Friday, July 15, 2011

The Playlist

by Jackie Sibblies Drury

Jackie Sibblies Drury is one of the seven playwrights in this year's 34th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival with her play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 (click here)

Right now I’m obsessed with dance parties.

And dance party playlists.

I’ve spent the last several weeks at the MacDowell colony ( in Peterborough, NH, a beautiful natural environment where artist of different disciplines work in the woods, in solitude, pondering, indulging creative whims, steeped in transcendentalism.  From time to time they also have kick-ass dance parties.  Why?
·         You are alone-ish in the woods;

·         On good days you want to celebrate;

·         On bad days you want to punch the air, rhythmically, in frustration;

·         People who like to make art tend to be young of heart; and

·         People who are young of heart tend to like to dance.

As I’ve danced through various playlists in various spaces garnished by various iphone/pod/pads, I keep finding myself drawn to the moments between the songs. 

And I’ve been thinking about theater and performance and plays. 

In thinking about the moments between the songs, and thinking about what I could possibly write for this blog, I went through one of my playlists[1] and snipped up the beginnings and ends of any songs that iTunes let me,[2] deleting the middles, creating a stream of beginnings and endings, a series of transitions, a series of introductions, a series of goodbyes.  I let the songs end as they do on the tracks, as they do during dance parties without DJs. 

The result is above.

I am of a generation that takes play lists really, really seriously. 

The mixtape was the love letter of its time, but now the playlist has taken over, even though it doesn’t really serve the same purpose.  You don’t give your friend a playlist and hope she’ll become your girlfriend.  You invite your friend and all of her friends to a house party and you play your playlist that starts with fast songs and moves toward slow songs during which, you hope, your friend will make out with you.

Dance party playlists are different.  The point isn’t to make out, or chill out, or provide the right kind of innocuous background to support dinner conversation, or to comfort you when your boyfriend moves to Japan, or to commemorate that one spring when it rained a lot and you made a lot of eggplant. 

The point of a dance party playlist is to inspire a group of individuals to be drawn into something larger, and to feel so moved by this that they actually move, repeatedly.

Of course, this is theater. 

Please know that this is all a very, very, very smart and complex metaphor that works on many, many, many levels.

The songs have beginnings and ends in and of themselves, but in the group those meld and create interstices, varied edges that blend in unforeseen ways.  Did James Brown end his recording of “Sex Machine, Part 1” anticipating my desire to make a playlist where it fades into Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough?” 

Perhaps so. 

But probably not. 

And do those songs go together?  Do they overlap too much?  Are they too similar?  Not similar enough?  Also, both of those songs are kind of long – will people get tired of listening to them?  Dancing to them?  Will people get tired of dancing in general?  Will they get tired of life?  Will this combination of songs make my fellow dancers contemplate their own mortality?  And would it help if I got some glow sticks?[3]

There is nothing, NOTHING worse that clearing a dance floor.

There is NOTHING worse than listening to the next song fade in, watching all of those beautiful people who had been movin’ and shaking, let their arms grow limp and let their eyes cloud as they shrug and go off to get some air or a beer or, THE WORST, their bag as they head out the door.

The moments between the songs are tense.

Remember that this is a metaphor for theater.

I tried to figure out the difference between the repetition that eases you into a song – the repetition that allows for recognition – versus the repetition that dwindles to silence.

I thought about how it is different recognizing an intro than it is listening to it. 

I thought about how a fading repetition can sometimes let you savor a really great bout of dancing, but how it can also create awkwardness as everyone stops dancing and regains awareness of how stupid they look or how sweaty they are as they wait for the next track.

I thought about how similar or dissimilar the beginning of a song can be from its end. 

I thought about the ends of songs – how even the most conventional pop songs[4] end in completely different ways. How every song seems to have a different amount of space left at the end of a track – or, should I say, a different amount of time. 

I listened to the difference between the songs that end with a careless cut-off and the songs that end with a purposefully abrupt scratch.

I thought about the different silences.[5]

I thought about how long a silence had to be before it felt dead rather than alive, and if that was a factor of time at all. 

And of course I thought about theater.

[1] Titled “Can’t Fight the Funk” – a misnomer, since there is no funk is available to be fought on this playlist.
[2] Hey iTunes, what’s up with all of the not-authorized songs?  I’m not a criminal.
[3] Note: glow sticks are always a good idea.  Seriously.  They are awesome, they’ve always been awesome, and we will use them as currency after the Rapture because they are awesome.
[4] That is to say, the best pop songs
[5] Like a Pinter Pause vs. a Beckett Pause I told you this was about theater.

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