Thursday, November 08, 2007

All you get is sensory titillation

Notwithstanding the heartening news that My Bloody Valentine are recording together again, sixteen years after the indispensible Loveless, I had a sharp attack of the bleaks yesterday: occasioned mostly, no doubt, by the seasonal murk, but triggered specifically by this Guardian interview by Michael Billington of Dominic Cooke to mark the unveiling of the Royal Court's spring season. I genuinely admire Cooke, he's made the Court rather exciting again -- not quite exciting enough for me to actually go, obviously, but he's definitely got my attention, which hasn't been trained on that particular postcode for a long while. Why, then, should I reach the end of the article having lost the will to live? (...And I don't mean that in some cute comedic way; I mean I literally felt utterly defeated, vanquished, by what I'd read, and the rest of the day was a complete and miserable write-off.)

Well, Cooke makes the following remark, enthusiastically (and predictably) endorsed and amplified in Billington's commentary. He says: "With the formally inventive companies like Punchdrunk or Shunt, I'm always impressed by the exploration of theatrical language. But the challenge is to ally that to rich content. To get those two things working together, you need a writer. Explorations of space are always more interesting when they're linked to an argument or a provocation or an idea."

Clearly this is two separate points disguised as one continuous one. He's suggesting that only a writer can contain the apparatus for reconciling the possibly contradictory imperatives of form and content; and that "formally inventive companies" are unable to argue or to posit provocative ideas. This is, of course, Billington's current hobbyhorse avant la lettre and he restates it with some relish (presumably delighted to find himself, just a week shy of his 69th birthday, in such passionate accord with someone widely hailed as one of the most intellectually lively and interesting artistic directors around, and thirty years his junior), thus: "Cooke seems to me to have hit the nail on the head. Theatre, at the moment, is in an extraordinarily fluid state. But there has to be some way of combining the kind of interactive experience that young audiences crave with the emotional resonance of a writer's vision: otherwise, all you get is sensory titillation."

The really depressing part of this is not that I disagree with it, though I do; nor that it is reductive, though it is. What I found so disconsoling about it is how it is reductive, by what means it manages to arrive at this conclusion: part of the problem with which is that it is to some extent correct. Let me see if I can unpick this without alienating absolutely everybody...

What is being set up here, pretty obviously, is a sort of dialectical model of contemporary theatre that depends on and quickly obscures its utterly false premises. It is in its way a brilliant bit of legerdemain revisionism. Its position is this: that there is one type of theatre that is reactionary and disengaged, and that embodies all the patrician faults that prevent new voices and new audiences being contacted; that the alternative to this is the "sensory titillation" of the "formally inventive ... Punchdrunk and Shunt", which may be of interest to the faddish young but is necessarily superficial; and that the progressive solution to this unsatisfactory state of affairs is a synthesis which infuses "explorations" of "theatrical language" and "space" with the authority of "a writer", who alone is able to supply the necessary "content".

That concluding model is not in itself a problem -- one can imagine excellent and valuable work emerging on that basis. What's troubling is the initial binary characterisation. Not only is this the first time I've seen the obvious implication that the presently celebrated "formally inventive companies" are due to be superseded; but also it's (certainly not the first but I think) the clearest example I've yet encountered of the success of Punchdrunk and Shunt being used as a stick with which to beat, and a cloak with which to smother, a whole vast sector of non-literary theatre work. I'm not quite clear what the bundled-up suggestion is: that that sector is not part of the constellation 'theatre' at all and needn't be considered in relation to the question of what theatre is and can do; or that that sector has reached its apogee in Punchdrunk and Shunt, and, ultimately, not delivered. Either way, it's a gross and unsettling distortion and/or erasure of an enormous amount of professional theatre activity in Britain, and one that, even allowing for the conversational shorthand and the editorial pressures of a newspaper interview, can only seem either ignorant or expressive of quite a narrowly concerted programme. And yet there's something about it that I recognize, that chimes with a deep unease I feel about those of us to the left of the field, and where it is exactly that we're headed.

Let me try and clear out of the way the stuff about the "writer" first of all, and see if I can get this through without the customary slew of poison-pen responses caricaturing my position. Let the record be dusted off in that region where it says that I too am "a writer" and there's not much work I've made for theatre in the past ten years that hasn't involved me "writing" in one way or another. A lot of it's involved many other people writing, too. But what is "a writer" in Cooke and Billington's formula? Possibly they don't even mean the same thing as each other when they say it. I think it's quite conceivable that Billington is hearing Cooke saying something other than what he intends. What in what "a writer" does is the essence of it? Is it about producing a printed script? About there being some authored dialogue spoken by characters on stage? Is it about craft, about literary merit? Is it about the location of a specifically singular authority out of whose "vision" [that peculiarly hallucinatory term to which Billington so often has recourse] the actions of the piece are generated? Does the term "a writer" stand in here for the idea of the original playtext? Could we perhaps extend the designation as far as the idea of a "writerly consciousness", wherein the argument of a piece, as it may be expressed through narrative or dialogue or image or gesture or metaphor or interrelation or formal conceit, is originated, organized and distributed? In which case, might many people whose collective relationships are practised and attentive not share that consciousness? Might the tensions between their individual voices be no more deleterious to the prosecution of their argument than the opposed viewpoints of two characters written by the same author? Might the multiplicity of their perspectives not enrich that argument and extend the range of people whose own concerns might be reflected within its activity? Who was "the writer" who wrote 'A Disappearing Number'? Who wrote 'The Colour of Justice'? Was 'Black Watch' in no sense co-authored by John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett? How many people wrote Shunt's 'Dance Bear Dance'? It was full of cracking dialogue and content of amazing richness and complexity. If more than one of them is "the writer", does that mean no one is? Would the Royal Court pass up the opportunity to look at a piece by Unlimited Theatre, say, on the basis that it had been scripted by three or four people? Sounds like it. But if collective work by that many hands is inadmissable, then boom, you've just lost from the canon The Witch of Edmonton: one of the greatest plays in the language, and certainly one of the most provoking in its arguments.

I hope it's clear that these nagging questions don't arise out of a desire to see the Royal Court abandon its commitment to writers and writing, which is pretty much its raison d'etre after all. But they do stem from a baffled curiosity about how the Court expects to be able to act on its commitment to writers in contemporary theatre culture if it can't get its head around the new basics of where writing is happening, and who is doing it, and how they're working. The singular playwright is by no means an endangered species, nor do I wish any ill upon their heads, but they're only a subset, and as thinking about the functions of theatre shifts (as it must, because the possible functions of theatre are manifestly relative within a wider cultural, social and political situation), there are many really worthwhile theatre writers to whom that operating model looks increasingly anachronistic and bizarre.

Be that as it may: as I say, what I find really troubling about the Cooke/Billington exchange is not how it reflects on them but what it says about us, the upstream artists who are working to create a whole array of alternatives to mainstream issue-driven literary-theatrical practice, and about how summarily we can be written out of a picture that nonetheless accepts in principle such big-ticket propositions as site-specificity or interactivity. All right, we may question their motives: perhaps (to be as ungenerous as possible) they simply want to carry on giving us work with all of the textual authority and pin-down control that they like, swaddled quite cynically in the shiny giftwrap of this weird "exploratory" stuff that seems to get the kids and the school-buses and The Culture Show right where they're needed. But the joke's on us: we're the ones who've made it too easy for them to dismiss the most visible, far-reaching new-model work now being made as "titillating" but essentially vacuous.

Now, sure, I think Cooke is quite wrong to suggest that the formal organization of work cannot in itself be a kind of "argument" or "provocation". In fact, my own work, or at least my thinking around my own work, is very substantially predicated on the idea that form is argument -- a position brilliantly elucidated recently by Andy Field (who has also written in a similar vein to the foregoing in relation to Billington's misleading us-and-them mentality). But not every bit of formal rearrangement has political resonance; nor are Shunt and Punchdrunk actually all that daring at a formal level. A promenade audience may still be stuck in the most conventional of mental auditoria if it does not feel some meaningful sense of co-authorship and power-sharing. I must admit I've never seen Punchdrunk and I'm finding it hard to muster the enthusiasm to get down to The Masque of the Red Death for precisely this reason: its (up-to-a-point) free-range spectators are not empowered so much as dispersed, without either the knowledge or the consequential freedoms to have a traceably transformative impact on the action they are observing. As for the work Shunt has created since it took occupancy of its new Vaults in London Bridge, its formal life is clearly dictated to a very large extent by the problems imposed by the performing space, none of the individual regions of which is big enough to hold an entire audience of the size that Shunt attract (and require in order to make sense of their financial bottom line); so the fractionalising of the audience in Tropicana and Almato Saltone is at least in part an arguably inadequate solution to a logistical pressure.

What Punchdrunk and Shunt both seem to me to be exploring, and in respect of which their work may be considered experimental, is the way that entertainment has changed radically in the last decade. The art, as it were, of entertainment -- as I know I've said here before, quite recently -- has always been about holding a roomful of people together. Radio and television obviously changed the sense of the "room", which became virtual rather than, or as well as, real. But now, in a multi-channel, user-driven, on-demand environment, and in the age of Web 2.0, the emphasis is on the individual consumer and their sense of "valid" experience, which may, especially initially, be quite isolated; only later will it be translated into a shareable narrative or a communicable impression -- re-told at the office watercooler, say, or uploaded to a blog. In a way, of course, this mirrors the aspiration in much contemporary upstream theatre to create narratives or images or propositions that uphold and respond to multiple, possibly even infinitely multiple, readings: in that, too, the notion of treating people as an undifferentiated mass has lost all credibility, because it's practically impossible to assume anything about the shared experiences and values of the assembled spectators outside the theatre. In either case, however, the notion of genuine interactivity and site-specificity remains a pertinent and daunting challenge to the levels of choreographic and manipulative control that the sophisticated spectacles of Punchdrunk and Shunt structurally require. I'm sure Red Death is an exhilarating experience, which produces reactions at a potentially more significant level than mere "titillation": but the kind of interactivity it offers is actually not much different to those in other stations of noughties entertainment -- pressing the red button on your remote if you want a different camera angle; clicking through a hypertextual matrix of choices that cannot possibly exceed the dimensions that its creators have anticipated and consequently delimited. Categorically this is no more interactive than turning the pages of a book or moving your head to look at a different part of the room; it offers merely a simulation of interactivity, and it's this insubstantial, simulacral, in-formal quality that makes it transferable in the way that Cooke and Billington envision. Until there is a greater equity of power and authoritative control between makers and audience -- even (or perhaps especially) if that means none on either side -- or until the actual distinction between makers and audience becomes functionally untenable (and not even I would be an unconditional advocate of that) -- the experience of interactivity is going to remain pretty much akin to the conversation that your dentist strikes up with you only after she's tilted you back to horizontal and filled your mouth with cotton wool and diabolical cutlery.

Similarly, site-specificity and site-responsiveness, which only a few years ago felt like they might have almost revolutionary potential for the future of theatre, have too seldom delivered on that promise, for more or less the same reason: the engagement of makers has too often been superficial and opportunistic, with the result that the bulk of this work merely replicates the conventional power relations of theatre-based production, transferring its old corked wine into sexy new bottles to no actionable effect. Again, there is an initial charge of novelty and defamiliarization which can provide a sensational and stimulating jolt. But the real challenge of site-specificity is not the exchange value of its site, no matter how interesting its history or picturesque its features; no, the argument within the concept of site-specificity is an argument about the significance of the specific: or, in site-responsive work, the reponsive. Most theatre (and perhaps especially work in unusual sites, which may need to be highly predictable and controlled in order to comply with particular health and safety impositions) cannot deal with the specific. It is made for a generic, vaguely imagined (or completely unimagined) audience, in advance of their arrival, on the basis of a complex of more-or-less sustained assumptions and anticipated conditions. This is where the cat test comes in. Let loose a cat in the performance space: if the piece can accommodate and include and refer to the cat, in all its feline unpredictability and unwillingness to comply with the structures of performance, then you've got a specific piece. When we made Homemade in 2005, it couldn't be site-specific because we hadn't seen the performance space (whatever home we were in) beforehand and hadn't designed the work with that particular space in mind; but it was genuinely responsive to each site, and to each audience, and it could -- and occasionally did -- quite easily absorb the presence of children and animals (to quote the old adage: which is, after all, as good an indicator as any of how unprepared for the specific most theatre is).

So there we are again. A whole raft of work being made at the cutting edge that gains its brownie points from the cosmetic adventurousness of its setting in this disused abattoir or that abandoned caravan. But it's refusing the imperatives of liveness with exactly the same high-handedness that would pretty quickly be brought to bear if you released a cat onto the stage of the Royal Court on your next visit. So no wonder Cooke can welcome -- and has welcomed -- with open-arms the notion of site-specificity; in the state in which it comes to him, there's absolutely no reason why site-specific work should disturb the status quo as regards the sacrosanct power of the single author.

Over and over we see this pattern repeated across the whole breadth of soi disant experimental work. Ask most experimentalists what they expect their current production to end up looking and feeling like, and after a brief and airy protest that they've no idea, they'll probably be able to have a pretty good stab at describing the end product, and probably get fairly close. Ask them what the hypothesis is that they're subjecting to experimental scrutiny, however, and they'll very likely be completely non-plussed. There is this persistent misrepresentation of the nature of experiment which is merely one aspect of a working artistic culture that promotes the loose and the vague precisely because it's so scared of, so completely unable to deal with, the totally unknown and the completely unpredictable. The reason I inveigh so repetitiously against the more pernicious aspects of Scratch culture is that it encourages exactly this tendency towards fogginess and generalization: you start by not really knowing very much at all, and then slowly sculpt a work out of unexamined experience ("that felt all right", "that didn't really work") and feedback ("it was a bit too long", "I liked the big red chicken"), like the newscaster on The Peter Serafinowicz Show who has to get through his bulletins entirely on guesswork alone, a buzzer sounding every time he gets a detail wrong and a bell when he's right. Meanwhile, the marketability of work continues to depend on being able to talk about it in certain ways at the right time and backed up by the right images, and secondly on that work continuing to deliver broadly similar experiences repeatedly throughout its life: a set of expectations that starts to function like a weird sort of prosthetic skeleton entirely outside the work itself but somehow placing and mobilising it and imposing on it a completely alien coherence: to the extent that, in consort with the audience-friendly vagueness of the work itself, we wind up with the structure, the form, and some elements of the content being principally situated outside of the performance situation itself. The theatre event becomes simply a seance at which the phantasmic show as a marketing proposition is contacted and channelled, to the vague but tacit bemusement of everybody involved.

We are, I think, as beset upstream as they are downstream -- perhaps even more so -- by a lack of rigour, which causes us to value the wrong bits of what we're doing right and to feel equally surprised by the stuff that seems to work and the stuff that doesn't. We tend to work too often in isolation and, dare I say, somewhat competitively, which means that we don't have a very developed vocabulary for talking about what we're doing: so that lexical gap is filled with buzzwords that never get subjected to real scrutiny. We say our work is 'experimental' but we don't know what it is we're testing. We say it's 'risky' but can't say what's at risk. We say it's 'radical' but nobody ever asks us what that means. 'Challenging'? Sure, but challenging whom, and to what effect, and why? 'Innovative'? To what ends? These sorts of questions constantly go begging. We're discouraged from setting an agenda and derided for having lofty ambitions. (We might reject Billington but his assertion that "theatre can't change the world" has as many adherents in the bar of BAC as it does down at the end of the pier.) We want the cachet of vanguardism but are desperate for a little bit of popular acclaim, so we're terrified of being thought pretentious (a word which has a far more perjorative ring in British culture than anywhere else in Europe).

Where does all this fear and constraint come from? Well, in part, certainly, from the people who commission, fund, produce and market the work. A desperate misunderstanding of the crucial question of 'accessibility' makes everyone with any money to spend absolutely shit-scared of anything that remotely smacks of intellectual commitment: which means that that kind of diction, that level of discourse, is airbrushed not only out of our connections with audiences (who are, let's remind ourselves, way more open, and far readier to meet high expectations, than we allow ourselves to believe), but also out of the conversations that accompany the processes through which our work is made. BAC, which to such a great extent sets the agenda and the tone, went through a really gruesome phase a couple of years ago, presumably driven at least partly by fears around funding, of talking about the shows it hosts as if it quite concertedly rejected the idea of intellectually vigorous work; as far as I can tell, it's got over that now, but everybody knows and recognizes that strain in British theatre.

A major factor in this, which I think is underacknowledged and in some ways too painful to be spoken about freely and candidly, is the absolutely massive desertion of the territory of theatre over the last twenty years by artists and companies who consider themselves to be part of the avowedly (if unsustainably) distinct field of live art. The reasons for this are too complex, I think, to be teased out in a post that's already getting a bit too long for its own good. (Though I would however recommend an interesting and provocative piece by Cassie Werber of Chopped Logic, in I guess the autumn 2006 issue of Total Theatre Magazine -- I'll try to check the reference, responding to her first visit to the National Review of Live Art.) At any rate, this is I think clearly as much an aversive as a self-actualizing impulse: in other words, these are often artists who have found even the militant tendency of upstream theatre to be inhospitable to the kinds of investigations that they wish to enact, and for whom the live art circuit provides a more congenial context and a manageable refuge. This has had immensely positive as well as negative consequences, of course: a great deal of very fine and important work emerges in that territory, some of which finds the audiences it deserves; and of course there are numerous venues, festivals and other sites where the two worlds overlap and may become indistinguishable. Nonetheless, when we theatre-makers look at this work, no matter how positively we may respond to it, the basis of that response is not, "this is theatre", but "how can theatre use this?" It's a perfectly all-right question, but the people who could best help us answer it are exactly those who have provoked it in the first place by calling down a plague on our house; those of us who are left to answer it, convinced that we are making theatre but content with almost none of the models of theatre that presently obtain, are -- sometimes, at least, and as I was yesterday -- a pretty vulnerable and lonely bunch.

And the worst of it, at least if one's prone to gloomward spiralling, is that I just don't feel that I'm doing nearly enough to make work that fully reflects my aspirations or functions correctively on the wider scene. Partly, of course, at the moment, that's because I'm not working at all; this is probably the longest fallow period I've had since I started freelancing, and I have to admit it's doing my head in. (Not least because the slump of inactivity is compounded by an inevitable looming shade of paranoia. Like, Lyn Gardner mentioned me in dispatches a few days ago, describing me as "under-used": which of course is kindly and supportively meant, but it's hard not to brood on the trajectory that's taken me from "promising" to "maverick" to "under-used" in such a short space of time -- you don't want to plot the parabola of that progression, do you?)

But also, when I am making work, I'm pretty ineffectual in resisting the same pressures --commercial and promotional and practical and, of course, egotistical -- that shape everyone else's activity. I have a reputation, barely deserved, for being a hard worker and a prolific maker; but if I look back over my c.v., there's really very little that gets even close to the ideas of liveness and power-sharing that I feel so compelled by in theory. Homemade, and to a lesser extent We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg! and my domestic Tempest, were good shots, Homemade especially. And some of the less visible work at CPT, like the ensemble pieces The Big Room and Past the Line Between the Land, and his horses for and with Theron Schmidt, has come close in certain ways, though The Big Room would probably also have to be accounted one of my less successfully realized projects. All in all it's not a great strike rate, and the lion's share of the blame has to rest not with irresistible extraneous forces but with me, with the seductiveness of authorial power and the regrettable comfort of unaverted conventions. And, Lord knows, Past the Line was never going to get me to Sydney Opera House. (Actually I think my current association with Artsadmin might help with all this, and I'm at least focusing more-or-less principally on these questions and their immediate ramifications in my current research and development work with Theron for An Apparently Closed Room, which I'm pretty sure will emerge in some showable form or other next year.)

Even in my most stringently self-critical moments there is this sense of deferral and indulgence and horrid gameplaying strategy. The other day, having an idle drink in the Royal Festival Hall, I wrote what I still find a quietly heart-quickening manifesto on a series of paper napkins, the basis of which was a commitment that I would start to make work that was titled only by the year of its performance. In other words, that in 2008, I would make one piece, called 2008. But it would be different every night (or whenever), on every stage or in every space, in whatever context. You might see 2008 on a big main-house stage or in a fringe space or at the top of a fire exit round the back of Debenhams; and it would change not only in each new venue but even from show to show in the same venue. It would still be able to bring together all the different elements I like working with. It might be a solo one night and have a cast of twelve the next. It might be full of text or have no text, or be a dance piece, or just be the cat in the room. Nothing about my approach would be different in any way, except that I wouldn't be conforming my work to the standard expectations of programmers and promoters -- and audiences, of course. You might see 2008 three times and love it the first time and take someone to see it the following week and hate it because it's completely different. The point is, it wouldn't be doing anything that wasn't absolutely built in to the (revised, refreshed, updated) theatre contract. Repeatability? Predictability? Why would you, in theatre, if not to fit with the commodity demands of the market and its various supporting discourses?

It all felt very brave and very exciting and then I started going... weeeelll, except, obviously not 2008, because I've got particular stuff lined up for 2009 that I really want to do. So 2010, then. Except I'm going to need a certain cachet and a certain level of trust before I start, so that venues and festivals and such won't immediately dismiss this bonkers working practice out-of-hand. So, blah. I'll see you in 2012 for 2012. Which is kind of like that old familiar disgusting refrain: I've got to lose weight, it's vital, I'm going to change my eating habits. ...Starting Monday. Give me cake now. More cake.

There was a little flash of inspiration, actually, a couple of days ago. I'm having another crack -- doing a bit better this time -- at Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics, which is pretty much now established as the key text for thinking through the kinds of questions I've been discussing here: though in the context of contemporary art: but it's obviously a really useful departure point for theatre too. Anyway, I came across a sentence which gets closer to my own outlook and aspirations for theatre than anything else I've read in a while. Bourriaud says: "The role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real." I think the situation with regard to theatre is a little bit more complex than that -- I'm not quite sure why but I think it doesn't entirely tally with my understanding of the liminality and subjunctivity of the performance space, and the onward transferability of information and experience out of that space: in other words, he perfectly describes theatre but not the function of performance within theatre. Nonetheless, it's a workably clear and stimulating statement to live by for the time being. Almost needless to say, it immediately reminded me of a not dissimilar remark I'd read a few days earlier, discussing The Masque of the Red Death: "What we are witnessing is a new kind of public event that combines a personalised, individual quest with a communal experience ... [This] strikes me as a pleasurable diversion from the main business of theatre, which is to grapple with social reality and change our perspective of the world." Which, of course, is Billington. B-boom tish.

So I went early and despondently to bed and cheered myself up with the almost comically masturbatory manoeuvre of listening to the iPod playlist of music I've already compiled in working towards one of the shows I'm hoping to make in 2009. It's going to be one of the sweetest, most accessible pieces I've yet done. I mean, sure, as I've said before, don't underestimate the amount of experimentation that's going on in some of the best work in the mainstream; but still. It hardly feels apropos. But it did feel nice, last night.

And from there, I was only a nudge of the scrollwheel away from listening to Rupert Goold's recent TheatreVoice interview with Heather Neill (you can now subscribe to a TheatreVoice podcast, if that notion takes your fancy): and that cheered me up even more. Rupert and I make quite different work but it's just such a pleasure and a relief to listen to someone so smart and so articulate talking about the stuff they do. He's as thoroughly steeped in the core lineage of theatre practice and theatre history as I'm thoroughly not; and in fact, although I suspect we think in quite similar patterns, pulling together these disparate ideas and influences and holding them in a not-always comfortable or resolvable juxtaposition (he talks fascinatingly about his current smash-hit Macbeth being really two productions, or two conceptions, at once, which I absolutely recognize in some of my own non-smashes), the most obvious difference between us is that his world is much more centrally constituted -- he's drawn to the grand narratives of history, the big cultural figures, the canonical works; whereas I skulk in the margins, watching Gregg Araki movies and reading Peter Larkin. At the end of it all, however, as you'll hear if you listen -- as I recommend you do, it's a really enjoyable and bracing half hour -- he names Simon McBurney and Robert Lepage as theatre-makers who are "so far above" anybody else, and to whose model (as writer-directors) he aspires. And yup, I'd probably name the same pair.

Which gently reminds me -- as if I need reminding; except, yesterday, I did -- that for all the fretting I, and we, might do, about centres and margins, about upstream and downstream, about playwrights vs. theatre-writers, and about utopias vs. 'the existing real': whatever is happening in the relations between all these various ideas and commitments as we bob up and down in our own contested pluralism: undeniably, and unmistakeably, the centre is shifting. As Inua says, and Mos Def doesn't quite: the universe expands left.

