Through some heavy finagling, Rufus wainwright’s first studio album in 3 years has made it to my computer. I could not be any more delighted. The sound is astonishing. His recent traumas have not caused any loss of his genius. God, I love Rufus Wainwright. When I am dead, I want to be buried in headphones where an eternal Rufus Wainwright collection constantly plays as I leave this world.
My boyfriend has been pretty excited for this to air. I’ve got to say, from what I’ve seen, the production is fantastic. I’d like to watch it in its entirety. I find myself getting more lethargic by the second. Anyways, watch this. This modern day version of Hamlet will be online for free by tomorrow.
Popular music is an accessible media form that dominates airwaves and cultural obsessions. A new star that has recently exploded into this world of pop music is named Stefani Germanotta, known by audiences all over the world as Lady Gaga….
Lady Gaga: Crazy Musician or a Theatrical Genius?--- BY ME
Lady Gaga: Crazy Musician or a Theatrical Genius?
Popular music is an accessible media form that dominates airwaves and cultural obsessions. A new star that has recently exploded into this world of pop music is named Stefani Germanotta, known by audiences all over the world as Lady Gaga. Germanotta has reached an enormous level of mainstream success in a relatively small period of time; and she has proven that she is no one hit wonder. In fact, within these two years she has had six number one records. Her music is arguably similar to most music with a dance beat, but her debut album the Fame has gone diamond, selling over ten million copies. So then, what makes the pop star, Gaga so special? I believe that her popularity can be attributed to her performance, which has deep roots in the world of theater.
There are only two albums listed in the repertoire of Gaga’s work, and one of the two albums is technically a rerelease. She is still in a nascent stage of her work. Is it fair that she is seen as an international icon amongst the ranks of Madonna? Is it justified to call her the princess of pop, especially when the only thing “pop” about her is the melody of her songs? I believe that the music is fascinated by a theatrical star, confusing her with a pop musician. Whereas the world of pop music promotes bubblegum imagery, with unobtrusive lyrical themes, Gaga who is often dressed without pants, sings specifically about fame, sex, and death. Her performances consist of disturbing dance moves, and elaborate sets that promote violence and murder. According to an article written by Jon Pareles in the New York Times, “It quickly became apparent that Gaga is more than just a shiny pop package. She’s a phenomenal performer with a myriad of tricks up her haute countered sleeves.” (Pareles). I believe that these performances outweigh the importance of the music, and that her position in the pop world is a generalization due to both her gender and the sound. Though largely recognized as a musician, Gaga, a character in her own right, is an avant-garde theatre artist who has been combining techniques, theories, and styles created by theatre revolutionaries such as Aristotle, Bertolt Brecht, and Antonin Artaud.
To begin this analysis, I will start at the beginning of theatre, with Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle defined tragedy as “an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity… Such an effect is best . The tragic wonder will be greater than if they happened of themselves or by accident…” (Aristotle). If Aristotle were to categorize Gaga’s performances as either a tragedy or a comedy, he would certainly pick the former choice. These performances have a loose narrative based on a battle with fame, sex, or monsters, which always end in death. Therefore these elements within her performances summon fear, sadness, and other strong emotions. In one of her number one songs, Paparazzi, the story is a commentary about the death of a celebrity, a tragic story. The lyrics of the song, do not mention anything about death though. Yet, through her interviews, she explains the story and the concept behind the song. Celebrity status is certainly referenced throughout the repeated chorus of Paparazzi:
The story outlined here, is that about Gaga being in love with another celebrity. Although the song says one thing, her performances of this song, most notably at MTV’s Video Music Awards, say another. Connected through movement and music, this performance which I will later discuss in depth, concludes with blood pouring from her chest, while she hangs in the air from a glitzy and glamorous noose, vividly depicting death. There are many performances of Gaga that contain this morbid theme. Because her performances contain similar stories and her actions are united through songs, action, and character, Gaga’s performances can be united under Aristotle’s noted category, the tragedy. Tragedy, according to Aristotle is “is a representation of a serious, complete action which has magnitude, in embellished speech, with each of its elements [used] separately in the [various] parts [of the play]; [represented] by people acting and not by narration; accomplishing by means of pity and terror the catharsis of such emotions”. (Aristotle).
