ninth part, called “what is theatre? IX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

What is theatre?

This writing has been pursued as if there is something to be said. About theatre, certainly. But I have pursued it as if there is something to be said for it, this writing. When the for it I ought to be considering is the for it of theatre. Something to be said for it, theatre does not on its own say. At least, that it not quite, not yet or no longer says.

I have assumed this writing on its own speaks for itself. Although I don’t know if it does. I don’t know if I should entrust it to you when it is not the saying but what is said I would entrust. In the saying I am choosing not to speak on its behalf. Leave what is said to speak for itself, as if it spoke to a friend. As if that is it projected my voice, when I know this is not true. It’s a question of artifice. … Or, is it a question of this, the stage?

Theatre has a stage. To theatre belongs a stage. Here it expresses itself, speaks for itself. And the conditions are reversed of this writing: I would entrust to you not the said but the saying. So what theatre is saying is said onstage. And it will not be a question of theatre no longer, not yet or not quite having the means to say it. Because it is under-resourced, for example, or poorly understood.

Perhaps this goes to my poor understanding of it that I believe writing always to have the means of expression so that it never has to say, Words cannot express… And I understand writing to be this having of its means. As if it produced from its not quite, not yet or no longer having them, those resources of expression that it requires for what is said. This would not be ex nihilo, from nothing, but as I would say of the stage also, on nothing, that line of the void to which the line of the stage belongs. As its condition of expression, not its limit: or as one might say, it takes its internal resource from outside itself. However the line is not the opening, that is more simply the stage door.

Theatre has a stage. The definition is incomplete because theatre is not a stage, just as the screen on which moving pictures are shown is not the cinema. Neither is it how the stage is displayed, its disposition or its conformation, that might assist in the identification of the theatre with the stage, its definition. Nor in the cinema is it these with regard to the screen, whether it is a dirty sheet or a patch of earth.

For the cinema, isn’t it with the moving pictures themselves that we ought to identify it and by them define the cinema to be any place a film is shown? And so presuppose the technical resources enabling the showing of a film. Like this, the painting is separable from the support. Whatever technical requirements are made in stretching the canvas, and so on, their provision is presupposed. And questions of applying paint to canvas and projecting image are put to the side.

To painting belongs a support, to cinema belongs a screen, and to theatre belongs a stage in the same way: because of what it does. How it works is what it does, with the qualification, as Oscar Wilde said, that it is quite useless. We might say of them, the support for painting, the screen for cinema, the stage for theatre, that each is unemployed, does not work, or is inoeuvrable.

The theatre is black is what is said when nothing is on. No shows. And the stage is clear, perhaps lit up by the workers, worker lights, luminaires having been derigged. We enter not through the stage-door, that would take us through the backstage, the dressing-rooms and green room, before we even reached the wings, in a traditionally appointed theatre, but through a side door, maybe a fire exit, into the auditorium.

For a short while we stare at the stage, as if we might be staring at the sea, looking out. Or our stage might just as well be on the beach. With our intention to do a little outdoor improv, we are reccying the scene. Having picked where, we stare at the sand in the same way. There is never nothing there, nothing on the horizon. And like with the sea, there may at first be too much.

We might be overwhelmed with the sea-wrack, distracted by the plastic, by the constant movement of the waves, or the climatic conditions, outside the theatre. Inside, still, there may be too much, but since theatre is this machine to pare down, we can find the stage. There’s something meditative about it. Zen: like the raked gravel that is still called a garden, so the empty stage that is still called a theatre.

Like the Zen garden the stage provides conditions essential to this meditative or contemplative state not for having removed whatever obstacles to achieving it had been there, not by cutting out or cutting down distractions, but by preserving just enough. A +1 dimension. Of the essential relations, the minimum. In the garden, the relations between rocks. Or the tree pruned not to resemble an objet mort, but to preserve the minimum dynamism necessary to growth, to life. Its essential condition.

This essential condition in fact resembles the mathematics of the fractal. The fractal relation is of one dimension to 1.3 or so, up to the next whole number, while at one end of the continua between dimensions there is the order, directly, of the manmade, of artifice, and at the other a chaos which goes further than any that occurs in nature. Neither our intention nor imagination are enough to create this effect. Neither is it by an action of will or by its suppression that we achieve it.

The workers off, we sit in the auditorium, in the dark. There is the vestigial sussurus of past audiences, in a theatre that has had them. Facing us, from the stage, there is something else. We look out into it and it looks back.

Learning to meditate, you are told to empty the mind. Yet the images come. So you are told to let them pass. You do so here.

You let them pass and you let them pass, and you attend to the essential dynamism of the stage, or canvas, or screen, which is itself a mind. Not a chaos of minds, of subjectivities. And not an entirely built, ordered structure, a carpentry, as it were, of the human world, a symbolic structure of the social world. An undoing.

The subject is an undoing of the action, intent, projection, preserving the minimal object of the event, immobile, singular, with its force or life. A play is a thing that is undone on stage. A theatrical hero is usually undone.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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