40 comments:

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for this _really_ interesting post, Chris - it's apposite to some of my present concerns - on my desk is a new book called Power Plays, about Australian political theatre, that these kinds of questions crucially apply to, if tangentially (can't get to talking about it yet for extra curricular reasons, but will). Briefly, it seems to claim implicitly that "content", engagement, political influence etc can only belong to authorial agency and worse, only to certain kinds of authorial agency (ie, the naturalistic issue-based "mainstream" play). Which not only sidelines some of the most interesting (and overtly political work) going on on our stages, but elides a major shift happening on what the book itself defines as "mainstream" stages. I have various and complex thoughts myself about writers and theatre (I like writing in the theatre, I even like plays) but I feel some dismay at this. Anyway, this is all half formed and I'll get to it when I do...

Ian Shuttleworth said...

I suspect I simply haven't got a sufficient handle on this essay - certainly, as I've said before, I know I always feel slightly ashamed of my self-perceived conservatism when I read your thoughts on theatre. But it seems to me that there's a lacuna, a false binary premise in your own reasoning similar to that you identify in Billington's, and it's around here:

"the notion of treating people as an undifferentiated mass has lost all credibility, because it's practically impossible to assume anything about the shared experiences and values of the assembled spectators outside the theatre."

And this seems to me to miss one of the fundamentals, which is that notwithstanding all the atomisation elsewhere, the inside does remain in an absolutely basic sense communal. It's always been the case that, after all, that whatever differences in individual circumstances and perceptions, the event was the same; I'm not sure it's at all less so even in instances such as The Masque Of The Red Death when the experience (or perhaps better say the "encounter") may differ wildly from person to person; hence I had no problems writing a review of that production on the basis not only of my own (partly self-induced) inadequate experience but also on what else I knew was available within the gamut.

So, undifferentiated mass, no, but "the audience" is an entity distinct from, and greater and more important to the theatrical transaction than any subset of audients, perhaps even than all the individual audients in total. Maybe "hive mind" is a better model, and one that I don't see as at all pejorative. For to me, that's the relationship that the theatrical transaction, or negotiation, or conversation, or interactivity, or whatever proceeds from; individual resonance is, as it were, gravy. (Or, to pursue the hive analogy, the creator - individual or, again, collective - is literally a drama queen.)

I should also make clear that nothing in your piece suggests to me that you run opposed to this, but nor did I have a sense of its overt presence either, if you see what I mean.

gemma said...

Hello there

Borges said of the Falklands war that it was like watching two bald men fight over a comb.

I’m not quite sure why that image is springing to mind when think of the Arts Press in London, but it’s there nonetheless.

i have nothing to add but my frustration. and i feel maybe that i am responding to the initial reference more than your blog, chris... but i promise to read more carefully after the red haze lifts.

As usual, I’m seriously offended at the suggestion that an external person could come in to my artistic work (with shunt in this case), give me a good seeing to and finally, it seems, sort me out - fill me with content and somehow – this suggests to me – serious value.

It seems that a writer is the only one with something to say, with content to offer, and the other things – theatrical form, visual art, design, performance, the writing already within a collaborative process - will naturally breathe a sigh of relief at having someone to give them all a direction – someone who presumably understands how the ‘exploration of space’ can have meaning, more than the visual artists who have been studying and working on this aspect of theatre for years. It suggests that those artists, with their exploration of space, could in no way be linked to an argument, to a provocation, to an idea. That sensation itself cannot be an idea.

This mythic writer (who works with what – text? Or structure? Or the argument, idea and content of the piece related to space – in fact, anything that is important to me) is perhaps someone to give meaning to our playtime – someone perhaps, who has a relationship with the world which gives it a meaning which we, presumably, have no way of accessing. It makes me feel quite sick. And yes, really offended. Particularly when the way this is expressed is lazy and stupid. Particularly when that comes from men who have at least some standing in the theatre community. Particularly when too much new writing I have seen in theatres has seemed to me facile and contentless.

That is not to say that all new writing is shit. it's not inherent. but giving yourself over to another artist to express their ideas is a great gift and an act of trust - and it should never be taken for granted that this is just how it should be.

On top of everything, as a member of shunt, i am increasingly bored by the superficial comparison made between our work and punchdrunk - which, although it's a side issue to chris' blog (and obviously a personal one), i find indicative of my frustration with the whole discussion.

The aims, form, intention, aesthetic, audience relationship, politics - just about everything - between shunt and punchdrunk are very very different. It does no favour to either company - or indeed the arts world - to get lazy about such things. Even superficially – shunt has had its own venue (with only one move), for ten years. A venue in which show after show has been presented, often very small scale, often in front of a seated audience. It took four years of cabarets and shows in one venue before we made Dance Bear Dance in that same space. That show took two and a half years from conception to completion. But too easily we are suddenly ‘site-specific’ theatre for ‘young people’ seeking cheap thrills. We are damned it seems, not because we lacked discipline, not becuase we lacked time, not because we lacked imagination, or indeed because we lacked a good show, no, it seems that the damnation comes from lack a writer to slip us past the gates. One small step..

i can be damned for being a bad writer and god knows, in shunt we are dissatisfied often enough, and it's true that we sometimes let crucial things fail at crucial times - be it text, light, communication. but at least i want to own my failure - don't damn us for not having one of the chosen in our midst.

Shunt. Shunt & punchdrunk. Shunt & Punchdrunk & Devised Theatre (or even worse - that monster term, Site Specific theatre - which is almost always a nonsense and should be thrown out with the rest of the trash - all theatre is specific to the place and time in which it's happening - in a theatre, house, factory whatever - for me, at least, it's that notion of being present at that occasion in that place with those people that makes it theatrical).

I'm saying this to purge my own frustration, but I want also to highlight that artists who work outside the perceived establishment are constantly being required - and rightly - to consider the value of text. And it’s true that sometimes the text does suffer in the experimentation with a visual dynamic. But if the visual dynamic isn’t working, who gives a fuck about the words – I mean to say, they must both work together. With the presence of the performer in the room saying those words. With the presence of the audience listening to those words and looking at that person in that place and time saying them. Or the silence. Without all of this working together it won’t be good theatre. and it's complex and its sometimes difficult and it fails for different reasons. So it really doesn’t matter which comes first or has precedence – it seems to me a Lilliputian argument. They all need to work together. And how that works in each specific case of theatre depends only on the specific people involved.

And there are many many companies working in theatre who will consider all these elements in different ways, some with ‘writer’ some without. But it is not down to a writer/non-writer distinction, because theatre is not writing and plays are not written, they're wrought.

I’ve spewed lots of other stuff but thankfully deleted it. I will read your writing again now, probably much more clearly for not seeing through a mist of red.

That’s all for now. Thank you for the little space here for me to vomit on.

Tassos said...

'Theatre is not writing and plays are not written, they're wrought' ...is a brilliant summation as riposte.

Those bald men - or perhaps with one single-strand of hair - are never going to understand what it feels like to have a mess of hair. They cannot understand a fundamentally different process of making work without making reference to their own single-strand process. All they are doing when they lump Shunt together with Punchdrunk is piling it on top the mound of Other Theatre Which Is Not Us (Devised Theatre moulding away on top of Visual, Physical and Site-Specific like slurry permeating).

You're absolutely right that on almost every significant internal factor, Punchdrunk and Shunt are completely different. They do share a few factors though - the journey of the audience through the space is a crucial structure as text (although those texts are otherwise completely distinct) - the event feels like an adventure for its audience. And the bald men are jealous enough of that.

Tassos said...

This might be a naive response to your comment, Ian but...

Inasmuch as a performer connects to the audience for a length of time by addressing many diverse audients for shorter lengths of time, talk to individuals to talk to the mass, then I do think that connection remains the primary unit.

Emergent hivemind properties of the collective in turn only emerge through conversations and connections made between individuals. You talk to your friends after Punchdrunk to compare experiences and build the communal sense of the whole. In the classic alternate-reality game event strcuture then those individual conversations are in an online forum broadcast to the wider group. but it's still individual-individual interactions as the bone, not the gravy.

Tassos said...

[three comments, yikes, spot who should really be getting on with something else..]

C, some thoughts.

I think the adventurousness of the event must be more than simply cosmetic for it to attract sustainably the audiences that both Punchdrunk and Shunt have. [I think it's valid to link the two companies in this context because that adventurousness of experience is a quality common in the minds of audience, although that may be the thin end of the wedge]. I think it's something about the audience offered the role of active adventurer. That is (at least) a first step towards an empowered meaningful interactivity that I'd agree Punchdrunk haven't engendered for their audience en masse. The more meaningful interactions are only discovered through luck, although they are still pretty one-way and generalised (I do think you're onto something with potential of specificity as an easy handle on potential of meaningfulness). And the problem then also is that if you are not one of the lucky ones then you can come out feeling inadequate, like you've failed. I think with MOTRD they tried to increase the odds of encounter by a smaller and more densely populated space but it's still luck. And I was disappointed that this issue wasn't tackled more structurally.

But I think too that scalability is a crucial issue. Interactions that are specific and meaningful are the grail but much more easily possible on an intimate scale. But it's not just financial pressures that make work want to share with a bigger scale of audience, there is a simple implicit accessibility in that a bigger house makes it possible for more to engage. Nor should meeting financial pressures be written off per se as compromise in an artist.

Ian Shuttleworth said...

Tassos, I see what you mean but I don't agree, because the moment of the experience is a moment in a collective context... even, as I say, when that collective may not all be physically present, as in a closet in Battersea. To me, the signal (as it were) from the stage (as it were) comes in the moment of performance through the collective creature that is the audience to the individual consciousness, where it is then subsequently percolated and more subsequently still perhaps discussed and compared. I know that on a number of occasions I've responded quite differently as part-of-the-audience than as an individual - most recently at Hairspray, when my feelgood of the moment was seriously modulated by ideological considerations which certainly didn't emerge from discussion with anyone else as no-one else seems to have noticed that particular issue in the show's mode of operation.

I've gone rather further on Andrew Haydon's blog, positing the beginnings of an overall theory of performance ideology(!). I may have read too much into Chris's remarks, but as I say, I do think there's a false binary in there.

I think, Gemma, you begin to suggest a similar false binary by attributing a kind of dictatorship-of-the-writer as the, singular, opposing position to yours.

I wonder whether what's actually going on in such pro-writer positions is partly an instinctive (and, I think, accurate) sense that a piece of work requires some palpable determinant(s) in order that it can be meaningfully discussed in a more than merely pataphysical sense, and that such a determination requires a determining authority, followed by a more contentious decision that that authority is both individually embodied and textually rooted. Even the latter part, I think, is understandable, though I buy it far less. It's certainly more understandable in the light of the bagginess and vagueness of so much - yes, SO much - devised work (sorry, Gemma), and the blithe remark that "it means whatever you want it to mean", which I think should be punishable by on-the-spot fines: don't YOU know what you wanted to do? But don't think that I'm setting up a binary myself; it's one extreme of a continuum, not one of only two possible positions.

In that respect, it's a matter that's crucial to criticism: how does a work exist outside the moment of performance? - for it must so exist, for otherwise how can criticism exist? Looked at like that, Billers' and others' position on writerdom may perhaps arise out of a more existential panic :-)

Chris said...

Hello all. Gosh. V interesting back here, innit.

Alison: hi, nice to see you, & glad this is all of some use. Will look forward to hearing more idc.

Ian: Right-o. Well let's start by not calling what I posted an 'essay'. I'd definitely prefer to classify it as a leaky whinge. Nonetheless...

You're absolutely right to pick me up on the importance of the intratheatrical commune, though I'm not quite sure we're going to see cheek to jowl on this. I don't accept that the communal situation of the theatre audience is ineluctably fundamentally different to the communal situation of the people on the top deck of the nightbus or the people in the dentist's waiting room, which is to say that until something happens to make the individuals experience themselves communally, their collective identity doesn't yield anything of suasive value: which in those sorts of situations normally means that something has to disturb their default sense of individual privacy and insularity. I certainly remember being on the top deck of a bus mid-morning on 7/7 when somebody got a text message to say Canary Wharf had been bombed, and I'm sure everybody's sense of individual and unshareable bafflement at the (until that stage) illegible events of that morning was completely flipped over, and we became a communal entity, or one communal entity embedded within others. (I remember feeling like 'a Londoner' at that point, too, which was a novelty...)

Perhaps you will say that the difference between the theatre and the bus or the waiting room is that a single event, which everyone is facing towards, is providing a communal focus and is in itself exactly that requisite disturbance. But again I don't think I feel that that's quite so: merely that it's potentially so, and that it is the job of the event to make it so. All kinds of factors may determine the extent of that sense of the communal: seating in the round or in traverse (though I think that more often makes me more aware of other individuals and how different we are), or promenade; or some kind of even very basic interactivity among the audience; or onstage errors, or some display of unusual virtuosity or actual risk; or, of course, laughter and, especially, applause. How often one joins in a standing ovation which one wouldn't necessarily have initiated but we nonetheless accept and wouldn't want individually to be seen to reject... At that point, one is thinking and responding communally, and it can often come as something of a surprise.

