Dramaturgy of Spring 2022
Dramaturgy of Spring 2022
Dramaturgy of a raspberry bush
I ate the first of the summer’s raspberries from my garden. It was a little under-ripe but on seeing it I couldn’t help myself; it was ready enough and I waded through the wildflower patch, ducked under the bush’s heavy canes and took it. We haven’t discouraged nettles in our garden beyond encouraging other wildflowers – so there is the risk of being stung when you wade raspberrywards.
There is a clear and steady progression to the raspberry bush, which I have seen before: I cut back last year’s canes to the soil, leaving the new growth; last year’s new canes grow taller, leafy, branch out; they produce buds, they produce flowers; for two weeks the bush is swarming with bumblebees and other pollinators; the tiny, hard knots of nascent raspberries appear; the green fists swell, turn pink with juice; we try to pick them faster than they can be eaten by birds, or claimed my insects’ eggs; an end to the raspberries; an end to the summer; I cut back the year’s canes to the soil, leaving the new growth.
A raspberry bush is peculiar because the ‘bush’ is in fact multiple single and free-standing canes. Their roots may be connected but above-ground they are a jostling huddle of individuals, fighting each other for light and space. In all I have seen and read of theatre this spring, I remain anxious that whatever scene or cultural annex I am part of is struggling to remember roots, and has been distracted by the scarcity of space and light.
It is spring, a good time for good faith.
Dramaturgy of a sudden shock
ALRA closed its doors on Monday 4th April and cast its shadow over the rest of the season. I read my email, ‘Important Message from ALRA’, when it arrived at 9:15am and I was still in bed. I had two days of work in my diary at ALRA North, and I’d been talking to them about writing a play for their third year students. These futures dissolved.
I taught the first year ‘Storytelling’ module at ALRA in the autumn term last year. ‘Here I am,’ I thought. ‘I am a lecturer, I am a teacher. An academic institution is trusting me to educate the next generation of theatre makers. Here is my foot, in the door.’ And now the door is gone, along with the hinges and the frame.
I’ve been writing a lot of job applications and cover letters. While writing, I have to believe them, I have to convince myself I will get the job and I write to describe that potential future. And then once that application is finished and I move on to the next, I invent another future, and so on. I create dozens of parallel selves; when I imagine the version of me in that job, I add to myself permanently. Everything I might have been is part of me, too. I can feel the weight of these multiple identities, calcifying around me. I tell myself there is value in being able to conceive myself as many things, but I could do to shrug off the bulk of these fictions, I think. I could do with a full-body psychic shrug, and for this shell of selves to crumble away. I should like to be clear about who I am and what I am doing in this universe.
Chekhov ends The Seagull with a sudden shock: ‘Konstantin has just shot himself.’ More proof that Chekhov was always writing comedies. How cruel, how absurd, to throw that at the story and drop the curtain. And life is cruel and life is absurd but the curtain doesn’t drop (at least, it only drops once and then it’s death and a wholly different subject). After the future dissolves, we must simply find the next best future which presents itself.
I wrote the draft of the play anyway. It is, I think, a good play. I always hope that the next thing I write feels like the best thing I’ve ever written. I’m always moving forward, and I like to believe I’m entering a good future. Shocks are punctuation; I can keep going.
Dramaturgy of history
Clodagh Chapman’s Ladyfriends, which I saw at 53two, models history as a scattering of leaves torn from different books. It takes a simple set up and teases it apart until we’re inside the mess of trying to understand history, trying to tell a story about history, trying understand our own need to have that story and what we are listening for. Chapman’s play excavates Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst’s lesbian relationship, which is also the relationship between the performers – ans the need to understand the connection between them and us pulls us through. Sometimes theatre is an engine for generating questions, and through articulating questions we understand the mysteries around us more deeply: the distance between today and the past, the distance between our mind and our neighbour’s.
The dramaturgy of the experience begins at the first moment I hear about it and ends when I do. Looking back over the play both at the end of spring when I begin writing this and at the end of summer when I finish writing it I am casting myself back and I am attempting to reconstruct my mind and my self. When theatre leaves an echo or an itch in your mind it is an excavation. In remembering, in recasting the action in my head, I learn as much about the tool I am using as the site I am excavating it with. And by learning I surely mean raising more questions.
I arrive with questions, and those questions and enquiries mature and change. Theatre does that, is a tool for transforming the way we see things. The more we use it the more we know the tool, and know ourselves, and have the chance to interrogate the things which separate us. Even if that understanding comes in the form of growing the list of things we do not understand.
Dramaturgy of faith
My revew of Tim Foley’s ‘Electric Rosary’ was about faith. In the course of the play Mary the robot nun becomes more capable of belief and miracles than the whole rest of the convent. At the play’s start faith is a mark of pride and something which intangibly separates the Sisters from the robot. They are human, and the mystery they believe in is that they were formed in the image of a distant God, and part of the mystery is that they believe without the reinforcement of proof. Mary understands very quickly the mystery of a distant creator, she’s surrounded by them. Her faith is a matter of the distance between the fact of her existence and programming and the Sister’s confusion and refusal to allow her experience to connect with theirs.
Think back over Electric Rosary, the shibboleth that faith becomes in the play functions in the way of dramatic agency. When Mother Elizabeth is most in charge of the action, she is most in control of what ‘faith’ means. As the play’s working definition of faith slips so does Elizabeth’s power. As the strangest agent in the convent, Mary’s control of faith grows as faith becomes stranger. As her ability to impact the world shifts from being a polisher and a sweeper, and into a worker of miracles; Electric Rosary’s hierarchies of power melt as the world disintegrates. By the end it is unimportant who is ‘in control’ because the cast occupy messy and fearful positions – as long as they survive, having a leader is unimportant.
Science fiction allows us to change the nature of the world itself, but I think theatre in general gives us that licence too. When we transform a playing space into a house, we can just as easily invite the audience to question the nature of what a house even is. And when we can do that, we can open deeper lines of enquiry, and transform power, character, agency, what theatre even is.
Play which is a raspberry bush: in which separate stories crowd and overshadow each other; a series of bright pink scenes which appear unexpected, which could belong to any separate strand
Play which is a sudden shock: shock which is not abrasive, but a moment of intake of breath as the world is shown to be ruled wholly, unambiguously by love; like when Penelope meets her mother in Girl, Woman, Other; saccharine, even, but wilfully so; a shock which is a challenge because it demands more of us
Play which is history: in which our attendance is questioned; in which the events of the past do not matter as much as our ability to extract a story from them; in which history is the present
Play which is faith: in which the audience will accept a lot, contingent on their faith that what they are watching is a ‘play’ or is ‘theatre’; as long as we enter expecting theatre, whatever we experience complements or contradicts that expectation; we can use faith to our advantage, to allow us to push the definition in the directions that are useful to us
Modern Nature, Derek Jarman (1991)
Finna, Nino Cipri (2020)
Ballistics, D W Wilson (2013)
Orientalism, Edward W Said (1978)
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (1944)
Black Beast Sorrow, Anja Hilling (2007)
Everything Everywhere All at Once, Daniels (2022)
Dancing at Dusk: A moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring, Pina Bausch, Josephine Ann Endicott, Jorge Puerta Armenta (2020)
Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan ‘97, Brian David Gilbert, Karen Han (2021) (here)