two exposed children, Leide and a neighbor, were taken to the clinic for testing (Act 2, scene 2: “In the Clinic”), the Mother was behind the newspaper screen.  She began to speak Hedda’s courtroom testimony about trying to figure out what was wrong with Lisa and then her lines became Jim Jones’s last speech at the People’s Temple.  While the children were being examined, Betty simultaneously recounted her UFO abduction from one of the corner microphones in short phrases between the questions by the court interrogator (who’s also an alien) and Hedda’s answers.  As Hedda/Mother came to the description of examining Lisa, Betty depicted the alien probing, and the action track presented the examination of the children in the Brazilian clinic.  Shapiro had consistently used voices musically and Strangers was no exception, and there were times, such as Betty’s delivery of the short bursts of monologue in this scene, when the vocal track and the instrumental track conflated, with the actors speaking in rhythmic cadences or pitching their voices in harmony with Max Roach’s music. 

In the earliest workshop presentation of Strangers at the Yellow Springs Institute on 5 August 1989, for example, the opening sequence included recordings of what sounded like African-American teens talking about “wilding” followed by testimony of alien-abductees describing experimentation.  These latter sounded like prepared statements, as if at a hearing or presentation; in the recording, one testament overlapped another.  These were followed by statements about AIDS that sounded like a hearing with questions from a panelist of some kind with witnesses asserting that AIDS was a hoax or conspiracy.  After this came an enactment of Hedda Nussbaum’s testimony in court about the death of Lisa Steinberg with a questioner.  This 11-minute segment ended with considerable overlapping of voices from these recordings followed by a three-minute segment starting with a ululation and what appeared to be a speech by Jim Jones.  Then there was another voice, ranting “I will fight.”  After a short silence, the Nussbaum testimony returned.  The recordings ended with about 20 minutes of Nussbaum’s testimony—no other Strangers scriptual material was presented and only the Nussbaum material seemed reenacted; the other recordings appeared to have been actualities from interviews and hearings.

Finally, the instrumental track included the Mahler recording, which evoked “what the dead children are, and what they represent in us and our society,” and original music composed by Roach and played live by Mora, like Roach, his teacher and mentor, a jazz drummer and composer.  (In the last two performances at the Washington Square Church, Roach performed his own music.  Had the La MaMa production been realized, Roach would also have appeared.)  In performance, this score was improvised according to the actors’ movements, though not in the sense of a movie soundtrack or the musical accompaniment of a silent film.  (This makes the procedure of the actors playing off of the music, noted earlier, a kind of mirror exercise: it was impossible to determine, even among the artists themselves, where the impulse started, with the music or with the actor.)  The music commented on, played against, underscored, or enhanced the other elements, while remaining independent of them.  It was intended to add a directly emotional, gut-level aspect to the performance, intensifying the impact of the other three, more cerebral tracks.  In his detailed analysis of Strangers in Text and Performance Quarterly, Michael Wright declared that “Roach’s genius is to echo the human rhythms—visceral, physical, and emotional—onstage and then feed those back to the audience as if they were happening from the audience in the same moment.”  Shapiro had intended to develop this track, the last to be conceived, further, including sampling the voices of the cast during rehearsals and manipulating them with a synthesizer, thus blurring the line somewhat between the vocal and instrumental tracks.  To make the actors’ amplified voices “work more musically with Max’s score” during performances, Shapiro planned to have new-music composer Marilyn Zalkan “do a live mix with digital delay and effects.”  These plans were never realized.

At any given moment, each of the four tracks might do different things, even tell different stories, functioning asynchronously; the audience had to decide where to look and listen and what strains to follow.  The tracks all ran at the same time but might “sometimes illuminate and sometimes obscure meaning.”  “I’m as much interested in the ways in which these tracks don’t go together,” Shapiro said, “as in the ways in which they do.”   The best analogy of which I can think, though it’s not entirely apt, is the Talmud, the collection of writings on the practical application of Jewish law and tradition: the Torah text under consideration is in the center of the page and the commentary, which can cover different aspects of Jewish life (law, ethics, philosophy, customs, history, and lore) and often touches on other subjects, is arrayed around it.

