miércoles, 10 de marzo de 2010

Thomas Conway, Literary Manager of Druid Theatre Company, on MAKE 2010

Thomas Conway, Literary Manager of Druid Theatre Company, on MAKE 2010

It’s late Saturday night, the last night we’ll all be together. It’s been a long day, with participants showing the fruits of their week’s work in what are something more than progress reports and something less than performances These ‘showings’ have then been subjected to the spotlight of critical appraisal, a light shed both stringently and generously on each by everyone else that comprises MAKE 2010, mentors, sponsors and the other participants. And while the day has not passed without its tensions, divisions and disagreements, it has also been uproarious fun, with hints of breakthrough, moments of ramshackle beauty, the presence of vulnerabilities reflecting a kind of grace on everyone. It has also been a day when we have all been pushed to re-evaluate our own positions, to entertain other critical frames of reference, to consider anew. Except, as one of three to show the following morning, I’m not able to relax.

Exactly a week previously, we are sitting in a circle and we take it in turns to describe our projects. Our nervousness is heightened if anything by the repose of the setting. We’re in the music room in Annaghmakerrig; a vegetable garden and woods are to be seen outside. Most of us haven’t been to Annaghmakerrig before and, used to working in cities, wonder how we will organize ourselves in these surroundings – if we won’t just get carried away. Open a window here and everything gets quieter, for heaven’s sake.

On Monday, we are split into groups of five and disperse with our mentors around Annaghmakerrig. (The mentors Florian Malzacher, Ant Hampton and Vivi Tellas will, as time will prove, get it just right in keeping up the week’s momentum with their probings, leads, suggestions and provocations.) The alcove of a light-filled drawing room is where my own group retreats. Here, we each go into more detail about our projects and Vivi Tellas (who comes from Buenos Aires with a formidable record as a director and includes in her work groundbreaking developments in documentary theatre) is teasing out what it is we could possibly mean. She cites her less than perfect command of English (not true, by the way), but we soon learn how it is Vivi’s incomparable strength to ask the toughest, most unexpected and all the while simplest questions and I’m beginning to sense I’ll have much to learn from her.

Tuesday and we’re in the music room for the first of our ‘jam sessions’. Nothing is set out beforehand. It is a kind of playground. We have music, video clips, diaries, letters and photos. I have quotes from the texts I had hoped to build into my project. Suggestions come from Vivi and we test our material gently but insistently.

Wednesday’s jam is more structured. It is an exercise that Vivi guides us through. It takes on the tricky work of project- and self-examination. The tuning of the group is already better, however, a certain confidence with each other having been gained.

Thursday, we’re discussing why we don’t just jam together instead of presenting individual showings. Vivi asks why such reluctance to show as individuals and waits it out. Before we part, we’ve changed our minds and profess ourselves to a person reconciled to the individual showings.

That evening, Ant Hampton (co-artistic director of Rotozaza, a company whose work has shaken up the possibilities for theatre by creating shows for unrehearsed ‘performers’, and has gained a wide audience, not least in Ireland, for their limitless innovations) and I talk privately and I’m keen to hear him on the topic of the unrehearsed performer and then on his more recent, self-titled ‘auto-performances’. In this latter form, the audience is given instructions and in effect become ‘performers’. We talk about the levels unpeeling here. What is it we watch, I ask. As Ant speaks of his fascination with the split subject, I recall my time ‘performing’ his showEtiquette and enjoy, once again, the sight of its space get over-populated and creak under the weight of all the multiplying split ‘persons’. I offer Ant the observation that, with Etiquette, I still felt part of the performance long after it was done, that everything I said afterwards was still being said for me. We have more to explore here but we leave it for the moment.

Friday, I talk to Florian (a writer, programmer and dramaturg working out of Graz, Austria, who is occasional dramaturg with the influential Rimini Protokoll and who seems to us the single most informed person in Europe on postmodern theatre) about working with non-actors, the ethics, guiding principles, the textures, the necessity and beauty of locating a performance in what ‘the expert’ gives or doesn’t give, the question of love. I’m beginning to be greatly attracted by the possibilities.

Saturday, I realize on seeing the others’ showings that it is their spirit as much as the detail of what they do that I’m falling for. When it comes to a choice between sense and sensuality, hereafter, I’m gonna trump for sensuality every time.

Saturday night, I’m deep in conversation with Róise Goan, artistic director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, and she explains the importance of the showings themselves. She says how it is her experience that Irish artists aren’t nearly so articulate as their UK and European peers when it comes to explaining their ideas and generating excitement for them. She remonstrates with me how this is a skill as important as any other in the process of creating theatre.

By Sunday morning I’ve decided to jettison the use of external text in my project. What I ‘show’, then, is an attempt to use live a set of tools I’d never used before – to come to a process armed with nothing but a set of questions and to write a text that responds to developments within the process alone. It is meant to be simple, but it stirs up more questions than it should and it needs further explaining.

To return to Saturday night, I had asked Róise if MAKE could not also be artist-centred just as it is project-centred, if a breakthrough for the artist could be valued on equal terms with breakthroughs for the project. It wasn’t in any way my business to ask this but an answer comes Sunday morning in the showing immediately following my own. Ana Maria Ferreira Mendes from Portugal had begun the week with the intention to write about two brothers coming to where their childhood home used to be. This was to be an exploration of identity, its fragility and insubstantiality. Ana finishes the week with the performance of an interrogation where she must answer as herself and is required to go in search of answers in many of the most private areas of her own life. This response to the imperative to answer as yourself is the most inspirational thing I’ve seen all week. We have all seen Ana’s journey – she no longer insists she is not a performer – and seen what she has concretely gained for her project. We all look forward, as to nothing else, to seeing her project become a full performance.

I leave Annaghmakerrig with concrete gains, to be sure, but not on that scale. I’ve a sense that when next I work with text it’ll be found or generated within the rehearsal itself and not pre-written. And, yes, I’ll take a chance to come to rehearsal with nothing but a set of questions, a vision in the bones and a commitment to the people in the room. In the process, I’ll pay tribute to the influence of Vivi and Ant and Florian and hope to honour what they and all my co-participants of MAKE 2010 have started.