This month I'm back in China again facilitating workshops and directing a play with teenagers.
As a theatre-maker I love working in real time, allowing things to take as long as they need to take on stage, highlighting imperfections and reminding audiences that performers are human beings too.
However when working with nonprofessionals, who will be performing in front of an audience, who are expecting a show that aims to reach a “professional" standard, how can these imperfect moments be framed and understood as intentional?
During the first full run-through of any piece mistakes are bound to happen, and during our run yesterday there were some genius comedic moments that came about through things going wrong. One cast member spent three minutes working out how to open a mechanical curtain, lines were said at the wrong time changing the whole tone of a scene and on multiple occasions people realised that they were on wrong side of the stage and tried to get around to the other side without the audience noticing. Absolutely incredible moments that, in a different situation I would include in a heartbeat. But working in this context these mistakes if kept in would potentially make the play seem unfinished and lazy, which in this instance could be seen as a negative thing.
Thinking about performers whose work involved well-crafted mistakes such as Buster Keaton or Lucile Ball, there is an understanding that the accidents are intended. Although still surprising, the calamities are executed with such precision that the audience realises that they are deliberate. Additionally Buster Keaton physically presented himself as a clown, and therefore people expected failure or the negotiation to avoid failure to be present in his work.
But with a nonprofressional cast, or maybe not with all nonprofessional casts but with this group of teenagers in this situation, it is different. Much like my research into children’s dance competitions for How to Drown a Fish, there is awareness that we are watching children perform and therefore there isn’t a need to highlight that they are “human” because we are aware of the context. Those qualities come through without having to be a skill or presented as it. With the audience there is a forgiveness (most of the time) for mistakes and a potential understanding that things may go wrong but it is different to say watching Buster Keaton. Maybe this is in fact patronising of me to say. But I think its potentially do to with control, intension and expectation.
In order for mistakes, in the context of the show that I’m creating in Shenzhen, to work they would need to seem intentional which takes away from original reason why they were entertaining.
Oh its a lot to think about!
I’m currently in the process of redeveloping How to Drown a Fish (details to follow) and all of this is fascinating but has also slightly blown my mind. If anyone has any thoughts I would love to hear them.
Back to rehearsals in 28 degree heat.
Here’s a picture of a beautiful pair of bins.