Monday, May 28, 2007

Straight back down, y'all, straight back down to earth

I caught this morning morning's bunion: the grim sight of myself in the mirror newly out-of-bed and with my recently shortened hair sort of sticking up in the middle like an impromptu Hoxton fin. Instantly I was thrust into the terrifying middle of a fantasy about fronting a grotesque tribute band called Fat Travis. Right? Just like Travis, but fat. BANK!

That's BANK! as in The Weakest Link, not as in Bank Holiday, which it is of course today but so gloomy and damp and miserable that it's hard not to assume that we've all nationally wandered blindly into the middle of a Jasper Carrott routine (I'm guessing here) about how the weather's always bad on Bank Holidays zzzzzzzzz. So I'm not taking it too seriously. But hell's (in reverse alphabetical order) teeth pants and bodikins, what gloom!; yesterday, back in London at last, was like the deepest vilest barely-imaginable underbelly of a Victorian February. It took every remaining moral fibre of my being, i.e. both of them, to resist succumbing instantly to consumption. Instead I flagellated myself Gladstonically with limbs ripped off a self-felled oak and copped a furtive look at a daguerrotype of a lady's bare ankle, all of which was thoroughly restoring. Except, except, what on earth am I talking about?

Thank you to everyone who's so kindly enquired after the health of Speed Death. I'm happy to say that the condemned men and women have been eating hearty breakfasts, day in day out.

The process leading up to the opening was actually kind of eerie. I have never before, never, worked on a project where the tech finished ahead of time and where two dress rehearsals were not just scheduled but actually achieved. No tempers frayed, nothing went particularly wrong even; I've experienced greater stress walking on a beach at sunset. (Anyone who's ever tried to spend any quality time with me on a beach will attest to the truth of that statement.) I had no sleepless nights, and, as far as I can recall, only one pre-first-night anxiety dream, in which Speed Death turned out to closely resemble Fiddler on the Roof. Which one would have to say it really didn't. (Unless one were the chap in Pericles who describes how "The very principals did seem to rend, / And all too Topol.")

And so, facing little to no opposition from the relevant gods and goddesses, we have a show, and I suppose at this moment, with only five performances remaining, it's nearer to been and gone than here and now. After a first night that was, almost needless to say, nervy, a bit skittery in places -- though, from my seat in the front row (not my choice, but I arrived at the theatre only a couple of minutes before the doors closed to find, completely unexpectedly, a more-or-less sellout crowd, students mostly, writing energetically on big A4 notepads, and many of them appearing not once, at any moment, to look at the stage), nonetheless overwhelming -- things have mostly gone really well.

The only bad time we've had so far -- though boy was it a bad time -- was on the first Saturday night. A substantial audience again, lots of friends in, all the actors really looking forward to a best-yet performance... Everything starts fine, but then the first big music cue, a big lavish bit of Handel, never arrives. For a few seconds I assume it's just a teething problem, someone new is calling the show, I'm trying to remember if somebody said someone new is also operating the sound... And then I realise I can just about, very faintly, hear the Handel. So the cue has gone all right, it's just the level is utterly wrong. And then the mic seems not to be live either. And it's only then that I -- slowest of slowcoaches as ever -- realise that the whole first scene is voiceover, and if we're not getting the music, we're not going to get that either...

Finally, finally, after a full five minutes of something plainly being awfully wrong, the show is stopped, the audience is apologised to. Somebody somewhere switches on the amp that never got turned on during the pre-show soundcheck that presumably never happened. After a relatively brief hiatus, generously received by the audience, the play restarts, though not from the beginning. So the Saturday house will never understand that opening sequence; they are, in effect, from this point on, seeing a different play in a quite different context.

With so many people running the show technically, it's both bewildering and totally understandable that such a rudimentary mistake should be made. Everyone of course looked green afterwards, was full of apologies and assurances, and it's very hard to be cross with anyone in particular, though of course I felt absolutely furious and in all sorts of ways rather pained. I've done more than enough stuff to know that these apparently inexplicable things happen, and at one level you have to accept that that's just how theatre goes sometimes.

