The bottom line is, a person can read all the Hans-Thies Lehmann, all the Antonin Artaud (isn’t he handsome?) and “post disciplinary” “performance theory” one can fit in through the eyes and still have to learn through hand-to-hand combat, all while maintaining the reality in which performance is a crucial operative. This is the first in a series of posts about Process and Time.
SOCIALISM AND THEATER
In the contemporary, Western AVANT-GARDE THEATER, pieces are often created in-rehearsal by a team of theater artists, and often spoken about as being “DEVISED,” “BUILT” or “DEVELOPED.” A collaboration between a playwright and a director is acceptable, a team of collaborators is even more cool. PPL also admires SOCIOLOGICAL THEATER which includes documentary processes, and an array of sustainable community-involvement tactics, usually a collaboration between professional theater artists and the “material public” with the process being the bulk and purpose of the project, not the final product. This kind of thing is VERY “cool” and is supported by organizations like FEAST and the Sparkplug Foundation as well as the canon of funders.
Now PPL likes processes falling into these two latter categories not only because they have theoretical support, have parallels to social democratism, and all good things for which we fall head over heels, but because they SEEM like something we want to do, we are in our mid 20’s after all, and want to be APPROVED OF! These things are POPULAR! And often effective to boot.
However, we are discovering now that our work is not particularly well suited to these practices. It is, for one thing, structural, not collage-based in the way that division and sociological practices encourage. It is made as part of an artistic dialectic, and a political dialectic, as well as a vague, liberal one. In short, PPL has something to say, a MESSAGE. Now here, before one even gets into the debate about propaganda, messages, etc, one runs into all kinds of sticky truths about collectivity, division of labor, individual artistic vision, etc. It’s really the same difficulty in reconciliation between experience and hypothesis that one always confronts regarding collective political and social theories and their practices.
So what we’ve ended up doing is writing the text first from research, interviews, and other means, and then trying to rehearse the piece while writing the music to the text, and while editing the video, etc. The in-the-moment cooking, in terms of music composition, lends the process the flavor of division, because we include collaborators’ opinions, but not really the nutritional benefit. (What we are currently looking for is a whole new food now, not just ham water.) In addition, realtime composition is EXTREMELY taxing on Brian, the composer, who must constantly adjust and write, transpose, scurrying to print notation before rehearsal. So after many discussions about this, PPL wonders:
Does writing the whole book before rehearsals are begun detract from the role of the actor as a theater artist? What might other detriments be? And on a question we’ve heard voiced by many young playwrights, is it ok to write/create something that is finished and doesn’t need “development”? Are these archaic processes acceptable? Does making collectively-created work really compensate for the tendency theater has to be driven by Caucasian men? (and to whom are we trying to be acceptable, when all of the proposals we make are made to spaces, centers, and organizations who SUPPOSEDLY support the avant-garde and its experimentation, not the a la mode?) (and is “division” merely a trend? or the thing that will save theater from itself? Is it a reaction to the supply of theater artists far outweighing demand?) Or is there another way of doing this that we have yet to discover?
Here are some contemporary American performance creators with varying processes:
CollaborationTown (devised collage plays by an ensemble, but recently, development and production of plays written by individual members of the ensemble)
Nature Theater of Oklahoma (Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška as directors/scriptors bring seed materials into a collaborative process and develop a work in rehearsal)
Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company (Young Jean Lee is an auteur)
The National Theater of the United States of America (An ensemble of seven creates works together for a pool of often-worked-with actors)
Pig Iron (3 artistic directors and 5 company members create new works)
Performance Lab 115 (works created collaboratively by an ensemble of actors)
The Team (collaboratively devised work, the pure, unadultured kind)
Well, of course PPL will continue to experiment, debate, and adjust. We hope to hear some of your opinions!