Thursday, November 22, 2007

...does anyone speak finnish?...

Cos i want to know what they're saying about the reduced michael billington here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 and now, friends, here and now (part one)...

theatre is theatre and not something else because it is taking place in the here and now.

it is a sharing of that here and now that can take us beyond that here and now.

beyond even the wider here and now of our lives hereish and nowish.

it is a commonsensicle cliche to say that it does so by constructing a fictional not-here and not-now.

Distrust commonsense. And cliches.

Beyond: what if the here and nowness of theatre is itself a fiction?


...can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

Prologue, Henry V

And this is me talking. This is really me talking to you now.
Dad, bedbound, Enda Walsh

There exists a place where all the contrarieties are true
William Blake

Theatre offers the promise of a "here i am" on the part of the performer that goes far beyond the "here i am" of everyday life. In a sense it embodies nothing less than a desire to say "hello", an act which asserts the hereness of both myself and yourself. This desire in itself can be seen as a reaction against the inevitable experience of disembodiment encountered when something comes forth from within us - something like the voice. My voice is mine but it's not me. It leaves me.

Children, until they are told they shouldn't, often begin their stories with "Hello". As the voice is removed from even its origin in the body by written text, this "Hello" crystallises the pretence - the "i am not me", the "Hello. I am a lion." - of fiction which is a retreat from the self, we find a simultaneous counter-urge:

"Hello, here I am."

"I am a lion."

There are drama forms in which a character's first act is to introduce himself.

Ego sum Alpha et nouissimus.
I am gracyus and grete, God withoutyn begynnyng,
I am maker vnmade, all mighte es in me;
I am lyfe and way vnto welth-wynnyng,
I am formaste and fyrste, als I byd sall it be.

First lines of the York Mystery Cycle

(Hello God!)

There's a word for this but i can't remember it. Anyway, there's a lot of it, and to consider it unsophisticated is to miss the point that the Big Hello happens every time an actor steps into view.

Of course, we're not really talking to God. God isn't here. It's just an actor. "Hello God!" is a ridiculous thing to think. More so to say, because he can't hear you.

Oh, hang on.

It makes everything a lot easier if you've got an omniscient deity watching over the processes of representation which uneasily clunk around in between me and you. "Hello God!" we think and God hears even what's inaudible. "Hello" i say to you and god legitimates me and you by knowing that i'm here and you're there and he heard you hearing me and understanding me.

But we don't got that now, at least not at the heart of our metaphysics, so we're going to have to try again...

The "Here" in the "Hello, here I am" of the actor's entrance has at least two meanings. It's the here of this stage here, and the here of not-this-stage, maybe the "vasty fields of France", maybe a field with a single tree in it. To speak of the second "here" as a lie and the first as a truth is to ignore the special status of the theatre space. In other words, that first "here" enables the second. I can say "Hello, here i am. In France." And if i'm onstage, i won't get the response i will get if i say it in Tesco in Holburn: "No you're not." The audience allows it. The theatre is not a lie that tells the truth; the stage is what allows theatre to transcends the true/false binary. This is why we can talk about the "magic of theatre" - but this magic, unlike other magics, need not hide its workings. It's magical even as you see the pocket that the rabbit's kept in, even as it exposes to you its secrets.

But all the world's a stage ne c'est pas? Well, peut-etre, but if that's the case then where does the audience sit? For all that identity and its constituents may be a performance, they don't (always) take place in a theatre and so they don't get to bail out from the true/false party. On stage, being theatrical is mandatory. Elsewhere it's another way of saying you're being a dick.

Who or what gives the theatre this magical special status? A stage is not a stage because it's in a theatre, it does not need to be blessed like a temple or launched like a ship in order to come into being.

"You see that space there?"


"It's a stage."

"No it isn't."

"Well, ok, let's pretend it is."

Perhaps the contract between performer and audience goes no further than this: we agree on the fiction that this here is a stage.
update: as Paul Burgess has a really interesting piece in the same kind of area here (go to notebook and scroll down to november 10th)