January 14, 2011

Theatrical Scales

Brecht and Stanislavski have created a sort of theatrical spectrum for any director approaching contemporary theatre. Alienation, the erosion of character and transparency in the theatrical mechanics of a show are all Brechtian notions; if you don’t want this, then you make character central to the play and search for 'truth'. Popular theatre is seen as aiming for the latter, Stanislavski’s legacy. Experimental theatre tends to be seen as the progeny of Brecht.

Trying to avoid these stereotypes, to create a new theatre, has caused some stagnation in the minds of the theatre world. Every device experimented with is shunted into a category and reduced to a point on a Brecht-Stanislavski spectrum. Escaping this spectrum seems impossible. Though I don’t believe that this is true for many theatre practitioners active at the moment, theatre critics have been handed a helpful lens which has proved limiting in perspective for many.

Discords, the play I’m currently rehearsing in, seems to have one solution: it embraces limitation. Thanks to Nomi Wallace’s set, we are given only our neck and head movement, our entrances and exits, and the nine positions in the set to play with. Jonny Heron has been working with us using Laban for actors, a three dimensional spectrum developed to describe any movement using three modes – put simply, speed, force and directness. The form of the play, like the Beckett that influences it, is hugely reductive. I am constantly aware that I am acting, and being evaluated, using these scales. I cannot escape them if I want to be part of the performance.

It is a deliberately scientific approach to theatre. I become part of a machine, with certain limitations, designed to fulfil a function. The machine can be tweaked through Jonny’s direction – the Laban modes – and his re-structuring of his script. But I am also part of an experiment, in which the variables have been fixed, hoping to work out what a theatrical experience is fundamentally based upon. I am sure that the audience will go away confused, as I did. And perhaps that says that theatre cannot be confined to spectrums or scales. Or perhaps it says that theatre is confined to these spectrums, but meaning is not.


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