Taking the road less traveled with the Independent Eye
In a cozy living room in Cole Valley, a small but attentive oddience gathers to watch a trio of short theatrical vignettes performed by maverick theater-makers the Independent Eye.
Entitled Gifts, the three pieces have been performed over the years in previous incarnations, but never together, and the subtle commonalities that bind them are elegant and startling in equal measure. Focused primarily on human relationships, the complexity of desire, and the precarious yet universal nature of a journey into the unknown, Gifts follows three couples on their respective paths as they encounter all the unexpected complications and mysterious rewards that life throws at them along the way.
For Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, who have been both the creative partnership behind the Independent Eye and also life partners for over 50 years, revisiting these pieces with a deepened perspective honed by the implications of entering their final decades has been a process as revelatory to them as when they were created the first time.
“Everything resonates differently,” points out Fuller, with a gracious smile.
After celebrating their Quinquagenary touring their joint memoir of the life artistic, Co-creation, holding readings in the private homes of friends and acquaintances scattered around the country as well as the usual arts venues, the two began developing a show that could be toured in the same way, in order to utilize the unique intimacy that only a house concert-style performance can capture. A way to demystify and decommodify the theatrical experience, as well as a way to inexpensively return to their touring roots, during which they would perform upward of 200 performances a year, criss-crossing the country in a van, kids and puppets in tow.
What they ended up with was Gifts, a series of tenuously-linked duets, compressed enough in form and expansive enough in intention that Bishop refers to them as “dramatic haikus”.
Completely contained within the parameters of a throw rug, a small table and a pair of stools form the entirety of stage and set, while an array of props and puppets issue forth from a modest pair of suitcases, transforming the small space into an endless series of freeways, the tree of life, an amorphous dreamscape, a three-story walk-up, and the ephemeral realm of a pair of hungry gods. In fluid succession, a wrong turn on the freeway becomes a 40-year commitment to a path that feels as much like a mistake as a destination, the prospect of receiving a major award becomes a bittersweet comitragedy of errors, a couple facing the erosion of their golden years by the leaden weight of market forces experience a visitation from the gods — forces much more powerful than the merely mortal ones that have previously formed their trajectory.
And through it all, the almost subversive notion simmering, that a life lived creatively is a life worth whatever the material drawbacks, and that the transformative nature of the journey is by far the greatest reward.
Or, as Fuller succinctly puts it, “these pieces are a validation of different ways of getting ‘there’.”
See Gifts at the Garden Gate Creativity Center: