I am in the process of carrying through on some emotional house-cleaning, and, as a part of that, I want to include a farewell to theatre-making. Not a grand, sweeping goodbye, I assure you, just a nod of farewell to a very particular set of concerns, to my own little peculiar domain of interest. I’m saying goodbye to the few notions of theatre-making I’ve attempted to explore, unsuccessfully, for the last twenty-three or so years. I want to briefly describe them, for the record, and then acknowledge my inability to realize them. Perhaps they are not really worth realizing, but I’ll stop short of asserting that. I’m still too fond of the notions to go that far.
I want to keep it simple. These notions are simple. They are the shortest avenues I can imagine to pure stimulation. In the end, that may be the problem. I wasn’t necessarily interested in the complexities and deferrals of story. But can theatre-making dispense with story? I wanted to fashion stimulating events composed of human presence, focused microscopically through the material reality of bodies, voices, and feeling. I make it sound O so heroic, don’t I? But viable? Playable?
When you see a production of a play or musical or opera and you respond to a performance and a specific performer, you are at a precise distance to receive what you could call a certain gestalt, a masterful coordination of elements within a storied framework which illuminates a featured instance of human agency. You can call it “the power of a performance.” You, the audience, the appreciative receiver, need the distance for the gestalt to cohere and work the way it does. The theatre-making that intrigued me involved reducing the distance to the performance just enough for the gestalt to fragment and collapse. The performer is now a heterogeneous swirl of elements, elements which can picked through and re-aligned or juxtaposed or collided into a new kind of event.
Voice, for instance. I really like listening to voices doing strong and unusual things. I like the experience of a voice dispensing with amplification and projecting into a space. I like the strange turns and distortions in such a voice. I like to experience remarkable textures in a voice. It’s a vocal encounter that only works in the here and now, however. If it’s recorded, preserved, or mediated in some way, it might as well be a curio preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. It’s dismissed as an instance of outdated oddness that can only collect dust on the shelf. But it’s evident that striving to produce such elements in a voice leads the speaker into unusual and challenging emotional terrain. The audience is taken to new territory in the listening. I wanted to make theatre in which such an element is not a background “gift” or quality of a performer (or an instance of embarrassing excess), but is part of the focused stimulating event. The performer brings it to bear through a kind of imposed immediacy.
Voice is just one element, one example. Embodiment. Movement. Manner of relational approach. Modes of intimacy. These all float and hover and offer themselves for new configurations. The performer willfully moves through the options in this strange disarticulated collection of possibilities. This is the stuff of the theatre-making I attempted.
Why could I never make it go anywhere in a fully satisfying way? I could offer any number of reasons, but I recently hit upon the chief reason, something that colored everything else, that explains much of what I see as a failure of will.
I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I was afraid of what I thought I wanted to do. I feared the very radical strangeness of what I wanted to pursue. As you can imagine, it made surmounting the resistance of others rather difficult.
But there we have it. My statement of intent. My nod of goodbye. I leave it for other more muscular imaginations. Or if it is just a cluster of impossibilities knotted out of my past and could never be a viable route for theatrical exploration and expression, I can now simply set it aside.
I’m done fiddling with it.