I can't tell if I'm wandering off topic now. All I'm saying is that I think most audients (and what you're saying about Hairspray might bear this out) in relation to most theatre events do not necessarily experience themselves as primarily communally situated beings until something happens to make it so: and, rather than being some built-in payload within "the magic of theatre" [or insert your whatnot of choice], that something doesn't happen unless the makers of the event build that aim into their making. My secondary contention, obviously, is that most theatre makers either don't have that aim, or don't understand how it's the formal and structural organization of their event, just as much as or more than its content or the skill of its execution, that determines the extent to which that aim can be realized.

Part of the problem with which is, to my mind -- and here again, obviously, we differ -- that the event achieves its final significance at the level of the individual, even if that significance is (as I would want it to be) some development of the communal or civic imperative of which that individual has just been made consciously aware. And to that extent, I don't believe that "the event was the same" for everybody, because the response to the event is what completes the event.

Which is why I'm going to accuse you back of positing a false binary. Ok, there is something pretty woolly about "It means whatever you want it to mean" (I think the weasel word there is "want", probably). But I think it's perfectly fine, and actually kind of ideal, for the makers of the stage event to have particular expressive and/or programmatic intentions, but at the same time for them to accept that any attentive response to the work is legitimate. If that's not acceptable, the first thing that's injured by it is exactly the access to a conscious apprehension of collectivity. It's streaming for audiences: which already happens far too much anyway in respect of seating / pricing etc.

I agree that a lot of "devised" work is unsatisfactory, but actually it's most often unsatisfactory for exactly the same reasons that a piece of conventional literary theatre made with the same lack of analytical rigour would be unsatisfactory. There is a real problem with devising becoming a set of orthodoxies, as it now is; it's badly and vaguely taught, and groups who aren't aware of the different aesthetic and ideological parameters of devising as a practice will inevitably end up replicating the synthetic vanilla ghastliness of third-rate literary performance. It's not devising that's at fault there, it's badness.

More to say, and replies to G & T, but I've got to run off to a meeting now. Hope this begins to say something. xx

Chris said...

Hm. Well, that meeting sucked.

Gemma: lovely to see you hereabouts, and thanks for the splendid unleash. I agree with and/or recognize most of what you say, and I hope I haven't compounded the original errors by not taking the baldies to task for every infelicity in their thinking. To your particular point, I certainly wouldn't want to minimise the differences between Shunt's and Punchdrunk's respective practices: though I think the elision of the two is sufficiently easy that I'm sure it's not local to these chaps and my guess is -- as I sort of suggest in the original post -- that it's going to become a lazy critical trope that we all need to be ready to challenge and resist. As I say, I've yet to see a Punchdrunk show, my qualms seem a bit paralysing, though I certainly wish I'd seen Faust or one of the earlier shows as from what I read and hear, I'm probably less likely to get anything much out of the Masque. (Though I've met and talked to Felix and he's obviously very bright and interesting and etc. and I don't at all dismiss them or what they're doing. I just hope it doesn't become metonymic; but I guess it seems that it already is.)

I do think a vitally, and increasingly, important part of the Shunt offering is its refreshing and reassertion of building-based practice. I remember saying to Lyn G in 2000 after The Tempest that the basic philosophy behind it was that theatre is an experience you have rather than a place you go: and I've had that line quoted back to me more than once by other interviewers and such. But I didn't intend that to devalue the importance of the building as a centre of gravity: I was just trying to unshackle the idea of the theatre relationship (and its power currents) from an depressing array of buildings that did not and could not hope to exert enough gravity to be a centre to anything. The model of theatre I feel most attracted to at the moment is fundamentally building-based as part of its civic significance: it's (in my mind) a building that you drop in to pretty much anytime, at least from mid-morning till midnight, and what you're able to do is sit with a rolling theatre event. You can just watch, or you can intervene; you can stay for five minutes or five hours. Like going to a gallery, or the pub, or a church. When I worked at St Pauls Covent Garden for six months I was very struck -- I remain struck -- by the different ways that a very diverse range of people used the building -- but they all wanted or needed some kind of alignment to happen within them. A lot of them weren't "churchgoers". I'd be fascinated to see how an entirely different (essentially anticapitalist and, as it were, anti-private) model of theatre, able to trigger in them varieties of attentiveness and desire and consciousness of social and collective realities, might reach those people. -- But that's a sidetrack.

I absolutely agree, by the way, that the militantly pro-(individual) writer programme completely misunderstands and undervalues the actor. (Unfortunately, so do many actors.)

I tried to say in the original piece, and somewhat to Ian, above, that I don't so much agree that all theatre is specific (or live, or pulsing with its own communality), though it should be; and the sense in which Shunt's own largescale works in the present venue have been site-specific is, as I've said, in my opinion a slightly negative or frustrated one. But we needn't work too hard to agree about that!

Wright/wrought: right on.

Tass: Big thanks for your 3. V cool beans. I certainly think you're right about the way that individual comprehension precedes (and, I suspect, ultimately succeeds) collective experience, pace Ian's suggestion contrariwise. I think Ian's such a smart critic precisely because he's tuned into this tension and has a longstanding sense of its ideological parameters. I think his diligence is unusual in critics and necessarily at some remove from the general experience of most audients.

I just wanted to say with regard to the audience role of "active adventurer" -- and you weren't saying anything in opposition to this, but just so that it's said... -- that my experience of being in that kind of role has I think been strongest almost always in pretty conservative formal arrangements that have nonetheless eliminated the usual processes by which meaning is shifted from stage to auditorium. I think straight away of seeing Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's work at the QEH and Edinburgh Playhouse, or Alain Platel and William Forsythe at Sadlers Wells. How their works 'work' would take a thesis to unravel, but suffice it to say that sometimes the strongest sense of meaning-quest is the one where after some time you realise you've been leaning forward slightly in your seat and forgetting to breathe.

What I do want to say about how that work functions is simply this: that I think of it as testimony, and therefore fully and genuinely public, of public concern, even if it operates through the unfolding of private or hidden narratives or symbologies. The testimony doesn't necessarily speak to anything bigger than: this is who we are, who we were when we were making this piece, and who we are now showing it to you. But that sense of self-implication is vital and I don't believe that any group of actors handed somebody else's script and given no input into it can produce in themselves a remotely comparable level of self-implication, no matter how bravely they may strive to identify with it or allow something of themselves to be exposed within its live activation.

I say all of this because I think it's possibly some kind of route into your very pertinent remarks about intimacy and scalability. Maybe there is some kind of glass ceiling (or glass pros arch or something). But testimony is powered partly by intimacy. I mean I think the two most intimate pieces I've ever made in terms of the kinds of connections they sought to make were probably The Consolations and Speed Death..., which are also the two (physically) biggest. Though intimacy is a slippery word and I would concede that I'm already a little awry from where you started.

Just 4 more pence worth -- hoping to engender more comments rather than draw the line... I've already found this immensely helpful and interesting.

to all, xx

simon said...

RE: your sidetrack, and churchgoing. The nearest thing to what you seem to be writing about here (and I do indeed pop into a church for the same reason I pop into a gallery, I was thinking about that recently, historically etc.) is the Shunt Lounge, which you don't like, and I'm interested why not. (There was stuff about this between you and Tassos a while back but I found it just very wordy and unclear what either of you were actually ever saying). Is it the public? You see, sometimes there is dancing, but even that relates a bit to what you and Ian are discussing. (A lot in fact - Someone please try and untangle dancing's private/communal threads while we're here - and when I saw Bobby Francois at the Drome, now I think of it, the audience did at one point did start dancing. Just an aside really, not evidence of a project's merit).
And do you know about Nijinsky Karaoke, because your sidetrack has suddenly made that exercise seem very worthwhile?
http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=10643082
Oh hello. Now I've now read on, to what you write about "testimony". I don't agree. Or at any rate I don't believe the testimony's authorship is at all important. "This is who we are." I couldn't care less. Art need not be self-expression, simply expression... I've read it over again, no you're definitely wrong. And what happened to "the people coming out of my mouth" you discovered doing Hippo World? Any play text that is any good will REQUIRE the performer to implicate him or herself. That's an actor's job. You see this is what aggravated me so much when you kept talking about "asking these people to walk through fire" when working on Speed Death. Chris, YOU WERE WORKING WITH PROFESSIONAL FIRE WALKERS. That's their job! They WANT to walk through fire! They wanted in fact to do far more than that if you had only let them, not simply given them "This is who Chris is. This is where Chris is." to try and make their own (and even that you didn't allow). I've turned nasty now. Sorry. But you're so right and illuminating about so much and yet, I believe, so totally wrong about this: ie what an actor does, and it forces the intimacy of your shows into something that genuinely (genuinely) feels like abuse, and makes them, well, stupid in a way that this blog, say, never is... not because the ideas expressed in those shows are stupid - they're not - but because the show is merely parroting them. Sorry again, but you did have to go and bring it up. I am grateful though, always. This, and by implication you, is excellent. Are excellent.
smtvdw

gemma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gemma said...

ooh, hello simon. too.
yup, i am actually writing this an 5am.

gemma said...

did i really say 'performative body' - i'm sorry about that.

gemma said...

phew.
i have to say that i couldn't remember exactly what i wrote and i'm not sure i want to look back over it -
i really was very frustrated

but i'm very pleased to be talked to on a blog - it's my first time.
hello tassos, we should meet up some time.

ian - thank you for listening.

please don't apologise to me as you attack devised theatre in terms of the 'it means whatever you want it to mean' argument - because it's not and has never been, my argument. and you should at least know from my little rant, that i find it hard to accept words put into my mouth ...

what i really care about when i'm working on the things i really care about is not that it means something to someone else - even my closest collaborators - but that it means something to me - not just my little role but the whole thing - the total thing - and i find it very hard when this is not on offer, at least for discussion - it makes me feel uncomfortable.

oh, i've jsut seen you ask - doesn't it matter it means something to you - yes. of course. not to the writer. well, hopefully to everyone. but this necessitates that the performance is not one single vision.

i'm afraid that some of my hyperbole comes from hearing the language by which actors are often encouraged to quieten their voices of dissent or disagreement - in drama schools, it is common to hear students say that they have been criticised for, variously, over-intellectualising, thinking too much, leading from the head. i've often been advised (by them) that it's not their job to do the thinking - the writer does that. i have heard this myself in studying and working as a performer. now, i understand that in specific cases, any of these terms may be used to try and express a need for giving in, and i understand that some of this can come from misunderstanding on the student actor's part - but it's pervasive. and often the 'clever' students end up feeling like this is a barrier in their work - that this brain of theirs will stop them 'serving the writer'. well. i just don't think that's healthy. i think it's unhealthy. and we then get swathes of actors come out of drama school, trained to take any job they can get becuase they need the money, of course, and because they've been trained to work with what they are given without question - and, in fact - this is often perceived to be their job. and i really wouldn't mind them doing the pepperoni adverts if there was just a little more fight left in them. a little more fighty actors. imagine. in shakespeare day (ah, those were the times) the actors actually owned the text. legally. no passing off then with - i was only obeying orders. no no no. they owned the words. actually.

then i find 'writer' a woolly term - mythic and unhelpful, unless specifically talking about someone providing a text (which must then only be an aspect of the overall argument - possibly in a dialogue, or even conflict with it). although i understand - i think - the interest at analysing what is meant by 'writer' in searching for what so much (devised) theatre lacks - the point is that the term is not what is being used - as i understand it - what is being proposed is the idea of this as a person. and really - i'm not sure that this person exists. unless they are the director...? no?

yes, i find much of devised theatre is deeply unsatisfying - and yes, i find much of theatre is deeply unsatisfying - it's also possible - of course - to have a fucking great piece of writing, which is then completely misrepresented theatrically - without dealing with the spacial dynamics implicit in the text. which really gets me even more unsatisfied and angry - if you could believe it. i mean, i like books. i like reading plays. if you're going to use all that space all those people to actually make it live - there has to be something more. some extra conflict to raise it into danger.

i don't like seeing theatre when the vision is clearly and confidently at one with itself - and perhaps here there is a taste thing. for example, McBurney's Measure for Measure, so roundly admired, i found flat and empty (if that's possible), with no challenge to itself or its broadly drawn argument. for me, the performances seemed submissive. although i saw it in preview - so for sure it's possible that the actors became more daring as it proceded - it seemed that from the first lines i felt - ah, this is what this is - and at no point did it shake that. and then there was that rolling on the floor thing again.

ah chris... by the way, i did not feel that you were really the source of the shunt/punchdrunk comparison - it's of course fair enough to draw the comparisons where they do exist... it just is wierd, when really that comparison feels so circumstantial.