I do think, however, that there's something very wrong at a cultural level -- not specifically in respect of TRP, where almost without exception everyone has been hugely capable and positive and supportive and certainly everyone wants to do their best for the piece: but in terms of the assumptions about theatre that seem underwrite the construction and management of most theatre environments from Drum-scale upwards.

Let me say first of all that there is definitely something lulling about it, something that very impressively assuages the impulse to vigilance. I've never been in a production meeting with fourteen other people before; heck, Lavinia, I've barely been in a production meeting before. This machine. Stuff is done before you've even finished saying it. Have I ever made a piece before where I didn't buy most of the props myself? Photocopy the scripts myself? It's fantastic, it's like being in a luxury hotel, it's like putting on a play at the Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur: complimentary dressing gown, chocolate on your pillow... These people know what they're doing and so when they say, well, how we do it is this way, you say, cool, let's do that then.

But like most machines, this machine has no intelligence within itself. This is not to say that the people who comprise the machine are unintelligent, just that they surrender their intelligence to the needs of the machine. There is something incredibly estranged about their experience. That radio that Gemma turns on in scene 7: that's the DSM, who can just about see and hear the performance, slightly anticipating the motion of Gemma's thumb and saying "Sound cue 18 [or whatever] -- Go!" to the sound operator, who is one floor up and listening to the DSM's voice on headphones, and cannot see and can barely hear the performance, and whose job it is then to press the button that launches the sound effect of the radio which then plays from a speaker in roughly the right area of the stage, at a pre-ordained volume level and for a pre-determined duration. This is what "she turns on the radio" now means. However many people running the show, only one of whom has a script in front of them or who has even -- in any meaningful sense -- seen the play, and none of whom are in the same room as the performance, or the audience, not least because they need to be able to talk to each other on headphones, which they need to be able to do because they're not in the same room as the performance, which is because... oh, hang on, I'm in a terminal loop. I may need to be put down.

We have an immensely capable, bright, engaging DSM, who has been absolutely on top of everything throughout. But she's never said -- it's not in her job description to say -- Chris, how do you want this bit to feel? What should the audience experience of this be? So, like an early computer programmer punching holes in cards, it's my job to translate those touchy-feely things into: just wait an extra two seconds before you launch that cue; take the next cue from when that actor turns his head... Which means the actor always has to turn his head at that point in the piece; that two seconds one night is going to have to feel as long as two seconds the next night.

Nobody is in the same room as the performance. Physically; psychologically. Nobody is there. Everyone is paying attention, doing their best, ready to hit button A or throw switch B. Nobody is in the room. But the room is where the theatre event is taking place. The room is fraught with contingency. One night, a full-house audience is laughing throughout, at funny lines, at not-so-funny lines, and the pace of the dialogue has to twist to accommodate this, and the tone. The shifting tonality is not expressible over the headphones, even if it's been able to penetrate the glass walls separating the operators from the stage. The next night, a smaller and slightly restless audience is having trouble staying with the super-fast dynamic of one particular scene, and the actors sense it, and want to give some breathing space to what they're doing, and the scene ends quite differently than it did in rehearsal. But the fade down on the lights is the same speed that it always is -- it has to be. (And that, of course, is one I'm used to, at least. I know I've been pottering around the fringes for a long time but even I've got used to the gentle tyrannies of the automatic lighting board...)

I can't stress how much I'm not criticising any of the people involved, but they are all serving the needs of a machine that has absolutely nothing to do with theatre: at least, as I understand it and relate to it. The assumption this whole system is built on is that the ideal is for each performance to resemble the last as exactly as possible; that a brilliant performance is a clean and efficient one that as closely as possible matches some agreed template we determined between us during (or even in advance of) the tech. Whether they've had a good day at work depends on how well they've managed to avoid having to make any decisions, because if they've made a decision, it means something's gone wrong, there's been some deviation from the agreed standard.