For example, one sequence from Act 1, scene 4 (“Leide Opens the Capsule”) through Act 2, scene 2 (“In the Clinic”) illustrated this complex, multi-leveled “collision montage” (a Sergei Eisenstein technique).  Leide, the little Brazilian girl played by Cathy Biro (who also portrayed Lisa Steinberg), opens the vial of radioactive material (action track) while the Kindertotenlieder plays (instrumental track).  The dialogue was part of the Hedda Nussbaum testimony (vocal track) while the girl acts out the story of Nussbaum, Lisa, and Steinberg with her dolls (action).  The interrogators of Hedda (performed by Robbie McCauley, who was also the Brazilian Mother) were UFO aliens and Jim Jones (visual track), and when the contaminated family was taken to the clinic in the shopping carts (action and visual), the Mother/Hedda delivered the text (vocal) in shadow from behind a newspaper screen (visual).  During the examination of the family, the doctors were again UFO aliens (action and visual) and Mora improvised on Roach’s musical score in a minor key (instrumental).  “So the action track . . . advances the Brazil story,” Shapiro explained, “and everything else is just commentary for that.” (I’ve simplified the description of some of the vocal track, which also included part of Betty Mitchell’s UFO-abduction narrative, delivered by Jake-Ann Jones, and a speech by Jim Jones, in the interest of clarity.)  Shapiro believed the tracks were a way “of transforming documentary material into poetry, music, and dance, of fragmenting, repeating, layering, and re-contextualizing scenes and text.”  Michael Wright, a playwright, director, and teacher, described the overall experience this way:

At times the work seems to combine elements of a radio play set to a jazz concert while we watch a shadow play perform behind a dance piece; it is extremely challenging, the sort of piece one wishes to see numerous times in order to try to isolate elements which are not easily absorbed in one viewing.

Sometimes, Wright observed, because of the many levels on which each track could operate simultaneously combined with the disparate sources Shapiro drew on for the content of Strangers, a spectator was required to synthesize “far more” than the four tracks.  For instance, because the Steinberg text was delivered while Leide was opening the radioactive capsule (and acting out the Hedda-Lisa-Joel story with her dolls), Shapiro believed, “putting them together talks about the way in which they are radioactive and how the poison of Joel’s actions infected that situation.”  At the same time, the Kindertotenlieder on the instrumental track “takes it to another level, a poetic level.”  Then Betty’s account of being taken by aliens and examined aboard a UFO was paired with the Ferreiras being taken to the clinic for testing, another connection Shapiro expected the audience to make.  Simultaneously, the minor-key instrumental track, which came out of Roach’s own response to the scene, added a direct emotional enhancement to the transport to the clinic and the two monologues, carrying the audience to another, visceral plane.  

Strangers was replete with this kind of cross-referencing, some of them involving more levels than these examples, including a reading of the cast itself.  Indeed, the cast of Strangers was Shaliko’s most multi-ethnic (a signal element in the company’s artistic commitment), including McCauley and Jones, both African-Americans; Korean Chang; Biro, a Euro-American; Dominguez, Hispanic American; and Iranian Ghaffari.  Without the script or the action ever specifying it, the presence of this international, inter-racial cast suggested another level to the presentation of the events, that of racism.

“Not easily absorbed” was certainly an understatement from the perspective of spectators unable to return several times to untangle what could seem like a jumble of unconnected images.  Clearly, Shapiro hadn’t met his initial goal of making Strangers comprehensible “on first hearing.”  Playing on the word “tracks” in the sense of path, Wright, who variously described Strangers as “exceptionally evocative,” “provocative,” and “richly textured,” also called it “a maze,” “an emotional and intellectual labyrinth,” and an “enormously complex puzzle.”  To someone trying to assemble a coherent, linear narrative from the assault of impressions instead of focusing on whatever made a visceral connection, Strangers would have been, as one viewer, a respected theater professional, described it, “a mess.”  On the other hand, someone more receptive to Strangers’ blueprint might, as did Wright, become “thoroughly . . . immersed in its complex world . . . that, for now, is perhaps overwhelming for the audience.”  Playwright Wallace Shawn (a longtime friend of Shapiro’s and supporter of Shaliko), for example, after praising the director for “not [being] afraid that someone will accuse him of trying to be too poetic” because he dared to go to “extremes of ecstasy, agony” in the production, summed up his experience: “I thought in [Strangers], he really pulled it off.”

