London's Royal Academy of Arts has made an unexpected lurch into the experimental with GSK Contemporary, an exhibition and performance series, part one of which is entitled Molten States and runs from now until 7 Dec. An opening performance by Rene Pollesch, and an ongoing installation by Catherine Sullivan explore the boundaries of film and performance.
The following is an intervention in that dialogue: a re-construction from my notes of Richard Foreman's dialogue with Jennifer Parker-Starbuck that took place at the ICA, London as part of The Accidental Festival, 24th May, 2008. Foreman's talk explored, amongst other things, his early engagement with theatre through experimental film, and his more recent shift to working with moving images.
Given that Foreman's Ontologic-Hysteric theatre company has only performed once in the UK in its forty year existence - when Laurie Anderson programmed Meltdown on the Southbank in 1997 - what follows can be understood as the latest in a series of attempts by UK writers and artists to imagine Foreman's theatre, testing its influence and presence against a range of contemporary practice, reliant not upon the performances themselves but upon images, texts and gossip.
An ambivalent relationship to one's chosen medium. Exploring the chosen medium - theatre - through engagement with film, philosophy, psychology.
... although I do go to the theatre. I see everything waiting for one moment - moment of presence -
and then I stopped going to the theatre. Fifty moments for one good moment. The odds weren't worth it. And I was famous in New York so I couldn't leave.
SELF OBSERVATION (1)
"Developed my hopelessness into my own art"
(hopelessness felt when faced with theatre)
FORMATIVE MOMENT (1)
My teacher said I was talented but if I found a strong moment I just repeated it again and again. A failure, they thought, but I exploited it never liked navigation of daily life.
KEY QUESTION: What would you really like to see if you went to the theatre tonight?
... and so that was when I started to write in a different way. The physiology of the body. Not daily life - other ways of using this mechanism. Me, you, the environmental envelope. To force the perceiving mechanism into a different place when watching a play so i put lines on tape and performers repeated them but at different speed.
make it myself like a painter paints a painting
provoke myself as a fallible, stupid, limited being WAKE MYSELF UP
Robert Wilson's theatre is a dream world you disappear into. Foreman always wakes up, wanting a seduction but interrupting it to see what is really present on the stage tonight
THE CHALLENGE (1): How to make all elements present on the stage.
and this relates to how I lit the space, even for a talk like this one. The light where you are as you read this. Theatre is the determination to always have the blue back light and the audience in darkness. I want the flourescent lights on. Yes, the video is washed out -
ON THE WALL BEHIND HIM AS HE TALKS THERE IS A VIDEO PROJECTION OF SHORT SCENES FROM VARIOUS THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
... but it captures nothing anyway. It's best washed out.
SELF-OBSERVATION (2): I am a religious writer. What is this thing [TOUCHES BODY] how do I use it?
...and so, too, this essay, its ventriloquism...
SELF-OBSERVATION (3): What's really there in. the. context. of. this. speaking. I was going to not direct again, but a friend asked me to direct Lorca. I could only enjoy the play when I began altering the syntax of all the lines
Brecht was a key influence, because of his notion of distanciation. But I began to have problems with his desire to be understood [and I have only read about your plays] whilst using polluted language
WHAT I WANT (1): Training in ambiguity
WHAT I WANT (2): Lucid confusion in language
Think of Morse Peckham's Man's Rage for Chaos. It introduces you to disorientation. It is a disorientation massage
... and have we all begun inevitably to move towards film?
My intellectual grounding is in philosophy. Peter Kingsley's book on the Pre-socratics. I read that 4 or 5 times working the disjunction of a practice in one discipline grounded in the study of another
... I believe in a perennial philosophy of thought, knocking on the door of what we cannot very easily conceptualize and that is also the role of the avant-garde, conceived not as a provocation but as a spiritual thrust whose role is to take off the blinders you need in daily life
SELF-OBSERVATION (4): Art is about crossing the street without worrying about cars, all of one's attention focussed on watching light particles. It's about getting hit by a car and it doesn't matter.
THE CHALLENGE: A diversity of practices is possible from this standpoint but BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU DENY YOURSELF
This morning when I woke up the radio news said I had retired. I would never make theatre again. I shouted at the radio: you're misunderstanding what I meant by "ambivalence."
