Continuing the process, right to the end. Ethics & aesthetics.

September 13, 2010 at 9:02 am | Posted in creative process, Ensemble, improvisation, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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I think of this summer’s work as breaking into three phases: ensemble development (which took place during the residency at Whitestone Arts); rehearsal (which took place in Huddersfield); performance (which starts this week).

Stage two, the rehearsal process, ended on Friday.

The show is ready for the public. The lighting is rigged, the studio tidied so it looks like a theatre space, the structure, energy, performance details,  all tweaked, re-tweaked, reorganised, reconsidered. Yes, we’re ready.

So is that it? Is the creative process complete? Is the product of our work ready for consumption by those interested enough to come along to see what we’ve been up to? Can I go home now and leave the show to look after itself?

It’s a thought I resist with every cell in my body, not because I want to hold onto what we have experienced this summer, but because I reject absolutely the thought that there is a ‘product’ for us to share and I reject the thought that the process of being with an audience should be a different process to the one we experienced in being with one another over the last few months.

It’s making me think about the relationship of aesthetics (the form that we use to communicate our art) and ethics (the behaviours that govern how we interact with one another).

Lev Dodin, director of The Maly Theatre, one of the world’s great ensembles, was asked about the work of Stanislavski.* He said of the actors of The Moscow Arts Theatre, where Stanislavski worked:  “(this theatre is) the place where people search for spiritual values and where the theatre production is a sort of by-product, but spiritual life, spiritual exploration and spiritual research are the main thing.”  I never really understood this until now. It felt a little abstract or rarefied to me, for my focus is on the practical details of developing individuals and ensembles and on the forging of those ensembles into public performances. But on Friday, as we met for the last session of the ‘rehearsal period’, suddenly it made sense. Deep and absolute sense.

What we have created, the aesthetics of “The Shattering Man’, are the concrete embodiment of how this particular ensemble have learned to behave, to co-exist. If the ensemble had developed different ways of being together – which inevitably would have happened had there been different individuals within the ensemble – then the ethics of our interactions would have been different and the work that emerged from those interactions would also have been different. The aesthetics of “The Shattering Man’ are intimately an expression of the bonds that bind the performers one to another. It that sense, ensemble theatre is profoundly a community theatre, the unique expression of a unique community, formed in a specific time and place.

Certainly the principles I introduce to underpin the development of the ensemble are a significant influence on the ethics and aesthetics that emerge from the process. However all of those principles are encountered, challenged and altered by each of the people who comprise the ensemble and in that process of personalising my initial principles, the unique identity of this unique ensemble is born.

What does this mean for us as we move from the rehearsal period to the performance season?

Strangely enough, my sense is that it means that nothing should alter. At the root of “The Shattering Man” is not a text, or a lighting plan or a story or a message or even a concept. At the heart of what we have made, what we offer to our audience, is the details of how we interact with one another. The rules governing human interaction are called ethics.

Our obligation, in full respect for our audience, is to behave ethically and to include the audience in that ethical behaviour. The show is not a ‘product’, it is something that emerges from the details of the interactions within the ensemble. It is a process that the ensemble engage in, live in front of the audience, every time they perform the show. If we lose the quality of the behaviours between ourselves, if we start treating the show as a product to be shown rather than a creative act to be undertaken, if we stop looking for the unique quality of every moment of every performance, if individual cast members allow their individual concerns to shatter the sensitivity of their connections with other cast members, or if the ensemble treats the audience not as collaborators but as consumers, then we have lost our ethical base and what we have made is so much noise and movement, signifying nothing.

I hope that each performance of “The Shattering Man’ will be a joyous ethical act.

Of course, none of this is fashionable, for it doesn’t leave much room for detachment or irony. Nor is it ‘conceptual’ or ideological. We treat the audience with the same ethical perspective as we treat one another. We are inviting them, for a brief while, to be as open to us as we are to each other and to them. We are neither flattering not seeking to distract our audience, we are inviting them, however briefly, to be part of our community.

* You can read this interview in “In Contact With The Gods: Directors Talk Theatre” ed. Delgado & Heritage, MUP (p.71)

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