nineteenth part, called “a way in XIX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

Making theatre, what are we looking for in what Declan Donnellan has called the invisible work? This is the work preparatory to the piece coming before an audience, where it is visible. The training of the animals. The coaching of the children. And, before each performance, the actors coming together, with crosswords, or to run lines; to do their makeup, dress in costume, check props; have the stagemanager do the rounds and, after checking actors are in the house, costumed, made up, props in order, give the call, the half, quarter and five minutes. Beginners please. Because at this point the stagemanager runs the show, reports back to the director, and dramaturg. Who may come back after the curtain to give notes, the notes, also, part of the invisible work.

In fact, the actor who is visibly acting, before an audience, is at the same time invisibly working. Isn’t this what we wait for, making theatre? So that we can’t see the actor, even if it is a horse, working? but acting.

There was an abyssal moment in the theatre of equitation of Bartabas at Versailles. The theatre in the stables before the gates of Versailles a masterpiece of design, done in raw wood, the seats benches, the stage an indoor arena, lit with theatre lights, luminaires, its floor sawdust. And the stables, which doubled as dressingrooms for the horses, which aren’t all stables, really? ornate as Paris Metro entrances of the old style, with, on each stable door, the name of the horse it was for, on an engraved brass plate. No stars anywhere, but you get the picture.

The horses were released from their human riders, who were ideal types: identically dressed, breeches or Japanese-influenced riding skirts, hair pulled back into ponytails. The horses began to play in the middle of the lit arena. The riders had withdrawn to the four corners. One horse rolled in the sawdust. Others nickered at each other and to-ed and fro-ed. Then they began to circle the arena. No signal was given. The improvisation spontaneously took on structure. And I recall The Rite of Spring had been playing. Its introduction over the playful jostling and rolling, the section given over to free play. As the rhythms intensified, the structure already latent took form: horses circling, gaining in speed, galloping. The riders expressionless and unmoving.

It was like the bottom came off the show, as performance gave way, and the artifice was swept away, with the thought that all this equine choreography, of which the show was full, at times incredibly complex as it unfolded in time, was a matter of the voluntary expression of the company of horses. The training at the equestrian Academy of Versailles had all been to untrain. The untraining to train. That is, the invisible work was now at this moment visibly invisible.

The acting had undone itself, as any kind of performance. But does this give any inkling of what we are waiting for, watching for, making theatre, in the invisible work? For when the work … vanishes. Then what does this say about this work? That the visible, the structure and form of a performance, somehow preexists? And we have to get back to it.

For this reason, it may be, that we identify what we are looking for, making theatre, with the depths: the actor must look deep inside. Dig deep. To come up with what is required, where, on the surface, it becomes visible. And we say, Yes, that’s it.

Then, equally, it is confused with the heights, what we perceive, making theatre, as the it of it. As we do in poetry, we say it is a voice. The quality of Voice, that is its essence. The line suddenly sings. … It, the line, loses any sense it had. It becomes a thing of absolutely no consequence. Which is the state of theatre itself, isn’t it?

Isn’t the question of theatre, making theatre, in the invisible work, to arrive at the perfection of its lack of consequence, at its perfect inconsequence? Then, when it does not touch us in the slightest, it most touches us. The beautifully meaningless line is a gesture of the kind of emptiness we are after. Isn’t this, in turn, what we have already invoked as the inexpressible? Aren’t we trying to touch, to broach, the ineffable? (the in-effing-able, as Beckett says). So that we have an idea of what this is and so that the inexpressible precedes what is able to be expressed.

We earlier invoked the inexpressible in view of the system of language. Where the system might rather have the inexpressible as its outside, at its limit, pushed beyond its limit, the inexpressible arises inside, as an internal limit. Because in actuality everything can be said, but we say it is implicit and therefore hard to say and difficult to make explicit. A function of the system not of language: to assert the insufficiency of words to express.

If this insufficiency arises in the system it appears as that which the system suppresses, suppressing what is implicit in it. For the sake of its own explicitness. On the one side, the system is to make everything explicit.

On the other side, it projects what is in it implicit onto what it does not contain. It says, the system, I cannot say it. I cannot say it, without leaving language. Without screaming. Crying. Growling. Laughing. Making chewing sounds. Teeth grinding. Or spitting.

Twitching. Stammering. Stammering becomes, in view of system, expressive of resistance. Of repeated resistance, and so symptomatic of reluctance to commit … to what? To language. To its organised system. Rather than giving away the implicit difficulty faced by the system, it gives one away, in one’s personal failure of voice.

Rather than the hesitation bespoken by the stutterer being the moment through which a certain freedom might be gained. To say. To choose for what one says. To act. We bear witness to the unfitness for language in the individual. And we see what we can do about it, in the way of training and coaching.

Rather than being inside the system of language, the expressive deficit is linked to the gesture. The gesture being what is outside the system, along with all those inchoate gurglings, murmurings, unhinged utterances, unprompted and unsolicited expletives. Then, isn’t this what, making theatre, we are waiting to ring through the delivery of the line? this natural language? This other language in continuity with the world?

Read this way, delivered that way, the line, say, in continuity with the gesture, does it presume the pre-existing entities, or the coming event, that it is? And among pre-existing entities we may include the presumption of organisation and system to complete occupation of linguistic forces that it pretends to possess. Even as it cannot contain them, spits them out, and they are turned into an internal horizon of the possibility of language. The inexpressible.

Why would I speak of a subject before the subject of organised language, before insertion into a pre-existing state of (social, political, personal) affairs, otherwise? A subject before visible, before institution. And on the same grounds, speak for a language before language that cannot presume to possession, either through custom, convention, or organisation into system? On these grounds, where there is continuity of linguistic forces with what we may, stammeringly, call natural ones, what we wait for, what we look for, what we search for, making theatre, and what we work for, does not then belong to either sense or consequence. It is the event of the subject, whose ineffability becomes effing-able.

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

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