(and when i talk about what theatre is, i mean than in an ideal sense rather than the poor imitation we usually have of it on this paltry patch of nonsense we call earth.)

i mean home.

Chris said...

Simon, Simon, Simon. Hello. Permit me to set my watch by you.

I don't have anything new to say about the Shunt Lounge because I haven't been back since I last wrote about it. That's not a picture of me never darkening their doorstep again, there are plenty of places I haven't been to in that time. For various wordy reasons it just feels very insulated to me, in a way that kind of telegraphs the problems of retreat and involution that the big Gesamtshuntswerk has (to my mind) had in that venue. I am eversomuch harder on Shunt than on any other company I can think of, because I know how bright and engaged practically everyone in the company is, and how much I have valued some of their work, so that tends to magnify my disquiets, or amplify them rather.

At any rate the present model of the Shunt Lounge, no, gets no nearer the ideal I was talking about than does any other members club. (I continue to appreciate the reasons why it is so constituted.)

If you want to, explain to me please how you get from testimony to (what I take you to mean by) self-expression. That's not what I understand by testimony.

And again, we seem to be talking about different kinds of implication. I can't think of a single playtext from the past thousand, no, six thousand years, that requires implication (over and above some basic measure of identification and sensitivity) in order to be produced. Can you give me an example? I can't see through what technologies that implication could be compelled.

I'm sorry you felt so disgruntled about my use in a grand total of two places (the second explicitly referring to the first) of the image of the Speed Death actors "walking into fire". (I now realise it's a West Wing line that obviously lodged somewhere in me.) It seemed an apt way of expressing the debt I felt and continue to feel to them, particularly remembering the times in which some of them found themselves as individuals working with material that upset and distressed them, and were able to talk honestly and candidly in those situations.

It's a nice thought that that's the least one can expect from an actor, and I wish it were so, but the experience of casting Speed Death, and other past works, suggests otherwise. The technically accomplished simulation of bravery is particularly rife and particularly gross; so much asbestos, so little time. But even if firewalking came as standard, there would be some merit I think in lodging these small public messages of thanks. It doesn't do much harm, particularly in a culture that gets the lobotomised actors it deserves by consistently undervaluing, trivialising and denigrating their practice and their creative intelligence. Actual firefighters actually walk into fire: that is their job; it doesn't mean I wouldn't thank them very gratefully for extinguishing a blaze in my house or my hat.

I don't know whether to ask you to help me out by saying more about the ways in which my work is abusive of actors, or not. I can't quite see it: but then the abuser never can, can they? They always think that the victim is to blame for somehow initiating it. So that's quite a complex accusation to deal with. Still, I'm heartened to know I'm an "excellent" abuser. A little praise always helps the medicine go down.

I also don't think I know to what you're referring when you say:
"They wanted in fact to do far more than that if you had only let them, not simply given them "This is who Chris is. This is where Chris is." to try and make their own (and even that you didn't allow)." Which of them wanted to do what, precisely? What would 'far more' be? "To try and make their own"... what? No doubt you've had conversations with the actors that I haven't, and that's fine, but I seem to be being shouted at in code. Perhaps you are recreating the premiere of Facade. Edith, is that you? Your megaphone is showing.

Every so often I think you and I are finally getting somewhere and then the red mist enfolds you and it's like trying to reinvent theatre with the collaboration of a character on the Steve Wright In The Afternoon radio show. What are we to do, I wonder? Why are you wasting your time?

amities x

Ian Shuttleworth said...

'Myeah, back after a couple of days, and two things instantly occur to me:

1) I'm clearly making it up as I go along. My use of "collective" in my second post, addressing points of Tassos', is far better finessed by a comment I've just made in the corresponding thread on Andrew Haydon's blog, a comment which distinguishes between the collective and the communal. More after this...

2) I think, to my relief, that we are pretty much all talking the same language and all hearing it too - which vitiates some of what I also posted beneath Haydon's latest Guardian blog, where I said that the perceived crisis-in-criticism is in many ways a dialogue of the deaf.

I think testimony is potentially a useful way, for me, of bridging the gap between mere conceptual laziness and almost its opposite, the requirement that the viewer look harder. But that element of testimony is still, for me, well within the parish of "meaning" in the sense that I've been talking about it. It's not necessary for that meaning to be absolutely map-referenced, pinned and mounted like a butterfly, but a delimitation of a zone of meaning is, I think, a reasonable expectation, and "this is who..." fits that.

As to the individual and the communal experience, I'm positing a kind of biofeedback system in which it's the individual zone that registers the signal but the communal zone that sends it. Bleh. OK... Chris, you say that its the individual response that completes the event - fine, but I think the communal sense precedes that and informs the event at a prior stage. I think that that is a stage both of intention (again, to the question "what do you want to say?", the answer may be couched in terms of the individual percipient but that individual is an ideal and stands as a personification of the entire class of percipients, the audience-as-a-whole) and of the event itself, as I've danced around earlier.

I think perhaps this is verging on a religious matter, and consequently one of sectarian distinction. Which at least my Ulster upbringing gives me a thorough grounding in.

OK - and as religion is also ultimately an extrapolation from personal testimony, here's mine:

There is in me a deeply, I mean DEEPLY (five years in therapy and counting) ambivalent listen to me/don't listen to me, talk to me/don't talk to me, dance with me/don't dance with me (no, beep-beep) impulse. What appealed to the pubescent and young-adult me about acting was the ability simultaneously to be me and not-me - to testify, obscure and escape at once. And now I'm thinking that perhaps the impulse of viewing is the same: that one is simultaneously oneself, with one's own resonances, and not-oneself in the capacity of being a member (in the sense also of limb or organ) of the superbeing Audience.

In which case, Mr Thruxton-Appleby, my lads and I might be prepared to drop our demand that the communal audience component be recognised to have priority, on the condition that it's granted parity as an essential element with the individual.

(But it does move...)

gemma said...

for me performance is a hovering between something that may be called testimony and then story - if you will. that is - the testimony of the experience of the person on the stage and the mask/story (however true or real that testimony or mask is) which perhaps in some way maps onto an individual expression and a communal one. which is why i find verbatim uncomfortable, becuase i think the testimony should be that of the people/bodies on stage.
and the rest is fiction.
i'm sure that's not new...
hannah (ringham) said, after watching e..eh..e. - extonement, atonement, e - that one at riverside, you should be able to say boo. that's what makes it theatre. (she said it better than that - perhaps ask her to explain it if you are interested)
that sticks with me. and i think there is a dance between the fact that there is a body on the stage, and yet there is a fiction - to which it is allowable to say boo.
that fiction itself, of course, comes from other realities and other testimonies - which is natural, as long as they are not then presented as non fiction.
this is my body, this isn't my body. and yes, then this is your body, we're somewhere else. and this is this room and the other room.
(this can be the problem with site specific work - it can take too much for granted the new world created and forget the other one... that's a challenge in any new space perhaps.)
it's a bit like being a king - being able to be two things simultaneously.
or jesus.
i'm going mad over here.
but the red haze is in another place entirely
xx

simon said...

Hannah's words were, I think, "You can't Boo that." She also said, "What can Art do? It won't mend your arm. It can't make you Breakfast." (Maybe that was Falstaff.)
Gemma's "The rest is fiction" is spot on. I never meant that you were abusing your actors, Chris, and I hope I never said that. In the audience, I - me - feel sometimes that I'm being sold something, control packaged as love... that I'm not being allowed to boo. And this isn't because your work is in any way overprotected. It is brave, asbestos-free and people do boo. I suppose the red mist descends when I feel I'm only being shown one side of something. For me, as for Gemma, theatre is importantly fictional; important because if that aspect isn't recognised a work just becomes a compassion exam. You write: "The testimony doesn't necessarily speak to anything bigger than: this is who we are, who we were when we were making this piece, and who we are now showing it to you." Okay, firstly, that is how I get from 'testimony' to 'self-expression', surely that statement is the latter. But secondly, in theatre, this testimony has to be expressed through a lie. This isn't who we are. It's pretend. I think you disagree with this though and I think that's ultimately my problem with the stuff I have a problem with. When you say "This is who we are" onstage, you're lying. Not because you're being dishonest, but because your medium for that declaration is fiction. If you tell an audience that you love them therefore, it feels like abuse. You aren't you etc. Yes, it's your body, but it's your body pretending. What Gemma said. Ideally an actor makes those fictions their own, and - with apologies to you for shouting in code - I sometimes get the impression in conversations that shouldn't really have been referred to and that I'm sure you've had with your performers anyway that the security you wish to provide for your themes is taking precedence over the freedom of the performers to implicate themselves. Implicate: identify, be sensitive to, yes, but also Interpret and Broadcast. Does that answer your points? What other kind of implication can there be *onstage*? And do you really want to "reinvent" theatre, Chris, because that's a whole new area of disgruntlement for me: like Ford said, "It's the single most simple invention known to man."
R Cooper

gemma said...

just a little note for the records on the speed death debate - i don't believe i had any conversation about that show of such as is being discussed. not that i couldn't have... but seeing as i'm putting thoughts down here, i don't want you anyone to think that i'm not discussing something i have specifically discussed before...
as it were. certainly not in my mem'ry.
x
if you can keep talking - and keep passion within the language of reason. (watch out for the righteous fire of god - i know, i know, it can descend sometimes) - i think it's a very valuable discussion.
hello ian again.

simon said...

No you're right, Gemma. Sorry if it read otherwise. Just what you wrote - and Ian too - was very useful, hence my appropriation of it. Hello.

Chris said...

Hello all, & apologies for the little hiatus. ...Though I think the breathing space may have been valuable. I find, with the cooler head of a dull Saturday afternoon, that I'm a bit dismayed at how entrenched I've become. It's peculiar. My sense of what I'm doing and saying in and around theatre is always shifting and I feel I'm always learning, but I fall very quickly into a defensive mode that I think must seem very stuck and dogmatic from the outside. Earlier in the week a colleague (gently and not unkindly) chided me for what he called my "siege mentality" and I couldn't help recognizing the validity of the description even as I was (naturally) rejecting it in the strongest possible terms etc etc...

Ian: Thanks for sticking with this! I think your distinction between 'collective' and 'communal' is very interesting and potentially useful, but for the moment I don't think I can do much more with it than use it to express more clearly what I'm still convinced is the case, which is that the collective experience precedes the communal, and the communal has somehow to be activated by the event (which the collective in these terms perhaps doesn't). This in a way recalls my feeling about the large-ish group of people who gather at Dennis Cooper's blog to comment and converse, day in, day out; that group is sometimes designated (from within) a community, as many populous web spaces often are: and yet on the quite rare occasions where there is some point of passionate contention there, there is seldom if ever any evidence that anyone, not even Dennis (at least not consistently), acts so as to privilege the better interests of the community over their individual impulse towards self-expression. I suppose all I mean to say is that either communality (as you describe it) is consciously attained and can be purposive, or we agree that it inheres as a sort of natural phenomenon whether or not the attention of the communal group is consciously invested in it, in which case, yup, quite, it's all too mystical for me, guv, and I can't see how it can be progressively harnessed.

I sort of wish I'd never said 'testimony' now, I've obviously developed a little gnarly gremlinous private sense of that word, and now I can't do a thing with it. I see it as neither self-expressive (pace Simon) nor as necessarily promotive of legible 'meaning'. But I do see that that's cutting it rather fine. I'll think about that some more and try to post separately on it out front in due course.

But anyway: thanks, and on we go.

Simon: OK, well, that's much more helpful. And hopeful, too. (Apart from whatever Hannah or Falstaff said about breakfast, which is depressing. If, as J. Lydon reminds us, anger is an energy, then facetiousness is surely its opposite. The thing about booing is fine except of course you can boo it, whatever it is. Why not? Cat got your lungs?)

I completely agree that the problem we are starting with is this little fictive kernel. Actually I don't like to use the word 'fiction' in relation to it but only because that seems to circumscribe and constrain the set of things that we might be able to conceive of doing in that space: but yes, an ironic zone, in which the dead are pretending and the love is in that respect counterfeit. Sure, that's true.

