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Mapping Perfect Lives Manhattan

August 26, 2011

Okay. This is Paul.

So, I usually know where I’m going. Got a pretty good north, and I’d like to think I could handle myself at the helm of some sort of vessel. I love the touch, the folds and the colors and details of maps. It’s been one of my musical obsessions for the last two years. I compose with maps, usually, or the scores are at least influenced by graphic directions (and I mean directions to be taken as both “what to play” and literally “which way to read, advance or physically move”).

For the November performance I would like to design a map which both serves as a guide to the venues and accompanies the music and storyline, perhaps even acts as a score in some capacity.

Some thoughts on the site-specific nature of this whole thing:

Not knowing Perfect Lives as well as some of the others in the group, I took our site-specific June celebration as a way to learn the piece better, and to see if it worked as a site-specific piece.

It’s in fact, the best way to experience it. The characters, the stories and the events of The Day, are more poignant and more personal. The geriatric love affair that starts every other weekend with the slow jostle ‘round the supermarket and ends with “rooms adjoining and regret” is so poetic when only the five or six people you squeeze by in the aisles hear the section you’re reciting.

The term “site-specific” is tossed around a lot with regards to performances that happen at “non-traditional” venues, but the beauty of a site-specific work, is the intangible and ephemeral idea of an “event” which is experienced differently depending on where you stand, partially obscured to some, and missed totally by others.

There’s something excellent in that, like maps, you don’t get the whole picture of Perfect Lives. There’s so much missing, even from the pages and pages of details Bob Ashley layers into each scene. He tells us of Helen and John, the oldsters. Helen and John are in the Home in the morning (we assume), in the Bank at midday, at the Supermarket at 3 o’clock, and from then on (we again assume) they are at the Motel. We catch a glimpse of their day, and we are left to imagine the rest, based on the other events we do get to experience. And we intersect like a portmanteau film.

Like a tourist map for a city you’ve only got a few hours to explore, I would like to create a map estimating the paths of Helen and John and Isolde and Buddy, as they weave through Lower Manhattan as if it were their own Peoria, Galesburg, Macomb, whatever.

Intersections are important. As are pathways, landmarks and colors.

Intersections of character plots are also important. There’s a wonderful kind of family tree to the characters’ relationships, which doesn’t work in the normal genealogical tree format, but could probably be expressed well in a map format (where we can place people physically together at certain times).

For the map, I tried some sketches using the PL logo as a starting point. It’s interesting as a road map. Even more interesting if, say, the lower gray line, was a road where one could only travel east (as the pertaining episode pans left). These are interesting ways to think about the lines and circles, but in the end, way too limiting. Any city that would devise a road system like the front cover would be vexed with traffic accidents, shortage of parking, and, thus, a stagnant Main Street economy.

The position of the streets is not as important as the awareness of intersections. If the Bank is at Broadway and Astor Place (for example) could Isolde, Raoul, Buddy and his dogs meet at 8th and 2nd just before noon to plan their Bank mayhem?

I’m also not suggesting any of this is acted out (after all, it’s all the stuff that you don’t see that is the exciting part of maps and happenings).

To get this all right, I started a chart of where the characters where at what times. Even though the performer who performs Isolde at 5pm and Buddy at 11pm could potentially be the same person, it’s always fun to know/imagine where Buddy is at 5, while you’re reciting Isolde’s part.

It’s worth restating the plot in a succinct (and now linearly):

Visiting a small town in the Midwest, Raoul and Buddy, two musicians from out of town, hatch a plot two siblings, Isolde and “D”, to create a great philosophical piece of art by stealing all the money in a bank for a day, and then returning it. “D” works at the bank, and with his friend Dwayne, stashes the money in the car of an eloping teller, Gwyn and her fiancé, Ed as they travel to Indiana. To draw attention to the absence, Raoul, Buddy and Isolde (along with some dogs) create a ruckus in the Bank at midday. And so follows the reactions and stories of various persons after the heist.

This is certainly incomplete, and may be totally wrong. Feel free to correct or enhance:

    11am 1pm 3pm 5pm 7pm 9pm 11pm*
Raoul Singer from out of town Motel (Park) Bank ? ? ? ? Bar
Buddy Pianist from out of town ? Bank ? ? ? ? Bar
Helen/John Oldsters The Home Bank Supermarket Motel? -> -> ->
Gwyn/Ed Eloping lovers On the road -> -> Justice of the Peace/Church On the road? ? ?
Isolde   ? Bank ? ? Backyard ? ?
“D” Her brother (Captain of the Football Team) On the road -> -> JOP/Church On the road? ? ?
Dwayne D’s friend On the road -> -> JOP/Church On the road? ? ?
Will Sheriff (Isolde’s father) ? Some highway ? ? ? Living Room ?
Ida Will’s wife ? ? ? ? ? Living Room ?
Rodney Bartender ? ? ? ? ? ? Bar
Jennifer Bank teller Bank -> -> ?-> ? ? ?
Kate Bank teller Bank -> -> ?-> ? ? ?
Eleanor Bank teller (in love with Buddy) Bank -> -> ?-> ? ? ?
Linda Bank teller Bank -> -> ?-> ? ? ?
Susie Bank teller Bank -> -> ?-> ? ? ?

*Ashley writes that this episode occurs “Sometime later, probably Monday…” on the website version of his synopsis. “probably Monday” is missing from the 1991 Burning Books edition of the libretto. The idea that this all happens in a single day is possibly incorrect, and possibly not important.



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