Since she is a tragic performance artist, the elements of drama that are listed within the Poetics must be accounted for within her performance. The first element is Plot. Aristotle says, “Plots are either simple or complex, for the actions in real life of which the plots are an imitation, obviously show a similar distinction” (Aristotle). Gaga’s plots are rather complex. She weaves multiple story lines about her treasured themes through the songs, and are linked together by spoken dialogue that occurs between select songs. The story that lines the show is about the demise of Gaga. In a recent interview at Fuse she commented on her tour: “If I show the media what my demise and death looks like as the artist Gaga, then they will stop looking for it”(Fuse 3) and this statement serves as the basis for the concert, the Monster Ball tour. Plot becomes obvious when she sings Paparazzi while battling a gigantic robotic octopus. The octopus is the monster, or the concept of fame, which she has groomed the audience to understand. Gaga is faced with the task of destroying it, or being destroyed. There are other stories about battles with alcohol, and battles with sex, but they all escalate to this final battle, providing a loose yet smoothly justified story line. Since there is this battle-like premise, Aristotle would applaud Gaga as he believes that a well constructed plot should be single in its issue (Aristotle). Though Gaga, is eaten at the end of this segment, she reappears for an encore. She engages in the act of killing her fans with a gun that emits strobe lights. Though this death is not thoroughly explained on stage, we are metaphorically aware of the death that the fame has caused; fame has killed us all.
The second element that is discussed in the Poetics is character. Germonatta exceeds in this category without having to look very far. Gaga is foremost her stage name. Clearly, she has created this character inspired from Queen’s song from 1984, Radio Gaga, for a purpose. The purpose being, that she can expand upon popular musical conventions, and become a character who is always engaged in entertaining. Aristotle says “a person of a given character should speak or act in a given way, by rule either of necessity or of probability…” (15) Gaga does just that, which can be proved from footage before she became her iconic self. Germonatta was on a behind the scenes reality show, where the premise was for a secret actor to annoy someone till they reached a behavioral explosion. In this footage, Germonatta had straight brown hair, dressed as a girl would usually dress in the summer months. She orders a salad, and becomes aggravated that the restaurant has ruined her meal, which they attempt to force feed to her. She reaches her boiling point, causing a large outburst, and thus does not win any cash. This natural image of Germonatta conflicts with the image of Gaga. Audiences have come to accept Gaga, as a peacefully minded yet sexual deviant who is constantly transforming her image: “I’ve never been really secretive about me wearing wigs” Says Gaga. (Fuse 2) Everything about her is concocted to form her ever changing and evolving image. Her outfits often represent her emotion or they emphasize the story that laced the performance. For example, during her performance at the Brit Awards, which was dedicated to Alexander McQueen, she wore a long white dress constructed from what looks like chiffon. She also wore a towering face mask that extended towards the sky. McQueen and Gaga were close friends and designed many of her outfits. His recent suicide had prompted Gaga to give this performance a nostalgically sad, yet uplifting vibe, and her outfit did echoed this idea. She opens with her song, Speechless, in a long and somber gown; she is clearly in a state of mourning. When the song begins to amplify as well as transition to a more elevated state, the mask is removed as well as the gown covering. Her hair is in a Monroe-esque form and wings are discovered to be underneath the gown. These accessories clearly symbolize his death as Marilyn Monroe like McQueen was an iconic fashion figure who also had a tragic death. The performance takes another turn as Speechless becomes Dance in the Dark. She stands up from the piano and walks alone towards center stage. Her outfit transforms, and she is now without covering on her legs, like the classic image of the leotard wearing Gaga. She gyrates her entire body in a passionate dance. These transitions all have meaning, mainly that life goes on, and that her dear friend will be missed. Her actions, and outfits transform, but stay within the realm of Gaga’s world.
Throughout this performance she always has the same manner and attitude. The outfits may change, but the themes and ideals that have created Gaga are consistent throughout her young career. Her manner of speech is very contrived with specks of a British inflection. She claims that Gaga is not a character, and that this is how she behaves, but we cannot believe her. First of all, Germonatta was born in upper Manhattan, and led a very privileged life. She was heavily involved in the New York club scene, and functioned as a burlesque dancer. Since these facts are well known, we can question her obviously controlled manner of speech. This is a most definitely a forced accent. On Boiling Points, which I have referenced before, Germonatta hardly sounds the same Gaga sounds when she gives interviews or addresses her audiences. Unlike most artists, Gaga is in charge of every detail of her tour, allowing her to construct her gruesome vision, and promote her character to shine. Therefore Gemonatta clearly differs from Gaga. Gaga may be a character to give voice to the themes and the extreme stories which Germonatta would like to portray on stage, but Gaga is not an extreme version of Germonatta. Gaga is an elaborate creation of a club-kid fashionista who, on stage only participates in stories involving fame, sex, monsters, and death.