Richard Kostelanetz observed that this problem’s endemic to the mixed-means theater of which Strangers is a prime example:

As synchronization is abandoned, so the relations between all activities, whether at any particular moment or over the duration of the piece, tend to be discontinuous in structure and devoid of an obvious focus.  As the ways of presenting material are nearly as various as the number of mixed-means practitioners, each piece demands of the spectator an actively engaged and highly personal perception.  These symptoms of apparent disorder, often leaving the eye unsure of where it should look and the ear unsure of what it should hear, challenge the audience to perceive in chaos.

He counseled that this “discontinuous succession of images and events . . . must be pieced together in the observer’s mind if the piece is to be fully understood.”  Still, audiences appeared to connect with specific moments; as Shapiro observed, for instance, “There were times when we got quite a strong vocal response from the audience.  People sobbing.  It was really interesting,” and, specifically when Leide, the little girl, died, he reported, “I watched the audience; some of them actually cry when she goes away, so they must get it.”

Shapiro wanted his audiences to connect the dots on their own, but he recognized that they’d need some signposts.  “We are putting together these different kinds of activity in a way that creates a synthesis,” Shapiro explained, “but that synthesis isn’t a recognizable form.”  He was attempting to create a montage of attractions in his most complex application of his understanding of Eisenstein’s theory (about which I wrote on ROT in “Eisenstein’s Theory of Attractions,” 31 January 2010), seeking to create what he described as “a kind of sung image theater that is dense, layered, and deep, but is also immediately accessible.”  What Shapiro was looking for, working to create, was nothing less than a new form of theater, but he recognized that “the form of the show doesn’t exist.”  However unrecognizable or nameless, Strangers was Shaliko’s first concrete step toward that new form—but it remained unrealized.

While reviewing tapes of performances of Strangers, Shapiro began discussing with his company alternatives for communicating the ideas he wanted to get across, elucidating the connections—whatever they might be—for the audience by making the episodes—the “dots” or “attractions”—clearer within themselves.  Some of the planned revision was to have been textual, but possible solutions ranged over the entire production, including acting business, props (many falling from the flies), costuming, and nearly every other element in the production.  One discussion, for instance, dealt with what symbolic costume and prop details might help signal who each member of the Ferreira family was and what Shapiro thought he or she represented.  He observed, moreover, that the audience sometimes had to block out one or more of the tracks and focus on the remaining elements to avoid being overwhelmed.  This selective inattention caused some spectators to miss part of the information Shapiro wanted them to process.  Shapiro was looking for a way to link the tracks so that they’d be less bewildering to the audience without actually merging them into that Brechtian “muddle” and without providing a packaged response and pat answers.  Strangers was full of ideas, many and varied, as Wright pointed out, “because Shapiro does not intend to make one exact, forced connection but rather to leave room for each audience member to make his/her own necessary linkages.”  He wanted the audience to find the thread that connected the disparate narrative elements as they relate to the spectators’ own lives; the tracks provided different layers of information, some of it intellectual and some emotional.  He didn’t, however, want to spoon-feed them his own associations or those of his cast.  Since making sense of the puzzle is part of what Shapiro wanted the spectators to do, being a little lost, in the sense of reexamining prejudices and received ideas, was necessary.  In Shapiro’s eyes, the audience had to be “lost in this world [so] that they really need to make the connections” with events “in the world outside the theater.”

