thirty-first part, called “the subject XXXI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

That a beginning actor brings to the stage something of which she feels she is about to be dispossessed is why the notion of sacrifice, that runs through Blau’s reports, manifestos and theoretical writing on theatre, still holds true. Where a selfish actor remains intact, identifying the depths of her personal formation, the formative years, coaching, training, and so on, with the void beneath the stage, identifying it as being what supports her, instead of the real nothing, a beginning actor is able to experience the sensation of these being cut from him. As if all that training was for nothing.

It was all for nothing and means nothing: this is the truth of the matter. This is your first day on the job. And what they didn’t teach you at school is what you need to know around here. Otherwise, you won’t survive.

What’s the good of this castration–this obedience to beginning that means going through each time, risking each time, out of necessity, one’s identity? …but haven’t we said it goes further than risk? That there is sacrifice?

What else is about to happen? What else is the audience here for? If there was no sacrifice to the audience would be returned their capacity for judgement. If there were none, as the selfish actor seems to deny there being, or the necessity for there being sacrifice, to her would be returned the self-congratulation. For him would be the applause: and she stands without the smile that is anyway ungracious and holds out her palms, open, in acknowledgement that this is all I am. Like you. Human.

If the guts left on stage at the end of the performance aren’t mine, then why do I feel this emptiness? I want to be among people again. Among my own. In company, engaged in pointless chat, which to the outside looks like the most pointed bitchery.

At the bar, after the show, well it’s like a very personal slanging match. Like the Colony Room. What a relief to be called a cunt! One knows that the vicious, the really vicious attacks will be those couched in the most childish terms.

One understands that if one is really truly upset or truly upsets another there will be silence, then, Pooh. If the most awful thing has happened, the Arts Council has withdrawn its funding, for the last time, a pause, then: That’s a pooh.

Deflation at the most significant events; inflation of the most trivial. And we should note among the trivialities are counted the most personal of issues, her dose of clap, his impotence. Or the age of a new girlfriend: For Christ’s sake, she’s three! … Yes, I know. But she has the body of a four year-old.

Why is it that personal identity, those things we had hitherto considered our most precious memories and shameful secrets, our depths, when the show’s over are subjects for hilarity? Because it is restorative. Not to be laughed at for them, but to be thought to have them still. For it to be acknowledged one is still in possession of those organs of which one had been relieved by the knife of the stage.

We repeat, but what’s the good of it? Isn’t it exactly for there to have been a hearing, to have been given a hearing by an audience? For the accolades, well of course: but these are due the corpses too left for the stagehands to pick up and drag off after the show. And note the theatrical meaning of corpse is to be overtaken onstage by unsuppressable hysteria. The deflationary language for this, one of the worst things that can happen, is getting the giggles.

Isn’t it exactly for the good of the audience, that good which comes from its exercise of judgement? that good Badiou talks about as going on and as necessary in the interval, pointing to a contemporary trend in France to do away with the interval. Making the interval, for him, into a necessity. A necessity for there to be theatre, as if without the interval’s permission to pass judgement there would be little point to it.

Then there’s the good in itself: it is good to have public sacrifice. In however sublimated a form. But in a form so sublimated as the modern stage, is it really sacrifice? For the selfish actor it is not. To think not, and to agree, we are like selfish actors.

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

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