January 14, 2011

Discords; or an actor’s meta–experience

Though I had the privilege of seeing Discords, Fail Better’s re-interpretation of Shakespeare through a Beckettian lens, nothing has been explained to me. I entered the machine for its second incarnation at the Warwick Arts Centre Studio as part of a recasting, and feel as if some transcendental logic, now unspeakable, has passed between the original cast. I am currently trying to catch up; I am floundering. As an actor, I am currently only emulating the rest of the cast. I have started this blog to help myself try and find the logic behind the piece, and hopefully discuss some  ideas about contemporary theatre in the meantime.

Approaching a play having originally been in the audience, particularly a devised piece in which the entirety of the cast were present and active in its formation, has been a slightly surreal experience. Many of the actors I know on a personal level, and yet I enter rehearsals and see them comfortable and un-self-conscious in the most bizarre of exercises. Perhaps here I should explain the form of Discords. Two huge structures with 9 head-sized doors face each other. The audience enters and watches as the doors open to reveal the heads, which speak lines from Shakespeare’s plays. Various tones, speeds and meanings are drawn out from the lines by the actors. The heads go back behind their doors. Then the audience leaves.

When I saw Discords, I was constantly sensing the beginning of a narrative, a relationship between two characters or even an emotion. But each time, this was subverted, snatched away from me. I came away believing it to be a powerful piece of theatre, purely for its subversion of language; it’s drain of meaning. All of the theatrical commodities theatre-practitioners of the 20th Century defined and interpreted were explored almost scientifically – space, character, time, voice and so on. Yet I was completely removed from the creative process of how an audience gets these impressions, and aware that what I was interpreting was the tip of a creative iceberg.

On entering rehearsals, I see actors doing a variety of bizarre exercises that are treated as essential. My friends are making absurd faces, sounds and shapes, dragging lines into frankly hilarious voices and deliberately making their meanings stupid. Yet no one laughs. I wonder if they’ve all lost their sense of humour, or whether it’s a competition to see who can stay stony faced for longest. I corpse continually. And yet this seems to be part of the process – when I do, I am told to keep my head ‘on stage’ to see what it brings. Suddenly I am trapped in the machine, laughing unstoppably out of fear and unable to leave. This is for me, at this stage in the rehearsals, what the piece is about. It’s not a new idea; being trapped by bodily functions was an idea that Beckett revolutionised. But it’s one of many ideas that I think Discords is trying to shed new light on in relation to Shakespeare, language and the theatre itself.

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