Ken Griffey Jr & the Aesthetics of Function

Ken Griffey Jr - August 27, 2008

Ken Griffey Jr – August 27, 2008

The Kid.

Baseball legend. Seattle’s defining superstar. Generational talent. All of these terms are routinely used to describe Ken Griffey Jr, one of the greatest sports players of the ’90s. For baseball aficionados, watching Griffey play baseball is akin to listening to Montserrat Caballé sing Ave Maria. But why is this so? And more importantly, why should theatre artists care?

Sure, there were the layout game-saving catches. The singles he turned into triples with speed, guile, and vision. The bullet-like, perfectly timed throws from across the field. More than all this, though, it was the swing.

In an era drunk on steroids and raw power, of McGwire and Sosa hitting 60, Griffey was right there, keeping pace alongside them. The fluidity of that bat’s passing through the strike zone could just as easily turn a low and outside two-seamer into a home run as turn a high change-up into a line-drive single. Griffey had a swing that Bobby Valentine (one of the most infamously irascible coaches in history) famously called “perfect” (Stone). Jay Buhner, his teammate with the Mariners, said Griffey would “…call his shots all the friggin’ time. We’d all shake our heads” (Stone).

That swing was magic, more than just effective; it was beautiful.

Kant argues that our judgment of beauty emerging from an object of perception – or in this case an action “ . . . arises on the achievement of a purpose, or at least the recognition of a purposiveness” (Burnham). For Kant, purpose “is the concept according to which it was made” (Burnham). Purposiveness however has an “intrinsic purpose” whereby “a thing embodies its own purpose” (Burnham). There is a particular and mischievous delight in thinking that because the “universality and necessity” of artistic judgments “are in fact a product of features of the human mind” (Burnham), we could just as easily apply our idea of beauty to actions as something like Kant’s sunset or a painting by J.M.W. Turner.

Griffey’s swing didn’t dazzle Bobby Valentine because it was so effective. In fact, I’m sure it would have been the opposite when he coached for the Rangers. Griffey’s swing stood out since there is “pleasure in something because we judge it beautiful, rather than judging it beautiful because we find it pleasurable” (Burnham).

The act of hitting a baseball is a functional movement. It serves a very real world purpose. While this feat can be described as impressive on its own, there are all sorts of examples of other people (Nelson Cruz) hitting balls very far without the action’s being particularly beautiful. So why is Griffey’s swing so beautiful? Bobby Valentine again: “Once you start your swing, people talk about transferring your weight. I always thought his transfer was impeccable, the way he was able to stride, and have a good stride, and yet stop his weight as he was going forward so he could transfer all that weight to his front foot, get off his back foot, and stay balanced as he translated all that energy to the bat” (Stone). All of this boils down to being able to do something extremely well with style, a little bit of “extra” that adds something not essential, yet not extraneous to the basic action. “Griffey got into the box, and it almost looked like he was dancing” (Stone).

I remember going to see Pina Bausch’s final piece of choreography at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010 entitled “ . . . como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si …” and being dazzled by the dancers’ simply walking around the stage. It was just walking. There wasn’t even a particular aberration of the movement, but it mutated from sensual to unnerving in an instant, yet never deviated from the essential action of needing to carry each individual dancer’s body across the stage. Bausch’s dancers floated with, like Griffey’s swing, “ . . . this dance of balance that performers reveal in fundamental principles common to all scenic forms” (Barba). The shift of balance is not done simply for itself. It is a functional movement—a functional movement that is nevertheless enacted with a certain style and specificity, a little something extra that transforms it from basic action into beautiful action.

Theatre is constantly faced with a tension between establishing something real, while simultaneously establishing something beautiful. In day-to-day existence, people strive to “ . . . follow the principle of minimum effort, that is, obtaining a maximum result with a minimum expenditure of energy” (Barba). In performance, the performer is faced with the particular problem of making actions “ . . . which do not respect the habitual conditionings of the use of the body” (Barba). The audience wants to see something real, as in action that accomplishes something verifiable, and yet is also something that has a little flair. Flair that isn’t added on or layered but that is central to the action. There is a subtle shift of focus by the actor not only from the effective and skilled execution of the action but towards something greater.

