Not Frozen

27 September 2007

I’ve been writing for a performance lecture as part of a big Post-Modern Dramatrugy Conference in Frankfurt on Saturday:

I know that I often talk about mistakes in performance (or in text), about errors, and about the liveness and dynamic force (of rupture) that comes from those things.. but watching the kids pantomime late last year I was suddenly aware of how controlled the work I’ve done, alone and with Forced Entertainment is, always, in fact – how very stage-managed and on top of the game we like to be. That first night of the pantomime was a huge rolling exhibition of distraction, nervous ticks, absent-mindedness, costume-tangles, nose-picking, disputes about cues, miss-timing and generally ill-advised stage behaviour. I’m sure it wasn’t at all out of the ordinary as a performance involving 38 kids goes but it was pretty complex. 

My favourite scene was the one where the whole of the Royal family, the court, Aladdin, Widow Twankey and a motely crue of hangers on, servants and townspeople were supposedly frozen into statues by a spell from the genie, as instructed by the evil Abanazer. The sight of 38 kids on the stage, 36 of them attempting to be perfectly still was pretty captivating, mainly because so few of them could get close to it. Almost everywhere you looked there was wavering and blinking, fidgeting, cramping or just a good-natured lack of concentration. The kids performing were so very very there in it though, so revealed, so visible in everything they did, intentional or not, that it was impossible not to love this scene, for all its failure as an illusion of magically induced stillness.

I guess the big difference (between the kids as performers and ourselves) is that if we ever did such a thing as this ‘frozen scene’ in rehearsal/improvisation for a theatre performance we’d very likely spend the next six weeks studying the tape of it, notating and plotting the timeline, trying to understand its dramaturgy, isolating key or feature moments, comparing one improvised version to another and another and another, cherry picking good bits. This done we’d probably end up trying to fix some things, or simply letting them settle as such things do inevitably by dint of repetition, so that in the end the scene’s broad shape could be more-or-less reproduced (a scene with a structure, a piece of time that unfolds with a particular direction, a piece of time with a particular weight that can be used as point or counterpoint in a larger dramaturgy) even though the scene’s detail would stay live, playable, endlessly contingent in the way that performance always is.