Thought is the next of the six elements that Aristotle discusses: “Under thought is included every effect which has to be produced by speech, the subdivision being,—proof and refutation; the excitation of the feelings, such as pity, fear, anger…” (Aristotle). Certainly Gaga’s performances are motivated by feeling and thought. Her performances are specifically constructed to be graphic in nature. There are reasons behind these elements and the action of the concert which link to the concept of thought. Gaga has often expressed through interviews that her goal is for everyone to be comfortable with whom they are. She expresses this idea by showcasing the most elaborate situations on stage, and resolving the songs by moving on to the next part of the concert. By depicting bizarre situations, the audience is assured that their bizarreness is accepted by Gaga. These emotions and stories are constructed through dance, which is often very uncomfortable. Thought is used within the movement through careful choreography. For instance the movements within the dance are hardly smooth, and sexual lacings often tie the movement together. Therefore, the dance, not the words represent the thought behind the performance. Combined with dance and spectacle, the thought behind the whole performance helps to relay the song’s meaning. As I pointed out earlier, Paparazzi is not blatantly about a celebrity’s death. Yet, when Gaga commented on her performance she says, “The video and the live performances are layers of more expression, which grow and change what the song is about endlessly. It was meant to be a pop culture commentary.” (Fuse 3) Through the performance which will be detailed later, her thoughts become lucid and the audience can identify with her themes.
Her songs have themes that revolve around sex, fame, death and monsters. Alejandro, according to Gaga is “my fear of sex monster. In that song I’m saying goodbye to all my past lovers. It’s symbolic to me moving on.” The lyrics are :
Don’t call my name. Don’t call my name, Alejandro. I’m not your babe. I’m not your babe, Fernando.
There is a vague connection to avoiding men from her life, who may have once been romantic interests. However, Gaga’s interpretation of the song shines when she performs the sexually charged number. The strength of the thought is not clear through only the lyrical content. This number is unlike any other performance I have ever witnessed. She begins on stage solo, dancing by herself. The male dancers reveal themselves wearing headpieces and arm sleeves that contain both skulls and cross bones. One dancer begins the action that lies beneath the theme of the song, by placing his arm through Gaga’s legs and clutching it inward. Once she is grasped close, he lifts her into the air, and a procession of passing her from man to man follows suit. This action symbolizes the control that the men have over her. She cannot escape from them since they are in complete control. The conclusion of the song brings different circumstances though. Finally being placed upon the ground, Gaga runs away from the dancers, yelling her chorus towards them. Thus she is eventually free from these ex-boyfriends, which was her proposed thought behind the song.
Her song Pokerface is another song that lacks substantive meaning, but through the molding of her tour, we understand the thought behind the song that she says is, “about fantasizing about women when I was in bed with my ex-boyfriend”. The lyrics are:
I wanna Hold em like they do in Texas Plays Fold em let em hit me raise it baby stay with me, I love it Luck and intuition play the cards with spades to start and after he’s been hooked I’ll play the one that’s on his heart
Can’t read my, can’t read my No he can’t read my poker face (She’s got to love nobody).
To the listener tuning into a radio station, the song is blatantly about poker. However, during her Monster Ball performance, Gaga, dressed in a red leather bikini and equipped with a red leather newsboy cap, makes the song raunchy. In the pre-chorus, a male dancer lifts and extends her leg past her head as he strokes the inside of her thigh. Once she is put down, another male dancer is thrown into the equation, as his head moves in circles around Gaga’s crotch. She holds his head, providing dominatrix flair to the song. With the added sexual elements, we can make the connection that the song is about sex, though her explanation about fantasizing about a woman is not thoroughly portrayed. However, upon closer examination, when the performance is paired with her set, which consists of electronic screens that contain the image of a female woman’s face. This face is projected in such a massive way because the woman’s face represents what is happening behind Gaga’s “pokerface”. The idea, which is Gaga’s sexual fantasy, is justified through the lighting that projects moving spirals upon the stage. In this element, the swirl represents Gaga being in a daze or in a dream. Relating the production elements to the electronic screen that projects a female face, it is plausible to relate the girl’s face to the dream that is being referenced to in the song.
