Sunday, 29 November 2009

If you need me, I'll be here

all the theatre I’ve seen…

I am back, and have much reporting to do. Oddly enough it’s been a pretty eventful 2 weeks from a theatre perspective. Since we last met I’ve seen “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Young Vic, “Faithless Bitches” at the Courtyard, “Roman Tragedies” at the Barbican (which, let me just say, was 6 hours. And yes, I stayed for the whole darned thing), and even “Letters to my Grandma” at Theatre Passe Muraille and Necessary Angel’s “Hamlet” at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Forest Fringe also did our first evening at Central, where we scratched our hub and I remounted “Music’s Been Ruined by Dating”, and Volcano and York University put on the double bill I wrote for, “Co-Ed”, directed by Ross Manson and Claire Calnan. So. All in all. A pretty darned eventful couple of weeks, for watching, making, and watching things I helped to make.

When these eventful periods of watching and making do come around, I always find myself quietly re-evaluating what is important to me in theatre. It's no surprise that innovation usually comes out on top. The idea that as an artform we’re making progress, that the work we make should constantly be challenging its own form, reinventing ways of presenting itself. But these past few weeks I think I've gone further in understanding why this is so vital. It's not just a natural human reaching for something sparkly and new - in fact, I think the reasons are deeper and far more exciting.

I did a quick teaching session at Queen’s a couple of days ago, and I came back to a definition of theatre that I invented on the spot for some central students, and that continues to get at me and seems to work. I told them that theatre to me is anything that asks an audience (of 1 or 1 million) to engage with what it is to be present, with what it is to be here now. The openness of this continues to make my head spin and makes me sort of giddy. According to this definition, my entire vacation to Greece could have been theatre. Falling in love could be theatre. But actually, they aren't. These alive moments come about organically, unpredictably, and they could end at any time. Unlike the feeling of watching great theatre, we never feel as though we're in good or competent hands, because the hands are often our own. It might be this lack of safety that means that in these lived moments we are present, but it's difficult to engage with or reflect on what that present means. We often worry that if we step back or take our eye off the ball for a moment (and the ball is usually called joy), the opponent will walk away and the game will unexpectedly end.

I bring up this definition because in what I’ve seen or helped to make in the last two weeks, the moments that were most effective were those that engaged with the present, reminding me that I am alive, and that seemed to be going for *that* over and above anything else. But past simply making me feel present, the truly transcendent experiences came when there was an exploration and delving into what being present even means. Even when these pieces feel as unpredictable as life itself (and the best often do), there is a kind of competence and design that gives us as humans the space to be both present and aware of and looking into that present-ness. (The Roman Tragedies did this best of all I would say. Time passed in a very surreal way over 6 hours, and the show worked beautifully with this outside time.) And I think what I've come to, is that the reason these moments are so often absolutely innovative, is that they are as dynamic as experience itself.

*Of course this is all a bit hilarious, considering that most of my work is about memory, nostalgia and the past – but of course, the past is always present. You just have to recognize it, offer it a drink, and tell it to put its feet up.*

Let’s keep working with this and see where it goes… But if you need me, I've decided I'll be here. I'll be looking at, reaching into, shifting about and engaging in here. It's hard work and you can't take a seat because it's always moving. But I think maybe it's worth it.

1 comment:

JamesH said...

Thank you, Debbie. You're a beautiful writer and you beautifully got at what I've been searching for in my journeys- the ability to be present and bring the past into the present. I'm happy to be spending this cold Czech evening listening to good music, drinking tea, and reading your blog. I can't wait to read more.