Whatever that greater thing is can be left open, maybe even unknown explicitly to person performing the action. Étienne Decroux, the father of corporeal mime, is described as having a “ . . . lion inside him and his technique kept it at bay” (Barba). When we see truly incredible performance on the scale of Griffey’s willfully distributing balls about the field, or Bausch’s dancers gliding across a stage, we see not just the action itself, but what they are pointing towards: the lion in the quote about Decroux.

Such mastery over technique hints at a different aesthetic experience that is called by Kant the Sublime, which “names experiences like violent storms or huge buildings which seem to overwhelm us; that is, we feel we ‘cannot get our head around them’ ” (Burnham). People find these actions awe-inspiring because they relate beyond the actions themselves towards a rational idea that is absolute in some way: “Extra-daily techniques . . . lead to information” (Barba). True expression of genius can be called “beautiful, but in addition is an expression of the state of mind which is generated by an aesthetic idea” (Burnham). Information that gets communicated from functional movement at the scale of Griffey seems to relate less to a quotidian idea and more towards something that has a capital letter in front of it.

For years that bat gliding through the strike zone enraptured millions. But it wasn’t just how good Griffey was at swinging that bat; it was the way that he was good at it that made it so special. The real trick is to be able to do that on stage when the performer only has to pick up a teacup.

Trevor Young Marston is an Akropolis Performance Lab Artistic Associate. He joined the ensemble in October 2014. 

Works Cited

Barba, Eugenio. The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology. Trans. Richard Fowler. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Burnham, Douglas. “Immanuel Kant: Aesthetics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016.

Stone, Larry. “For Hall of Fame-bound Ken Griffey Jr., it all started with the swing.” 5.1.2016. Seattle Times.

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887 / USC Digital Library, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887 / USC Digital Library, 2010.

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Second Gypsy Nomination for Glas & Joseph Lavy

In addition to Zhenya’s nomination for local composing, Joseph received a Gypsy Rose Lee Award nomination for Best Male Lead Actor in a Play for his role as Dr. Glas in The Glas Nocturne.

The Gypsy Rose Lee Awards are selected by Seattle Theatre Critics. Here is the entire slate of 2015 nominees:

Excellence in Production of a Play (Larger Theaters):

  • Best of Enemies – Taproot Theatre Company
  • Orpheus Descending – Intiman Theatre Festival/The Williams Project
  • Our Town – Strawberry Theatre Workshop
  • Slaughterhouse-Five – Book-It Repertory Theatre
  • The Flick – New Century Theatre Company

Excellence in Production of a Play (Smaller Theaters):

  • Chinglish – ArtsWest
  • Dance Like A Man – Pratidhwani
  • The Secretaries – Theater Schmeater
  • The Tall Girls – Washington Ensemble Theatre
  • Water By The Spoonful – Theatre22

Excellence in Production of a Musical

  • American Idiot – ArtsWest
  • Come From Away – Seattle Repertory Theatre
  • Into the Woods – STAGEright Theatre
  • Lizard Boy – Seattle Repertory Theatre
  • The Great America Trailer Park Musical – STAGEright Theatre

Excellence in Direction of a Play (Larger Theaters):

  • Josh Aaseng – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • David Bennett – Buyer & Cellar (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Malika Oyetimein – Bootycandy (Intiman Theatre Festival)
  • Ryan Purcell – Orpheus Descending (Intiman Theatre Festival/The Williams Project)
  • MJ Sieber – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)

Excellence in Direction of a Play (Smaller Theaters):

  • Julie Beckman – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago – Sound (Azeotrope)
  • John Kazanjian – Mud (New City Theater)
  • Kelly Kitchens – The Art of Bad Men (MAP Theatre)
  • Annie Lareau – Chinglish (ArtsWest)

Excellence in Direction of a Musical

  • Eric Ankrim – American Idiot (ArtsWest)
  • Christopher Ashley – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Matt Giles – Into the Woods (STAGEright Theatre)
  • Brandon Ivie – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Steve Tomkins – No Way to Treat a Lady (Village Theatre)

Excellence in Performance in a Play as a Lead Actor (Male) (Larger Theaters):

