Monday, 25 June 2012

On Failure

Last week, our "Theatre in London Today" class was visited by performance artist Bruno Roubicek, who has worked a fair bit with Forced Entertainment. For those unfamiliar with Forced Entertainment work, I definitely suggest looking them up..will include a few video links below for you as well. Anyway, Forced's work and Bruno's work focus on the aesthetics of failure, something he suggests "reflects the failings of authority. . . questioning the legitimacy of the establishment" and which reflects "the postmodernist concern with failure of society and economics". Rather than aiming for a performance which would be successful by the regular standards - realistic set, believable performances, clear narrative, etc - Forced Entertainment seem to perform the anxiety of the modern (Western) experience. In one show, Bloody Mess, the characters express how they want the audience to see them in an honest confessional style format looking almost like an AA Meeting. The play then continues on to portray them in a way that undermines these desires, hence performing their failure to achieve a desired effect.

While sometimes trying to the audience, this work most certainly affects the audience (even if the result is frustration, boredom, or anger). I respect this fully, because so much "enjoyable" and "successful" theatre has no effect whatsoever on its audience, who happily leave after their evening of entertainment, unmoved by that which passed before them.

Now, in Bruno's discussions, he took us back through a history of failure in performance, demonstrating the skills of people like Jack Benny, Monty Python, other comedians (unfortunately my limited familiarity with Brit comics pre-2000 limited my ability to grab all the names...). One commonality I noticed was the relationship with the permission to laugh and the performance of failure; every performance, even the ones that took themselves most seriously, seemed to set themselves up to give permission to the audience to laugh. A free pass to identify failings and laugh at their performance in public.

This, of course, got me thinking; what happens if this free pass is not provided? If we do not give the audience permission to laugh at the characters, their situations, and their failed attempts to perform a task, but rather demand the audience's serious attention. Is it possible to perform failure in a situation which does not first give the laughter permission to escape? Or is this our only way to watch failure without turning to despair? Further yet, is performing the despair of failure functional? Does it, too teach us something?

I performed in a show in 2011 which, now that I examine it from this perspective, did perform failure; in that case, it was the failure of the characters to act in a way that would get what they wanted. The piece allowed them to re-visit those situations from their original plays, role-playing to re-enact situations where they could be dominant. One reviewer picked up on the heavy thread of despair running through it. Perhaps despair is the dramatic equivalent to laughter. For many people seeing this show, the despair was overwhelming, to the point that some reviewers criticized it for doing so, not allowing a reprieve so to speak. But do we not have something to experience from this as well? If you consider the ancient Greeks, plays like Medea and Oedipus are one long-running moment of despair and hopelessness after the next, but this adds together for a final result of hope; the ability to act or choose differently. Despair can be a useful tool.

If this is so, it is certainly difficult to ask audiences to come experience despair for an hour or two, and pay to do so. But perhaps this is necessary; for too long we have seen a comic approach to performing failure, and in fact, it has become mainstream with programs like John Stewart in the US, Mock the Week in the UK, and This Hour Has 22 minutes in Canada (among others reaching further back). I suggest that while these comic approaches to failure have worked to incite action in the past, they are becoming common, and therefore not causing the impact they might once have had. Forced Entertainment's work does seem to straddle this gray area between comedy and despair, having their audiences feel slightly aware of the impropriety of their laughter. I think this can go further.

Some videos from Forced:

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Upcoming Projects....

Because a dissertation just isn't enough, I've got some extra projects on the side coming up shortly.

First, I have workshopped and will be performing in a piece of new writing titled How We Met as part of the RADA Festival on July 2 and 3. This is a piece of one-on-one theatre performed on promenade through Bloomsbury in London. The piece runs throughout July 2 to 7 - for more information or tickets, check out the festival site here:

Second, I am contributing to a performance art installation titled Moving Forest, to be performed July 4 (afternoon) at the Chelsea College of Art, described as "a twelve hour sound art opera of betrayal and rebellion". The section I am involved in is a reading of a long form poem, 500 slogans, in the Parade Ground outside the college. For more about this interesting adventure, look here:

Finally, I am participating in a reading for the Early Modern Reading group at Birkbeck College, on 4 July (evening) where we will be reading John Lyly's The Woman In The Moon, led by Darren Royston.

Have to keep busy! I hope you can try to make it out to one (or all!) of these adventures. And more posts related to work-in-progress dissertation presentations soon. . .

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review - Six Actors In Search of a Director by Steven Berkoff @ Charing Cross Theatre

Took this in on Saturday evening, with a surprisingly small house. The premise - built upon Pirandello's classic Six Characters in Search of an Author - places six 'bit' actors on a film set in the middle of nowhere winter-time, forced to wait. The characters spend the ensuing 90 minutes in close quarters, with little in common, but forced to get along so the work, when it returns, can be done.