Nonetheless, there had been a shift:
A theatre involving film.
A theatre impossible to reproduce on film.
A theatre involving film.
A theatre based on large projected images. Actors don't partake of them but harmonize with them in some way.
GO SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD FOR A FEW WEEKS AND SHOOT LOTS OF MATERIAL WAKE UP
The play is in an amorphous space between stage and screen. It's nowhere
Palpable space between stage and audience, around knee height, which is neither one nor the other
Me: (with feeling) Is this the space where theatre comes from? Is this where essays on the theatre come from? Where new technologies arise to replace the theatre?
I don't know. What did you look at? I suggest:
RETURNING QUESTIONS (1): An ambivalent relationship to one's chosen medium, always exploring its specificities through another
RETURNING QUESTIONS (2): What would you really like to see if you went to the theatre tonight?
RETURNING QUESTIONS (3): How to make all the elements present on stage?
:WAKE MYSELF UP
WAKE MYSELF UP
WAKE MYSELF UP
WAKE MYSELF UP
WAKE MYSELF UP
WAKE MYSELF UP
I began by re-inventing the ABC's of the body. Then it became more complex within the expanded notion of mechanism
from geography to poetry to an ambivalent theatre:
language wore out (?) MAKE ELEMENTS PRESENT AGAIN/ WAKE UP
SELF-OBSERVATION (5): Drop a phrase down a well and hear it reverberating.
KEY QUESTION: How to make phrases heavy?
CASE STUDY A
STATEMENT: Suppose I were to postulate why is a face like another face
REPEAT: Suppose I were to postulate why is a face like another face
RESPONSE: If you were to say suppose I were to postulate why is a face like another face what would you do?
.... Well I might not say anything but I'd think/.
[ how to keep statement on level of proposition. How to always remain within distanciation. We meet Brecht again and argue. Staying longer in the distance. Extending it. ... Here I can't transcribe what is said and all I can preserve is:
Choose any number of the following:
suspending and framing phrases
words detached from ongoing syntax
work against their own seductiveness
this is what I'm giving you right now
If we're talking acting then Bressson's netural performance. The best example is a donkey.
I'm sorry, Richard, I have to interrupt here. That donkey at the end of Balthazar is like some Lawrence Olivier of Donkey theatre, dying on the mountain. I can hear the someone shouting "Wonderful, darling" after that over-acting donkey sinks melodramatically to the ground.
FORMATIVE MOMENT (2): I'd always send a donkey through London and not its cardboard representation or its description.
My approach is different. Keep an actor in a narrow corridor and they feel free. It's not about CONVINCING.
I look for an erotic attraction, a laser like intensity language bouncing back into me
TEST OF LANGUAGE SITUATION (1): Say to someone: I wonder what it would be like to say to someone "leave, you bastard."
And they reply: Yes, I wonder what it would be like for you to wonder...
SELF-OBSERVATION (7): People as themselves are Hedda Gabler. BE AS ARROGANT AS POSSIBLE IN BEING YOU AND BE HEDDA GABLER.
I AM MAKING PARADISE
THE CHALLENGE: How to compositionally order problematic and ugly things to create a feeling of ecstasy. There's a lot of improvisation in my theatre and it's all done by me...
I can't help being a showman:
HAVE SHTICK and WAKE UP
EXERCISES FOR STUDENTS (1): I'd have students make one three minute scene for a month
in a classic play the voice of the playwright bounces around between 10 characters
I make a piece of theatre to reverberate in a particular space so I don't tour
THE CHALLENGE: Not to deny any impulse that comes. But to frame it, throw it away, reveal what they really are
KEY OBSERVATION (ANY NUMBER): Theatre is vulgar.
The films comprise long takes and tableau. Hold the tableau but then find a little something that re-aserts re-glues your attention. Could be editing, wiping through, whitening out that's my task in making films
... because often film is what provokes me. Bresson, Bela Tarr, Oliveira...
THEATRE'S CONNUNDRUM: Often achieve effects through limitation. But in theatre the challenge is to be effective with an abundance of potentials.
ACTOR NOT WORKING? GIVE THEM AN ACCENT.