Theatre Practice and Ideology
When I direct, I would work out the vision of the playwright or text with the actor(s) and creative company. I would assist the actor in seeking a separation from the character that they are playing so that they can be aware in the moment of theatre when in the performance of the play.
Theatre is a living, beating, breathing entity, that seeks to draw the audience, as a collective, into a world that is created by the actor’s presence and the words of the text, and which is enabled through the elements of design.
Peter Brook created work in the 1970s by laying a carpet on the ground and called that the stage to present “in villages where the inhabitants did not even have a word for theatre in their language” (Hunt and Reeves 1995: 178).
In directing a play, I am asking continually “what is happening”. This phrase is to ask beyond what is actually being said, beyond the textual meaning of what the playwright has written, and goes into the psychological and philosophical reasons of the character’s words, and therefore examines the text for their motives and actions.
For example, when blaming the kettle for boiling too slowly, it is often not the kettle that is the source of your irritation but of something else on your mind or in your subconscious. (Chekhov spoke of your life being ruined when drinking a cup of tea but is another story.)
We would therefore be asking of the characters intention to “what is happening”, about their desires, wants, needs, and objectives when they say these words that have been written? Characters in a play, such as in life, are driving forward in their thinking (McGann 2011), and while the character information (as in what has happened them e.g. such as the death of Hamlet’s father, which is their history) they are concerned more about what the future will hold and how it will define them.
A lot of my critical thinking is based on practitioners such as Stanislavski (realism and naturalism), Brecht (breaking the fourth wall through detachment from the performance), Uta Hagen (respect for acting as a form of truth) to name a few, but who we were all focused on the presence of the actor on stage. This is underpinned by philosophical and psychological theories on the creation of self, through theorists such as Freud, Lacan and Jessica Benjamin, amongst others. Entwined with this now are critical philosophical discussions raised by such theorists and cultural essayists, including Vilem Flusser, Geoff Dyer, Nicholas Mirzhoff, Robert Coles, Teju Cole, Charlotte Cotton and Sophie Berrebi.
My approach in theatre centred on creating a presence on stage of the actor and communion between the performance and audience. This I feel spills over into my photographic practice.
My photography is informed by my theatre-making process, and the techniques that I have used to work with playwrights, actors and designers and how I have presented work to an audience.
Central to my process
There is a phrase at the beginning of “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov, spoken by Yepikodov that became central to my process as a theatre director. To paraphrase a literal translation of the Russian text:
“It is three degrees outside, and the cherry trees are all in blossom. I don’t understand this Russian weather of ours”
In 1991 I worked with the Russian theatre director Genrietta Yanovskaya and she introduced me to this method of analysis when working as a theatre director: that there are moments when talking, in both life and in plays, that we/characters are caught in Paradox, Irony, Self-assessment and Realisation.
What Yepikodov is trying to do is hold the two opposing views at the same time: of death (cold) and the blossoms (life) and see the significance of this in the return of Ranevskaya, the owner of the cherry orchard. And that through the paradox of two opposing views, he comes to a partial realisation in the lack of his own understanding, in that he cannot clearly articulate what he feels inside of him.
Through the analysis and consideration of Paradox, Irony, Self-assessment and Realisation, it means that acting, theatre and live performance are always “in the now”. That in a single moment, a realisation can come to you, and your world vision (or perspective) can change irrevocably.
This analytical technique is a central cornerstone of my process.
CAVE, Richard Allen. Peter Brook. By Albert Hunt and Geoffrey Reeves. (Directors in Perspective Series.)’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Theatre Research International, vol. 21, no. 3, 1996, pp. 271–72. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1017/S0307883300015479.
MCGANN, Stephen. 2011. Theatre as Engineering – from Stanislavski to Cybernetics. The Theatre of Reason. 2011. [online]. Available at: https://theatreofreason.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/502/ (accessed 29 March 2020).