Which is why, when something really does go seriously wrong, like the complete absence of amplified sound for the first five minutes of the show, it's so hard for anyone to take the decision to stop. Because no one has a reliable sense of how much this matters. There's no sound, ok, but maybe the last time someone forgot to turn on an amp (if it's ever happened before), it was at the top of a show where the music wasn't particularly integral to the experience, where it was decorative, just a conventional device for covering a transition or whatever, and it might have been a pity but nobody would have felt they'd missed something by missing, whatever, twenty seconds of tinkly piano. So when they're asking themselves, Does this matter?, or How much does this matter? Does this matter enough?, they need, in order to be able to answer those questions, they need to understand the artistic vision of the work, they need to consider themselves part of the creative team. Not only do they not, not only are they encouraged not to, but they're not even in the room. And this is what leads not just to that moment itself being botched, but what was for me a far more serious and disappointing error: that after the problem had been fixed, the performance was not re-started from the beginning, but picked up where it left off, five minutes in -- and this despite the fact that the actors backstage were arguing strenuously for the full re-start. That was the greater injury to the work, in the end, and it bothers me that that audience left not having seen an even adequate account of the piece, notwithstanding the sterling work the actors all did to try and make up the ground. But of course you wouldn't know that if you'd never been in the room.

I guess the set of proposals that you might extrapolate from these objections must seem absurd, and I suppose some of them probably are at a certain scale. But ever since that horrible shuddery Saturday night, I haven't been able to get out of my mind one of my favourite images from my last few years of theatre-going: when the Present Company, from New York, came to London to present Julia Barclay's work for the first time at CPT during my tenure there, a double-bill called Word to No One, and for whole stretches of that I had only one eye on the actors and the other on the lighting designer, a beautiful (in every way) guy called Justin Sturges, sitting on the floor, with the theatre's crappy twelve-channel manual board, operating the lights not off a plan, not off a series of cue points, but off the script that he had in his head, and the feel he had from sitting in the room with the audience and the actors. Different every night. He knew what he had to play with, and he played with it, just as the actors did. It wasn't, by a hundred miles, as visually beautiful as the stunning design Anna Watson did for Speed Death, with the (to me) remarkable resources at her disposal. But it was musical, it was generous, it was participating, it was alive. It was light behaving like light, amid a roomful of people behaving like people. And, quite a lot of the time, the doors were open.

I had better admit that much of the blame, or the responsibility anyway, rests with my inexperience. If I go back to the Drum -- and in ever so many ways I hope that's a when rather than an if -- I suspect I would be in a better position to say, can we operate lights and sound from within the room, and can we not run this off cans, and so on. I wouldn't so much accept that the machine knows best. What the machine knows is how to preserve the operation of the machine, and its connection with the room where the theatre happens is loyal and well-intended but precarious and, ultimately, like all unmusical phenomena, meaningless.

Anyway. Enough of that. I'm just interested in the invisible assumptions, and not least in how easy it is to be seduced by their effects. I found myself thinking a lot: no wonder so many directors turn in to such assholes.

Another minor disappointment, I guess, is that, for various reasons (and I suppose perhaps above all because it meant too much to us), the performance on press night really never warmed up: it went through all the right motions in the right order -- and that's no mean feat with such a fiendishly difficult and complicated piece -- but the spark just wasn't there, and we weren't surprised when the Guardian review that arose (and yeah, no, no other broadsheets -- sweet of you to even imagine anyone else among the London critics even knowing where Plymouth is...) was kind of mixed: bringing us back to earth with a bump after a very nice preview and a neat first night mini-review from somebody called The Happy Robot. I guess Lyn Gardner's not saying anything that Happy Robot doesn't say, but he sounds more turned on by it, and of course he isn't compelled to give us a star rating. Don't worry, I'm not about to go off on one (another one) about the star thing, but suffice it to say that I've had four star reviews for much less interesting and less developed work, simply by setting the bar lower and clearing it. I don't think that's the culture Lyn would speak up for, but it's a shame that that's what that three-star rating says on her behalf. The positive stuff is not drowned out exactly, but ultimately that fourth star is, if nothing else, probably the difference between being able to work towards a future life for the piece, and it disappearing at the end of this week.

