The term avant-garde comes from the French vanguard, a military term describing the troops moving at the head of an army or the forefront of an action or movement. During battle you would literally, “advance your guard.” Then, sometime in the 1900s, the word avant-garde started to be used to describe new and experimental concepts, particularly those with relation to the arts.
Among other inspirations, it was this idea of avant-garde art having a militaristic or political agenda that fueled a lot of the themes and actions throughout our play. And thus, the title of our new show, ADVANCE GUARD by Ming Peiffer (me), says a lot about what we, at Spookfish Theatre Company, are trying to accomplish with our artwork and with this piece in particular.
The show centers around the friendship of the main characters, Willy and Milo, art school dropouts feeling dissatisfied with their artwork and lives in general. Following the prologue, the action begins after Milo revisits their former art college, and steals what he believed was an under-appreciated work of art hanging in the hallways of the school. After a surprise visit from the cops, it is revealed that Milo was ordered to steal the painting from a mysterious artist with a cult-following, known as Paul a.k.a “The Prophet.” Eventually, Milo convinces Willy to join him in fleeing the city and moving to a art commune rumored to be headed by Paul and inhabited by a number of talented young artists. It is after they arrive, that we really start getting into the meat of the play.
So, a lot happens in two hours.
It’s difficult to describe the effect of the show without revealing any spoilers, but there is a driving force that resonates throughout the story that may give you insight to the content of the play, and that is the question:
“How far will you go for your art?”
In my opinion, art is about making choices. More importantly, it is about the effect these choices have on those who experience your artwork. This is a question that all artists must face at some time in their lives, even if they confront it unknowingly. At some point (or at many points) throughout an artistic career, one will be tried in many ways. You will have to assess your own personal aesthetics, your beliefs, and your intentions for the work. Some of us will sell out. Some of us will give up entirely. Some select few will lead that magical life wherein they stay completely true to their artistic identity and everyone freakin’ loves you for it. Unfortunately, I feel the latter is becoming less and less of an attainable goal in our current society. Our world is now so addicted to the fast-paced. Our new generation seeks big bang instant-gratification. Our youth are oversexed, under-appreciated, totally disillusioned. (And what is ‘the youth’ nowadays? I feel like now people remain kids well into their 40s.) This disillusion is reflected in our artwork. It’s reflected in the theatre. There is no money in the theatre. And now, even Broadway (and even off-off Broadway!) is echoing the trends of mainstream cinema, producing revival after a revival. I await the horrific day in our future when they make a musical version of Paranormal Activity 16. (Wait – maybe that could be cool?)
This is a play about the sacrifices one is willing to make in order to make your art the way you want to make it. This is something that Kat Yen (Co-Artistic Director, Resident Director of Spookfish) and I, have been struggling with during this weird point in our careers where people are starting to take notice. There has been a distinct shift for us and how people perceive our company and our artwork. The type of theatre that Kat and I have committed to make since the founding of our company went from being viewed as “just a hobby,” to being accepted as our real life dedications and professions in the eyes of the public and theatre professionals. (I will be attending Columbia University for a MFA in Playwriting this Fall, Kat was just accepted to the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab.) And along with this shift in perception has come a demand for us to make a certain kind of work. I’ve found people don’t want to trust our opinions because we are young. Or they don’t want to see us doing a work about government censorship (Pornography for the People, HERE Arts). Or about mental illness (RELAX! ALICE, June Havoc). They want twenty-somethings to be talking about twenty-somethings. And while I do put a lot of these cliched, “coming-of-age” motifs in our play ADVANCE GUARD, I also think the work offers an insight into our generation of creative, young thinkers who haven’t felt like they’ve found their niche in this world, if there is one at all.
In essence, this is a story about a group of dissatisfied artists who don’t connect with the work that is currently celebrated in the mainstream. Artists who believe that even the definition of what is avant-garde has been subverted to sell paintings and turn profit, rather than actually describe innovative, interesting work. Artists who believe that the only way to create truly novel art is to risk your life fighting for it — regardless of the outcome.
ADVANCE GUARD by Ming Peiffer, Directed by Kat Yen, presented by Spookfish Theatre Company in co-production with Horse Trade Theater Group.
Playing now May 10-19, 2013 at The Kraine Theater (May 10-11 @ 8 p.m. May 16, 17, 18 @ 8 p.m. And May 19 @ 2 p.m.)
*WARNING: Contains full-frontal nudity, explicit language, rampant drug use, excessive violence, and strong opinions.