the contract with the audience: day 9 at the Soap Factory

Critics love to reiterate the uninteresting idea that theatre depends on conflict. But actually it doesn’t. It depends on engagement – engagement between the action on stage and the audience which attends. Screaming and shouting don’t make a play. Nor do swordfights. Lectures and plays are alike in relying for their true vitality on the richness of the interaction between the performance itself and the thoughts and feelings created by the unspoken reaction in the room. Anyone who has had the luck to hear Robert Hughes talking about Goya or Stephen Pinker discoursing on the Darwinian interpretation of language will notice that in the fifteen minutes which is set aside for questions at the end, there is always an unusually high standard of interrogation. It is as if – hey! – the better the speaker, the deeper the response.

– David Hare’s Introduction to his Obedience, Struggle & Revolt, Faber and Faber, London, 2005, p. 5

Sean Penn has decided never to act on stage again, because he does not believe the American theatre any longer commands an audience which is interesting to play to. The work may be worthwhile, but the qualitative experience of presenting it is not.

– David Hare, ibid., p. 7

It’s not enough to start from principles. Or to restrict oneself to principles. Especially when the principles are held to be right. I asked for a consensus on first principles, day eight at the Soap Factory, and received beglummed reassurances. After that, nothing held its form – and, but, no overtures could be made to the nothing. It, nothing, evaded an overdetermined trap, a trap with a large Baconian arrow and an ovoid marking out the place where the dice were supposed to turn up the winning numbers, which were always going to be evens. The odds were against it.

Igor Stravinsky, when setting out to compose a new work, contemplating the abyss of possibilities it presented, thought, what holds me back from plumetting into its formless depth but falling back on traditional forms? Stravinsky had a specific understanding of tradition as dialectic. The argument of the new begins with the first note, which either negotiates its truce with the old or stands its ground against it. The argument continues all down the line as the agon of influence.

Day nine of work on the RJF Project (working title (at the ‘soap face,’ that is)), we at last had our ur-text of the thirteen ‘renderings’ (listed opposite as pages), presented script-wise in paragraphs as speeches, rather than lineated in stanzas – as that other sort of non-conversational speech. Nothing much changed in the way we approached the work, only, performers were asked to remain on stage, as a change in the working style. No more spectating from the ‘wings.’ The work and process brought into the selfsame arena, wrestling-school (Howard Barker, but also Herbert Blau) style. More damage can be inflicted on the work this way.

We may doubt that there is any delineation between stage and off, however it seems more effective to extend the limits of the former – with its tensions, its dialectic, audience to stage, and in rehearsal, director to stage – than to think of such a delineation as never having existed. This again means living traditon: you don’t overcome tradition’s, influence’s – even cliche’s – symbolic hold on things by ignoring it; or, put another way, ignorance of the law is no excuse before the law.

Another find is that unacting, referred to in the previous post, relies on there being a performance out of which it drops in order for the actor/performer to trap it, hold it in. To show the support, what it supports must first be shown. Entirely a matter of having to run, then walk, before one can stand. (It. Which is the same as being. It. ‘It.’)

If there is no beyond to the law, then the holes, the gaps, the fissures have to be found, in its interstices, which amounts but not absolutely to a continuous recitation of the law, or its rehearsal, in order to hear, see, feel, smell, even, where there is discontinuity, where the needle jumps in the track… at the unexpected, there make the trap. Kafka is good for this – good for something, then – but so is Francis Bacon, the painter, both of whom are invoked in the current project.

Ever more tangentially, I’ve noted here that seeking public funding would be an evil, adding to the evil of that admixture of professional pretensions to amateur fun – or is that the other way around? – we witness in our ‘group.’ This is not a principle. I would in fact argue for citizens’ access to evil, as there are citizens’ advice bureaux; that it would be a civic service to train citizens in the active employment of bad intentions, in foul play and the tactics of evil – possibly without the doing, the teaching would be enough – so that it not be among the prerogatives of privilege, whether of wealth… no, but wealth will sustain it.

We steer on an unequal axis until the shitty, the using, from the merely offputting to the provocatively fucking-with and getting away with it – which is the demesne of our arts insofar as they evoke humanities – is restored to us. Then we will be princes of our destiny, citizens of our city, occupying equally the axis of evil as the axis of the good, with a more than opportunistic and a more than fatalistic attitude faced with the future… coming head-on like a truck. (Part of the problem is of course that evil has no easy antithesis. We would have purity, cleanliness, hygiene, clarity!)

The impeccable, as they say, logic with which we pursue our project at the Soap Factory may be stated: if it says it’s not, it is; but if it says it isn’t not, it is the more.

I would have something to say about unreal spaces…