Screw it, I'm going to say this: it's the bravest and boldest work I've done in years, and in many ways the most achieved, and it's miserable and painful to think that it all comes down to fourteen performances that most people with any interest in my work were never going to be able to see. It's not a perfect piece, and Lyn's probably right that more working time would have helped. On the other hand, I'm surprised by her objection to it not being narratively "strong" enough. The elliptical and half-hidden narrative is, apparently not-quite-needless to say, a choice. I'm not one of those hairshirt experimentalists who despises story or disagrees with the fundamental importance of narrative to our lives and behaviours and relationships: but I think the idea that a theatre piece ought to tell a story is basically misguided. As human beings we don't experience stories. We experience ideas, images, moments, indications, and we sort through them using a bunch of different ordering and mnemonic technologies, of which narrative is one of the strongest and most effective. It's important that we tell stories to each other, and some of the fragments that come to us in our experience will of course be other people's stories, and that's important too. But for story to be meaningful, we have to order -- in other words, to author -- it for ourselves. I want theatre, the art form that is most like lived experience, to be faithful to that process. Stories are not what we see, or hear, or sense: they are what we remember, or what we may sometimes predict. So when you come to the theatre I want to give you an array of vivid and polyvalent experiences -- ideas, images, moments, indications -- and I want the sorting of those experiences into whatever kind of story makes sense to you (if that's what you want) to be your task for the onward journey. Those of us who made the work have our own ideas, sure, but equally, much of the excitement for us is knowing how many stories we may be initiating that we don't know, that we've never heard.

Which reminds me of what happened on the second night, the first Friday. That was a great experience: the performance was way better than the first, everything was much more settled, the springy rhythms of the dialogue were more surely felt, it all added up to the piece I hoped we were making. TRP threw us a kind bash afterwards, throughout which I sat contentedly on my increasingly stately-galleon rump while folks came over and perched in the vacant chair next to me and told me nice things about the show. Even at the theatre not everyone digs the piece, not by a long and squeaky chalk, but there's no doubt that some folks -- mostly those who find themselves able to let it all happen to them without feeling the need to analyse or tidy stuff up as it's going along -- are very profoundly touched by Speed Death, they seem to recognize at a deep and intuitive level what it is that we've been trying to do, and they are genuinely excited and moved, and that's great. The best remarks, for me -- some of the best things anyone's ever said about anything I've ever done -- came from one person connected with the production (I won't name her because I haven't asked her if I can) who turns out to be synaesthetic. After telling us that Speed Death reminded her of the first time she heard The Rite of Spring, she talked a little bit about the colours she'd experienced while she was watching it, and then said that quite a lot of the show had tasted to her of chocolate trifle. -- Not only that, but she said she didn't normally like chocolate trifle, but she'd enjoyed it during the show. It's completely impossible to imagine a better review than that.

Ach, it's been a fantastic experience. And these actors, my God! Let me name them right here: Gemma Brockis, Catherine Dyson, Lucy Ellinson, Sebastien Lawson, Finlay Robertson. And let me name also Wendy Hubbard, our n+1th Beatle; and Naomi Dawson and Anna Watson, our design team. All these people, all of them, working so kindly and carefully and warmly and with such evident regard for each other, and with such a complete lack of vanity or histrionics, that it was never less than easy to forget that I was, day in, day out, asking them to, y'know, walk through fire. What an honour it's been for me to advance my work through theirs.

OK, enough. Other stuff. Plymouth. The National Marine Aquarium! I made friends with the cow fish. It grunts when you pick it up; I can relate. (You're not allowed to pick it up, sadly, but the label says...) And we spent a long time staring in dire upset at a peculiarly disturbing, pale, etiolated octopus, only to notice eventually that the octopus we were supposed to be looking at was actually hiding in a little cave on the other side of the tank, and what we'd been examining all that time was something that had obviously, er... come out of the octopus at some point. Taxi for Dr Cousteau.

Oh and we went back to the Gin Factory for more cocktails. I stuck with my favourite from the previous visit but that was probably foolish, I was outdone by my colleagues on every side. Particular kudos to Fin who had the gumption to order something called a, what?, a Custard Boy Collins or something, that tasted of apple custard. One sip and it was like I'd died and gone to primary school.

And then, the night before I left, a two-days-premature birthday party for me: a surprise and a complete delight. The gang bought me a bunch of great skate stuff, and Fin's cats got me a copy of Neil Bartlett's new novel, which I didn't even know existed and which looks characteristically sumptuous; and, ah, well, there may have been some sort of old-school porn magazine too, though let me stress that it was only politeness that compelled me to stare at it in gaping and tearful awe for an entire hour while the party continued around me. Sebastien whipped up a beautiful warm salad and we drank a pleasant array of, oh, pretty much everything we could see, and Death Cab for Cutie were on the stereo, and Jon Spooner was on the sofa, and everything was just utterly butterly beautiful. What a wrench, to come away.