  • John Aylward – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (ACT Theatre)
  • Robert Bergin/Erik Gratton/Todd Jefferson Moore – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • Jeff Berryman – Best of Enemies (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Scott Drummond – Buyer & Cellar (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Tyler Trerise – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)

Excellence in Performance in a Play as a Lead Actor (Male) (Smaller Theaters):

  • Jany Bacallao – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Ryan Higgins – 99 Ways To Fuck A Swan (Washington Ensemble Theatre)
  • Joseph Lavy – The Glas Nocturne (Akropolis Performance Lab)
  • Terry Edward Moore – A Delicate Balance (Theatre9/12)
  • Tyler Trerise – My Mañana Comes (ArtsWest)

Excellence in Performance in a Musical as a Lead Actor (Male)

  • Mark Anders – My Fair Lady (Village Theatre)
  • Nick DeSantis – No Way to Treat a Lady (Village Theatre)
  • Brian Earp – Cabaret (Village Theatre)
  • Frederick Hagreen – American Idiot (ArtsWest)
  • Justin Huertas – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Excellence in Performance in a Play as a Lead Actor (Female) (Larger Theaters):

  • Hana Lass – The Explorers Club (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako – Little Bee (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • Jeanne Paulsen – Mother Courage And Her Children (Seattle Shakespeare Company)
  • Faith Russell – Best of Enemies (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Amy Thone – Our Town (Strawberry Theatre Workshop)

Excellence in Performance in a Play as a Lead Actor (Female) (Smaller Theaters):

  • Mary Ewald – Mud (New City Theater)
  • Sophia Franzella – My Dear Miss Chancellor (Annex Theatre)
  • Kathy Hsieh – Chinglish (ArtsWest)
  • Yesenia Iglesias – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Anna Kasabyan – Bad Jews (Seattle Public Theater)

Excellence in Performance in a Musical as a Lead Actor (Female)

  • Kristin Burch – Legally Blonde (SecondStory Repertory)
  • Jenn Collela – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Beth DeVries – Snapshots (Village Theatre)
  • EmilyRose Frasca – Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter (STAGEright Theatre)
  • Allison Standley – My Fair Lady (Village Theatre)

Excellence in Performance of a Play as a Supporting Actor (Male) – any non-lead (Larger Theaters):

  • Quinn Franzen – Threesome (ACT Theatre)
  • Sam Hagen – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)
  • Bill Johns – The Explorers Club (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Isaiah Johnson – Bootycandy (Intiman Theatre Festival)
  • Adam Standley – Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (ACT Theatre)

Excellence in Performance of a Play as a Supporting Actor (Male) – any non-lead (Smaller Theaters):

  • Scott Ward Abernethy – Indian Ink (Sound Theatre Company/Pratidhwani)
  • Ben Phillips – Bad Jews (Seattle Public Theater)
  • Brandon Ryan – The Art of Bad Men (MAP Theatre)
  • Ryan Schlect – Sound (Azeotrope)
  • G. Valmont Thomas – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)

Excellence in Performance of a Musical as a Supporting Actor (Male)

  • Rodney Hicks – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Dan Kremer – My Fair Lady (Village Theatre)
  • David Pichette – The Sound of Music (The 5th Avenue Theatre)
  • Caesar Samayoa – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • William A. Williams – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Excellence in Performance of a Play as a Supporting Actor (Female) (Larger Theaters):

  • Angel Brice – Bootycandy (Intiman Theatre Festival)
  • Emily Chisholm – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)
  • Rebecca M. Davis – Bootycandy (Intiman Theatre Festival)
  • Jenny Vaughn Hall – Best of Enemies (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Sarah Harlett – The Memorandum (Strawberry Theatre Workshop)

Excellence in Performance of a Play as a Supporting Actor (Female) (Smaller Theaters):

  • Rose Cano – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Cheyenna Clearbrook – Sound (Azeotrope)
  • Ashley Flannegan – The Secretaries (Theater Schmeater)
  • Peggy Gannon – The Art of Bad Men (MAP Theatre)
  • Rhonda J. Soikowski – Wizzer Pizzer (Theatre22)

Excellence in Performance of a Musical as a Supporting Actor (Female) – any non-lead

