The Right to Spout

Impersonating Theatre 

When ‘the inherent rhetoric of youth’ has over-lived its shelf life:  leaning instead on expired naivety and depleted, thread-bare charm;  the ‘installation of self’ can slide into the installation of self-indulgence… 
As the perpetrator of at least one such criminal theatre afternoon, I might try to beg forgiveness for myself and all my fellow transgressors.  However, my guilt goes deeper than that:  if honest theatre-work does indeed involve a sink or swim trial by ordeal, wasting people’s time should brand one for life.  One would hope that the mortal sin of boring ones (in principle) betters, must have health threatening ramifications that slap us right in the middle of our impending grant application.

I hit an actor last night.  He’d just made us suffer through an hour of him being creative: not brilliant, far from virtuoso – mostly just being minimalistically inventive.  One couldn’t call it circus (one doesn’t fall asleep and miss the best parts at the circus); I’m not really sure that you could call it theatre – nor him an actor.  Perhaps he was a goofy man installing his helplessness as an object of our appraisal.

It felt good to hit him.  And, I hasten to add, it wasn’t the first thing I did post performance.  A glass of port wine had been consumed during the de rigeur  meet the artist séance at the neighborhood bistro.  I’d already taken advantage of the opportunity to pelt him with one of my custom-made, inscrutable questions.  “What kind of audience had we been?”, I had asked; thereby slyly luring him out onto the thin ice of diplomatically voicing his disappointment that we hadn’t been as tangibly delighted in his antics as when he last played before a group of his nearest and dearest cronies back home.

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My Dance Floors –

Bembo’s Collection of Strange and Wonderful Men

Some stories don’t have a beginning, middle nor an end; their beginnings lie buried in a mystic past, to be unravelled, at best partially, as detail presents itself.  One is parachuted immediately into the heart of the action as the event explodes in full intrigue; only in the relative peace of the denouement, does one assemble background detail into a tale to be told…

New friends had become sufficiently adept at smuggling me into the VIP area at the Essaouira Grande Festivale du Music de Gnawa —  there was available place front row centre, sitting barefoot on the rug.  The band played virtuoso, accessible, poly-rhythmic music with a compelling beat; but, relatively early in the evening and with several days dancing behind one, the sinews of the lower limbs welcomed the change; so dancing in half-lotus seemed prudent for releasing the lumbar region.  Besides, one couldn’t possibly disturb those seated behind us.  Alas, not so; a man of certain years seated immediately behind me, had another idea.  He wanted dancing.  By way of encouragement, he prodded me determinedly in the ribs.  In my part of the world, this would be considered strange behaviour; finding oneself in foreign climes, one seeks not to transpose one’s own concept of normality.  In Morocco, men are readily expressive of physical affection, perhaps this extends to energetic pokes in anatomically sensitive areas often associated with vital organs. Continue reading

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My Dance Floors – The Unbluffable Wall

Forced dancing doesn’t work.  If the music doesn’t get under you, this is obvious.
Despite whatever feelings of personal responsiblity for the State of this Evening’s Extravangza, if your digestive tract isn’t willing to boogie, neither are you.

The prohibited floor for me is the tango milonga.  No matter how many hours and evenings spent absorbing the tango’s nuances, it retains qualities of the unattainable. Indeed, were I of the paranoid persuasion, I’d suspect that the Wall between my perceived level of permissible minimum competence, and the glorious figures cut by them that actually get out there and do the dance, grows proportionally the more I expose myself to all those utterly pleasant training sessions.  No matter how encouraging the increasing frequency of decidedly promising breakthroughs, clouds of helplessness can sweep in at a moment’s notice to steal all personal faith in ever acquiring consistently obedient levels of co-operation.

marta and a youngish man doing it

marta and a youngish man doing it

The demands aren’t slight. As I read it, the dance is to be danced inside your partner – no external finesse matters.  If, as man, you cannot access an organic rhythm that resonants within the person you are seeking to move, you are lost. Fortunately, we have the music…

No Tan Go
Everyone must, I suspect, have their own unbluffable wall; its foundations laid perhaps in the morn of adolescent
Even if one may have upon occasion torn this barrier down and climbed triumphantly forth from beneath its dusty ruins, the residual building blocks reassemble themselves with uncanny ease.

