constellation

2 May

OK, here I am in the revision phase of my dissertation and I’ve ground to a squeaky halt. So here goes—blog, save me from brain death! In trying to revise a chapter (“The Rules of Appearance”) I’m linking the work of American Playwright W. David Hancock with Forced Entertainment and also with Tadeusz Kantor. All of these “post-dramatic” artists refer me back to the verbatim theatre which like a dark star pulls on these aesthetically incompatible theatres through its shared fascination with the actor-as-object, with staging real things, with objects that testify to their own presence.

I’m finding it hard to write in academic argument style so thought I’d riff on some of these ideas here (a low and desperate use of the blog to unstick my writing).

DUMMIES: Kantor uses puppets and doubles, grotesque extrusions of the child-self of the actor–or perhaps the actor becomes a grotesque extrusion formed by age, of the child-puppet who rides his or her back in THE DEAD CLASS. In Forced Entertainmen’ts FIRST NIGHT, Robin (one of a troupe of fake-bad vaudeville performers, none of whom want to deal with the audience) drags Robin on stage in a head-lock as his ventriloquists’ dummy. He hurts him (squeezes his arm) to make him speak, to introduce the show. People say “ventriloquize” as a disparaging figure of speech to mean putting words in another’s mouth, but in fact actual ventriloquy is fascinating for the RESISTANCE to that happening that is inevitably part of the act. The comedy of the act usually centers round the doll/puppet’s resistance to “acceptable” speech-surprising its master, refusing to co-operate. Even things resist being treated as things, as ONLY material.

Robin/Richard’s ventriloquist doll act complicates things even more–because Robin is flesh, the innate cruelty of making another speak is very apparent, and interestingly, Robin’s resistance isn’t on the level of speech (where the ventriloquists’ dummy usually rebels–or ventriloquizes rebellion) but we see it worked out through the resistance of the body. Sweating, pulling away, trying not to speak. The actor as bio-object. Dolls are scary because they are uncannily alive for things. Bio-objected actors are scary because their “life” is so close to mere thing-ness. Deathly bodies and scarily animated objects. These are boundaries that frighten us when crossed because crossing them finally for us means dying.

Things are made to speak on stage, but in serving the story-at-hand they also exceed it and resist it, testifying as well or instead to their own materiality and extra-theatrical life.

I’m finding Benjamin’s notion of the constellation helpful–gets away from geneaologies to ways that things are connected through a proximity only focused through the position of the viewer. So my constellation for this chapter: Tadeusz Kantor, Forced Entertainment, W.David Hancock and the dark-star intruder, the verbatim theatre. what they have in common:
bio-objects
death on stage
stories that fragment and don’t finish
memory in the space of performance
audience is part of the picture
refusal of “mystery and illusion”
frames within frames on stage
charged things (story-cards; emballages; “stuff”).
line between outside reality and what’s on stage is quite indeterminate, leaky, problematic (for audience).
unreliable witness: memory as a crime scene
fascination with surfaces which don’t necessarily reveal “hidden depths”.

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One Response to “constellation”

  1. Rick Massimo May 8, 2007 at 2:41 pm #

    Sounds like you’re on the way. Including the separate-chapter idea, of course.

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