The Body is Sacrificed Daily: Bill T. Jones Inspired me to Move.

Bill T. Jones - As I Was Saying
Bill T. Jones – As I Was Saying

I was inspired by the Artist Bill T. Jones. In 2004 watched his piece “21” while in Undergrad at Arizona State University. It is most likely in archives and I have been unable to find it in a public forum. He uses 21 physical gestures to tell a story about love, relationships, and loss; the loss of his partner Arnie Zane who passed away of AIDS.

In these 21 gestures, he moves the audience through a period of his life. It was an onion and with each revolution, he peeled away the layers until we arrived at a resemblance of a core. In the first revolution of he would present a physical gesture 1 through 21. In the second revolution, same order, he would present the gesture and associate it with a word. In the third revolution he would then attach a phrase. Eventually he began to change the order of the gestures while still telling story sometimes a combination of vocal and physical and other times vocal. The one gesture I vividly remember is when he stopped and presented a gesture which the initial phrase was “Ah! Eek! A mouse!” This gesture was used to amplify the feeling Arnie’s death; and the silence was gut-wrenching.

The way these gestures formed a relationship in their displacement was striking to me. It was explosive! The simplicity of a single picture, with which the audience had an agreed relationship, placed before the next image exponentiated the depth by peeling away the previous connotations had; the story is not always what it seems: it can be more or less. His body drew me in, unravelling this emotional story, taking us all on an internal physical and mental journey, and I could not be released until he allowed it. I was along for the ride as far as he would take me or as far as I was willing to go.

This is an excerpt from “As I Was Saying.” I was fascinated by the movement, but also the audio track and how I could imagine using technology to assist in storytelling.

The Unspeakable: That which is difficult or unable to be voiced by an individual.

I was inspired by the power of the body. I chose to explore this method of storytelling for my thesis project in my senior year at Arizona State University titled “That’s How the Cookie Crumbles.” As a minority student for most of my life in the classroom, I wanted to talk about my experiences of Racism, Identity, Sexuality, and Objectification; what it means to be a Man; a Black Man; a Child of Color suffering silently. As loud as I wanted to scream, I was tired of talking, trying to explain myself, of feeling more and more misunderstood, alone, and I was losing a sense of myself. By talking, I lost myself and became afraid to speak.

In Life, and re-examined in Theatre training, I learned you have to know who your audience is. You must know who you are talking to in order to communicate effectively – to have the best chances of achieving your desired intention. How could I share my personal experience in words that would only be interpreted through the experiences of another. I had no control over who my audience was. In previous attempts I grudgingly learned that people become defensive in their ignorance. I didn’t think that many people were ignorant – some of it was a choice to not deal.

“I can not have this conversation by myself.” That conversation in my head changes nothing in my living world. I wanted my audience to be a part of the change and understanding I was seeking. I knew they had to feel it somehow. I knew they had bodies, and that their bodies had experiences. To confront these questions and feelings, I was inspired to move. This was the beginning of my exploration with interactive and immersive theatre – before I knew what it was. I challenged the idea that “We are all here, in this room. I am clearly communicating something. I’m not dancing with my eyes closed. I will look you in the eyes, without a word from my lips, while I move. I had to confront my fear which is being misunderstood or mis-loved by you.” In this mode of confrontation I also found that I was asking myself what changes I wanted to make. That which made me could not be forgotten, so what was I intending to change and how?

Bill T. Jones has had a great impact on the way that I approach work. There is no such thing as a sitting story. I’m living; I’m moving: stories are moving; unfolding; peeling; they are active! I live a story every moment of my life. Every person I interact with, every person that I see that sees me, this story is constantly evolving. To sit still and tell a story feels like I’m not using my full potential. In certain ways, understanding my physical relationship to other people is how I live my life. I’m a 6’3″ Black Man, 195 pounds, and I have to navigate my space and the space of others around me for everyone’s safety. Coming from the South, I am aware – hyper-aware of my body in relation to those around me; double-consciousness. How can one not be sensitive about their own life? I am sensitive because I believe my life matters. Not more than another’s and certainly not less.

Bill T. Jones’s work offered me the awareness of how the body is sacrificed daily; we are vulnerable to our audiences’s  experience. To perform you must lend your body to the audience’s perception. And it is up to you to allow their perceptions, and move the story you intend to convey. You have Power in the telling of your Body. Own it.


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