But. That's not what I'm talking about when I talk about theatre. Theatre, for me, is the set of relationships that surround and attach to that ironic space, not only the relations between actors and audience (and within the audience itself) but also between actors+audience and the world outside the event. Theatre (when I talk about theatre) is the sum, or the product rather, of those relationships, and what is at that ironic centre is performance, and performance is a part of theatre but it's also arguing with theatre, it's a problem, a tension, that is in many cases actively deleterious to theatre and in almost all cases not easily compatible with its interests.

That's what I think I'm starting with. That the ironic nature of the performance event, which I agree confers the status of fiction on the acts that take place within that conceptual space and gravely limits the potential for those acts to be of wider lasting consequence, is not merely a given, which if I understand correctly what you're saying is your position, but a problem to be solved.

So that is in a sense an ideological question, though one's perspective on it is necessarily informed by the extent of one's squeamishness in using art instrumentally rather than purely recreationally. My own take on which arises quite inncuously out of two observations: one of which is that (in the great majority of instances) theatre puts a bunch of strangers in a room together, and is potentially able to arrange them so as to support or encourage an almost limitless variety of relationships that those people probably couldn't experience in other places and formats, and that being the case, if any artform is to ramify socially, theatre seems a particularly good candidate; secondly, even those (perfectly defensible and upstanding) theatre-involved persons who reject notions of wider consequence and are content for theatre to aspire no further outwards than the dimensions of its marginal territory within the leisure and/or heritage industries, when pressed, will explain their dedication to theatre using terms (to do with liveness, ephemerality, and specificity -- the sense of unrepeatability and unpredicatability) that both point to exactly the availability to instrumental use that they would say they reject, and indicate the basic dissonance between theatre and commodity capitalism (which depends to such a large extent on reproducibility, predictability, and managed obsolescence), such that even in their own terms there is something dissident about theatre within the wider sociocultural condition in which (locally, at least) it is situated.

So: to someone like me, whose politics (in their least pragmatic construction) are, I dunno, anarchocommunist (if anybody still says that) or at any rate anticapitalist, those tendencies even within the most leisurely theatre event suggest very compellingly that the dissident nature of theatre, those factors within it that make it culturally distinctive, could be strengthened: and that to do so would not be to kidnap theatre and set it to work towards ends for which it is unsuited, but simply to make it more like itself, more fully theatrical: the inverse, in fact, of what most of those proponents of leisure theatre end up doing, which is minimising all those elements they say they value, so as to enable a more commercially viable, egotistically reassuring modus operandi.

The major obstacle to maximising that dissident quality in theatre is, obviously, that irony at its heart. Most experimental and upstream makers are worrying away at this one way or another, whether or not they'd recognize my own way of describing it: even if they have no instrumental or progressive programme for theatre, they take exception to the deadening, reductive consequences of the (relatively recent) theatrical and performative conventions that permit the central fiction to ramify no more productively than would a game of table-tennis. The aversion is, I would obviously say, correct, but the analysis too often focuses on the particular elements of the conventional set-up rather than their actual function as regards the distinguishing insulation of the fictive or performative within the theatrical. The effect of this misapplication of reformist critique is that the problem of performance is simply relocated. For example, in various ways, companies like Forced Entertainment, Punchdrunk and FoolishPeople fictionalise the audience: which appears to 'break barriers' but in fact does no more than redraw the perimeter that those barriers enforce. Shunt have sometimes done that. Most of us probably have sometimes done that.

Way down at the militant critical-theoretical end of all this, meanwhile, there are still plenty of smart folks insisting that everything, all human interaction, is performative. So they think they are solving the problem by including everything in it, universally. But of course this doesn't stop us designating certain zones as artistic or liminal: our claim for the attention upon which progressive theatre depends is based above all in that assertion of difference, of specialness; even a society that made no distinction between artists and audiences in terms of their respective authorities (which sometimes seems to me to be the horizon of the work I want to be doing) would retain some semblance of the category of the to-be-looked-at.

So, gosh, this is going on a bit, but, yes, there's this problem of the ironic space, and how you transfer information and the indicators of movement out of that space so that it ramifies consequentially within the wider theatrical space, and how you transfer those same qualities, as more-or-less contained in the audience (as well as in its actors, of course), out into the extratheatrical space of our everyday lives. Most of the thinking I do out loud on the blog, as well as most that I do in my brain, usually with a bit of leaky mumbling which is probably going to get me in trouble one of these days, is about exactly that question: how to arrange the conditions of theatre so as to maximise the outward transferability of performatively signalled information.

I'm not going to summarize my current thinking about all this, as from this point on, Simon, you're probably as familiar with those thoughts as anybody else. I'm still deeply interested in the anthropolgist Arnold van Gennep's model of rite out of which Victor Turner and Richard Schechner developed a whole set of ideas around liminality but very few ideas about reincorporation, which is exactly that onward-transfer stage that succeeds the rite itself. (As a dire warning to myself, it was pretty obviously Schechner's own siege mentality that did for that project.)

What I would say is this: that the performance zone, your fictional space, quintessentially liminal as it is, is incredibly permissive. But just as strenuously exercising one's access to all areas within a permissive society can often be utterly and debilitatingly counterproductive, so I think it is an error to assume that revelling in the possible callousness of behaviour that the liminal zone supports with its absurd inconsequentiality is the most significant thing performance can do. If it's true that I'm "lying" when onstage I say that I love you, it's no more or less true than when I say I hate you, and the difference between those two statements, even muffled by their actual inapplicability, is elective and exemplary.

Or, do you resent being moved or inspired by anything you see on stage, on the grounds that it's synthetic? Is King Lear wholly and only mendacious?

I'm interested to recall you drinking a lot of lager, quite quickly, in one performance, and spinning around: the effects of which were manifestly not pretend. Was that a concerted attempt to puncture that fictionality, and if so, is that not an acknowledgement of exactly what I'm describing, a problem to be solved? Or does the sense of fictionality only apply to what I tell you from my lofty position on the stage? Is the problem of my lying therefore more specifically to do with language as it relates to categorical separation? Is a pure dance piece a lie?

I don't think anything as problematic as theatre (in the terms that I've described it) can be considered "simple", as per your final quotation, though I certainly think my agenda is a simplifying one. So, yes, I absolutely do, sincerely and unashamedly, want to reinvent theatre. (Not on my own. But if you're counting yourself out, that's fine.) As in re-inventing the wheel, though. Not innovation but excavation.

I'm going to let the thing about implication go, if that's all right: we are miles apart on that, very conceivably to the detriment of the people who work with me, I had better accept that. I think it's probably another unfortunate aspect of my siege mentality that someone(s) would rather talk to you about that than to me. (But that probably looks passive-aggressive in itself. I'm fucked. I'm so fucked.)

Gemma: Very interesting to read your comments. I suspect we are not so very far apart; I've never felt so in practice. This sort of conversation amplifies small differences of emphasis into apparently entirely immiscible dialects. As I've said above, the question of fiction is I think structural and formal and to some extent negotiable: so I wouldn't share your opposition to verbatim theatre, for example. Although in most instances over the past few years it has been pretty frustrating because, again, it has "caught on" at an aesthetic level without the original intentions of innovators such as Anna Deavere Smith and Emily Mann (and, no doubt, artists of whose work I'm ignorant before them) being comprehended and similarly transferred.

I can't tell from what you say whether you're going enjoyably mad or if it is not so much fun. I hope it's ok. Thank you for being here to dispense balm and fury in the right sorts of measures. xx

gemma said...

i was on my way back thinking about the fiction thing after a conversation i had with tassos - and wanting to clarify something i think i think

chris, you don't like the word fiction here. for me i mean for myself, its important to acknowledge it (in the terms i am thinking of it) becuase i sense it in the theatre, whether or not i'm asked to, and it can make me feel uncomfortable if i feel like i'm supposed to pretend it's not there.

i keep crossing over all sorts of performance, and i'm not sure i'm quite consistent, no no, but here go some ideas.

at the moment, we are working with these live portraits, and vivi over here has a form she calls 'live archive'. this involves her working for a year or so with a person - subject - who is then part of a show about themselves, in some way. so, Kosavinsky and his Doctor was a show in which Kosavinksy is himself and his Doctor is present with him. Kosavinsky has cancer, and his doctor keeps check of the disease, and is also a friend. Kosavinsky, at one point in the show, asks the audience never to publicise this main content, as his mother does not know he has cancer. (so, anyone reading this, please don't tell mrs kosavinsky...). This show i have not seen, but i know it blew anthony away. it's a very poor quick summary.

I saw two shows. Three Philosophers with Moustaches (as you would expect) and The Driving School, where vivi works with driving instructors at the school. The first i very much liked, but the last piece presented me with a real problem. becuase in this case, it was not really working for me, and yet i was very aware that these performers were not professional actors - that they were in some way not signed up for the - whatever it is - cruelty. in a good way. the point here for me, which brings me to the booing was yes - i absolutely did not feel i could boo. i felt that that would have been damaging to the people in front of me, who were, after all, presenting me with their lives. the cat had my tongue, and the worst thing was i knew it.

so i was watching the show, trying to support the show, pretending to be just myself. i can't quite put my finger on it - but i suppose they were unaware of the conflict that their very presence on the stage was suggesting. to me. the conflict between i'm this and i'm that. i'm really this person expressing myself, and there is also a whole audience experience going on which is about me expressing myself...

it's hard suddenly to elucidate.

there are things which happen in theatre which are not fiction - like simon drinking, or like the actor walking onto the stage, or like tears, or like dropping 8 feet onto the floor - and it's impossible to make theatre which does not have this non fiction. that's why this element has to be dealt with in every piece of theatre. (which i know you know i don't mean means looking out and winking - could be fourth wall totally but that wall is there helping the pretend, and the audience are complicit in that blah de)

(and in a way, this real thing is unrepeatable, because time passes and each night i'm just slightly wrinklier... but there is something perhaps oddly repeatable and that's the skill or the curse for soem performers. edith piaf cries everytime she sings - it's a performance, but its also her tragedy that that emotion is so readily accessible over and over and over again, and she knows exactly where it is. it can be the same acting)

(or perhaps she's putting it on. it doesn't really matter. becuase it's present in the performance. for me anyway. not that i've seen her live of course...)

it's all messing up.

so this reality - this non fiction - is present. there's no way it cannot be present. then there is something else that i find very exciting. maybe fiction isn't perfect, but i find it helpful. it's the thing that means this is a performance. that, however much i look at you or whatever, there is a contract. i am going to give you something. becuase you are giving me your... money, silence, time, attention, whatever, maybe all.

it's a bit like kareoke. greg and i were talking about this - so greg sings tina turner and he's not tina turner, but there's some evocation of her presence by using those words. and the fiction that he is tina turner hovers over the whole performance. not becuase he's pretending to be her, but because it is implied.

i'm getting lost in the argument so i'm going to splurge it all out. i think i'm trying to collate too many things. becuase the rules of the kareoke audience are vastly different from a theatre audience and therefore the contract between performer and audience is seen through a different shaped window.

simon - i don't think lie is quite the right word, because i can walk on stage and say 'i'm gemma' and it's true. but once theatre is there, for me, it's also pretend. both at once. although i know what you mean - if i convince myself that i'm not at all pretend, i can begin to lie to myself.

and in a way, for the audience the actual truth or not of the statement should be immaterial. they should be able to accept it as fiction, even if it's not. so i say 'i'm gemma' - who cares? perhaps i'm lying, perhaps i changed my name, perhaps i'm mad. it doesn't matter. but if i can use that line to make something else happen, it's completely valid. an actor playing constantin cries like a baby - why? - great acting - stanislavski - because of his mother? or his onion or whatever - becuase he just recieved a very important letter? - it doesn't matter except that it's happening and that's the gift or job or BOTH BOTH that this is given without asking the audience to take responsibility for that process. unless i suppose you make a piece where you specifically ask them to. the causes, techniques etc are vital only to the internal process of that performer. they may even be a mystery to herim. they probably are.

hmm. one easy leap from kareoke in marbella to chekov. one small step for me.

it's like naturalism isn't a problem with its fourth wall and all that pretend until the artist starts to say (like strindberg in on miss julie) - this is really pretty scientific, all observed from life. women are evil evil evil and can't run as fast as men. for example.

oh, and i'll throw in my favourite jarry bit while i'm on the road to nowhere. he says something like this: (ubu) takes place in poland and paris and nowhere. poland becuase that's the pretend world, paris, becuase that's the theatre, and nowhere, becuase that's - but hold on - that's impossible.

that's how i read it anyway, and i like it becuase it makes me feel like i know i don't know where i am.

this is my greatest hits.

i've said it many times, but i'll say it again...

when a clown puts on a nose and looks at the audience, to be a good clown, they really have to actually respond to what they see there. their eyes are really looking at someone. but then, in the middle of their face there is this nose from another world. and in that little landscape, i see the heart of what theatre is for me - my face is my own and not my own.

my own and theirs. my own and nowhere's.

i very nearly quoted twelfth night there didn't i. did i?

it's not about putting on a mask to reveal yourself (although i guess it can be) it's about being both things at once.

