embedded critic: Forest, #1
Embedded Critic: Forest
Thu 10 Jan 2019
This is the first rehearsal I sit in on. ‘Sit in on’ feels a strange way to put it, like a bit matronly, as if I’m a nurse or a supervisor. Or like I’m an investor. I think the stakes at the moment are me both wanting not to be useless and also not wanting to be more of a presence than is asked of me. I asked last time if I might end up a ghost – if I am a ghost I am a shy one. I’m not about to possess anyone or drip slime down the walls, I’ll meekly sing in the pipes, if anything.
Today’s rehearsals are in the Ski Lodge room in Autotrader’s offices, opposite HOME. There’s a room down the corridor called Rascal, and the main space of the offices has lots of transparent booths named after different cars, like ‘Clio’ and ‘Transit’. I’ve no idea how offices work – there are lots of people who have big computer screens on shared tables and I don’t know how normal that is. I wonder if this is what the place my Sister works in looks like. It’s strange to be visiting such a familiar activity to me as a rehearsal/making process, which is set in a totally alien space.
James and Leentje and I talk about what sort of show we would set in the building we’re in. The Ski Lodge room is like a weak gesture towards an Alpen advert, mostly feels like an awkwardly shaped boardroom. There are some sawn logs piled up against one of the white walls, in a purpose-shaped alcove. We contemplated stealing some of them. Through the window, we look down on HOME – only a small building compared to the hotels and car parks and office blocks – because arts buildings are small. Behind HOME is the rail viaduct, behind that, cranes, cranes, cranes. And a scattering of concrete lift shafts without buildings around them yet.
Leentje and James have been rehearsing this week already. And Forest, as a show, a thought, has existed for at least a year because it was on at PUSH last year as a work-in-progress, too. I don’t know if the age of a show necessarily shows. Whether James came up with it last night or has been working on it for three years, I think a piece of theatre depends enough on the living people watching it that it doesn’t age. And I don’t think what James and Leentje are creating in this strange room is actually the piece. That’s the vital thing about theatre, that the script isn’t the thing, that the movements, the plan, the structure, aren’t the thing. And the bloke writing about it all isn’t either.
Ontologically, theatre only is in the performance, only happens when it’s happening. As prepared as you might be for a show to happen, your best hope is to be able to anticipate the unknown with confidence. I think theatre rehearsals are practising anticipation, drilling a cumulative set of thoughts, reactions and motions they have done the work of understanding and ordering.
Today, Leentje and James are trying to anticipate the room which will not be this one. The audience who will not just be me. The show which will be finished and whole and completed only in performance and observing and in being over and unwatchable again. James and Leentje talk to me about the drawing out of the material they have so far. It’s all autobiographical, in a sense. James talks about trying to put his brain onstage. The parts I see, which are unformed, feel biological. It is as if they have grown out of James being in this process, as if his movement and being in the rehearsal space has left a trail. You know when you shake a sparkler about and you see the path.
Going into a room and hoping to turn that feeling in your gut into a show is like being asked to dig. You don’t really know where to dig, you’re not sure what you should be digging with, you have a vague sense you’ve dug before but somehow now the rules are different. Then you think you’ve ended up with a hole and some stranger comes along to admire the handsome pile of soil you’ve made.
Theatre is about translation. That’s why it has to happen to multiple people – so you know that you’re seeing something different in the same thing the person next to you is watching. Mapping out thoughts, a brain, is the first step in a longer string of muddyings of what you have inside you. Translation is the creation of new meaning through obscuring of the old one. Theatre is a mode of communication, and communication is always interpretation. Leentje and James simultaneously must obscure and draw out the contents of James’s brain and body, whilst preserving or crystallising enough of it to survive the translation, if not unscathed then somehow clear in a new way.
I’m a piece of that anticipation of translation. What I’m writing right now is translation; the conversations we had in the room were translation; my eyes on James pacing through the plan were translation.
James walks through whatever the show is so far. Large parts of it exist only conceptually, so at several points he just describes what he wants to happen, what he knows he needs to figure out or write. It is like watching someone rehearse a conversation in the mirror. Sometimes Leentje interrupts, or James interrupts himself, if he’s waffling, if he’s dwelling, if he’s got the order wrong or if something needs to be discussed.
Whatever exists, it is not the show. The show likely won’t be the show, either – you can’t look directly at it. It’s the edge of your vision, and the things you bring into the room with you. It is post it notes, it is James making up lines where they’re not written yet, it is me and Leentje watching. It is the conversations we have after and it is the words I am writing now.