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Internet research: (in)formal onstage communication

30/06/2009

Thinking about the structure of what I am currently writing/making, I know that a lot of ‘dialogue’ so to speak will remain incomplete until I begin working with the actors. After having spent the last fortnight doing a lot of (largely) theoretical research into thematically what I will be working with, and aesthetically what I am hoping to achieve, some solid ideas have begun to slowly emerge. I eventually (this morning) had to put the books down and get into video and images, online interviews and a great deal of prizing my brain open. I am suddenly amazed at how grateful I am for YouTube and blogs, and really every ounce of Web 2.0 that has given me easy access to research material that I otherwise would have had to trawl trough the State, VCA and Melbourne University libraries for hours to find, or worse, not be able to discover at all.

As an aside: The beauty of the internet when it comes to contemporary research is its matrixed ability to lead us into so many other directions that we might ordinarily not know we need to discover. And while this happens in the context of a library and its catalogues absolutely, the speed and ease with which a google or wiki search produces results – rabbit holes down which to take oneself – is phenomenal. Some might say this is a negative thing – we’re losing the art of thorough, longhand research, but when time is a factor, and one’s work is clarified and expedited, I can only see its extraordinary simplicity as entirely positive. Given that we have full access to the technology that allows us to choose to divide our research time between books and electronic media, I have no ethical issues with complimenting one with the other (and in some instances eliminating the manual altogether). The beauty of this privileged position we’re now in made itself entirely known to me on Sunday, when sitting in a cafe reading a research text, I was able to google one of the authors cited on my iPhone and bring up their Wikipedia entry which linked to a catalogue of their written books, which I suppose I could have gone on to purchase on Amazon if I so desired. This could be easily shunned as the inundation of the individual with too much access to a) information and b) easy consumerism. And I suppose there actually is a part of me deep down who, knitting my own socks and baking my own bread, sits in the corner of my kitchen next to my pot-bellied stove and grumbles about the evils of the modern world and the corruption that capitalism has visited upon every starving child and artist. But then I realise just how reliant I am on the internet, electronic transactions, ease of access, my Mac products, and yes – the evil capitalist structure, and resolve that I am going to have to shrug off the guilt, and accept some material evils in favour of fighting different battles more effectively. I don’t think the middle-class are ever going to be truly resolved about this conundrum.

In returning to the question of the research: earlier on today I started out thinking about the two shows that I have actually seen (live in the flesh) over the last few years that use a similar device to that which I am more and more strongly leaning towards employing in Attract/Repel. These are Pichet Klunchun and Myself by Jerôme Bel, and more recently, STO Union’s 7 Important Things. As a result of googling around these two shows, I have today lighted upon the following two gems (to be honest, I didn’t have to look very hard for them):

Jerôme Bel’s work Veronique Doisneau, a piece made for the forty-two year old Paris Opera Ballet, corps de ballet dancer of the same name, on the eve of her retirement from classical dance. Below is part one of the film made on the final night of the performance. Parts two, three and four are available to watch on YouTube. More information on the project, and the film of the work is available on Jerôme Bel’s website, here.

The second beautiful thing offered up to me today by the Ws is an interview by Chris Dupuis with STO Union artistic director and co-creator of 7 Important Things, Nadia Ross. While I personally didn’t love every aspect of 7 Important Things, I found it fascinating, and what smacked me on the back of the head and out of my reverie was the clunkiness of transition from one form into another – it read to me as theatre being created before me – the backstage forward, the inside out. This is what I was most interested in on the night – the anatomy of the performance. I suppose what some might consider its ugliness, but I regarded as its most eloquent – its truest. Here is question 3 and its answer:

3. The first STO Union show I ever saw, I didn’t like. The improvisatory nature of the performance left me feeling like the artists on stage hadn’t put that much thought into what they were doing. It was only after seeing more of the company’s work that I began to understand the careful choreography that goes into creating a work which gives off the energy of being improvisatory. How do you respond to audience members who, being unfamiliar with the way in which the company works, respond to your work like this?

In my experience, I’ve met some audiences that like to be taken away by a strong narrative and the perfect/repeatable performance. They like the feeling of having their minds and imaginations taken for a ride through a well-made illusion. That’s just their cup of tea and when it is well done, it is a great experience. Often, this is a cultural difference: audiences in Germany, for example, are more at ease with different kinds of work than audiences in other parts of the world.

For those who don’t know how to approach our work but are willing to try, I say to them that one of the best ways to connect with the work is to stay in the moment. I think that the struggle people may be having is that their minds are trying to connect the dots and make a traditional story out of what they are seeing. They want to make sense of things right away and to feel secure in the thought that the performer is not going to make any mistakes – is not going to be humiliated. They came to see something solid, perfect; they don’t want to be reminded of our humanness, and they don’t want to be brought into the present moment. They want to be taken over and not participate at some level. Some people hate the feeling of ‘not knowing’ – it feels a little bit like a kind of death. If one can relax enough into this kind of open system, they often find that they’ve ended up somewhere they didn’t expect. This happens because they’ve allowed themselves to become more vulnerable, because usually that is what comes with ‘not knowing’. The audience’s vulnerability touches us onstage, and we also become more vulnerable. A kind of intimacy can ensue: it is a tangible feeling in the room and it is really nourishing for humans to experience this kind of intimacy.

So, at the moment I am thinking a great deal about the concept of ‘script’ and its various permutations. I have long maintained (as many, many now do) that theatre ‘text’ is not relegated solely to the spoken, verbal, or linguistic utterances of performers onstage. Many of the works I have found most engaging of late have dealt with text in a manner alternative to the traditional dialogue/monologue conceit of the well-made, or at least the linguistically-based theatre text. This is not necessarily because of the fact of its divergence from the convention, but because in doing so – that is to say, in the act of diverging – something quite other is created. It is not simply the absence of a traditional form, but all the other little things that are realised in its stead that often make for quite complex, difficult and conflicting theatrical experiences. This is what I am finding most interesting at the moment.

I have written before about an experience I had years ago before I graduated from VCA. I auditioned for and was asked to work with German artist, Uwe Mengel in a project that he created for MIAF ’02 entitled Lifeline. The rehearsal process was a series of interviews that he conducted one-on-one with us over the course of five weeks. We were then (the four actors/the four characters that we had created with Uwe) planted individually into booths that permitted a limited number of audience members. The audience were to ask us questions about the given narrative (this was about a murder), and what was unfolded by us (actors/characters) were the psychological and emotional states experienced with leading up to, and as a result of the fictional event. I often described it as not a ‘whodunnit’ but a ‘whydunnit’. The performance lasted for a duration of about an hour, during which the audience would wander from booth to booth either simply observing, or participating and asking questions of us. Our back-story/character had to be so watertight and clear in our minds that we could answer pretty much every question hurled at us, or convincingly make up the answer on the spot. Nothing was pre-scripted, at all. There was often repetition, but it was simply repetition of the ‘fact’ of our narrative in the way that someone under interrogation might have to repeat their story for different audiences.

I am not a big fan of verbatim theatre. Perhaps because I haven’t seen a great deal of it done very well, or perhaps because I simpy don’t like it. At any rate, it’s certainly not something I am interested in as a tool for creating performance. However, I am returning more and more to the idea of scriptlessness, or certainly, I am developing a strong curiosity towards the formalities and informalities of onstage communication, and the way that it has been explored recently by contemporary practitioners.

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