the theatre text
Theatre is always a self-destructive art, and it is always written on the wind.
(Peter Brook in The Empty Space)
I like to work with existing texts as a source, whether or not written for the stage. If the performance is built around a theme, like in Kitan, I want to use texts I link with the theme by association. I always look for texts in which stories are told that reflect the search for the meaning of life, in which universally recognisable themes are expressed.
In his book The Empty Space, Peter Brook writes that the theatre text, the letters on paper, is an end product of a process that once started as a series of living impulses in the playwright, including social, philosophical, and personal impulses, and not seldom literary or dramatic impulses. Many theatre texts by Shakespeare, for instance, are based on plays or stories that already existed in his day. The final text is the solidified energy of all of these rudimentary impulses. The present-day performer looks for these original impulses and takes the audience along in this search. For me as a performer this text is a starting point, not to arrive at a new interpretation of the final text but to open the text, to look for what is in it that is relevant for us today.
Grotowski in Towards a Poor Theatre: ‘A text is not theatre. It is literature. It becomes theatre only through the actor’s use of it.’
In An Actor Adrift, actor and director Yoshi Oida writes about Peter Brook’s working method: ‘In none of his plays, his approach consists of conveying a certain message. On the contrary, he encourages actors to explore the text or the original material in as open, spontaneous and humanely a way as possible, and various interpretations and viewpoints will arise as if by themselves. The audience is free to choose their own “message” from these.’ This approach holds a strong appeal for me.
Peter Brook, in The Empty Space: ‘Every time again, a performance is a new search for these impulses, and the audience and performers are always ready to believe “that the true play escapes us”, or rather that the play reopens and opens differently every time again.’
Jerzy Grotowski: ‘In a classic text, we restore its truth from the common ground of actor and spectator: collective complexes of society, the core of collective subconsciousness, myths which are not an invention of the mind, but are inherited, through blood, religion, culture and climate.’
A theatre text, therefore, is solidified end material and the starting point of new exploration. Every performance is a stage of that journey, in which the text can reappear in fragments, placed in a random order, often enriched with texts from another context, sometimes improvised. With the performances Lear Lesen and Krapp’s Last Tape we were sometimes asked: Is this still Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape? Is this still Shakespeare’s King Lear? On the basis of Grotowski’s and Brook’s quotes above, I would answer whole-heartedly: ‘Most certainly.’
I always picture theatre as isolating a fragment of life and then putting this fragment onto a stage, so that we (the audience and performers) can focus on it to celebrate or fathom life together. For me, what makes theatre different from a performance is that a performance is more about making a statement, an intervention that casts doubt on the direct context in which the statement, the performance, is placed. A performer remains himself. An actor also remains himself but juggles with parts. Psychologically, the actor uses the various layers in his personality; he transforms to a higher or lesser extent.
Theatre deals with fundamental processes of life. Why are the classics still being played? Why is the great literature of the theatre inexhaustible? Because they are about fundamental processes that every human being has to deal with, living between the shrouds of birth and death. These fundamental processes are isolated, put on stage, to comprehend them, come to terms with them (catharsis), and celebrate them.
Literary theorist Joseph Campbell developed the model ‘The Hero’s Journey’; people tell themselves and each other stories, always and everywhere, in all contexts imaginable. Theatre is one of these contexts. In all of these stories, man is travelling, a journey that always has several constant phases: from a an innocent status quo, via a challenge set out on a quest, meeting with several ordeals, finding a possible breakthrough, and eventually the resurrection, the breakthrough to a new life – often a return to the former life, enriched with a new awareness – where this process may repeat itself. In principle, it is a cyclic process. Every story is about this process or about a phase of this process, and in every story the process is gone through entirely or it stagnates. From this perspective, stories are a guideline for life.
In other words, change is the basic principle of life. This is the central theme in my performances, in terms of content as well as in the form of the performance. It is far more interesting if a performance is not just about change but that it is also subject to change processes where its form is concerned. With the Kitan project (2016-2020), I wrote: ‘Kitan is not a performance about change; it gives change a stage.’
‘Isolating’ change as a fundamental process of life on a stage, to celebrate this proces. John Cage: ‘A concert is a celebration of the fact that we can’t possess anything.’
For me, art in each of its expressions is a reaction to the principle of change in nature. ‘Nature is unstable by itself’ is a well-known Buddhist statement. As life is a process of nature, and art reflects life in one way or another, the statement ‘Art is unstable by itself’ is just as valid.
From this principle, I always look for cooperation with other disciplines. A performance is a period of time passing. As this time passes, every discipline sets lines with an idiom of their own; an associative process arising from the chosen theme, from the chosen text. Between all of these different lines, meanings originate and fade. Art is never for eternity; it is volatile and changeable like the wind. Every next performance yields new meanings. It can never be sufficient, for as human beings we keep on looking for meanings. The stories are to be told and retold, again and again.