Re: grouping – Minus Theatre’s change of phase, AGM & 3rd Project

following an earlier post, here, for a hopeful workshop, which was cancelled, Minus Theatre’s weekly workshops were cancelled, not just this hopeful one, until the group of past and future members came together, Tuesday 18 November to talk about our 3rd Project – for the Auckland Fringe Festival, February 11 – 1 March 2015. You were invited to attend, email info@minustheatre.com … and some of you did. Thank you.

This means a change in the way we work. There now appears to be a goal, the performances coinciding with the Fringe, and a requirement for regular practice/workshop/rehearsal sessions leading up to it. But it is this not so much. What we present for the Fringe will be a work in progress and not the end result of adequate planning. The planning we need to engage in at this point does entail a change in methodology but from the point of view of epistemology.

Weekly workshops have been central to the methodology of Minus Theatre Research Group until now. The method we have developed since March this year, called ‘theatre of the individual life’, allows for a minimum workshop attendance of one. One person – it could be me! It could be me closely observing and analysing my own physical and verbal expressions, to be able to dis-organise these ‘symptoms’ (in contrast to ‘signs’ which have meaning) in the place of my body, in the space of the studio, in the time of the audience – an audience of one, too, me!

In practice, this has never happened. Although the option was given, when we had only a few participants, of whether to go ahead or chat, eat cake and drink coffee and tea, the smallest groups for the workshops were a minimum of three, including me. And sometimes even a larger group chose cake over theatre, which is hardly surprising, given the beautiful home baking. (The coffee’s not bad, either: an incentive for potential Minus Theatre members!)

After Textured Passages, September 8, 12, it was more usual for the several people who came to workshops, still then being held on a weekly basis, to want to sit and chat – the exception became the rule. I asked myself why, given a method which determinedly does not make a precondition of the whole group turning up – a source of frustration when running rehearsals with a set cast in the past – why should we not conduct the workshop with the one person, the two people who do turn up?

Two possible answers occurred to me: a lackadaisical attitude brought about by familiarity and regularity – if the workshops are going to be held anyway, does the individual feel needed enough to come along? In addition, Textured Passages was a massive undertaking with relatively little preparation. We incorporated musical resources, used costumes – albeit schematic and generic; we took on a difficult space, a gallery, where audiences were unsure what was expected of them; and so we had the pressure of somewhat diffident, sometimes uncomprehending, although almost universally appreciative audiences. A second answer, beyond the known-quantity-ness of the practice and the hangover of the shows, slowly crept up on me: something to do with the group dynamic itself is affecting individual behaviour. Whenever just a few people came to workshops their first question was always, who else is coming? Where’s so-and-so? Where’s she? Where in fact is the group when the individual is here?

I was reluctant to admit it but despite the method needing only one individual to engage the practice the individuals need the group. Why? There is a possibility that this is a matter of group identity or group dynamic, but these are ongoing processes: the group is not a closed product; it is always in the process of formation, and re-formation, as members leave, return, and new people join. What is it about this process, then, that made each member want all present to move forward with the practice?

I now think it has to do primarily with an epistemological shift, which might be summarised in the notion of the embodied knowledge of the group in Minus Theatre. I had, previous to October, not thought that if a kind of thought is going on in the practice and I had not known that if a kind of knowledge (ethological) is being produced in the technique where that thought and knowledge would go to, to be called on, or recalled, in its advance, in its recollection, in practice. It seems to be clear now that where it was at, over this intervening time, and where it is, is in the bodies of the people in the group. The resistance to going ahead on a weekly basis comes from the situation where the whole group is not present at the workshops contributing their thought-knowledge which each individual embodies.

Weekly workshops through October therefore took two steps back for every step forward. This is why in getting together, assembling, on Tuesday night, 18 November, to be assembled as a formation, forming a group, a minimal cell or corps, we were re-membering – becoming avant-garde – re-membered. Disorganisation may come hereafter.

As events go, in the event, Minus Theatre’s first AGM was a raging, encouraging success. However I got to say none of the things I have outlined above. And what is worse, I did not get to congratulate every person in this group for having got it this far to do what it has done. White Flower established that we have indeed developed a theatrical form all our own, as one audience member put it, which works. Textured Passages was like a human particle accelerator, that, several audience members claimed, gave off a spiralling energy drawing them in, energising them and cleaning their brains.

The following contains repeats but it is something like what I had hoped to say: Welcome! Thank you for coming! I called this meeting because Minus Theatre is changing phase. The change of phase comes because the knowledge we have acquired along the way and the thinking going on – and a lot does go on all the time in our work – is in the group. It is not written down. It is not in my PhD research. So that to bring it to new work, to progress and go further means we need to be a group, meeting regularly, committed to extending both ourselves in our technique and understanding and the group.

Earlier Minus Theatre was about teaching and training. I think it has taken on a life of its own. This still means new people are more than welcome and that we will be doing workshops involving learning and teaching. But the group overall will have more responsibility. In other words, it is not just me who has the knowledge and knows the technique – the unique theatrical language of Minus Theatre that includes all the languages spoken and the technique that includes all the different skills each person brings – it is the group.

Part of what we do will continue to find out what special skills, what powers, each individual, each person has that makes our work together more interesting and exciting and intense.

The next project is called Boneseed

We decided to meet on Tuesday evenings, from 6pm to 9pm at AUT. Again, if you are interested in joining, adding your powers, learning more or supporting us, please contact me here.

Minus Theatre is here – and developing an independent website, the forerunner of which is here.