London. The Zizek documentary at the ICA. Better than the reviews were mostly saying; or, rather, no better than the reviews but good fun nonetheless. The man is just so relentlessly interesting and charismatic and there's so much to enjoy in his thinking, and not least simply in his blithely amused horror at the nominal (and somewhat mimed) crisis of his own near-psychotic detachment from other people. Also he is still basically Slovenian Tassos. (Opening for Fat Travis any day now.)

And Leaves of Glass at the Soho. Loads of brilliant writing from Philip Ridley, as ever; some great acting from all four of them, though for me I'd have to say Ben Whishaw is still in a class of his own: he really does confirm his burgeoning reputation as the outstanding actor of his generation: his intelligence, his grace, his musical control, his daring. If any word of backlash has reached you, don't believe it, it's motivated by fear. On the whole I didn't find the production so convincing, the staging was a bit drab, there were occasional slumps. Admittedly it's a more tonally muted play than The Pitchfork Disney or Mercury Fur: it's less jagged, closer perhaps to Vincent River. But even so I wasn't sure that the production was able to meet the play unreservedly right at its pounding heart. Still, good to see, and Phil's writing continues to dazzle and inspire.

What else? Some interesting time working a bit on An Apparently Closed Room -- though stymied a bit by a double-booking at the studio; Theron was on good form, despite being in recovery from the previous day's Grunts for the Arts event on Hackney Marshes, in which he'd competed in the 400m Butoh race. (Best. Mental. Image. Ever.) Catching up on some of the new music that hasn't had my attention in the past few weeks: I'm particularly liking Commuter Anthems by Opsvik & Jennings, on Rune Grammofon. Watching a lot of West Wing, though I'm working through Season 3 which I think everyone acknowledges was a bit of a dip.

And just beginning to fret a little bit about how my diary goes basically blank from the beginning of September. It's pretty busy up till then, with Longwave opening at the Lyric in about three weeks, and Hippo World Guest Book premiering in the Artsadmin Summer Season before that, and a new home show to write with Lucy Ellinson. And lots of conversations and little nibbles and such like. But post-Edinburgh, yikes. You can almost smell the tumbleweed. What an odd life. What a rubbish time to have left my heart and my homies in Plymouth. It's not a nice feeling that the nearest group hug is a three hour train journey away.

But I guess it'll be ok, I guess, I guess... At any rate the forecast tomorrow is for a bit of sunshine amid the showers. So, you know. Three stars, right?

(Wink.)

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's what "she turns on the radio" now means... That was really interesting. Your anger is entirely understandable and indeed proportionate but yes, it sounds like next time you'll obviously be able to change the settings of the machine (thereby forfeiting all this blithe, ahead-of schedule nonsense. mystery solved.) It was a shit fact of Amato Saltone that we performed to a matrix of unalterable soundcues but in one sense I'm surprised you say such a setup has nothing to do with your idea of theatre. I'm surprised because of Puckerlips. The stunt work required there to match a performance to a soundtrack appeared a very attractive theatrical option when I saw it. What was that like for you in the light of your last post, if that's not too boring a question? I mean, how an actor deals with a theatrical machine is always theatrical. Likewise, things going wrong are REALLY theatrical. Not necessarily good, and not what-you-want (not the same, obviously, as not-what-you're-after) by definition, but theatrical.
I really hope to catch the last night tomorrow, although I suspect I won't see anyone walking through fire. I suspect that was a lie.
And
Lyn (n?)Garder is and HAS ALWAYS been a demon sent here to lower our standards and love your weakest work. She liked the Tempest because you did the washing up, and has never shown any interest as far as I can see in craning her head to catch sight of a higher bar... Actually reading over that again, this whole "setting the bar" thing might be a bit of a false lead. Set the bar where you like, this isn't a contest any more than it's an experiment (although your account of Disassocia was a model of sportsmanship). This whole vocabulary of risk and danger (unless you mean commitment itself is dangerous, there you're right, emotionally, totally, but sort of obviously) is as unhelpful and self-deluding as the scientific jargon constantly coopted by theatre... "theory" to mean opinion, "experiment" to mean WHAT? Anyone can do whatever they like on stage for a bit, that's no secret, the end... The work of yours that Lyn Gardner liked the best set its bar no lower than anything else you did... if it had I wouldn't have been disappointed so often (Fuck that sounds harsh, sorry, but, um, I think I liked Escapolology so much because there weren't any bars in the way) Maybe I bring my own bar, but if so my bar and I are inseperable... Any thoughts on Puckerlips and lip-synching though would be greatly and gratefully read.
And clearly these words ignore all the practicalities of actually making a work of art for a living. Since I'm useless at it. (So much is so clear when you're an indolent amateur. No, an amateur, indolent or otherwise.) I hope this doesn't read like I'm a tit.
All the best.
Be well,
Simon Kane