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“G+” : a nomadic performance festival — Post-Pesters II

Emerging from the Kunst-in-a-kit KiK clean sweep
It’s been a long while since I’ve personally hid behind anything so predictable as a character, scenario, costume and a minutely chiseled script.  Let’s just say: it was about time…

A project had fallen into my lap.  Funding was at least partially secured.  It could readily slot into a working premise of exploring infectious warmth.

The Kunst-i-kit scheme was inspired.  Identical packages available to 30 groups of performers, who would then commit to presenting work in at least one of the five major cities of Norway.  In each kit, 11 artifacts from an array of contributors around the country; some were large and tangible, others conceptual.  Among the two videos, a sound library, some literary snippets, and a hand-wired electronic instrument, were a jumble of plastic tubing, 120 m of vital reindeer herding equipment, and a diatribe from a newspaper.  Something for everyone; some things that were quickly set aside.

KiK package

The Kit arrives…

I didn’t want to do this one alone.  Fishing around for a suitable sharp,
solid co-player,
I had a sudden late night inspiration (Perhaps in the depths of an influenza fever.)  Marseille actress/
director Sabrina Giampetrone had been fatefully billeted at my place during the previous Bergen Tango Marathon; she had supplied a useful prod when the offer to play HRH Lear had landed in my mailbox.  We’d kept contact; although inconveniently located, did she fancy a Norwegian tour in a year’s time?…

Once the last completed kit was delivered from the workshop to occupy my vestibule, it was opened via Skype.  As I unpacked the KiK carton and displayed each item, Sabrina’s prejudices echoed mine to an uncanny degree.  For our first week of rehearsal, we had agreed that I needn’t haul along the bulkier items.  The two pieces that would form the core of our exploration were both hidden in the depths of the kit beneath the more ‘theatrical’ items:  one,  a revised outline for the rules of research, became our dramaturgical framework and lodestar; the other, documenting the demise of language
in the on-going political debate, became our cause celebre.  The other elements hovered around in anticipation; gradually most of them at one time or another were offered at least a supportive role.

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Chronic Yesmanism

Saying Yes – an occupational hazard ?

Actor training is uncompromising:  be open to your impulses, be open to your fellow player.  Objectives are not to be written in stone; our very existence is fluid.

As a way to live, this is beyond treacherous.  It has lead me to countless beautiful moments of human interaction; it has lead to more than enough recurrent, bothersome trouble…

Convinced that life is a rehearsal – our primary tactic becomes patience.  If the desired opening does fail to present itself, the tomorrow presents a new crack at it.  All shall not be solved during one run-through, one patiently takes notes, and expects a chance to replay the circumstances.  Yesterday’s solution may have been uncannily elegant, but in the spirit of the play it can never be mechanically repeated.  Life being an improvisation, nothing need be nailed down.

Rather, the opposite is preferable…  One accepts everything — provisionally.  It is best be dithery.  To gain negotiating time, to avoid premature conclusions, the actor/playwright cultivates the Baroque.  Getting to the point becomes dramaturgical suicide; ploughing forth unto ones super-objective flattens the playing field and reduces all other players to mere extras.  Instead, it is more enlightening that contrary, discordant and even absurd points of view are to be explored.  The words one utters are to be aired, but they needn’t be ones considered opinions.  Better, in fact, that they be presented as mere raw materials of idea; snippets of disjointed thought left littered across the stage for the audience to assemble into their own private coherent whole.

When the rest of the world operates on decisions, clarity, analysis conclusions:  we the Baroque can have a bumpy ride.  When the rest of the world doesn’t consider our method to be scientific, we remain feeling more than moderately misunderstood…



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HR1: The Grand Opening

The Grand Opening“/  Post-Pesters I
Marijs Boulogne’s latest exploration is equally as in your face as all her work — why hide colossal truths? (See: A Ritual of Rude and Naughty Girls – above, under his writings.)
After having taken the audience on a poetic journey down a pathologist’s fibre-optic microscope in ‘The Anatomy Lesson’, she now seeks to magnify the body tissues to a point where they dwarf all ambiguity; we relate to our dearest organs because we must.

Following the strong — content dictates form — strand of previous work that also confronts issues around women’s reproductive health, this piece employs that most female of activity – the art of crochet. Using remnants of CairfulTM, a new miracle fabric, Marijs and co-worker Laura Verlinden have developed their own macro-handwork techniques.