Therefore, these two performances of Alejandro and Pokerface emulate Aristotle’s element of thought. They reveal character, by showing the inner working and thoughts that compose Gaga’s character. Most importantly, the tour constantly references the themes of her album. By exposing her personal stories and opinions through interviews it is plausible that Gaga has successfully infused Aristotle’s third element, thought, into her live show.
Diction, “mere metrical arrangement of the words” (Aristotle), is the fourth of the elements listed in the Poetics. Singing in the pop genre, she clearly utilizes diction, in that she chooses the words of her songs and performances carefully. Her songs are carefully crafted to rhythmatically fit, and often rhyme. She believes in easy melodies, and music that you can sing along to, which is why the songs have standard setups. Most of her songs are a-b-a-b-c-b, just as most songs heard on the radio. Within these songs are simple words. Extraneous language is not seen within the world of Gaga. The lyrics are direct, to the point, and carefully crafted. In fact, Gaga invents new words and sounds to express emotion. For example in Bad Romance, the song begins with “Rah rah rah rah rah”. (Lady Gaga) Is this just a hyperbole for a Gaga sound, or are these words meant to express the gritty intensity of the song?
For Gaga, diction is another way to express to her theme. In particular, many of her songs reference past cultural events that deals with fame and death. For example in Dance in the Dark, Gage sings”
You will never fall apart Diana You’re still in our hearts Never let you fall apart Together we’ll dance in the dark.
Here, she obviously references the late Princess Diana, promising that she will not forget her memory. She often mentions Princess Diana through her performances, and the reason that she does is to put her themes into a realistic context. But the diction is important here, because of her specific word choices. The segment has a very poppy feeling. The words are short and planned to be in a direct rhythm. When put to the dance beat in Dance in The Dark, the words fit in a simple manner and the song is easy to follow along with. As an audience, we are able to relate to her word choice, because the world was a witness to the tragic car crash that took Princess Diana’s life. Her words are also very graphic and distinct. She begins Dance in the Dark through a vivid tale of plastic surgery:
Silicon, Saline, Poison Inject me Baby, I’m a free Bitch. These words are rather irritating. Silicon and Saline are references to breast implants, where as the mention of “Poison, Inject me.” (Lady Gaga) is a literal reference to the commonly recognized procedure, Botox. Plastic surgery is not a pleasurable experience nor is it pleasing to hear about. The words are important, here, because they are supposed to make you uncomfortable, as well as insecure. Also, the words remain short and do not form into a clean rhyming pattern. Though the words do not rhyme, the words flow in a hard manner and are easy to pronounce, especially in song. Their harshness is from the strong sounds formed by the “s”, the “b”, and the “ch”. According to Gaga, the song is about a girl who engages in sexual relations with the lights off, because she is insecure about her body. The words emphasize the feeling that the song portrays. Insecurity is represented through the harsh word choice, the short phrasings, and the lack of rhyme. Diction to Aristotle should be appropriate to the character who speaks them, and the words are not out of character for Gaga. Her formation has become so complex that it has become standard that she will be graphic and blunt in her speech. After about a year and a half of receiving worldwide attention through the media, Gaga is full of surprises, yet none of them are surprising, including her diction in performance and in song.
Melody is the next element required in the Poetics. Since Gaga is a musical artist, who is more importantly a theatre artist, she obviously uses melody in her performances. In Greek theatre, the melody was meant to shape the overall plot, as song appeared through interludes by the chorus. In Gaga’s world, melody is the main building block of the performance. There are only concerts because of the songs. And these performances are outrageously choreographed and infused with personal themes, because they reiterate the lyrical content of the songs. The melody is important, because the melody gives reason the performance. Themes and the plots are given voice through the creation of the melody. The verses explain the story, where as the chorus’s emphasize the main points. For example in Pokerface, the verses that I have previously mentioned are about a poker game. The verses therefore provide the background to the story. When she sings the chorus, the point of her fantasy becomes clear, and this idea illustrates the main concept of the song. Therefore the structure is used to emphasize the most important elements of the song. The chorus, as it is repeated, is generally more substantive than the verse or even the bridge.
Spectacle is listed as the last element in the Poetics because Aristotle believed that it was the least important. However, after observing Gaga’s performances, and her actions within the public eye, I would argue that Gaga places a greater emphasis on this element than the tragic playwrights of ancient Greece. The Greek playwrights placed less value on spectacle because Aristotle had listed the element last on the list. Spectacle encases everything about Gaga. Whether on the stage, or walking through an airport, Gaga is always decorated in elaborate outfits. The garments aren’t clothes promenaded on runways during Fashion Week. Instead the clothes are art pieces, or as she calls them “fashion installations”. These outfits have been crafted personally by her or by her celebrity fashion designer friends like, Alexander McQueen and Giorgio Armani. These clothes are representative of her inner most thoughts. For example, at one point she wore a dress made up of dead “Kermit the frog” dolls, which she explained as functioning as a statement that belittles the wearing of fur. However, her outfits on stage are more of a spectacle since they directly relate to theatre. A review in the Wall Street Journal says:
She grabbed attention beyond the music world with outfits that make her look like a refugee from a sci-fi film. In concert on video and at past awards shows she has sported full facial masks, worn planetary rings around her head, and framed her face in what looked like a bird’s nest. (Jurgensen)
From this review, it is clear that everyone takes notice of what she is wearing. The eye grabbing outfits worn by Gaga are intentionally made this way, to attract us to the performance. For example at the MTV VMA awards Gaga sported a white leotard with feather like accessories, including a headpiece. The leotards purpose was to remain true to her staple look, but the white color was symbolic. This toned down color symbolized purity. This purity is related to the performance, since it was an allegory to the death suffered by Princess Diana, someone who seemed pure in her portrayal by the media. The headpiece, however, was symbolic for the fame monster. The feathers created a bird like monster on top of her body. Thus the outfits were clashing with each other. Princess Diana was a world recognized figure, clearly influenced by the fame monster, represented in the garment, specifically the headpiece. As previously mentioned, the end of the performance shifts to an end with Princess Diana’s symbolic death. The outfit becomes stained with a bright red substance, representing blood. This special effect was a complete shock to the audience, thus a spectacle.
Later in the evening, Gaga accepted an award completely covered in red lace. She also sported a red crown. This outfit was representative of the death of celebrity. The red represented blood, as she was covered from head to toe. The next time we saw Gaga, she was accepting another award. Her costume had once again transformed. In the audience, the camera captured “Gaga wearing what looked like a white wreath-type head wrap which looked a little fantastical and, almost like the woman herself, out of this world” (Vena). This circular head dress represented a halo accustomed to the image that has been constructed to represent a heavenly angel. These outfits clearly tell a story, yet are intended to shock the audience. Therefore costuming is an aspect of spectacle that we have come to accept as being one of Gaga’s apogee of her performance.
Another spectacle like feature of the show is the set, including the theatrical elements and technological advances that weave through the tour. The Monster Ball tour is set up behind two large electronic screens. They break away eventually, but the screens always remain on the stage. Often through these performances, what looks like LED lights, portray graphic and startling images. For example, throughout Pokerface, the screens flashed images of a girl’s face, staring straight into the audience. While the image alone is certainly eerie, the face begins to twitch as extreme blinking and facial movements overtake the picture. This larger than life image provides a spectacular scene. Sam Sessa from the Baltimore Sun wrote, “The words “Haus of Gaga” and “Candy Warhol” flashed onto a cloth screen. The videos shown throughout her performance were reminiscent of scenes from an ultra-eccentric fashion show.” (Sessa). Here he mentions the spectacle of the costume, and the spectacle of the stage.
Another instance of a spectacle takes place in her performance of Just Dance, where she dances inside of a large glass cube. The screens provide transformative and psychedelic images of moving lights, but the focus is drawn to center stage where the cube rests. The cube of extreme height and width, is pushed out from upstage to lie in the middle. The cube appears fragile, yet Gaga stands on top of the piece equipped with a keytar and metallically sequened leggings. During the second chorus she is propelled downward into the cube, where two male dancers are seen as trapped within a cage, the box being the cage. This spectacle is also symbolic. The cube represents the idea of being trapped, and the song tells us to “just dance”. Therefore the synthesis of these two ideas equate that when a person is trapped, you have to dance, and make the best of the situation.
The spectacle that is most shocking appears during the Paparazzi segment of the tour, which concludes the tour. Dressed in a glittery and romantically styled outfit, Gaga sing, while a robotic octopus-like figure torments the upstage area. This robot is fully in movement with help from the dancers. Containing a Paraná like face and at least eight arms, the monster is nothing but terrifying. At least three stories high, this monster is also symbolic of the main idea of the tour: that fame can eat you alive, represented literally by this fame monster. Gaga eventually loses the fight as the monster swallows Gaga entirely. This number also ends the tour, as Gaga’s life is ended, though she does come back for the encore.