George Hunka said...

Good post, Chris, I especially found your notes on story and narrative quite to the point.

Sorry your blog dropped off my blogroll in the recent move; I've returned it to its rightful place. And congratulations on the show. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to see it.

dfc said...

Yes, exactly. But: Why are we still even talking about radios in 2007? I just returned from Singapore ... NO ONE is in the same room. It's one endless machine. In my opinion. Have you seen the movie TRON? Also, saw Bill T. Jones' Blind Date, and did not enjoy being told what to think about it for the whole 90 minutes. Enjoyed the dancing though, for the few brief sections where they decided to have dancing.
Also, not sure how I respond to being obliquely referred to as a post-September "nibble." Or am I a "conversation?" Either way, bite, Chris. Bite.

Chris said...

Simon, thanks, sorry to be so slow replying.

You're right about Puckerlips, and that's not something I've got over -- We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg used a similar trick, just once, but to stronger effect -- strong enough that it sometimes felt uncanny to me, even: to be speaking live and then have a track fade up with the same words being spoken. When that unison hit perfectly, as it did maybe a quarter of the time, it was pretty delightful even from the inside.

And particularly because that whole show was about artlessness and concealed artfulness nestling together. Which is what I think is the key, & was for Puckerlips too. I agree about the attractiveness of those moments but for me what makes them attractive is the dynamic where there's obviously no such constraint -- like, in Quirkafleeg, being able to have a real and self-evidently unprepared conversation with the audience -- and then suddenly, without any visible join, there is: and something at that moment then depends, say, on literally split-second timing. It's the kind of thing that gets called "magical" in reviews, not because it behaves like magic but because in performing it one behaves like a magician.

I agree there's some machine in Puckerlips and I wouldn't so much want to go there now. Though, admittedly, much of Longwave is similarly intractably sound-driven. But again, I think that palpable breathing-in-and-out between the free and the constrained, the ramshackle and the meticulous, with all its titillating diversionary business, is pretty appealing.

I don't think that's quite what I mean by machine, anyway. Which is much more to do with a shaping, forming, authorizing influence that is extraneous to, but obviously inflective of, the creative process. If we had been able to start from scratch with Speed Death... -- how best can we make this work technically? -- I don't think we'd have arrived at a network of invisible and physically remote people with a headphone relay.

I didn't too much mind the mechanics of Amato Saltone because one never quite saw them; and because one spent so much of the time thinking: Is this right? Was that meant to happen? etc. Whereas I was utterly and wretchedly bothered by it in Tropicana because the internal franchise effect was completely visible in what became, for me, an oppressive way.

But that's -- just as you say -- specifically about theatre, and I often think about Tropicana that I'd have minded much less about that aspect of it if it had been billed as a dance piece. In which context that level of control from outside would have seemed perfectly acceptable, or at least been placeable in a more progressive lineage.

I'm not sure how I feel about the 'things going wrong are REALLY theatrical' thing. Because the radical covenant of theatre is that 'things going wrong' is not an admissable category of experience. 'Things going wrong' belongs to the world of performance, which is a sort of isolationist region of theatre. Performance is theatre's Texas. (The place, not so much the band.)

