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musings

the more i think about it, the more i come to realise that theatre isn't anything at all. we fall into believing it is something because there is a performance, but it isn't really there. it is, by it's nature, transcient and that isn't a bad thing. the impact theatre can have deals with its ability to capture a moment in time. a play like, say, Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' can be performed over and over with each interpritation being new because it not only captures the zeitgeist of the moment but the humanity of it as well.

humanity istself changes daily and the truths of yesterday rarely survive the crucilble of today. and in this we must remember a few things...

1: in 100 years we have gone from the Polish cavalry being the most fiercesome fighting unit in the world to ICBMs. we have gone from horse and buggy to sending satellites into orbit and even sending a manned mission to the moon. we have sent voyager beyond the solar winds. fifty years ago there were only 2.5 billion people on the earth, now we are pushing 7. things changed very rapidly.

2: the rate of change increases almost daily. it took many years to figure out electronic computing, now there is quantum atomic computing theory. my mp3 player has more computing power than the first manned craft to the moon. it took less than forty years to move from digital watches being a neat idea to ipods.

we now have so many entertainment choices that it would be rediculous and elitist to believe that theatre is somehow immune to it. we live with TV, cinema, the internet, Djs, DVDs, live music and dance.

we in the theatre either change or die.

the third thing i am less certain of, although it has made for interesting meditation. the planet is dying and i think we as humans can sense it. we see the cloud of doom approaching and are lost, submitting ourselves to the humiliation of hyper-consumerism.

i recently read a brief interview with the director Declan Donnellan. he said saomething that struck me as profound in its truth about the theatre. i paraphrase, 'the theatre will survive despite our best attempts to kill it.' he was talking about theatre as an archetypical need (i think he even worded it as such) which does not need a tradition.

we tell eachother stories all the time. we tell ourselves also, our own personal mythologies (i have my own) and these can often times be anything but productive. in this sense tradition becomes the bane of the theatre, a chain of stagnation.

perhaps it is time to get rid of acting schools and let the theatre speak for itself, if it has anything left to say.

freedom, pt 1

this is a thought in progress.

can theatre be used as a measure of freedom? this is something that has been playing in my head for a few days now. recently, in this community, a director for the free theatre in belarus made a comment to my last post regarding audience responses to shows. and indeed, how shows are selected. the audience is stagnant in both locations. the audience applauds because it thinks it has to (UK) or must (there).

in theory, we have the freedom to boo, hiss and cat-call when a show is rubbish. but i have never seen it.

a short time ago the 'jerry springer opera' was making its rounds of the UK. i, unfortunately, did not have an opportunity to see it but i am usually okay with any theatre that causes people to talk about it by raising a bit of contreversy. and there was. a lot. a great deal of pressure was placed upon the theatres who where hosting the touring theatre company that the show was actually cancelled in a few locations. threats were issues by the 'christians.' serious threats.

can theatre be a measure of freedom?

my understanding is that in bela rus the state dictates who directs the shows, which shows, where, for how long. there is an underground theatre communtiy whose members run the risk of being arrested and detained for daring to put on something challenging. and i am willing to bet that the afore mentioned christian wing-nuts who made such a fuss over the JS Opera would look down their noses at the situation in belarus. 'those poor people aren't free.

christians and communist dictators creating the same state of fear which stifles creative thought.

as a strange irony, fidel castro once said, and i paraphrase, that because one can choose from several different brands of cola does not mean one is free. my thought - capitalism and democracy should never be confused one for the other. china has a very healthy capitalistic economy.

is fidel correct? possibly. the fact that i can opt between pepsi and coke does not mean i am free. but perhaps the fact that i can opt to choose neither does... maybe. but i am still unsure.

what the would be theocrates in the UK failed to understand is that their freedom ends where mine begins. i like jesus jokes, they make me laugh. and if someone does not like them they should probably not tell them or go to a place where those joke will be told.

i will, of course, defend the religious rights freedom to peaceably protest the JS opera but i will not defend threats and harrasment in the name of an imaginary friend.

to be continued....

thoughts on theatre

I often struggle with what theatre is in a modern context. I know what she was but I am uncertain as to what she is. What I do know is that I am often disappointed in what I see on stages a majority of the time. I think I am more upset with the publics’ reaction to this low quality theatre than at the work itself.

For example, last weekend I saw a student production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the local university. The actor who played Betty in the first half and Edward in the second half was rubbish (I am being polite). He was incredibly self-aware, aware of the ‘jokes’ in the script and nearly corpsed several times in the first act. He never knew where to look, his eyes dashing about and over the audience. All of this is basic technique. Anyone who I daring to go on the stage at that level should know how to find their middle distance at the very least, not to mention being enough in the character to not be ‘hammy.’