These observations should justify how the elements crafted by Aristotle appear throughout Gaga’s tour and other performances. However, I would argue that she has also become inspired by the revolutionary German theatre artist, Bertolt Brecht. Brecht was a theatre artist of the 20th century who theorized what it meant to be categorized as “good” theatre. He believed that the best theatre was American, but the best techniques were deep rooted in Chinese theatre.(Martin, 77). Not only a theorist, Brecht was also a director and a playwright. His plays were heavily inspired by both Chinese and American theatre, which led him to come up with two revolutionary ideas.
His ideas that I believe Gaga incorporates are verfremdungseffekt and gestus. Verfremdungseffekt is commonly translated as the Alienation effect. This idea is achieved when the theatre artist forces the audience to remove themselves from the actions of play. The audience should recognize that what they are watching is a performance, and thus relate the performance to their own lives. One way to achieve this idea is through verbally recognizing that there is an audience observing. Since Gaga’s performances are based in concert venues which contain thousands of fans, Gaga is forced to recognize their presence. The show is in fact, specifically designed to entertain the audience, therefore she wants to acknowledge their presence. From her opening remarks to interactions throughout the show, she always is directly performing to her fans instead of for an audience.
The direction of the dance is also facing the audience. For example, in Just Dance, her movements inside of the cube are turned out to face the audience. Her face, thus her expression can always be read by the audience. The movement is pointed out at the crowd, which is a very theatrical aspect according to Brecht. In realistic theatre, actors strive to make movement and dialogue natural, representative of actual life. These realist actors face each other, and do not recognize that there is someone watching them. They do not break through, what Brecht calls the fourth wall. This term is descriptive of the separation between the actor and the audience. In realistic plays, the action takes place inside of an imaginary box, and the audience serves as a voyeuristic observer. In Gaga’s shows and in Brecht’s plays, the audience is invited inside of the box through eye contact, and direct addresses. Both of their performances are designed to insist that the audience recognizes the performance is not reality, it is a performance. For example, in the VMA performance I observed the following:
In this observation it is clear that she recognizes that an audience is watching her perform. The presentational aspect of this intimates that she is playing a character who feels the need to introduce herself to the audience.
Verfremdungseffekt also “consists of turning an object from something ordinary and immediately accessible into something peculiar, striking, and unexpected”(Diamond, 84). Lady Gaga has never been a standard musical artist since she has attained the status of a celebrity. Also she consistently engages in strikingly unexpected things, like marching on the White House Lawn for the purpose of legalizing gay marriage. From costume, to set, to strange dancing, there is always something odd about her behavior. Perhaps this quality is brought upon our lack of connection with someone who looks inhuman through elaborate make-up and costuming? Maybe the themes of sex, fame and death are too raw for an audience to naturally relate to? Either way, Gaga and her performances can be recognized as peculiar since the attraction lies in the strangeness. Her alien like quality is purposefully constructed to relate back to one of her themes of acceptance. Because Gaga appears odd, it is acceptable for her audience to appear odd, as long as they are true to themselves.
Gestus is another concept from Brecht. Though not as popular of a theory as verfremdungseffekt, gestus also involves performance. Gestus is a term that proposed that the gesture is more important than the dialog. A classic example of Gestus is, instead of an actor saying that he’s sad, the actor could lower themselves in stature, demonstrating their sinking emotion. Elin Diamond says, “Brechtian Gestus: a gesture, a word, an action, a tableau by which, separately or in series, the social attitudes encoded in the play text become visible to the spectator. A gest becomes social when it “allows conclusions to be drawn about social circumstances” (Diamond, 89). For Gaga, gesture allows us to the see the story, and the inner emotions of the character. However, gesture isn’t intertwined with dialogue, the gestures are mixed within the outlandish choreography.
During the notably obscure VMA performance, Gaga incorporates the idea of gestus into most of her movement. Throughout the first chorus of Paparazzi her arms and hands which are placed in front of her jolt in shock. My interpretation is that this jolting motion has symbolic meaning, specifically of persecution in the form of electrocution. Since the meaning of the song, which I have already examined, is to serve as a commentary about the life of the celebrity, the motion is attributed to the word, paparazzi. Because the jolting motion is simultaneously represented when the word sounds, it can be inferred that the paparazzi is harming, or in this case electrocuting Gaga.