  • Kirsten deLohr Helland – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Priscilla Hake Lauris – My Fair Lady (Village Theatre)
  • Chelsea LeValley – Angry Housewives (ArtsWest)
  • Q. Smith – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Billie Wildrick – Carousel (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

Excellence in Performance as an Ensemble (Larger Theaters):

  • Bootycandy – Intiman Theatre Festival (Chris Ensweiler, Tyler Trerise, Rebecca M. Davis, Isaiah Johnson, Angel Brice)
  • Come From Away – Seattle Repertory Theatre (Eric Ankrim, Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks,Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Lee MacDougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Sharon Wheatley)
  • Festen – New Century Theatre Company (Emily Chisholm, Bradford Farwell, Ray Gonzalez, Brenda Joyner, Conner Neddersen, Michael Patten, Jason Sanford, Betsy Schwartz, MJ Sieber, Amy Thone, Connor Toms, Evan Whitfield, Peter Dylan O’Connor, Helen Milam)
  • Orpheus Descending – Intiman Theatre Festival/The Williams Project (Grant Chapman, Kemiyondo Coutinho,Rebecca Gibel, Tiffany Nichole Greene, Elise LeBreton, Richard Prioleau, Max Rosenak, Charlie Thurston)
  • No Way to Treat a Lady – Village Theatre (Nick DeSantis, Dane Stokinger, Jessica Skerritt, Bobbi Kotula, Jayne Muirhead)

Excellence in Performance as an Ensemble (Smaller Theaters):

  • Brechtfest – The Horse in Motion (Katherine Bicknell, Nathan Brockett, Liza Curtiss, Amy Escobar,Chris Lee Hill, Harry Todd Jamieson, Sylvia Kowalski, Adria LaMorticella, Kevin Lin, Jocelyn Maher, Nic Morden, Andrew Pritzkau, Hannah Ruwe, Matt Sherrill, Dylan Smith, Shaudi Bianca Vahdat)
  • Dance Like a Man – Pratidhwani (Jay Athalye, Tanvee Kale, Abhijeet Rane, Meenakshi Rishi)
  • The Art of Bad Men – MAP Theatre (Grace Carmack, Peggy Gannon, Ben McFadden, Ben Burris, Brandon Ryan, Sean Schroeder)
  • The Tall Girls – Washington Ensemble Theatre (Leah Salcido Pfenning, Hannah Ruwe, Chelsea Callahan, Adria LaMorticella, Bailie Breaux, Ali Mohamed el-Gasseir)
  • Water By The Spoonful – Theatre22 (Jany Bacallao, Yesenia Iglesias, Rose Cano, G. Valmont Thomas, Keiko Green, Jeff Allen Pierce, Jake Ynzunza)

Excellence in Set Design (Larger Theaters):

  • Andrea Bryn Bush – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)
  • L.B. Morse – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Matthew Smucker – Cabaret (Village Theatre)
  • Matthew Smucker – Our Town (Strawberry Theatre Workshop)
  • Carey Wong – The Comparables (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Excellence in Set Design (Smaller Theaters):

  • Nina Moser – Mud (New City Theater)
  • Jared Roberts – American Idiot (ArtsWest)
  • Paul Thomas – Dump Site (Seattle Immersive Theatre)
  • Montana Tippett – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Craig Wollam – The Tumbleweed Zephyr (Pork Filled Productions)

Excellence in Costume Design (Larger Theaters):

  • Erik Andor – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Sarah Nash Gates – Carousel (The 5th Avenue Theatre)
  • Kelly McDonald – Bootycandy (Intiman Theatre Festival)
  • Pete Rush – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • Deb Trout – Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (ACT Theatre)

Excellence in Costume Design (Smaller Theaters):

  • Cherelle Ashby & Jonelle Cornwell – Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter (STAGEright Theatre)
  • Candace Frank – Indian Ink (Sound Theatre Company/Pratidhwani)
  • Kelly McDonald – Chinglish (ArtsWest)
  • Nina Moser – Mud (New City Theater)
  • Ali Rose Panzarella – 99 Ways To Fuck A Swan (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

Excellence in Lighting Design (Larger Theaters):

  • Howell Binkley – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Kent Cubbage – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • Geoff Korf – Festen (New Century Theatre Company)
  • Geoff Korf – Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (ACT Theatre)
  • Andrew D. Smith – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)