When I am old enough and brave enough and well anyway independent enough, I'll make what I most want to make, which is theatre in which stuff is what it is. You know, that sort of fundamental Cageian premise. How could you, in theatre, in the fullest tendencies of what theatre has in mind for us, how could you possibly make a mistake?

So part of the grumpiness about the cock-up stroke conspiracy of our sound nightmare is, well, I put my head in a lion's mouth. Which is dumb. And I'm not sure you then get to complain when you get your head chomped. I mean obviously you don't get to complain.

Anyway, I dare say Speed Death... disappointed as per, possibly more than usual even: which is fine. I'd rather disappoint you than cause you to abandon all hope. Though I'd say that Escapology, fond though I was of it, sort of put itself beyond the kind of reproach that you otherwise deal in. It was in lots of ways quite like a bunch of cancer patients doing a musical about cancer. I mean, in lots of ways.

Never mind me: when are you going to make something new? Nothing wrong with being an amateur but you're one of the brightest theatrical minds of your generation, for heaven's sake, and you have a job to do. As President Bartlet taught us to say: Decisions are made by those who show up.

I'm only thinking about your credibility as a heckler is all ;)

Go Tigers. xx

Chris said...

George, hey, nice to see you. Thanks for featuring the post.

Chris said...

O, Mr Chapman, you're a nibble and a conversation. You're an amuse bouche is what you are. Which I think is French for 'mouthful'. That's why I'm so cautious about biting.

I'll email you and maybe we can discuss exactly how much I can chew.

Tron is my favourite movie of all time. Except for how shoddily they treated Wendy Carlos. You bastards!

Expect me in your mailbox instanter. xx

simon kane said...

Many, many thanks, Chris. But semi-seriously, if it's that easy for me to be superlative then yes, it proably is high time to give up hope. Okay, I have a job to do - I basically feel that way too - I'm just not sure it's necessarily a job in Theatre, and even if it was it ideally involves magic tricks and toys I can't afford. Or heckling. And even if it doesn't, Theatre's already stuffed with bright minds and is in far greater need of bright actors. (I'm enjoying the Vaults at the moment, and occasionally pop up to adjudicate an evening of Nijinsky Karaoke since you ask... and I like performing, so I'm doing open spots in clubs, where audiences still think it's possible to make a mistake, and where presenting four minutes of evidence to the contrary - as you correctly corrected - is especially rewarding and possibly useful)... Look, ITV has stopped making children's programmes. The BBC hasn't made a sitcom as good as Hi-de-Hi in a decade. These kind of things concern me. They make me question whether it isn't in fact in these fields that I should be footling, rather than theatre. When I saw Jamie rolling bowls in Donkey Shadow, my first thought was "Every child should get the chance to see this." I just don't naturally think in theatrical terms. Here's my inflated, solipsistic, messianic drift: I want to have a go at doing what I think should be done and do it well enough to make others think it should be done and have a go, and right now I don't really see what needs to be done in theatre. (Musicals aren't what they should be and both you and I could probably be having a bash but) compared to a lot of media, Theatre's basically taking care of itself.

Any Other Business: It dawned on me in Plymouth that it may well be the disappointments you provide that prove the most inspirational. I'm not sure I would have made "Iago's Little Book of Calm" (how do you do italics?) if I hadn't reacted to the first incarnation of "Kiss of Life" as I did. Similarly, Speed Death has (hopefully) inspired me to hunker down and get back to work on "Self Portrait as Frida Kahlo", which is the project I was going to follow Jonah with 2 years back, until I did a "10-minute scratch" at the BAC (because all great paintings are of course done first in pencil and then coloured in by a pro) and immediately lost all interest. But it won't be for the theatre. It's going to be for the radio, if I finish it. Unclutterred. Easier to make stuff for. Harder to get put on. And free in theory to millions. Probably half of the work encountered on radio is encountered accidentally, and I like that. Right now I like that anyway. I'll see how I do.

My gripes about performer's conditions in Amato Saltone by the way were purely from the point of view of a performer.

And, unhappily, I don't own an i-pod.