Compare this with one of his co-actors. She played Edward in the first half and Betty in the second. Hers was a subtle performance with a good depth of understanding of what and what her characters were. There was no self-awareness with her technique used as brush strokes rather than paint rollers. For example, in the second half she is playing an older woman raised in colonial Africa during the Victorian era. She knew how to sit in a skirt. This may seem trivial but it is rare enough for me to see an actor that has that understanding that it becomes noteworthy. She also knew how to hold her purse, tightly with both hands in front of her on the purse. Betty mentions she doesn’t trust the strangers in the park and this minor way of standing let’s us see the character without having to be told.

I hate being told by actors, I want to be shown.

Two actors, the same play. One has missed the point while the other shows an excellent understanding of her craft for her experience level. The rest of the cast, for the most part, was where I would expect a university student to be. They had moments where they were flat, but generally were adequate.

The true fault came in the direction. The play was co-directed, a common university production method that I am vehemently opposed to. The first act was directionless. There was no rhythm though much tempo. (For info on what I mean please read Richard Boleslavsky’s book, Acting: the First Six Lessons) they seemed to rush through the tricky bits. The second half was better in so much as the actors seemed to have a sense of whom they were and why they were.

I found out later which director had directed which half and was not surprised. I had seen a work at the Edinburgh Fringe this past summer directed by the director of the first half and noted all the same mistakes. As I have said elsewhere, I have no trouble with people making mistakes (I certainly still make them) but I cannot excuse making the same mistakes twice. The director of the second half also had a play in Edinburgh, which was very well done and I thought this person has some talent. And she does.

But I am digressing.

After the first half the audience applauded. I was stunned by the reaction. I looked at the two people I had come to the show with and said, not quietly, “that was crap.” I then proceeded outside and had a fag. They joined me outside, though neither of them smoke, and asked my what I had disliked about it. (They, sadly, were in the throng that applauded) I countered by asking them why they had enjoyed it. The responded, “it was really funny.” Me, “of course it was funny, Caryl Churchill writes some remarkably funny stuff.” Pause, “so what was the first half about?” I asked. And here is where what I find disappointing about theatre came out. They hadn’t a clue. The social, sexual and cultural politics being viewed from the stereotype was lost. All the actors could muster was ‘funny’ because they hadn’t the craft to do any better and were not given the means to do any better from the director.

After the show my friends did comment the second half was much better than the first though not as funny. Again, the actors were given better tools from the director and were able to rise to the occasion.

And the issue was directorial for the most part. Outside of the actor I mentioned above, who should be told he can’t act by his instructors, the cast was fine for its level.

And here is where I hit upon it, the problem with the production. The instructors. After the show all the fellow students of the cast were waiting in the lobby and each in turn told the fore mentioned bad actor that he was brilliant. The ‘luvvy’ culture hard at work patting itself on the back when they should be reflecting on how to do it better next time.

Later I found out from a few former students from that department that this is a normal occurrence. The instructors are not critical, their students can do no wrong, and everything is brilliant.

I would like to say, for the record, everything is not brilliant. Everything is not brilliant when a sub-par piece of work is allowed to be produced on a stage and then no critical response comes. I have no issue with students putting on shows that fail. They should put on shows that fail as often as possible so they can learn from it. But they aren’t learning. They are being told how wonderful they are and therefore have no need to change, or strive, or learn.

A few days later I was in Borders purchasing a few books (Martin Esslin’s ‘Theatre of the Absurd,’ Brecht’s ‘On Theatre,’ and Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ translated by Simon Nye) when I recognised two lasses from the university theatre department looking, confusedly, for books in the theatre section. So I asked what they were looking for.


Her 1: Books on Directing.
Me: You mean a, ‘how to direct a play,’ book?
Her 2: We know how to direct, we’re just looking for books on it.
At this point I smiled and said, ‘possibly. Here, read these.’


I picked out ‘The Empty Space’ by Peter Brook, ‘Directing a Play’ by Michael McCaffery, and one other book that escapes my memory at the moment. My theatre company partner was there with me and just gave me a look. I told the young women, “Read them, but remember there is only one way to direct a play and that is to direct a play. So go direct something and get someone to watch it who will point out all your mistakes. You will make many mistakes, we all do, and then you will learn. And then, maybe, you will be a director.” They looked confused but said thank you. I don’t think anyone has told them they could fail or that they will mistakes.

I left. Who knows? Maybe I sent them on a path to good theatre. Here’s hoping so.

E.