I'm most excited when i'm then working out the dance between these two things.

the fiction as i am imagining it isn't an escape, becuase escape in theatre is, in one way, impossible. here i am. i'm five foot tall. i can pretend to be a six foot tall, but i'm still five foot tall. it's fundamental. theatre is important becuase it is exists and makes me feel within this impossible nowhere and that destabilises my sense of somewhere which rocks the very world.

and i mean rocks.

and so i think it does affect the world outside, because those bodies in the room where this has happened will walk out of it again.

gemma said...

oh. but i also know that once again this theatre is my theoretical space, and making a piece of theatre will always grapple it all - and change the language i would use to express any of this in the future

i also acknowledge that i often feel theatre is not wishing to affect the owrld outside. but it still does. and that can be depressing when its unintentional.

gemma said...

fuck. i've really done it now. i have nothing more to say. that's it. that's everything i've thought over the last 10 years. i hope some of it is relevant to the rest of this discussion.

you open the floodgates on this blog thing and it can really helter s.

i'm trying that to see if it could become a new hip phrase.

xx.

yes, i am going a bit mad. not altogether in a good way. it's all about direction. i think i want to bury myself in a little box and wait to see which mole turns up to visit.

gemma said...

me again.
hello me, what an interesting point that was you made earlier.
thank you.

i've read this all again, because when you're abroad, you do that with letters.

new things. more brain coming up.





oh. it's gone. damn. more later

alexf said...

as ever, i'm late to the word-party, but just in case it's still going...

on audiences and communality and collectivity andc.

When i sit(/stand/walk/whatever) in the audience i can still stop and look at the audience. actually, i like to do that a lot, especially when the theatre bores me, but quite often when it doesn't, too. anyway, what this means is that the audience is something other - it's most definately not me. So i'm pretty certain that i'm still an individual, even when i watch a play.

but

when i look at the audience i look at The Audience (and yes it's a bunch of audients and yes they've all got different colour hair and had different things for breakfast and some of them voted lib dem and some of them voted green but that's not what concerns me because i'm looking at them for what they share which is what's happening now in their presence.)

So i, as an individual experience the audience as a collective and as something other.

and i'm a part of it, which is confusing, but it kinda works.

have you ever sat in a theatre hating the audience of which you are a part? i have. You fools! i say to them to myself in my head, You're enjoying something that's shit!

but i still made pretty much the same deal as them. that's why we have a word for the audience and not for a bunch of people who are sitting on the top deck of the nightbus.

oh, passengers, damn.

but still. the point is that passengers share only the fact that they're in transit, whereas an audience shares, not just that they're looking the same way, but a little bit of life. a bus without passengers is still a bus, a play without an audience is a, what? a rehearsal? an edinburgh fringe show? a pretend tree falling in a pretend forest?

it's not a play anyway.

so i'm not so sure about the need for an initiating act. because i know that the things that make me see all the other people as an audience are things that i already share with them. i'm trying not to cough and so are they. i've turned my mobile off and so have they.

of course, those are just conventions. it's possible that there could be a theatre in which it's ok to cough and you can leave your phone on. maybe then the audience would share their phlem and their ringtones, i don't know, but i'm pretty sure they'd still share.

is this right? probably i'm missing something. or your models have already taken this into account.

Anyhow, i don't like the hive-mind thing either - cos it's not the minds we're sharing. audience-as-borg doesn't work for me because the audience cannot assimilate me in any kind of meaningful way, not even temporarily. i can always refuse if i choose, even if the person sitting next to me chooses not to.

well, there's a bunch of words. i hope they make some kind of half-useful contribution to a really fascinating conversation.

Tassos said...

I'd started writing some thoughts two days ago but now they are very dated. So now I'll start again. Hello all.

Ian and Alexf (hello, I don't know you I think but I enjoyed your reduced Billington so nice to meet you here) I was thinking the blindingly obvious about the difference between collective - which I guess is the collection of individuals, a differentiated aggregation - and commun(al)ity - which I guess is the sharing, the emergent connection between the group. And yes, that commun(al)ity emerges through the event of performance, and because of the event, and most strongly when the event responds to its presence because that's when that state of communal mind recognises itself. I hope that made sense.

I sometimes work in contexts where the term hive-mind is sometimes used to describe the people at the event and it's not meant perjoratively, rather that you are aware of a complicated, negotiated set of interactions that have managed more brilliantly to respond to something than seemed possible for a collection of individuals. It's not about drones, quite the opposite.

Simon, I like it when you've calmed the red haze down.

Chris, I remembered pace the cat test that Masque Of The Red Death actually has a live cat in it free to wander yet still the vast majority of the production would fail the cat test. Except the cat. And some other things, some of which you only get if you're lucky. There are still great things in it though, strong and lovely performers, my difficulties are structural.

I also agree that it's never as simple as truth or lie (or dare), if that's what you're saying. If there are rules in the space, they are always dancing.

Gemma, I really like the tension you bagged in it being both a thing and not that thing. In my new play circles, I keep policing against that chestnut of the audience 'suspending disbelief'. I much prefer 'performing belief', I perform as if this is true whilst never forgetting that it is not. Not just a better characterisation because it is active and therefore more suitable for play, but because I think it's more accurate. It's definitely a dance, as you say and I did just, it might be an ironic dance if it happens in C's ironic space, or that might just be me. I love your greatest hits, they rock. And yes, we really should meet up some time.

alexf said...

hello tassos, i think i sorta see where the hive thing's going then.

(and you do know me in meatspace - i'm the shaven headed alex, friends with lucy, but thanks about RMB anyhow)

this cat - can you boo it?

Tassos said...

Alex, of course :) I did have a hunch it might be you. That's connected some dots.

You can boo the cat. But I don't think it would care.

gemma said...

yup. cat wouldn't care about a boo. or at least you believe it wouldn't. which makes the cat a perfect performer. which is why zoos work. animals can just potter about happily being observed. and we just enjoy observing them.
aaah.

there are lots of stray cats in buenos aires zoo. i saw one sitting on the other side of the bars from a monkey. they were just looking at each other. maybe in love. maybe doing a mirroring exercise. maybe it was just enough. who was the audience? the cat i guess.

and me. above all. like god.

Chris said...

> which makes the cat a perfect performer.

Exsqueeeeeze me, mais non. You are standing on my nub. The cat is a perfect actor. A very bad performer. My sentiments exactly.

I'm making a show with rabbits in. I think I just said that round the front. Well, so. I'll let you know how it goes. I'll boo them experimentally and see what happens. The only possible outcomes, plainly, are (a) retreat into obscure hiding-places, (b) production of babies, (c) much poo. In other words, it will be very like working with Unlimited again.

We are the world, you see, we are the bunnies. xx

simon said...

Okay I have to add this now in response to Chris’ reply a couple of days back, because the tone of my post has clearly not helped my argument. Well something’s gone very awry anyway… And nobody else has jumped in to say what I meant more clearly and helpfully which I guess is what I was holding out for, and what normally happens, and which is one of the reasons why normally I love it here.

Okay, Chris. “Callous”, “synthetic”, “dead” and - the most used – “ironic” are your words, not mine. Yet, as I understand it, these are words you’re using to paraphrase my argument. But I don’t believe fiction is any of these things. Justice is a fiction. Love and Hate and, to all intents and purposes, God are fictions (or else, to paraphrase Krishna, God does in fact exists, it's just that we don't). None is a fact as we are facts. None exists without the complicity of the human imagination and all can be accommodated by theatre. In short, it’s all in the mind. This does not mean that fiction is, as you appear to be arguing (or just assuming) "without consequence". It is certainly not to my mind callous or synthetic... "Synthetic": Brilliant word! Yes, it means man-made, but made in imitation of something that already exists (and advertisable as “indistinguishable from the real thing”) whereas the fictions tallied above have been made to resemble something that *did not exist previously*. That’s the crux. Likewise a Rembrandt self-portrait is not supposed to be mistaken for Rembrandt. And an actor playing a role is not “conning” an audience into believing they actually are that person, unless they’re a magician’s stooge. Hence, not synthetic.
“Irony” meanwhile is quite an ambiguous word, and I assume you keep using it because you think I am talking about maintaining a distance from our works - as in “ironic distance”, yes? No. My work tries, as yours tries and ours tries and everyone-we-know's tries to be as much like itself as possible – we all want to exploit our medium to the full - but accepting to ourselves “this is fictional” (what you would call “fictive” - and I appreciate there’s a possible difference between those two words, just not to me) is I believe the only way to honestly occupy it. NOT keep an ironic distance from. Be INSIDE. A lot of this was juggled with in "Iago's Little Book of Calm" so I'm sorry if it now sounds tired, but it should be reiterated that saying something is a lie is not the same thing as saying it doesn't exits. Lies exist. However an artist is not God. An artist creates nothing in God's medium. An artist is Adam. An artist names.
This is a given for me? Yes, probably.
It is certainly not - and here your summary of our differences is again on the money - a problem... to be solved or otherwise. It is why I do what I do. And while I understand the attraction of the paradox I'm not sure that the “friction” with which theatre works is in fact the simultaneous spectacle of the real and the non-real; an average audience probably finds very little friction here, and can easily cope (more easily than we can, which is why us wrights have such a conspicuously harder time of going to the theatre). The friction is rather, I think, the troubled passage of yet another fiction working its way into our model of reality *while that fiction looks on*. So no need to apologize for suggesting that Shunt “fictionalizes” the audience. Their best shows have always ascribed their audience a role. In the absence of the usual theatrical contract (where do we sit, when is it starting, what do we look at?) it's quite a useful point of introduction. And I appreciate that such an introduction may be glossing over an important find, but I think it’s possible for an audience to take on board what it is they’re being asked to stand for without losing anything of their own initiative – if anything I think this fictionalising encourages an audience’s initiative, without which a promenade show risks turning into a queue for a ride that doesn’t exist.
This is an ideological question? Yes, absolutely. Theatre is the first medium of religion. It is the first conceptual space. But while our “everyday lives” are “extra-theatrical”, as you state, they are also extra-cinematic, extra-restauranty and extra-night-outy in general (although, if I follow your arguing, not extra-radioish, extra-free-broadsheety, extra-anecdotal etc.) and I can't follow your arguments here for theatre's uniquely inherent “dissident nature”. Are you fighting against the concept of “night out” or have you simply decided not to engage in it. I don’t think it’s the latter. If theatre strikes me as inherently anything, however, it is in practice inherently - to use your word - intrenched... possibly because of the fear of frivolity that you express, and that many working in theatre share. Which is why more shows don’t end, like at the Globe, with all the company coming on for a dance irrespective of the tragedy that has preceded. Which is a shame. (A shame at least that this isn’t an option. I wish someone had developed my point about dancing.) Oh and I mean here genuine frivolity, not dismal forced, tits-and-teeth jollity... Ken Campbell/Julian Fox frivolity, not knickers.

Hannah's question finally was asked honestly, if frivolously, and certainly not facetiously (although it's clear how that could be read)... What can Art do? (Or to paraphrase, what purpose would this very attractive, non-private, anarcho-communist theatrical Field of Dreams of which you write actually serve?) The answer is surely: nothing if it isn’t any good. Unlike a splint or a breakfast. (Well actually I think the main purpose of my own dream non-commercial venue would be to allow everyone to make work, irrespective of whether or not anyone actually watches it. This is probably a quite conservative argument rather than an “anarcho-communist” one. But I do wish venues didn’t have to shape their shows so. Which they do.)
And can love not be frivolous? I never said love is impossible in theatre, Chris. I clearly don't think this (clearly. Come on.) But obviously, to use your example, I will only be moved by a production of Lear (a brilliant bit of bread to be broken) if it is executed with sympathy, and I believe this is unlikely to happen if my own sympathy is taken for granted, or even - now I come to think of it - considered. Any work, however angry or desperate or hopeless (or optimistic, joyous and delighted by the planet) is an expression of love if created with care and a stranger’s attention in mind. But when we bear this stranger (audient, spectator, reader, listener) in mind it is their mind that we must bear in mind, not the effect we wish to work on their emotions. This does not mean - as you have rather surprisingly assumed - that I don't believe their emotions will be worked upon, let alone *should* be worked upon. So stop that. It’s ALL in the mind, like I said. Emotions too. The heart it has been discovered is just a pump. And the still popular assumption that the more a person thinks the less they feel is, as you must yourself know, completely, one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees wide of the mark.

