All 4 entries tagged Fail Better
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January 25, 2011
I usually feel like there's a remainder from a show that's swept away on the last night with the set and the piles of dust and dirt that somehow makes it into those sterile studio spaces. Giving notes after the last performance is unnecessary, undoubtedly, and a director who tells you that you fluffed a line when you're opening the first can of the after-show isn't particularly popular. But here are my own debrief notes.
Seeing Discords alongside Diary of a Madman, a piece based on the works of Gogol, suddenly made so much sense for me. The evening became about watching a descent into madness, then about being mad. As a theatre-goer, you evaluate what you see in relation to the oeuvre of theatre that you've seen before. So to be confronted with a sequence of heads reciting Shakespeare's lines, shredded and repeated, which you've almost certainly heard before but never like this, becomes your own madness; as you constantly try and lace together a narrative from the shards of past conceptions, never quite pulling one together. It's a torture and a breakdown, not for the heads themselves but for the contemporary theatre-goer, and the double-bill created that connection.
This brought to my attention the idea of the double bill in general: I suddenly found myself trying to think of what two plays would go together in a challenging way. With Discords and Diary, entirely new interpretations were opened up (not necessarily deliberately). Adding the second knot to the rope defines a new space to examine; to fray; to peel away; to eventually sever. Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue and Bob too alongside the verbatim piece A State Affair is an excellent example of a double-bill that challenges and fractures both plays, creating a whole new discourse between them.
Perhaps all plays should be performed as part of a provocative and challenging double-bill. Or perhaps its just a search for the polyvocal, the second perspective, the contradiction in everything. As a head in Discords, each night I stared out into the audience or down at the floor and could see nothing but blackness. You can't always count on things that are there being there. The truth about all of these interpretations is that there isn't a true one; where others are hidden, more light up. The most important thing I've taken from this process is not to assume that there is nothing to be gained from having to put a lot of imagination into interpreting other people's works, regardless of how much they've put in.
January 14, 2011
In British theatre, Shakespeare and Beckett have cult hero status. Shakespeare is frequently seen as the source of all archetypal narratives in theatre, and arguably Beckett has done the same thing for the theatrical form. Jonny Heron’s script for Discords remains loyal to Shakespeare’s characters but slices lines from Macbeth and King Lear into a deliberate, poetical order, but without any clear narrative intention. I believe he does this very well; to the extent that a Shakespearean scholar could recognise each line and its source and still not be distracted from the performance in front of him. Lines are repeated, the sense is deliberately drained from them. New characters are created from these lines, ghosts of the old.
This has two results. The seemingly invincible stigma wrapped around Shakespeare’s characters – almost every modern day character can be seen as derivative – begins to leak. We also become very aware, as an audience, that the characters we have so aggrandized in our minds are derived by readers and actors from their text. They are not the characters of a novel; they are assumed and interpreted from what they say. Now, the interesting part of this is that it is almost exactly the same for the plot of Shakespeare’s plays. His stage directions are sparse, and we generally get all our inspiration for movement from the words of his characters. These words, the words that the ghosts in Discords speak, contain as much of Shakespeare’s plots as they do of the characters.
Discords detaches the language from these plots to create a new piece. By doing this, for me, Shakespeare’s characters are deconstructed; they become the sum of their parts, slaves to their own voices and words. Here, again, Beckett starts to re-appear. Instead of real people, Discords takes Shakespeare’s characters and shows them as slaves to their bodies; but this time, they are slaves to their embodiment in a theatrical space.
To turn Discords into a piece of meta-theatre, the machine we reside in is perhaps ‘language’, viewed from the 4th dimension, as an embodiment in space rather than just in time. Hopefully that bit of interpretation is too convoluted to allow Discords to be written off there. There certainly seems to be more in it for me.
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.
So we were told to start a blog for our ICW module. The problem was, I'd just started an abortive blog somewhere else to document some things I'd been thinking about Discords, Fail Better's ensemble piece at the arts centre next week. Feeling bad about the waste of internet space (I hear the internet is almost full), I decided to copy them here. They really were only a few days old.
Following this, I'll start on some 'real' stuff.