The results fly beyond intricate doilies and ornamental objects of admiration, to a landscape of frilly monsters — And although this could be a personal association, once blown out of all proportion, half familiar crocheted rose blossoms quickly resemble the female body’s holiest shrine… In the presence of such a force, powerful relationships can be considered…

Bembo had wanted to make a piece about applied, post-cathartic ‘goodness’; Marijs possessed a haunting vision. Under the Human Rite umbrella, working together would provide a test of the process. Perhaps our miracle would emerge…

My choice of research fellow in Marijs Boulogne, seemed a Godsend. Marijs’s themes are uncompromising.
 My earliest notes for the project that would become The Grand Opening start with the simple recipe: ‘create the ritual, then explain it (or not).’ This seems an accurate description of our Bergen public exploration, March 2012.
In our Post-Pest theatrical laboratory, we would seek to create an infectious antidote
to deep despair, and provide a visceral experience of the contrary. Other than that, the project demarcation lines were unclear. I proposed to make a ritual involving several actors. Marijs suggested a two-hander of practical/economic grounds.

I embraced this idea; it liberated things dramaturgically: goodness between two people could be amplified when exercised through the creation of life-sized puppets; the need to create and animate the puppets would be generated by the insidious resistance inherent in the two people. Over an exquisite script meeting dinner at a restaurant featuring the cuisine of Isle de la Réunion, Marijs slid in her surprise: She had long wished to make a giant ‘female sexual organ’ puppet. Raised with the laws of improvisational theatre, one does not immediately say no…

Revenge of the Frilly Table Ornaments

Arriving in Brussels for initial project development rehearsals, I met a fait accompli.
A team of three women was hard at work exploring the art of mega-doilies. Our ritual would become a contemplation on female pride. I was to be given a glimpse behind the lace curtain at the female culture of crocheting as passed from grandmother to granddaughter. It would not be plain sailing..


First hangingAfter week one of our initial rehearsal, the Davies/Boulogne conspiracy had to take a decidedly different direction that was outlined in the project proposal. The Post–traumatic exploration of infectious generosity would have to become project number two, or three.   In the interim, a somewhat different Human Rite needed to be celebrated…

Boulogne has a project pending that has explosive potential for reclaiming the sacred realm of sexuality.  This was not foreign territory to the proposed piece,
but rather a gentle focus on a key aspect. One can protest that this theme has been thoroughly explored by dozens of self-obsessed voices – that the general theme behind Post-Pesters promised a more imperative societal balm. Our only defense is, by moving into this territory in such a bold manner, we will be better placed to tackle the next one.

Some of the developments seem substantial diversions. An orchestra has become integral. The performing duo has become either a quartet, or an apparent solo. The readily handled puppets clothed in second hand garments, have been transformed into large amorphous glandular body parts crocheted from rolls of light miracle fibre, and containing one or two animators. Between the musical and sculptural elements, Davies faces a journey as male representative that is fraught with personal danger.

The challenge is daunting, but the message from the women is clear; this must be done. Everyman is to respectfully meets his maker…

To exist in the same space as a four meter high vulva, felt what once was called ‘awesome’. In the enormous work spaces of a converted Belgian brewery, to approach ‘Her Pinkness’ at all was breathtaking. I had been smuggled into Shangri–La.
Given this privilege of entering the temple; to avoid making a travesty of her sacred existence, I as man, would have to proceed gingerly and with utmost respect.

Faced with my creeping paralysis, I provisionally sketched a scenario that allowed a generous twenty-five minute almost silent contemplative seance. This could function as psychic safety cushion; an unguided meditation where the audience could acknowledge that we weren’t about to insist upon parading our burlesque cleverness, but would rather allow them to be gently confronted with their own array of gynecological associations.


Cozy goes Crazy
But lab rats may also have a life of their own. As man, and privileged outsider, I could only offer my blood, thoughts, sweat, wails, and ultimately head. Above all this would have to become the women’s piece. I had been granted access through the most generous act of trust; the male meeting with The Grand Opening mustn’t reinforce the commodification of the human body. If anything was to be reduced to an object, it should be me…

The tradition of diplomacy has several guises. In this case, mine may have been met with the equivalent of recalling the ambassador. Rather rudely, I, the older wiser one, was silenced at the first opportunity.  Not only was my head literally cut off as an unthinking sacrificial offering, but it was then ceremoniously kicked around on the floor by Kali, the Hindu Goddess of an awful lot of things perhaps not fully comprehendible via the available media of Western philosophy.

