"OK, here is your assignment. Go home and dream. Twice a week when we meet, you bring your dreams to class written down. Then we pick the most interesting ones and perform them."
This was the entirety of my instructions to the class of four at the art school where I was teaching for one month. One of my students was a computer collage artist, another was a painter, one a dancer, the other a flautist. Perfect. My thought was that if we got four good dreams we could translate them into every medium we had going -- graphic art, painting, music and dance. Then we'd give two shows a night for two nights.
Next week, they told their dreams. No one had written anything down, but they were all too happy to recall them. Two of them were grown women who'd gone back to art school to pick up an abandoned thread from before they were married, had kids and divorced. The other two were 19-year-olds with fresh tattoos who looked sleepy.
All of them excelled at dream telling because we were in California and in California everybody tells their dreams in the morning to whoever happens to be around. Dreams are culturally approved in California, and they are almost mandatory in art school. I wasn't breaking any new ground here.
"I was in a crumbling tower," explained Natasha, "and I was calling to my ex-husband to come and get me and my little girl, but he was swimming in a pool below with a naked blonde and couldn't hear me. We ran down to a house on fire but couldn't get in because it was a crime scene investigation, yellow tape all around."
I had explicitly told everyone that there was going to be no dream analysis in this class. The whole point was to take the visual cues, the movement and music of a dream and make it into a multi-dimensional performance. This dream, though, begged for analysis. It wasn't as much a dream as a blueprint for easy interpretation. I didn't want to do that, so I assigned the crumbling tower, the house on fire, the husband and blonde in the pool, and the woman with the child to them.
"Paint the scene, dance it, collage it, find the music!" I told them.
"My boyfriend, except he wasn't my boyfriend, was handing me the bong except it was a snake. It was weird."
Yeah. Except that it wasn't weird. It was so age-appropriate and boring it made me want to scream. We weren't there to analyze, I reminded myself. Still, I couldn't help asking: "Do you know what this dream might mean?"
"Nothing," sleeping beauty said. "I think I've been smoking too much grass."
"With no discernible results," I said.
I assigned the boyfriend who wasn't the boyfriend and the bong that was a snake to all of them to paint, choreograph, collage and score.
The show is now in its ninth season at the Vivien Beaumont in New York. Yup.