Friday, 9 November 2012

Reality: A User's Guide


Jonah Non Grata's bag of things that are things, Alarum festival, Berlin, 2011. 
Photos by Lanna Meggy...

... whom I appear to have tagged here as "Keeps"... Why am I even tagging personal acquaintances here? That's weird. Maybe that's why I stopped blogging. Anyway, Keeps is currently studying macabre animation (Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, quills passing through wood like it was butter, ugly toys worn but not loved, meat and threads, that kind of thing) and, as she was looking for a way to write about it all - an "in" - I recalled something Chris Goode had posted on his now-closed blog "Thompson's Book of Communicable Desire", back in 2009, taking as his starting point the following animation by Adam Pesapane.


Beneath his post, which is here, I found two days' train of thought, posted by myself in response, about honesty in theatre, the uses of play, and the nature of reality and thinginess - a lot of which I found I still believe and am still investigating, other stuff I'd forgotten that surprised me, and, I'll be honest, impressed me. February 04 2009 was just days before the fire, which must be why I never got round to referencing it at the time, but, as I say, I certainly haven't forgotten the gist - in fact it's played happily on my mind in everything I've made since. I don't know when I'll next be making theatre, but some of my best thinking has been thinking about theatre, and most of the best of that was done over at Thompson's. So, here: Chris closed thus...

"Until we can see who, and what, we are, in relation to each other and the objects and materials we use and the resources we share (or don't), the question of what else there could be and what the various things we call "this" or "here" might be like under other circumstances is nearly incomprehensible, except in a subjunctive, speculative fantasy... propelled by privilege -- whether that's the privilege of leisure time, or the privilege of being a child."

And in I chipped, eventually, and kept chipping for the next two days...
   
I was with you all the way until those last words... Because of course being a child is not a privilege, is it? It's the opposite. It is the one thing everyone's had a go at. And because "I am me" is so much less comprehensive a declaration than "That's a rope". "What am I?" is surely a very different question from "What is that rope?" (Is Hamlet actually mad? Well that depends on your definition of "is") and objects - not us - and people - potential usses - are two completely different propositions. Taking someone's clothes off will tell us more about them but it also much more won't...


And I often think about the professed moral of Vonnegut's "Mother Night" in relationship to performing: "We are who we pretend to be." Yes, yes we are. Pretending a book is a bird doesn't stop it being a book. However pretend to be angry, your body won't be able to tell the difference, you're angry. Pretend to be possessed of an untameable libido, you will become that thing, as I found out when I'd finished just some five night run of a Jacobean Tragedy in the Playroom, it was scary, giddying. This kind of play will not change your opinions or your education but it might change you. Going back to your speech about Shakespeare and the wood, for me Feste is not walking talking theatre as much as is Edgar in King Lear (although I like that Feste's always asking people for money). Edgar is the thing, yep...


What I would have to think on exactly is that being a child - while associated with its often (yeah, we'd hope) attendant privileges... is not some posh school where we are allowed to play, it is in a but not that sense THE state of play. We're not taught to play if we're lucky. We play. But what IS that... that's what I've go to mull over. Because we learn by playing, that's a trusim but also the point, which goes back to the idea of playing to find out what something is - yes? - which in the case of my last comment was ourselves. "What can I do with this?" So when I said it wasn't a privilege I meant it is crucial to who we are...


And I'm not at all sure we should grow out of playing if playing is indeed born out of curiosity. (By the way I am far more private now than I was when a child). I also think playing is a huge part of love. Today, we were all let off work and had a snowball fight. At first OF COURSE I did not participate, and then I did and there were instances of fun (ie out-of-myself-type ecstasy) and, but, all the time there was OF COURSE the deadening bilious knowledge that I was not experiencing the same childish abandon that that thing: "everyonelse" was. But. I Can't. "Know". That.
And had I been throwing snowballs with someone I really loved, rather than knocking about with some people I might or might not fancy who might or might not fancy each other, I would have played from the off...

The attraction of Play for children is NOT in the pretending. It is in what the pretending allows the child to do. Think about it, you don't actually need to climb inside a cardboard box to pretend you're in a tank. You pretend to be in a tank simply because it GIVES YOU THE EXCUSE TO CLIMB INSIDE THE CARDBOARD BOX. That's what's fun, being in a box. Should a child pick up a book and pretend it's a bird that is something different, that is a child playing with perception, but this type of play is actually much rarer. All my memories of play are very specifically of basking in the reality of my environment - that hill, those roots, that adventure playground - NOT of some Muppet Babies bluescreen fantasy sequence...


 No, I think pretending gives us more than the "excuse". It gives us the "means" to be inside the box - "be" in its fullest sense, or at least evinced by the vividness of my memories of those spaces in which I pretended (as I wrote before). All that you write about here, all of it, is (of course?) what I first got an inkling of when watching Jeremy [Hardingham]'s production of Lear fifteen years ago - the show that made me want to return to theatre, the show in which I saw that a "wooden performance" did not preclude great "acting" - to take your meaning - the show in which I actually saw Gloucester blinded. [He had cotton pads taped over his eyes.] Yes, that changed everything...
But it was still a production of King Lear. In this case, like the act of pretending, putting on "King Lear" and having people say those lines and play those parts was not here simply an excuse to do what that production did - it was, very definitely, the means...


The aftermath of one of Jeremy Hardingham's later Lears, Berlin, 2011

 Parenthetically, it's now obvious to me why we feel so differently about the Shunt Lounge. My day-job's right next door, so of course that whole place is very much more part of my real world. (Still though, I'd argue there's nothing that goes on inside that can't be taken out. London's just full of spatial non-sequiturs. It's oddness to me is very much part of its thereness.)
Ha ha! I just wrote "it's".
Its 5 in the morning, Chris, deal with it...


I totally agree though, Tassos, that there's a useful absence of trust - that's a terrible way of putting it - a presence of the possibility of the confounding of perceived reality - clearer but shitter - that means an audience will not be watching what goes on in front of them the same way they'll watch events taking place over the road (the one crucial difference in perception? They are safe). I also however really do see the value in having props that are only what they are and scenery that is only what it is and no blackouts and no exit no mime and no hidden source of sound... and NO BLOODY BLOODY BLOODY STAGE-FIGHTS, say... and in creating a manifesto for a theatre in which this is a given. Even in such a theatre though, the question of what the performer is remains, unresolved into statement. In fact one of the values of this theatre may be that it asks the question far more clearly...
My placeholder then...
Pretend-play IS generative engagement.
Evidence: memories.

(Bonus Brothers Quay BBC2 ident)

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