Draft proposal for a theatre-in-the-round performance

Published: Mar 2003
Reviewed by: R.G. Gregory
Review of book: THE FIRST DEATH

R.G. Gregory

Activating the First Death
THE FIRST DEATH by Dimitris Lyacos has been translated from the Greek into English by Shorsha Sullivan.It is the third in an intended trilogy of dramatic poems and seems ready-made for the kind of theatre-presentation I have been developing over fifty years, with its increasingly pared-down approach to presentation, its refusal to indulge in contemporary conventions of lighting and design, and its unblinking commitment to theatre-in-the-round as a symbolic concept of assembly that revolutionises the relationship between performer (representative and mouth-piece of authority) and audience (representative of the unempowered).I have worked towards the demise of the director and the re-inventing of the actor as a ritualistic appointee of the audience, in whom all true authority of theatre (and assembly) should reside. He also re-establishes the playwright (poet) as the oracular messenger and source of the performance, through which the meanings and nuances (expressed in the instrumental bodies of the actors) of the language are served to the audience for its absorption, sifting and returning to earth; the essence of which drains to the cave where the Oracle lurks, speaking perpetually in tongues. These incomprehensible sounds reach the playwright (in this instance – all artists are part of the same process), who receives them on his own peculiar wavelength and interprets them according to the nature of the form he, in turn, tunes into. So the cycle continues. The public carrying of the message, in its fullest implications, takes place in the meeting of performer and audience: it is the key act, in which both parties must share the same light. The world has suffered sufficiently from the passing of messages (which inevitably become orders) from lit spaces into darkness – from those whose brains are lit up to those deemed too unimportant to deserve their own light.The First Death has the feel of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture – concernedly crafted towards a perfect form. The interweaving of its language, with word-play and cultural references, creates its own slow dance. It has the texture of a revolving egg.I want to subject the text to a form of shock-treatment; to encourage an acting group first to deconstruct the dense, tense language and then to let it find a new kind of flow, so that the poem becomes a word-dance, expressing through the potential violence of movement the released energy of its own innards. In time the egg reforms, but to be seen this time, and experienced, from the inside. There are two ways of doing this: Finding a group of actors (six to eight probably) and working with them for a week (minimum) to take the poem through the necessary processes from the deliberate cracking of the egg to its final reformation. This will require finding the actors, the work-space and the funding to sustain it.
Running it as a Course (for week or fortnight) in some established Course Centre – in
this country or abroad – and inviting self-paying participants to sign up for the experience. Both methods will lead to a final performance of the poem-play; in 1. maybe to more than one performance (a short public tour could be on the cards). In 2. it would take place as the last function of the Course, to whatever audience the Course Centre could provide.The “re-hearsing” process would be similar in each approach. A reading of the play – but no discussion as to its implications or meanings. Each section is read again and actors pick out an agreed number of lines they would like to claim as their own. Each line is cast – those who have chosen a line get to say it. If more than one: then the line is dealt with “chorally”. Lines no one has chosen may be given to everyone to say; or they become the writer’s lines – to be distributed according to some appropriate sense. The scene is then read, in order to clarify who says what, and to reveal the now corporate flow of the piece. The space is declared – with an acting area defined by seats on all four sides – all work will be in the round. The actors work on the scene, without interruption from director or playwright, going over and over the text, inventing movement to bring out the words’ nuances and to establish meaningful relationships, in terms of the logistics of the space, between the characters/actors and the worked-towards presence of the audience. In the course of this intense work, the meaning of the scene is revealed from within, and a sense grows of the way the relationship of actor and audience (relationship of acting space with its defining seats) ingrains itself into the practical needs of making the text work. Discussions may be appropriate at times, but will not be there to gainsay each actor’s search for the soul of the text being handled. No actor will have jurisprudence over another: each searching for inner meaning to personal text will learn to accommodate another’s searching and to release the will to unite the various searchings. Each scene (section of poem) will be treated in a similar manner, not too heartily to begin, allowing for observations and discoveries from later scenes to have their influence upon what has happened earlier before the text’s truth in each scene has been set in aspic. Properties, representative furniture, may or may not be needed: these problems will arise from the actors’ experiences (or from the awarenesses outside the acting area of director or playwright) Dress will be simple and formal – with symbolic colour unfussily used maybe. Nothing visual must be done to impede the free flow of the colours of the language itself. Theatre is a way of heightening the seeing of the spoken word; once it moves beyond that it loses the intensity of its impact, and strays into realism or naturalism, which have become manners that play to the indulgences of actors. From the start of active rehearsing, the cast will be encouraged to recognise the living presence of an audience not yet there, so that the playing develops a sense of rhythm – a kind of valve function: the energy of the audience (its heart-beat) propels the actors into exploring the value of the language, and the energy of the actors takes the discovery back to the audience for its appreciation. The actors learn to serve their audience, not themselves. The audience is there to inspect the works of the actors and to approve what they are doing, as once a King or Queen would. The audience is decidedly not there to preen the vaunting ambitions of the performers, or to flatter their egos by any form of adulation. Theatre is at its best when actors know their place and humbly get on with their job. THE FIRST DEATH seems to be an ideal text for this kind of treatment, drawing its energy (and themes) from the oldest sources of Greek poetry.

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