Theatre at a Distance – Safeing It

I somewhere found another ranting note…. a good one….
Acting consciously is no laughing matter; veteran actors can suffer in places that the young and eager haven’t yet found.  Aware of the pitfalls, one can usually count upon being caught by each and every one of them.  And while the added psychic hurdle of meeting ones own shortcomings while serving vengeful Gods, is a genuinely useful subtext in countless occasions, seeking out these shortcomings is another thing.  Actors have acquired adaptive mechanisms to protect themselves from daily humiliation, perversely these often serve as unfortunate buffers from a perhaps deeper humility.

It does seem mathematically possible to remain outside and aloof from ones subject matter; to create a theatre independent of actors, a theatre that parades its cleverness without subjecting itself to its own process.  Having witnessed countless performances of the willing, try as I might, it remains an approach that I’m not sure I appreciate, nor believe in.  The elements of the phenomena may be illuminated, but only as elements of the phenomena.  We get the dramaturgy of the tourist guide pointing out conceivable moments of interest without the human visceral links of discovery, the academic lecture where the lecturers avoid the crux.

The crux for me is always the self, the actor being acted upon by the play.
Dramaturgy of the Self
Not every piece fulfills its metaphor; a wrestle with the Gods can prove too daunting to go beyond an adroit, indicative sketch.  Moving into the realm of true nakedness jibes with everything actors have learnt about survival.  Reasonably enough, the protective barriers are generally erected between true, raw vulnerability, and professional command of ones vehicle.  If one has the audacity to demand an entrance fee (even months in advance), avoiding failure seems desirable.  Courting genuine stage fright is genuinely frightening – one isn’t allowed to deliver loose ends and fiddlely bits; classically trained musicians don’t do jazz –  God forbid that Theatre become ‘Performance Art’.
If possible, I’d prefer to avoid naming names.  The actor concerned didn’t specifically ask to have me sitting in the second row pronouncing judgement.  Perhaps it was early in the run ( and during a matinee performance where he was saving himself for the big evening crowd);  if fortunate, it might even be the case that by granting anonymity, I can disperse my finger wagging to the point that several productions might feel themselves singled out.
The Play Outside the Play
In the hierarchy of the theatre art, the actor can all too willingly surrender rank and station to the less visible co-workers.  A certain unnamed production, billed as a voyage into an actor’s spiritual and artistic collapse, remained firmly propped up:  a well protected actor, padded by a courteous front of house, convincing lighting designers, an impressive costume in authentic material, surrounded by sufficient scenic elements to have capsized the touring one-man-show of which this show purported to be the wreckage.   As a result we were served a promising premise by three (or more) highly capable artists, who kept stepping on each others’ toes…
On paper, it began well:  the writer wrote boldly on themes that were dear to his heart. The performance was to be a reconstruction of an actor’s personal crisis and unfulfilled artistic vision.  This was superimposed upon the scenario that after x number of years eking out an existence in progressively more marginal venues, an actor’s inner turmoil of hopes and shattered dreams implodes in a scent of brandy.  He shows up more or less on time; interposed with personal anecdote and justification for recalcitrance to perform it as writ, we get the rough outline and highlights of an enticing play.  For anyone raised on the lore of the show ought to go on, it is refreshing raw material.
Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the theatre wouldn’t allow the form of this production to fulfill its content. Nothing in the history of civilised theatre could conceive of letting the clearly competent actor thrash it out for himself.  In a play about an actor in crisis, he was protected from having one…
The writer supplied the self doubt in the form of self-depreciatory asides to be delivered in a confidential tone; a director had been hired in to negotiate clarity and to ‘help the actor think’.  The actor weaned in such an environment, meekly met his commitments to such a degree that when his false confidential rhetoric provoked audience response he was forced to renege upon the proffered open dialogue.
The Director’s Cut
In form, it appeared as choreographed as the star-studded raucous comedy playing
downstairs on the main stage.  The conventions (and market realities at £22.50 a chair) dictated that the producer call in a helpful director (and set designer etc.) to iron out all the problems..
In an actor’s liberation scenario, the actor is deeply grateful to the playwright for providing the exoskeleton of a thought process that required filling.  He or she has been genuinely supported by the director in supplying necessary reflection up until the audience arrives.  However at this point, another factor rears its head.  There is a more than reasonable rationale behind the theatre school model of keeping acting students away from external audiences until they can develop an inner ear; however, at a certain level it is exactly this interaction that is the stuff of the theatre.  In the above scenario, having played the same piece between more lucrative assignments as bit parts in Crime dramas for some twenty years, the actor’s bankruptcy vis a vis his audience had become cloying.  He was finally ripping off the veneer of the clever dramaturgical construct, to directly address this bankruptcy.  One couldn’t help but think that left to his own devices, the actor could select his own pithy excerpts and greatest hits of the text, and augment his asides from his own personal store of failed marriages.
For the actor in the play drowning in his cups of brandy, the actor without the play was crying out for improvisation, and/or at least grotesque paraphrasing with a large personal repertoire of dismay.  However, instead of devising a way to push all floating planks just out of reach, the director packed the actor in a certifiable safety vest.  Backed up by all the paraphernalia of professional theatre, our erstwhile hero barely got his feet wet…
Dramaturgy works in mysterious ways.

About bembodavies

Theatre worker who long ago abandoned theatres, I remain adept at fabricating projects out of thin air. All proposals welcome.
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