If there were a draft option, I'd save this - there's stuff of yours I haven't yet got and should read over again, about reproach (Escapolology - damn that's fun to say, was it really not called that? - didn't try to pass off a situation as a story, or a subject as an idea) and isolationist regions (all your favourite entertainers listed in the goldenballs posting are performers) as well as possibly pertinent thoughts about Jonah Non Grata and artlessness which I should probably get round to recording - but there isn't, so I'll send this for now. Genuine thanks again (ah, bollocks, I've used the word "genuine", I'm speaking blurb, I hate that, I do not countenance it - it's all genuine - you know what I mean) in the meantime. Be well,
Simon Kane, giant

Today's word verification is "qoipttus", the Latin word for comedy mammal-love.

simon kane said...

Oh, hello again. I've just read over your original post now, having replied to your reply, and was suddenly struck by the following (having complained about the absence of story in my reply) so this isn't my promised follow-up post. This is a spontaneous rant. For capitals, read italics. And I will probably be making quite a few cases here that I've seen you seethe over in other postings, so sorry, but here's your point:
Ahem
"As human beings we don't experience stories..." all the way down to... "I want the sorting of these experiences into whatever kind of story makes sense to you."
So, in other words, while accepting that work-of-art and story are not actually synonymous...
"As an artist, I believe the most honest course is for me to present you with experiences as someone might experience them, so that you can take them away and turn them into a work of art, because we don't experience works of art".
Well... thanks. Do you see?
Sorting experiences into a story is not the punters' job. It's ours. They're unqualified. And so actually are most of us. Most people can draw a chair. Fewer of us can put one together that can take a person's weight. Even if you, ie Chris, did somehow manage to provide all the materials for a strong story, a story's value is in the rembering of it ONLY if the telling of it has engaged us... That's how a story works. We are inroduced to a character, that character is hijacked by a dilemma, and we engage emotionally, intellectually, philosophically, hypotethically, nostalgically and mathematically with all of this because WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT... And this can only happen as the story is being told... And then there comes a point where - for whatever reason - we don't want to know what will happen next any more, and there a good story ends. When I differentiate between "them" and "us" it only has to be inasmuch as "we" know, and "they" have yet to find out. That is our qualification.

And so
And so
Because you never actually worked out what story the show was telling, you got it completely backwards - this is a singularly patronising post, sorry, bear with me. I'm not talking about "a formula" here. It's just there wasn't a single minute in "Speed Death" in which I didn't feel that I was being told - either through lectures or speeches or beautiful or ugly music - exactly what to think and how to feel... You make me look at a painting and tell me - or rather, tell people to my right - what I'm looking at. How am I supposed to react to this? Nod? And I can't help thinking - or to be honest, haven't tried not thinking, because I happen to think it - that had you actually given me a story instead of these "moments" etc. - moments, by the way, that in no way resembled my experience of reality (your stated ambition, not mine. I'm referring to your unimpeachable statement that theatre most resembles the whatever it was sorry... but watching a man standing naked under a shower is not the same as watching a man shower, and I doubt anybody in the known world has ever communicated like these people, except maybe to themselves. You were writing to a ****er of a time limit I know, but you've given us the over-written, expository dialogue of a soap opera without any of the compensatory drama. Ta) Yes, had you done that, then I might well have enjoyed the chance to engage in this piece emotionally. But as it was how could I? These are Chris' Emotions PLC (est. 1993) unambiguous and on this and nearly all other evidence impossible to perform.

It's like seeing someone take up a violin, stick it under their chin and say "Right there was a fast bit first, that's quite light and ironic, then a pause and it comes in angry, and then... etc." and expecting the listener to go away with their own piece of music in their head.
Yes.
It is in every way exactly EXACTLY like that.

And not like what Sebastian's character did at that gig.

Or is it? Why not tell us what YOU think? I apologise for the capitals again. I have no italics. I'm not shouting. I'm not arguing for the artistic supremacy of Story either, by the way - whether I believe in it or not - just picking up on your point. But you knew that.
Thanks again,
Show us your tits,
Simon

Bank said...

Very Good article , this article make some interesting points.

Bank dir

The Happy Robot said...

Hi, I was looking through some links to my photos and I noticed that your blog linked to my "mini review". I wish I found this earlier and that I could write with such eloquence as the Guardian woman who gave you such a capturing review.

Here are your stars for breaking down my perception of theatre in what I can only describe as a visual and auditory tirade.

***** 5 Star.