Kali the Magnificent (carver: M. Boulogne)

Adding Insult to Injury
By the time it was conceded that such kicking had little choreographic (or ideological?) value, my belovéd noggin was covered in blue bruises from Kali’s body make-up.  I panting and battered, became banished backstage. The ladies were to perform their private ablutions and sacred dances beyond the eyes of men…

The Society for the Promotion of Human Rites pursues the potential for social revitalisation latent in the human gathering. If the good audience people join in the spirit of the meeting, the performers, armed with a few humble work elements, may be able to distill fresh understanding. Our journey relies heavily upon on poetic chance, our fiction is threadbare; we, and you, are really here…

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Human Rites revisited

Madelaine plucks a yellow sticky note from off the rim of her computer screen.
During one of our irregular Skype sessions, the offered quote is intensely relevant:
“Every piece of theatre has to be postulated around a potential miracle.”
I nod reflexively; only breaking into a grin as slowly it dawns on me that the nasty lady is, in fact, quoting me from a previous conversation. There is hope yet…

The thread of reasoning that spun itself into ‘The Society for the Promotion of Human Rites’ has its personal roots in the most visceral, naked moments of my theatre practice, (Many thanks go to the, hopefully now retired, principal teacher of an unnamed school in an unnamed island province, who brushed away my apologies for overstepping the mark – collapsing out from beneath the skirts of my Hobby Horse costume, and onto the laps of a gaggle his grade seven girls with the back flap of my long johns reportedly decidedly flapped; thereby accidentally exposing at least several square centimeters of my most delicate skin tissue.
As a theatre critic, he proved exceptionally understanding: “That’s alright boy, they gotta see it sometime.”)

As a going concern, The Society remains yet another flimsily inflated, perhaps pompous ‘Fictive NGO’ presided over by yours truly on a tragically intermittent basis.
The working premise is resplendent, the practice remains sketchy.  It could easily be remarked, that we still have our work cut out for us…

Indeed, with the exception of the often hit and miss spectacle of the opening and
closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the global community’s vital meetings do not yet routinely invite inspired theatre brains to orchestrate their getting togetherness. Contemporary Human Rites, where they exist at all, are rather residual shadows of once pivotal rites of passage — my readings of the weddings and funerals that I attend is that they have been stripped of most synergic moments; similarly, the orchestrated pomp of the Grande Stages of the Earth, tidily wrapped in streamlined convention, offers only indicated, utterly indirect import.

Sadly, the skills of theatre people are kept secluded far from the fora of principled negotiations; people who consciously gather to perform the formidable tasks of generating working agreements and solidifying understanding between nations, do so at events that are notoriously emotionally monotone and dramaturgically dissatisfying.
The dry academic conference, or the sessions of the UN General Assembly, are inevitably frightfully BAD THEATRE. They routinely stifle any deep human exchange.

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Pray Do Not Mock Me — HUBritic Shakespeare as Davies Invades the West End

It reeked of noxious stunt theatre from a far. Touted as ‘Guerilla Shakespeare’ it would inevitably be an act of pure hubris. Skyping with Andrew Hobbs, the impresario behind British Touring Shakespeare, he neatly parried my protests that I was hardly agéd enough to play his title character, and that his islands were full of brilliant actors who would jump at the chance to scale the pinnacle of English literature. His highly presumptive point was that when actors get the appropriate age, they cannot possibly learn all those lines in the three weeks that were left to disposition. “Indeed”, huffed this recent member of the older generation: “You have created the production website, engaged a ticket agency, cast the majority of parts, but you haven’t actually a candidate to play King Lear ?” “Yes, we do” countered Andy cheekily, “You.”

At least the neighbourhood was top class. Across the street, Sir Trevor was running Londoners through a season of box-office treats; next door Her Majesty’s had housed that old clunker Phantom of the Opera since forever. Lodged in between, at New Zealand House, a block from Trafalgar Square, people should certainly be able to find us.

In my cover letter accompanying bowing to my fate and accepting the inevitably, poisoned bait, I was less than diplomatic: flagging that I intended to be the most curmudgeonous, cranky Lear they’d ever met, I even suggested we move the location to Occupy St. Paul’s. Anticipating an at least partially tragic outcome, I posted this artistic airbag on the ol’ Facebook….
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Recipe for Caterwauling: HUB Westminister – King Lear ad hoc

The postulate behind ‘Guerilla Shakespeare‘ seems clearly an anathema to good theatre practice. Ensembles are to be nurtured. It cannot be best policy to banish rehearsal time, to forbid all group exploration, and expose the most vulnerable moment of the rehearsal cycle as t’were a worthy spectacle.