Only two publications covered Strangers in New York City.  (Michael Wright’s study, “In Process: Leonardo Shapiro, the Shaliko Company, and Strangers,” was published in October 1991, over a year after the performances closed, though it was written upon viewing the Washington Square Church workshop and then interviewing Shapiro several times in July 1990.)  In High Performance, the performance-art journal, Allen Frame called the piece “a dirge-like collage of the bad news of the last decade,” explaining, “The Shaliko Company took a singular stand towards the tragic events.  There were no laughs, no absurdity, and no ironic edge in Strangers.  The sense of memorialization throughout the piece cast a heavy pall that threatened to become monotonous.”  The writer and photographer reported in his article “New York: The Shaliko Company: Strangers (Winter 1990), for instance, that “[W]e were asked to do a lot of intense listening.  The . . . testimonies were interwoven, at first in dissonant juxtapositions, but gradually the speeches became interchangeable.  In the end we heard the one thing they were all talking about: the incomprehensible gulf between us and them.”  Frame, who’d interviewed Shapiro for Bomb previously, continued: “Balancing the heaviness was the sophisticated touch of director Leonardo Shapiro . . . .  He elicits performances that are strong and compassionate . . . .  He stages narrative incidents abstractly but clearly, with a minimum of props and an absence of clutter.”  “The company,” Frame added, “is adept at creating parallel levels of action throughout the various disturbing situations and almost fusing them.”  In conclusion,” Frame felt, “The challenge of making Strangers work was in figuring out to what extent its horrors can be glimpsed. . . .  But the use of testimony to serve the context of theater in Strangers, the failure of testimony as it’s used by the media needed to be thrown into sharper relief.”

In The Villager (“No Stranger to New York, Shaliko Previews New Work,” 22 March 1990), a neighborhood weekly, Todd Olson called Strangers “a requiem for victims,” adding, “‘Strangers’ is a performance to watch, even to witness.”  Olson wrote, “The torment and the end of innocents; the unremembered.  ‘Strangers’ is a symphony for them . . . .”  The performance, Olson wrote, “is impressive in its athleticism as well as its sheer mass.  It is an hour and 45 minutes of running, flying and suspension.”  The Shaliko Company, said Olson, “are non-traditional storytellers” and they and Strangers “warrant watching.”

These accounts weren’t so much reviews as reports on a work-in-progress.  Shapiro said that he avoided actual reviews because he didn’t consider the Washington Square Church performances a public production but rather a workshop.  No mainstream periodical covered the production, but it’s likely they wouldn’t have known what to make of it in any case, especially in its unfinished state.  Unfinished or not, however, Strangers represented the pinnacle of Shaliko’s work in terms of its sophistication, scope, complexity, and daring. 

[While working on this material originally—Leo Shapiro was still alive then, but had already retired to New Mexico--I decided that Strangers was really sort of autobiographical. I never developed this notion, never tested it to see if it’s consistent, and I never ran it by Leo, but I think it’s true.  Leo was a “stranger”: he saw himself as an outsider—not just an avant-gardist, but a real outsider.  He identified with all the “strangers” in the play—they were him!  I began to think through the other stuff he did and the people he admired and was drawn to (Indians, the artist David Wojnarowicz, the Beats, prisoners) and how he described himself in various situations (he was one of only two Jews at Farragut Academy, for instance; he was a lone Anglo among “Cuba’s angry exiles” in his Miami schools, and so on) and the kinds of philosophy and politics he espoused—it’s all about being on the outside.  Not just ahead of the crowd, but completely different.  Strangers is an expression of this sense of himself in a way that all the other pieces only suggested. 

[I knew Leo, but I didn’t know him all that well.  I also wasn’t analyzing him when we talked—even if I had the credentials to try that, I don’t have the standing to do it.  As far as the Strangers/stranger thing is concerned, though, I’m not really going to “diagnose” Leo, but offer an opinion on how he situated himself in that context.  Clearly, he chose to make that piece for a reason.  While he may have been introduced by one of his students to the story of the Ferreira family, he put the spin on it and assembled all the other materials that ended up comprising Strangers.  And he chose the title.  I don’t imagine he actually thought of it as autobiographical, but he did acknowledge that many of his plays spoke to him about his own life—Mark Rozovsky’s Kafka: Father and Son (1985, 1990, 1992) was about him and his father; so was Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck (1976) in a way (the guy who sold Woyzeck the knife was modeled after Leo’s dad in his production).  Those were only the plays to which Leo copped to a personal-history connection; I saw links to his life and feelings in many others going back even to his high school and college work.

[The revelation to me when I lit on this connection was the understanding that Leo wasn’t a leader of the opposition, a guy way out in front with others following behind him.  That’s Ibsen, an artist whom Leo greatly respected.  (“A crowd now stands where I stood when I wrote my earlier books.  But I myself am there no longer, I am somewhere else—far away ahead of them—or so I hope.”)  Leo was outside the whole process, not just in front of it.  It may be significant—although unwittingly so—that one of the books he found important was Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game/Magister Ludi.  One lesson of the book is that, when faced with the choice of playing a game one way or another—well or badly, say—there’s always one other choice that is seldom recognized: Not to play the game at all.  Leo didn’t just elect to play the game by different rules—he elected not to play; he played his own game.  He suffered for it—society doesn’t take kindly to people who don’t play its game.  It’s also significant, I think, that he admired the Situationists—they made up their own games, too, usually to subvert the proscribed games society determined we should play.  (See my post “Guy Debord & The Situationists,” 3 February 2012.)  The Situationists weren’t trying to lead society anywhere.  They were trying to break it!  David Wojnarowicz didn’t want to be admitted to the mainstream, he wanted to smash it (see my ROT profile “David Wojnarowicz,” 15 March 2011).  The Beats didn’t want entree to the establishment’s salons—they wanted to create their own milieu.  The same with the Hippies—especially the  communards of New Mexico in the ‘60s when Leo lived there—a culture that was really “counter.”  And the anarchists (whom Leo also admired) are, by definition, against anything society structures—they want to tear it down.

[Many of Leo’s literary heroes are also stalwart outsiders: Horatio from Paul Goodman’s Empire City; Woyzeck; Galy Gay (Bertolt Brecht’s Man Is Man); the protagonists of both Hesse books he liked, Steppenwolf and Magister Ludi; Konstantin Treplyev (Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull); Spartacus (both the movie figure and the legendary hero); and so on.  I’m also sure that his affinity for sci-fi works in here, too—especially since it figured so prominently in Strangers.  In a TV play Leo wrote based on his own marriage, the character of his wife was becoming a mainstream dancer—People magazine liked her, she was proud to assert—and he was an adamantly unmarketable artist whose works no one would buy.  That's pretty much a committed outsider, I think.

[Leo loved AmerIndian culture—and they are the ultimate outsiders (though not by their own choosing).  The Taos Pueblos, whom Leo really esteemed, are steadfast in their opposition to assimilation.  They want to stay outsiders to the Anglo society.  (I wrote some about the Taos Indians in “Taos & Taos Pueblo,” 24 and 27 May 2012.) I made mention above in Part 1 of Leo’s childhood fantasy of the little boy who dreamed about coming to school armed with a tomahawk and scalping his principal.  If that’s not the image of someone who sees himself as an outsider, I don’t know what is.  (It should be mentioned that little Leo Richard Shapiro grew up to be Leonardo Shapiro, committed pacifist and devotee of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his philosophy of non-violence.)]


  1. Rick, I have posted before. I am writing about Leo in my non-fiction book about Windsor Mountain School and its people. I will likely use material from your blog, properly cited, of course. Also, it is fairly easy to find out your identity just by following some of the URLs listed on this blog... Rick Goeld

    1. Mr. Goeld:

      You're more than welcome to use anything I've published--"properly cited, of course." As for my ID, you're welcome to that, too, if you want to track it down. I'm quite aware you can do that. I do wonder why you think you need it, though.


  2. Thank you. I have asked Michael Preston at Trinity College, and Jeffrey Horowitz of TFANA for input about Leo. Perhaps you would like to read a draft of my work and comment on it?

    1. Mr. Goeld:

      Thanks, but I don't think that's necessary. Mike and Jeff knew Leo much better than I did. And, of course, Jeff went to WMS with Leo.


  3. Just stumbled upon this and didn't realize Leo was thinking of me for doing more music for Strangers. I was part of the crew at the Washington Square Church performances. Great memory of one of the greatest mentors I have had in my life.

    1. Hi, Marilyn!

      Remember me? I hung around for a while.

      That remark was quoted in Michael Wright's 1991 article in 'Text and Performance Quarterly,' "In Process: Leonardo Shapiro, the Shaliko Company, and Strangers."

      Thanks for your remarks. (There are quite a few posts on ROT concerning Leo and his work--some of it before Shaliko. Use the search engine or poke around in the archive.)