Overall, the dialogue leaned toward cheese, but at the same time did stay away from cliche, walking that fine line of parodying actor habits and tendencies without jumping into the land of cliche. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the delivery of the text was rather shouty; rather than relax and allow the words to work, the actors seemed to work really hard to show us how they worked. With little success. There were certainly redeeming moments, and again, the script had a nice, almost campy, look at theatre and life, which was highly enjoyable. I simply can't handle people shouting text at me for 90 minutes.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review - Cymbeline at RADA

Sometimes, directors make choices to situate a play in a specific place or time, and despite the many logical choices that may ensue, it simply doesn't work for the play. This production was almost completely opposite; picking up on various themes in the words of the text, the production was placed in a no-space, where all objects necessary appeared at the right time, rooms and spaces appeared, and seemingly insane costume or character choices just seemed to work, despite my inability to comprehend them from time to time. It is very rare that a director can make choices that appear so arbitrary, and yet the audience are completely willing to buy and go along with it.

The piece, running a solid 2.5 hrs with no interval, was a marathon for the performers, who each played multiple parts, sang scene changes, and had an epic danced battle between the Romans and Britons. The performances were not uniformly strong, however overall the ensemble shone and worked extremely well together as a cohesive unit.

A very enjoyable afternoon of theatre.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Musings on Creation

I really honestly feel that you need to write with live bodies. The piece I am creating now, under the working title of Approaching Antigone (who knows what the real title will be) is, in the end, a performance installation, that is most likely only going to have me on stage. I have spent a lot of time reading, researching, developing ideas, but somehow until I am in the studio, nothing really comes out.

Today, I spent a lovely two hour session with a like-minded creator, trying out things and bouncing ideas off her both intellectually and physically. The ability to ask her to try something, see it in another's body, enables my mind to start to piece together how this will look to an outsider, the images it is creating. Particularly working without mirrors, this makes it possible for me to have a sense of the stage pictures my work is creating.

I tend to be extremely image-based, or text-based, and have always troubled with merging the two into a single piece. I either create a dance-theatre piece, or a text-theatre piece. I am aiming with this to merge the two so that neither text nor movement could exist without the other; i want there to be a reliance, a relationship, between the two that is parasitic in nature. The movement feeds the words which feeds the movement.

Only one more workshop left with the actors before I spend 3 weeks on my own finishing the devising process. I am going to do the majority of devising work in my flat, likely recording myself and then watching playback. Then I will move to the studio for 3 sessions. This project is really big in my head, and I need to get it out into my body and on to paper/video so that I can begin to piece something together to share in July.

Might share some videos soon.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Review - Stars in the Morning Sky by Alexander Galin @ RADA

Set in Russia in the 1980s, just prior to the Moscow Olympics, this play is focused around "undesirables" whom are shipped out of the city for the period of the games, to ensure that Communist Russia shows well to the world. It isn't much of a stretch to bring this topic to relevance today, in London, where although I haven't read about it, this must be happening. Even Winnipeg, when hosting the Pan American games in 1999 mysteriously had no homeless people on the streets for the duration of the games.

The play begins with a scene in Russian, which we then see re-done in English, to great effect. The remainder of the play is in (mainly) lower class English accents, making the above association even stronger. These women - prostitutes from the streets of Moscow - are shipped off to an awful countryside "rooming house" to sit out the games and stay out of trouble.

Overall the performances and direction were good, and I did find myself apsorbed in the play. Accents did at times wobble into RP, and it is these moments in which I found myself falling out of synch with the piece. As well, the build to the final scene of anarchy seemed rather sudden; the movement of the play from polite interaction to wild drunken revolt did not build to a boil, instead seeming to flash fry. I suspect it would have been more effective if this built over time, so that the audience feel pulled along with the revolt that would soon characterize all of Russian society as the USSR broke up. This is a great ensemble piece, with strong parts for 5 women and small-ish parts for two men.

The design and use of space were clever, using the audience aisle to position the door and outside behind the audience, moving our focus. Once again, the lighting design is stand out - there are some seriously talented lighting designers studying at RADA right now.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The British 10k - 8 July

Time for me to ask something of you readers (and lurkers) - I am running the British 10k in London on July 8th in support of RADA scholarships, and am looking for donations. Any of you lurkers who are artists know how horribly expensive school can be, and how few scholarships there are for arts students. Fundraising from this will help with the Hardship fund at the school, and for creating future scholarships for students.

You can donate here:

Any amount is greatly appreciated, as it all adds up. Thank you in advance for any support you can offer!