Those who nevertheless wish to witness: a stripped down, elemental, rehearsal-free KING LEAR to help inaugurate the initial season of Truth & Beauty Evenings at Westminister HUB – New Zealand House, Haymarket, London UK, are of course welcome. Sunday 26th November, 1800 hrs.

Lear – me,
Duke of Burgundy – Anton,
Kent – someone called Andy,
The rest of cast = a inconveniently anonymous collection of great unknowns!

The organisers allow for a frightful mess; but that somehow small moments of inspired beauty might coalesce out of the quagmire. Why such chaos should constructively illuminate the fate of tyrannical patriarchs in the latter days of the colonial project, escapes me. It smacks more of an ungrateful younger generation usurping time-honoured tradition and opting for yet another lark to serve as blogg fodder.
(The rationale for importing a decidedly balding, but not quite yet 80, actor into a land full of gifted Shakespearean veterans, also bodes utterly peculiar.)

And worse it might be yet…
The day when actors first leave their scripts to stumble empty-handed and zombie-like around the stage, is usually a disaster. At this point, finally making eye contact with ones fellow players remains a horrific distraction rather than the viable life raft that it is meant to be. We are to be are naked, abandoned and dispossessed. Within the inner tempest in our skulls, we will frantically strive to bridge the half-secure constructs worked upon in our several garrets with the merciless realities of a, for many, unvisited performance space. For this recipe to provide anything akin to a visionary evening is beyond presumptive.

To break this impasse, the traditional solutions posit direction.
However, this role too has been jettisoned as unessential, decadent paraphernalia.
That said, as titular King, we can but instinctively grasp for our forlorn crown. The way forward is unforgiving; adulterating the alchemy of youthful hubris, by forcing into the distillate the secret ingredients of a lifetime, may prove fateful. We should not anticipate gratitude.

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Activating Pacifists

Stockmann Process Event #I – Undercurrents of the Meeting
When the annual Hardanger Peace Symposium convened in the picturesque fjordside village of Jondal, the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda served up an aperitif. 
The long weekend’s format was well-rehearsed – veterans of various guises of the peace movement would gather for fresh insight from a row of greying professors, a dash of politicians and a flock of the young and eager. The result was probably equally preprogrammed: we as individuals would emerge after three days with a head full of frightful facts. We perhaps would head home with rekindled outrage, we might have brushed into kindred souls.

Invited by the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, our non-toxic contribution was a two stage workshop that framed the event as its very beginning and its utter end. The task of the workshop was to extract concrete, coordinated efforts that would supplement the purely informative nature of the symposium model.

Under the title ‘Peace is Movement’, stage one was an 1 1/2 hour gathering with 29 symposium participants who arrived the evening before. Wenche Dorethea Haukeland, our resident eurhythmy teacher, contributed an accessible physical interpretation of the workshop theme, and we were off and creatively stumbling. The desire was to counter the inherent paradox in a meeting of activists who are so often rendered passive by the microphone lecture powerpoint presentation format.
The strategy was to parallel an actor’s homework analysis to find playable actions that would deepen the significance of being there. I introduced the idea of conspirators seeking concrete accomplishments that could realistically be performed within our timeframe. This search would then provide a super-objective that would colour the ‘actors’’ motivation throughout the four days. This classic tool of an actor’s sub-text could unify the efforts of our band of ‘positive conspirators.’
The questions posed are less existential – eg.: What the devil is my motivation?;
and more based on a pursuable objective : What actions must I pursue in order to emerge with a satisfying grand finale?

Frankly, at the start we seemed far too great a number to form a convincing sub-group of behind the scenes fixniks. However, the very fact of addressing the issue of : ‘Is there a collective goal around which we could we wish to emerge from this gathering?’, enabled much valuable getting-to-the-point. To render this process visible, we hung a large roll of paper across the back wall of the meeting room. As the lectures unfolded, participants wrote and pasted up crystallizations of their concerns. On the evening on the second full day, a subcommittee edited and ordered the comments into issue based constellations that indicated avenues that called for concrete follow up.

After the final Monday afternoon dinner, a group of 15 diehards remained for our closing session. Within a succinct, focussed hour everyone had their primary concerns addressed and clear commitments were made as to how to concretely support each others projects. The creeping passivity that so easily invades the human forum, had been circumvented by a few deft strokes.  New constellations of working groups had emerged that would promote tangible action in the coming year.

Once again, faith in the process proved a decisive element.

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