Beginner's Guide to Saint Genet May 6, 2013

by Heidi


1. Saint Genet keeps it mysterious.  Example: a quote by Saint Genet commenting on their upcoming performances for The Stranger’s 2012 Summer AP guide reads, 

"On June 17, Saint Genet will ride to victory or death. On June 17, Saint Genet may or may not stage a performance for no audience. The company may or may not live in an apple-storage warehouse. The apple-storage warehouse may or may not be planted with a wheat field." There was also talk of a trench, a mountain, a gaucho, nitrous oxide, local dancer Alan Sutherland walking into the mountain, it collapsing, and a funeral "that lasts till dawn."  

So if I was going to read this quote as a metaphor for how it feels to research Saint Genet and/or how it will feel to view them as an audience I would say: on the one hand, this quote made a lasting impression on me (probably because it caused me to simultaneously scoff and fall a little in love) . . . but it is also vague in a way that allows the reader no satisfaction in knowing what is going on, or when or why or for whom—but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t sound enigmatic and magical.  Here is a ‘beginner’s guide’ to Saint Genet, which I feel has, necessarily, been a bit of a Sherlock Holmes series of deductions.

2. Saint Genet is named after the book Saint Genet, written about infamous writer Jean Genet by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1952.  Part myth, part truth, and part philosophy--the book is an exhaustive biography derived from the life and persona of Jean Genet.  Genet was the orphaned son of a prostitute, turned thief and prostitute, turned writer and playwright, and is known for his subversive and explicit novels and his absurdist plays.  Genet’s writing was fostered through a relationship with Jean Cocteau and he turned to writing plays after Sartre published Saint Genet.  According to Genet, “Sartre’s book created a void that allowed a sort of psychological deterioration to set in. This deterioration allowed for the meditation that led to my plays.” When asked what parts of Genet’s work he connects to his own by Interview Magazine, Ryan Mitchell responded, “Everything that has to do with hate, and lying, and stealing, and gambling, and getting fucked over. So there is that...” 

3. Saint Genet is a reconfiguration of the Stranger Genius Award winning Implied Violence after co-founder Mandie O’Connell left the group in 2010. Implied Violence insisted that, “theater can be as dangerous/infuriating/unpredictable as life and that theater can happen everywhere that life happens.”  To this charge, they gave their very visceral and surreal performances in a bouquet of venues, including but not limited to fields, abandoned buildings, a soon to be demolished hotel on Aurora, on rooftops, and in alleyways.  

4. Helping Saint Genet in their production are several hugely talented Seattle-based collaborators.  To name a few:  fashion designer Robinick Fernandez , visual artist NKO (have you seen this mural?), choreographer Jessie Smith (Dead Bird Movement, also see her dance in Gloria’s Cause by Dayna Hanson at OtB in 2010), kinetic sculptor Casey Curran, musicians Garek Jon Druss & Brian Lawlor and Salo, and a bunch more.  Check out Saint Genet's website to view the full list of the artists involved. 

5. Saint Genet may have taken the intentions of Implied Violence and turned down a slightly more maniacal road. Leading up to Paradisiacal Rites, the group hosted a series of performances called Transports of Delirium which consisted of four installations performed over four weekends in an abandoned warehouse on Airport Way.  Transports was loosely based around the Jonestown Massacre, the Manson trials, and the Oscars. The performances were viewed by invitation only, the structure of the audience was loose, and the performance took hours.  Many whip-its were done, many medicinal leeches were applied to Ryan Mitchell, and much gold leaf was applied to various bodies. 

To close, in a possible intimation of what is to come, I leave you with a quote from Antonin Artaud from his essay The Theater and Cruelty (one of Saint Genet’s listed influences) where he proclaims, “I propose a theater in which violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theater as by a whirlwind of higher forces.”