Excellence in Lighting Design (Smaller Theaters):

  • Tess Malone – The Art of Bad Men (MAP Theatre)
  • Tristan Roberson – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)
  • Gwyn Skone – My Dear Miss Chancellor (Annex Theatre)
  • Lindsay Smith – Mud (New City Theater)
  • Tim Wratten – Tilt Angel (theater simple)

Excellence in Sound Design (Larger Theaters):

  • Dominic CodyKramers – Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (ACT Theatre)
  • Mark Lund – Best of Enemies (Taproot Theatre Company)
  • Evan Mosher and Robertson Witmer – The Flick (New Century Theatre Company)
  • Matt Starritt – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Matt Starritt – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)

Excellence in Sound Design (Smaller Theaters):

  • Dana Amromin – The Secretaries (Theater Schmeater)
  • Christen Audio Group (Andy Somora and Hannah Victoria Franklin) – Is She Dead Yet? (Annex Theatre)
  • Evan Mosher and Andre Nelson – Slowgirl (Seattle Public Theater)
  • Haley Parcher – American Idiot (ArtsWest)
  • Kyle Thompson – Water By The Spoonful (Theatre22)

Excellence in Musical Direction

  • Ian Eisendrath – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Chris Ranney and R.J. Tancioco – American Idiot (ArtsWest)
  • RJ Tancioco – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Excellence in Choreography or Movement

  • Donald Byrd – Carousel (The 5th Avenue Theatre)
  • Kelly Devine – Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Trina Mills, Shadou Mintrone and Gabe Corey – American Idiot (ArtsWest)

Excellence in Local Playwriting

  • Josh Aaseng – Slaughterhouse-Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
  • Caitlin Gilman – My Dear Miss Chancellor (Annex Theatre)
  • Keiko Green – Bunnies (Annex Theatre)
  • Justin Huertas – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Brandon Simmons – Is She Dead Yet? (Annex Theatre)

Excellence in Local Composing

  • Justin Huertas – Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Zhenya Lavy – The Glas Nocturne (Akropolis Performance Lab)
  • Mark Siano, Opal Peachey, and Dayton Alleman – Bohemia (Marxiano Productions)

Ecce Faustus Tickets Now on Sale

Ecce FaustusIt’s time! Tickets are now available for Ecce Faustus.

Don’t delay. The show runs just 3 weeks: February 5-27, 2016.

See what happens when APL explores the various ways we sell our souls and deconstructs the Faust legend to create a Modern Medieval Mystery Play… staged in a church in the Ballard neighborhood.

Did we mention the composer was a murderer?

Truly another not-to-be missed original piece by the ensemble!

Complete details here.

Zhenya Lavy Nominated for Gypsy Award

2016_01-07 NOMINATION - Gypsy - Music - ZhenyaFor the second year in a row, Co-Artistic Director Zhenya Lavy has been nominated by the Seattle Theatre Writers for a Gypsy Rose Lee Award in the category of Excellence in Local Composing. The nomination recognizes her work on The Glas Nocturne.

Zhenya’s nomination as one of three for 2015 is an especial honor because, unlike most awards for theatre in the greater Seattle area, the Gypsy Awards do not differentiate separate categories for music at larger- or smaller-budget houses: the potential nominee pool encompasses all original music for theatre activity in the area.

L-R: Joseph Lavy, Linnea Ingalls, Catherine Lavy, Sara Kaus, Annie Paladino, Margaretta Campagna, and Zhenya Lavy | Photo: Joe Patrick Kane

The musical landscape Zhenya built for The Glas Nocturne included piano nocturnes by composers from Field and Chopin to Alkan and Bartok (played live by Zhenya), as well as dynamic arrangements of traditional Swedish folk tunes sung in three- and four-part harmonies by the ensemble.

Award winners will be announced later this month.

If you missed The Glas Nocturne, request a spot on our waitlist and be among the first to know when we will remount it in our 2016-17 season.

In the meantime, buy your tickets now for Ecce Faustus, which opens February 5. Ecce Faustus features stunning 5-part madrigals and sacred music by Carlo Gesualdo, with some of the most complex structures and harmonies APL has ever put on stage — all performed live.