Sunday, January 14, 2007

Being the audience

Welcome Vicki Stroich and Eric Rhys Miller to the discussion - check out their comments under the last post. Eric introduce's some of Ann Bogart's criteria for theatre - which are quite different than the Criteria for Beautiful Civic Engagement. Vicki responds from an audience perspective to the pieces in Calgary, and reminds me to consider the audience experience in the midst of the rhetoric.

On Friday night, I saw Forced Entertainment's Exquisite Pain. I compared responses with two friends afterwards, and we'd all had radically different experiences. One was inspired to think about how she would write the piece differently using the same source material from Sophie Calle (98 repetitions of the same story, contrasted to 98 stories of the speaker's most agonizing moment), preferring the directness and rawnes of Quizoola to this much more contained work. The other considered how the use of repetition evoked the boredom of suffering, and that while he enjoyed it, he could imagine a reviewer quoting the title of the work in a less than charitable way. I wept profusely for about a third of the performance, as I contemplated my own catalogue of most-agonizing-moments, and those of the people close to me. I thought how stupid the whole exercise was. I experienced an emotional roller coaster that contrasted completely the controlled, evenly-read stories by the two performers. I had a barely controllable urge to leap from my seat and take over the performance, tear the pages apart and generally disrupt the procedings. I wondered if that had ever happened at one of the performances. I thought about how arrogant my whole response was, and then I started to marvel at the response the work had provoked, and to wonder if anyone else was having such a volcanic reaction. All in all it wasn't a pleasant experience. It was extraordinarily painful. And I wonder where that reaction fits in our general ideas about what we want to offer our audiences.

Please keep talking amongst yourselves - as you've proabably noticed, my blogging frequency is more akin to the Slow Food movement than folks fully embedded in digital culture. I'll check in and respond as I process.... slowly.


Darren O'Donnell said...

that show sounds interesting but not something I want to share with an audience.

I'm curious about your weeping because it sounded like - further in your discussion - that you were really annoyed with the show. at what point did you start crying? and how did this related to the urge to jump onto the stage.

curious about what other people thought of the show.

Heidi Taylor said...

The personal association started about a third of the way in; the other flurry of responses took much less time, and were pretty much resolved by the 1.5 hour mark; the last 20 minutes of the show were more reflective.

eric rhys miller said...

Saw it. Strangely, for artists who just that afternoon noted their disdain for theatre all about text, the stories themselves were a great deal of the meat and matter of this piece, and the writing (was it adapted from Calle's texts, no program so only questions) covered a wide range of vivid, surprising responses to and experiences of suffering. The format of alternating the 98 repetitions with 98 different tales was crucial to maintaining my interest: the audience seemed to lean in to hear the 'new' story. At the same time, the changes in the repeating story beautifully revealed the decay of pain over time, like uranium slowly depleting. There was an interesting tension between being and performing: the 'actors' wore the street clothes I saw them in that day, sat behind tables for the entire two hours, and yet their voices and gestures clearly used skills to shape the text, deliver it, and even comment through emphasis or eye focus, though they did not take on voices or alter their gestures in any way. These were clearly not their own stories, and there was distance from them, but they responded to them in the moment without pretending they had never read them before: interesting! I was mainly attentive and at times moved, but the duration and sheer weight of repetition and number of stories pushed me past my own ability to remain open and empathic: I got a sore butt. I got bored. Sometimes I leaned in to listen. I wanted to remember some of those telling details, the sensual evidence in the writing, but got saturated (like taking in too many different art works at once) and couldn't remember them. The duration and structure defied shaping the event for the audience, and this was intentional: thus the wildly different experiences. This company loves to confound audience expectations and is uninterested in entertainment. The event itself was disembodied, subtle, minimalist. It asked me to use only my ears, with tiny little perks for the eyes in the form of still images. But the audience always sees the whole body, and the story these bodies told me was: we're tired of running around making big images and wild events, let's just sit and talk and you listen, OK? And for most of the show, that was alright by me, the last 30 minutes were tough on the attention. I find the whole movement of anti-performative theatre quite challenging both in its appeal to honest presence and simply being, and its refusal to take seriously the art of acting. Since I'm a blatant thief, here's another quote, Declan Donnellan on acting:

"We live by acting roles, be it father, mother, teacher, or friend....Eating, walking, and talking are all developed by copying and applause. Whatever human instinct is latent, it only reaches virtuosity after acute observation, repetition, and performance....Acting is a reflex, a mechanism for development and survival."

So, can we really stop acting? When you cry Too Much Acting, are you really saying Too Much Bad Acting? Or just uninterested in pretend, the suspension of disbelief, and those other old tropes?

Darren O'Donnell said...

I'm not so fond of the pomo "we're always performing" thing when it comes to discussing performance in theatre. i think we need to be able to differentiate between "performing" in life and "acting" onstage. I'm not just talking about bad acting.

and yes, tired of pretend and suspension of disbelief.