the lights … of the land … the island … the sky … he need only … lift his head … his eyes … he’d see them …
(Samuel Beckett, Cascando)
Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by the theatre, dance, film, music. The worlds they evoked seemed more real to me than the everyday world around me. Through the years, I found answers to make my life bearable. Yet, the idea and feeling that the theatre, that art made me understand life better than any purely logical analysis can, remained. ‘True thoughts are those alone which do not understand themselves,’ Theodor W. Adorno wrote. In an interview, Pierre Audi said: ‘Art moves man from day-to-day reality and puts him back with just a bit more.’
As a 15-year-old I was introduced to Samuel Beckett’s plays and the work of composer John Cage. Beckett’s desolate, bare universe, the texts and characters called ‘absurdist’ at the time, made a lasting impression on me. Sound released from prevailing music aesthetics, the use of coincidence and synchronism in Cage’s work moved me deeply. Everything seemed possible, interconnected at a deep level.
For four years, I took a theatre education in Paris and was taught by directors and actors from the international avant-garde theatre of the time: Jerzy Grotowski’s Teatr Laboratorium, the Living Theatre, Théâtre du Soleil, Augusto Boal’s Théâtre de l’ Opprimé, the Roy Hart Theatre, Yves Lebreton, Carlo Boso from the Piccolo Teatro de Milano – and the ideas and work of Peter Brook, who worked as a director in Paris at the time, were discernible through it all.
The work of Beckett, of Cage, of my masters in Paris explores beyond the laws of naturalism and prevailing artistic conventions. They provide direct access to the parallel worlds that had been so familiar to me since my childhood.
By assuming a character as an actor, by the presence of light, sound, objects, décor, I can enter and be in a parallel world like one of these even physically. As an actor I am also the bridge between the created world and the audience, using physical means and theatre techniques, of which timing is the most powerful – let silence do the work.
Grotowski and Brook emphasise that communication is the core of theatre, reduced to its essence. In other words, in this parallel universe, I breathe simultaneously with my fellow performers, with the audience. The cooperation with Japanese musicians and dancers taught me later that as a performer I share a collective universe (kuki in Japanese) together with my fellow performers and the audience. Getting attuned to this collective universe is the basis of every performance.
After my training, as a beginning professional actor, I was cast for many performances and television series. Sometimes I felt at home, and very often I did not, as commercial motives prevailed and were decisive for the artistic language, the production process, the manner of cooperation among the performers. Deeply unhappy as an actor in a commercial musical, in a dressing room in the Municipal Theatre of Groningen in 2001, I solemnly promised myself I would only seek alliance with theatre initiatives that had adopted the production process and spoke the artistic language I felt comfortable with from then on.
It still took me until 2012, before I finally made the decision to stop looking for work in the established theatre and to return to my initial fascination for the theatre to look for my own theatre language based on the works, books and articles primarily by Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Yoshi Oida and Zeami Motokiyo.
This site is the log of the search, an invitation to you, visitors, to join me in thinking and developing.
Letting go of the old theatre conventions is something I experience as a slow, intractable process – and it takes guts.
The laws and assumptions underlying these conventions – looking for a saleable end product that could stand the test of the critics’ judgment and in which the individual actor’s success is the basis of success from a market value perspective, to mention only a few – are a persistent, often thwarting part of my inner system.
The projects as from 2012 are exercises in letting go, as already indicated an intractable though liberating process.
The frames of reference in this search, the bed through which the river of my fascinations, my intuition flows, include the works, books and articles mentioned above as well as the composition and performance practice of Wandelweiser, the international group of composers based in Haan (Germany), founded in 1992 by composers Antoine Beuger – we have been friends since 1969 – and Burkhard Schlothauer.
The Wandelweiser composers build on John Cage’s practice and aesthetics. The performance by John Cage – with Merce Cunningham (choreography) and Jasper Johns (stage design) – which Antoine and I attended as school friends at the municipal theatre in Breda at the 1970 edition of the Holland Festival, made an overwhelming impression on us. I took a one-week masterclass by John Cage in Middelburg in 1990, which again was to be a formative experience with a permanently lasting effect on me.
The work of the Wandelweiser composers and a number of artists with other disciplines in their wake, were an example for me to be led by. The collaboration with some of them has inspired and stimulated me while developing my projects since 2012. I still owe them a debt of deep gratitude.
My search is closely associated with the question of how to translate Cage’s concepts, which can be summarised as ‘unintentional composing and performing’, into theatre. The role of coincidence in these concepts, of silence, of synchronism, of redefining several parameters in music – such as sound, instrument and melody – and of a composition as a hermetically sealed entity appeal to me.
Implementing coincidence, silence and synchronism in art is full of adventure, it is impossible to be captured and yields new vistas every time again. ‘Art is the imitation of nature in her manner of operation,’ John Cage writes, quoting Robert Rauschenberg in his book Silence. `Or a net,’ he adds.
If applied to theatre, the search takes me along the parameters theatre text, actor and part, audience, interaction, light, sound, stage (or the theatre as a performance area), and the performance as an end product.In the projects described on this site, I experimented with these parameters, one or a few at a time.
The collaboration with other art disciplines in an international context is most stimulating. It makes me explore the boundaries of the theatre: What makes the theatre different from the other disciplines? Where is the common ground between theatre and film, between theatre and dance, between theatre and music? How hard and fast are the boundaries between the various disciplines? Or are the contours rather vague, and is it precisely here that fascination is triggered?
Cooperating with artists from another cultural context is stimulating for the different views they often have on these parameters. One of the most fascinating experiences so far has been my collaboration with Japanese dancers and musicians. Their perception and definition of audience, space and performance practice is essentially different from the western counterparts. Although I am aware that this distinction is much too general as well as generalising, these Japanese artists have had a strong effect on my thinking about performance practice.
In the next few blogs, I will discuss some of these parameters in more detail. I will explain them by using brief descriptions of the creation process that has brought about the projects as from 2012, of my experiences and thoughts without which the result would have been different, of quotes from books and interviews that open up new perspectives for me.
Feel free to share your reactions, your thoughts. I look forward to your contribution to the search!