Gestus in some cases replaces dialogue. Brecht believes that gesture is a strong theatrical element implicating dialogue to be less prized. Since Gaga’s words do not always relate to what she says the song is about, the gesture explains her thought. Through the gesture and the implied meanings behind the choreography, the story comes together. The VMA performance is a perfect example of her use of gestus. The conclusion of the performance is rather intense: After that chorus she goes over stage right to her piano. She puts her leg up and starts hammering out a robotic and out of place piano solo. The look on her face is completely dazed. She is a puppet, being forced to perform. She stumbles up representing herself to the audience and blood starts pouring from her chest. She is getting angry and her voice is more raw and angry. Blood is smeared on her face as a strong male dancer lifts her up. They are still dancing, life goes on. (Blank)
In this observation we begin with the piano. Why does she put her leg up on this device? She does it because it’s strange, relating to the concept of verfrumdungseffekt. Yet the look on her face tells us that she is a robot, thus in a mechanical trance. Therefore if she is a robot, perhaps she is more literally a marionette, and her leg was lifted up onto the piano by one of her many strings. Maybe the handler of this Gaga puppet is the paparazzi, or even the record companies? When she breaks free from the figurative strings she stumbles. Why then does she stumble? This gesture is an important part of the choreography because it shows the vulnerability of the celebrity. Just as this lapse in perfection occurs, she begins to conclude her deathly journey as the blood begins to flow. Then after being placed down on the ground and continually clawed by her male dancers, “She is lifted up into the air hanging from her right arm. Her left arm is held out to her side? She blankly stares as she revolves in the air.” (Blank) The lift of the arm is the important gesture to analyze here, representative of when someone shrugs and lifts their arms out to the sides, as if to question, “why?” Here, the gesture is more subtle, but it stirs the minds of the audience, which is exactly what Brecht intended when he came up with his theories about what theatre should be.
Gaga is undoubtedly theatrical throughout her performances, but there is an important question that must be asked. If Gaga is in fact, a theater artist, what kind of theatre is she performing? Gaga is obviously performing performance art, but more importantly she would fit into the category deemed Theatre of Cruelty created by Antonin Artaud. Though theorized and not practiced by Artaud, Theatre of Cruelty is intended to disturb and awaken the audience. The terror associated with this movement should be based in spectacle and utilize a mass number of actors who can be used to activate the nerves within the viewers. “Artaudian-inspried theater is strong on imagery, disrespectful of plot, suspicious of theses, and can resuscitate something in our jaded senses and overhaul our aesthetic appreciation” (Marowitz, 171). By carefully looking at Gaga’s performances it is clear that she belongs to the Theatre of Cruelty category.
First of all, Gaga’s sets and performances revolve around spectacular scenery. Her outfits, as have already been discussed, are outrageous and sometimes monstroserous. The sets of her tour are larger than life, and intimidate the audience, through the sheer magnitude and power given to these elements. For example, one set piece is literally a monster. This monster concludes the concert by killing Gaga, the protagonist. The monster alone provides enough information to classify Gaga as an artist who practices this type of theatre. However, Theatre of Cruelty was never realized by its creator, thus it is difficult to examine how Artaud would have created this type of theatre based upon his non-existent productions. On the other hand, Peter Brook utilized Artaud’s concepts in a series of workshops that led to the creation of Marat/Sade that looks at the concept of revolution within a society and at the individuals who spark the change. This highly esteemed production was bloody, shocking and used massive sets and quantities of actors to relate to Artaud’s concepts.
One important aspect of Theatre of Cruelty lies within the idea of using the masses to achieve an uncomfortable or disturbing effect. In Gaga’s performances the dancers fill the role of becoming these masses. There are ten dancers in total, but the dancers are almost always on stage directly next to Gaga. The disturbing aspect lies within the dancing and the outfits that the dancers sport. These dancers often wear full body suits that draw attention to their genital area. Either their genital areas are engorged, or they bear scantily clad outfits that have gruesome details, like horns, and chains. Another cruel detail is the specifics of the dance. For the most part, a dancer is always performing the same moves as the other dancers. Though the moves are the same linking the choreography together, every dancer has a different interpretation rendering the movements distinctive. Audiences are used to seeing dancers emulate one style, therefore the unity is strong, and the joy comes through a singular choreographer’s vision. In the world of Gaga, the dancers imitate the same moves, but their bodies are in different angles from one another. The moves differ in elevation and style. The effect of this deviation from what audiences have expected from dance, is often unnerving. We want the dancing to be in sync. Ergo the purposeful aberrations in the dance, are to bother the audience, another aspect of Theatre of Cruelty.
