list: no concern to the living unless there move within it the reflection of these things

In 1929, someone named Velona Pilcher wrote wisely in Theatre Arts: “I don’t think it goes too far to declare that a play is no concern of a living playgoer, play-reader, producer, or player unless somewhere within it, or within the art that shall present it, there moves the reflection of these things:Four years of World War
Frazer’s Golden Bough
Epstein’s bronze Madonna
The prose of D.H. Lawrence
The Thought, as far as it could reach, of Back to Methuselah
The Mask of Gordon Craig
Einstein and the scientists
The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics
The dramatic dancing of the Diaghilev Company
The Outbreak of Peace.”- Herbert Blau, The Impossible Theatre: A Manifesto, MacMillan, New York, 1964, p. 18

Herbert Blau continues, that to his day, just under forty years later, the theatre had failed to reflect some of these things. He proceeds to extend the list to include what happened next: WWII, gavitational-field theory, the discovery of the structure of DNA, Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, Shoah, Pollock’s Totem #1, Hiroshima, Antonioni and Eisenstein, Artaud, serialist music, the advent and baggage of the Cold War. To our day, just over forty years later, the theatre has failed to reflect these, but what are they? concerns of Velona Pilcher and Herbert Blau? or events of global importance? chosen by what standard?

Two actions here should be considered, because clearly the first response is either to substitute for the opinions of Blau and Pilcher one’s own as to what the theatre ought to reflect, or to dispense with such lists altogether, on the grounds that they’re hardly objective, and driven by vested interest, if not ideologically; or a bit of both: to seek to establish criteria that support some kind of list, democratic representation, for example, or empirical truth or scientific falsification. The actions I wish to have considered and of which the consideration is given additional impetus by the dual and even treble compulsions of popular list-making, academic and scientific list-breaking, media expert and pop science list-spiking, -spinning, -slanting, or simply list-ing, are, that, firstly, the theatre reflects any something, and, secondly, that the list of somethings is, from Pilcher to Blau, cumulative, accumulating somethings.

What is the theatre being asked to do in reflecting “somewhere within in it, or within the art that shall present it” these things? How does the theatre show that “somewhere within it, or within the art that shall present it, there moves the reflection of these things”?

It’s worth attending to the remove of a ‘movement’ which is the product of the reflection or produces the reflection, because theatre is neither being asked to illustrate WWI or WWII, nor to celebrate scientific discoveries, nor carry on in the vein of either Craig or Brecht. These things, that might or mightn’t concern us all, but approach adequacy to their age and ours, as images, ought to exert a gravitational pull on our theatre. That these things are there for us ought to be enough reason for their reflection to move within the theatre that we are asked to make and watch.

Is this any more than asking for a degree of seriousness in our theatres in terms of theatre having an historical role: what do these lists do if not signify history in their designated histories and offer signs that within the nihilist surface of our insistent, instant historicity there might move the reflection of an incarnate, durational and also theatrical history?

What is history being asked to do in affirming the signs, Four years of World War, Lawrence’s prose, Pollock’s painting, deoxyribonucleic acid, but affirm itself? Is it really vouching for their adequacy as images over its adequacy as image?

It’s important that the series making up such a list is not and does not seek to be representative. Or is it simply a mistake to read them that way? And, if so, should we hold the list-maker responsible? Responsible, yes, culpable, no.

Blau makes a point of extending the list, neither that it should include everything, nor that it should be treated as a whole thing; the list is a project, an historic project, to assert the theatre’s connection, both to the particular histories of the items in the list and to the idea of history. What, then, could we add to the list of which the reflection ought to move within theatre?What, that would affirm history as it gets added on and on? What, that gives us our place and time, as well as our theatre? What particular events? What to add?

Globalisation and anti-Globalisation
Imminent ecological collapse
Robert Wilson’s opera
Peak oil
Extreme art as sport: Hermann Nitsch (whether Matthew Barney, remains to be seen)
Friedman’s economics
Web 2.0
The Human Genome Project
The philosophy of Dorothea Olkowski
Heiner Mueller’s life and work
The State of Israel

I’ve quoted it before, I’ll quote it again, “Everything is of interest, but nothing matters.” [Deathwatch or La Mort en direct, dir. Bertrand Tavernier, 1980] And if it matters, it matters, selfishly, to the individual. This would be the character Max von Sydow plays in Deathwatch, an isolate, an eccentric, surrounding himself with the things he loves, exactly excluded from the events of history for the fact that he inhabits history: Peter Ustinov in Logan’s Run. [dir. Michael Anderson, 1976] For this reason, I’d include:

Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised

The problem of the theatre connects with the insignificance of what goes in this list. The struggle for relevance is as irrelevant as any other. The confrontation between historicity and history is a conflict lacking in drama. It is in the individual player in whom now moves the reflection of these things and whom the audience avoids for that very reason.