This commenting column is a tricky medium to clear stuff up in though. I'm simply glancing to a sheet on my right on which notes on your notes have been scribbled, then responding. I don't think you do want to actually (metaphorically) reinvent the wheel, do you? That’s a metaphor for dumb hubris, like “putting fire out with fire”, and argues my point far more facetiously than I might have: anyone patronizing a wheel-wright so minded is obviously in for a short and bumpy ride… But I do agree that theatre is a medium whose ephemeral nature requires with every production a talent for what could be termed - not too disgruntingly - "reinvention", as in it requires (sorry, *ideally* requires) that you make the medium your own. Which I know is not what you mean, although it is I believe the reality of your (our) situation. And of course you have good ideas beyond that, ideas that keep people alive to the possibilities. But chances are that none of our good ideas will actually be new. Nothing to lose sleep over, so long as the ideas are fresh.
Is this the argument you find depressing? Pessimistic? I can’t understand why.
But I do wonder how much writing about these ideas can create an opposite energy (an enervy?) especially considering the impossibility of italics and the prevalence of “personal definitions”.

For example: An actor, as I understand the word, is a performer whose job it is to pretend. A performer, as I understand the word, is someone whose job it is to hold our attention. So I understand Gemma’s remark about cats. I don’t understand Chris’. (Though I think Jean Claude Harel made a similar observation about actors and poo back in the 1830’s when he cancelled Frederick Le Maitre’s run as Othello and gave the theatre over to a dancing bear. Which personally I do find a bit depressing.)
stwunf

Chris said...

Hello Simon: just a pretty quick and surely inadequate response, because you're right, there is something enervating about having a dialogue like this when the incompatability of the premises from which we are writing are so difficult to make compatible, and one wouldn't want to be so crass as to force a specious compatability between them for the sake of the ping-pong.

The words you quote back are, yes, mine, or at any rate I brought them out, mostly to try and translate what I thought you were saying in a formal/structural sense into a language that doesn't instantly sit inertly in my brain like a rejected organ. No reflection on you or on those words but I can't in all conscience use the word "fiction" to mean what I'm using "irony" to mean, for example, because I don't accept its implications and I now, in relation to this latest post, don't accept much of what you're saying about fiction *or* irony.

In passing, I'm not sure "synthesis" has to be imitative, does it? Neither of the dictionaries I have to hand says so. How about synthetic sound? Imitation, to the great synth pioneers, was the sincerest form of twattery. But I suppose that's a sidebar.

I don't use 'irony' to suggest a distance between maker and work, I use it to suggest a difference between performing and not-performing. It's not an uncommon word to use in describing zones that are set aside for something we designate as signifying 'performed' or 'game' or 'not-real'. (Let's not fall out over "real" now, eh?) I don't intend to imply what presently gets thought of as an "ironic attitude", which I detect only minute and very occasional traces of in your work. So I'm not anyway accusing you of all that heap of stuff you're rejecting, you'll be sorry to know.

I can't quite wrap my head around an "honest" occupation of a zone that you insist is necessarily a platform for lying: obviously there's not necessarily a contradiction between those things, I think I just don't understand it because I don't understand what you go through when you perform. It's part of a value-added experience that you obviously need to create for yourself. I'm not being, or at any rate not trying to be, condescending: I've felt this very much about Gemma's posts too. You both are looking at the audience, say, from a quite different perspective to mine.

The bit where you elide theatre, cinema and restaurant-going into one continuous category sums everything up rather elegantly. I mean, sure, there are common terms, but if we can't discriminate between the three as networks of relationships and imagine that they might have different functional opportunities, then, well, I'm out.

"Frivolity" is, I think, your word and I don't remember arguing against it. Taking theatre seriously (which you perhaps don't want to because it's just another night out) is not the same thing as insisting only on "serious" theatre that doesn't have dancing in it. One of the shows that gets closest to being a model for much that I'm arguing for is Ridiculsmus's 'Yes Yes Yes', which is hardly a solemn work. What I dislike is the trivial, not the frivolous.

Oh, look, maybe I'll come back to the rest, but you're right, my heart's not in this now. You mostly make great work, Simon, when you make work. You do it the way you like. It works for me. Fine. Nobody in the pages of the Guardian is holding you up as a paragon of something, so, OK. Even to the extent that we disagree, your ability to shape a whole cultural discourse is as limited as mine is, we are both in the same peanut gallery with our early-onset impotences. We persevere, with our utterly different lexicons. So be it.

Oh, *I* think an actor, thus designated, simply acts (makes actions) in relation to others who watch. A performer performs, in relation to a determined model of some task or series of tasks. England have just failed to perform against Croatia. A performer can fail, an actor cannot. Eartha Kitt, constantly forgetting her lines as Molly Bloom at the Fringe in '94: a great actor, a lousy performer. The fact that she purrs (and once played Catwoman, come to think of it) is, regrettably, incidental. But anyway. Yeah. Never work with animals because they won't do what they're supposed to do. That's an argument about performance. I don't know what the word would be for "a performer whose job it is to pretend". If I did, I could hardly bring myself to utter it. ...Yes, no, now I'm being facetious.

simon said...

Which is absolutely fine.
Many thanks for that. (And for the last reply, which I'm sorry I could only pick at. It's the strandy shape of the medium I blame and my own notes. You're right for example: "Frivolity" was my word, not yours. I thought it popped up when you were referring to "accessing all areas in a permissive society", but it didn't. Sorry.)
Very quick. I guess the whole "nights out" elision was an attempt to illustrate some qualm about the audience's motives for showing up to a piece in the first place, motives which then impact upon the extra-theatrical existence which is at stake. But this of course you've already considered. And Gemma said something more interesting and useful than me about this point too.
All I can really bring to the party I suppose are my reasons for getting drunk onstage. You're referring to when I did Onehander at the CPT, or maybe you saw it at the Gate which is when I first did it, and it was only really meant to be done once. The drunkenness absolutely was an admission of your point, yes, but I thought of it at the time as a stunt - like sword-swallowing - the only trick I had the talent to pull off. Tassos asked if there was anything I wished to try onstage and I'd seen a couple of comics do something similar and thought I'd have a bash. That I was getting drunk while reading notes about a sitcom based on "Wings of Desire" - ie something that dealt with becoming corporeal - was supposed to create some kind of existential resonance among all the giggling and staggering. So the drink was simply meant to affect - and therefore draw attention to - my body, which was the vehicle and the illustration and the argument. Or, more accurately, it was meant to affect the audience's perception of my body, whether it had any effect or not. I compere a bit now and never go onstage without a drink in my hand, and this definitely has something to do with that night you saw, and with your definition of irony. I just can't say right now what exactly.
And I was reminded of comics when Gemma wrote "I can stand onstage and say 'My name is Gemma' and it's not a lie"... because this is what comedians do, and it's certainly not candour. What it is exactly, yes that interests me. "Lie" and "Lying" are however clearly unhelpful words I've introduced when "Invention" would probably have served much better, but maybe got us no further.
Your responses this end, however, have never been inadequate, Chris. They mean a lot.

gemma said...
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gemma said...
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gemma said...

lies lying lying lies. this one went in first but then it had a bit i didn't like. just one.
lying lies (what the hell play uses that word alot?)when i first read it, it seemed true, when you used the word lie, but when i thought about it more, i thought it needed a prod. not becuase it was angry or anything - more becuase i felt it wasn't quite right.
so i said it's not a lie. but it's important that when i say it's not a lie, i also don't say it's true. it's not candour, you're right. at least, i can't see it as such.
when i introduce myself on a stage as gemma brockis (which i've only ever done once) it was probably the most ironic thing i - felt - i had ever said on stage.
in saying that, i felt that i was admitting that there was no one thing i could say about myself that i believed to be true.

gemma said...

gemma dijo...
and really, simon, only you could have responded about what you were trying to say - because this is clearly a dialogue where the terms and original use of those terms as meant when written are key. so i'm glad you did - because it's very interesting how you both talk to each other.
mmm.
though one thing i would say about the arm thing - this is not at all a depressing comment to me. theatre can't fix your arm. that's what a doctor does. we have another job - and i'm sure if that was hannah (i didin't qutie understnad who it was...)- who i feel rather responsible for dragging into this debate without her expressing her own words - i'm sure that if it was her, it was not meant to undermine the power of theatre (i honestly don't know anyone more seriously commited to that than her.) but to give it its own real value - not a proxy one. it can't mend your arm. it has another job to do. (and i do feel sometimes in theatre - soemtiems - when, say a political comment is made - sorry about the wooliness - well, like in simon mc b's measure for measure to pick quite a weak example - it feels like the artist is using theatre to splint an arm, when it should be pumping enema into the entire system. and i really mean that in a good way,in a loving way)
i see the actor/performer dilemma. i did mean it more in simon's terms, but i understand the appropriateness of chris's. however, in modern parlance, if i say i'm an actor, i feel people assume that i'm not a cat. if i'm a performer, i feel understood to be a cat more, which is i think where it came from.
a trapeze artist performs their own body - was what i was thinking - an actor pretends to be another body.
but these words are so muddied and i'm ready to admit that their routes would suggest an alternative.
(there's some interesting thing about when actors started to be called actors, not players,i think to try and give some superior worth to the job - to mark out the professionals? mm. i'm going to look for that)

and simon, i see what you mean (i think - i just read it once) about the fiction on a fiction. i think i agree. the fiction/non fiction binary thing i bang on about is a very corporeal/incorporeal - other way round - one to me.
although now i come to think about it, perhaps you weren't even talking to me.

for me, the joy of being in an audience is being complicit in the fiction - which may even be, i'm not here. i'm invisible. or, you know me. or even, you like me. and this is where it gets so tricky. becuase that complicity - what the audience is actually giving and the slight of hand they feel moved by, are prepared to accept or feel conned by - is where it gets really really different for everyone.

i went to mass the other morning at 7.30 yup. hidden nuns singing. the thing that struck me was that at the end of the show, the priests packed their things away, and most of the congregation continued to pray, with the invisible nuns. hail mary after hail mary. imagine having a theatre where the show finished at 8.30am, and you had the whole day in that room - i mean, it belongs to the congregation soemhow.

that's nice. now imagine that as a national theatre. perhaps it's not nice. perhaps it's just hte last 2000 years of history.

simon, for me, god is a fiction too. and all belief is a fiction, as soon as i express it - in theatre or in life. but i nevertheless like to think (who would ever know) that, if really pushed, i would die for my belief, just as people have died for their god. well. that's the point at which it is not a fiction. so belief to me, maybe, is potential reality. is that too neat?

god is reality in potential? which i suppose he was, until realised by the corporeality of christ? and where was the hole ghost in all this? perhaps the holy ghost is the thing to mess it all up and pull me out of binary - it's the nowhere.

i'm going to stop now. if you don't know what i mean by now about the two worlds thing, then i'm guessing you don't want to know or you relaly got it a long long time back. i'm quite drugged up and hazy. buenos noches everyone.

Chris said...

Simon, I can't resist the opportunity to end this dialogue on a rather more agreeable note...

Stand-up comics, yes, yes, now this is something I've been thinking about a lot. You're absolutely right. I mean I wouldn't say that the comics I most like lack a usable candour -- Phil Kay, say, or (at least to an impactful extent) Stewart Lee. But that aside, yes. The perfect mix of prepared material, technical facility, responsiveness, interaction, topicality, entertainment, liveness. I would like theatre events to be able to do that much more. Which is why I raved over Les 7 Doigts de la Main, who came awfully close.

All we have to do then is: replace the single figure with a group, preferably; lose the microphone; lose the raised stage; lose the necessity of 'being funny'. But heighten and intensify the sense of entertainment.

I can see why you would want a drink in your hand.

Thank you for an impeccably gracious reply to my last, and for pitching in with such je ne sais quo, such cavalleria rusticana, passim.

Gemma, if you do find out anything about the original adoption of "actor" instead of "player", that would be very useful. I probably should do that research myself, but I seem to be going to bed much earlier this week...

best to all xx

ps Word verification: xrash

gemma said...

sorry chris, can't find anything on line.

i think it was - in fact it was almost certainly in one of those 'the shakespaerean stage'- or something books by that famous man. it talks about shakespeare being performed in universities and giving a kind of value to performance through that intellectual link - and then, yes players being superceded by actors...something like that.

and something then about the word changing to reflect this added, or maybe superior value.

more than that, i cannot say.