The last element is the use of disturbing themes. Themes which have been given attention by Gaga are sex, fame, death and monsters. The theme of sex has always been a taboo subject, specifically in the eyes of an American people. Sex renders many people uncomfortable. The nakedness associated with this act could be one factor, yet the reprecautions of sex are another. Sex can boast many great effects for people, in or out of relationships, yet sex can also lead to unwanted pregnancies and diseases. Religiously speaking, many religions condemn sex outside of a marriage, and criticize the activity without the intention of reproduction. So many opinions are intertwined when it comes to the topic of sex, yet Gaga flaunts only one opinion, that sex is good. More recently she has revised that opinion to, safe sex is good, but nonetheless, it is clear that she promotes this dirty deed. Therefore she offends much of her audience while she attempts to entertain them in other ways.
Fame outside of the world of Gaga is not depicted as disturbing. In fact people constantly try to copy these stars, and avoid disparaging the celebrity’s fame. However, when the concept of fame is equipped with the other themes in the show, fame morphs into a predecessor of death. Therefore, an audience learns to dread what they may have once wanted. And Gaga’s tragic end would make most audiences change their opinion about celebrity.
Leading into the most obvious theme that relates to theatre of cruelty is the theme of death. Theatre of cruelty was not a literal concept of agony. Artaud’s idea is a metaphor that does “ not refer exclusively torture, blood, violence, and plague-but to the cruelest of all practices: the exposure of mind heart and nerve-ends to the grueling truths behind a social reality that deals in psychological crises when it wants to be honest” (Marowitz, 172). The death of Gaga makes us uncomfortable because it is a harsh theme that one does not expect to encounter when they are in attendance at a concert. Yet her symbolic death has roots in honesty. Because this death is not real, this element’s analysis directly related to Artaud’s idea of having deeper and relevant meanings. Death occurs because her life has been consumed due to a captivation by the paparazzi. The fame instead of the self has taken hold of Gaga. Therefore, from this morbid act we can conclude that there is a message in all of this commotion. The message being, that one must stay true to oneself. Being true to your “self”, is a personal nemesis of the fame monster. Gaga personifies this by showing her own death, as a celebrity obsessed with the fame, relating directly to Artaud’s call for the idea for theatre to be cruel and thought provoking.
Gaga must be recognized as a theatre artist, in addition to being referenced to as a pop musician. I have argued here, that she is much more than a radio artist, but is an eclectic revolutionary. Inspired by Greek, German and French theatre artists, she borrows inspiring theatrical concepts to form a new form of theatre, accessible to the masses through viewing of her concerts, and streaming segments, which can be found online. Though I was not able to experience the Monster Ball in person, the online clips have allowed me access to analyze the minutest of details, and appreciate the depth of meaning and thought within her performance. Clearly, Lady Gaga, a theatrical performer inspired from Aristotle, Bertolt Brecht, and Antonin Artaud, is making theatre mainstream and available.
Absolutely nothing. Lately, I have found that I become really opinionated especially when someone’s differing opinion is of someone whom I don’t like. Also, I’ve realized that I sometimes argue for the sake of arguing. I’m really a messed up person.
I took a comedic film class in college where the professor stated that 'All humor comes from a place of anger.' Confirm or dispute this.
I’ve never heard this saying before. However, I can understand the argument to the statement. We do tend to laugh at what is uncomfortable. We make fun of people for amusement, and sometimes in a harsh manner a la a roast.Yet, a “why does a chicken cross the road” joke, certainly does not stem from a place of anger, but my personal humor does. To me, the funnier something is, the more truth there is to subject of the joke. Therefore, I don’t agree that ALL humor stems from anger, but a lot, and perhaps the more successful humor does.
In just one month, I will have finished my undergraduate career. Most likely, I will be without a job, and without an apartment. I’m looking forward to moving back home, yet I will not be eager to forcibly take up a job in the restaurant business. In fact, I would rather slit my wrists than work in food… so I just won’t do that.
The Summer will come to a close, and I will have to move out of Baltimore, and head up to NYC. I couldn’t possibly be more afraid than I am right now. I don’t have a secured place to live, and I don’t know if I can really guarentee finding one, since no one wants to be a roommate.
I’m on the bus, going back to school, and I’m feeling pretty down. School has been boring me for the entire year. The walls of my apartment are driving me crazy.
I want to go back home. I want a stable summer job. And more importantly I want to go to graduate school already, have my apartment, have a job in NY, and have solace in the fact that Ethan and I can make this work. That’s what I want.