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the opening nights

October 30, 2011

Well, ‘Echo Chamber’ took its first steps into the world.

I have performed it twice. I found my way through it both times. Each time the journey through felt different, as it should. My body survived. I enjoyed both performances.

Audience response has been very strong. Very concentrated silence the whole way through both performances, except on the first night when there was unexpected, and entirely welcome, laughter in places. There is a humour in the piece, though it is a very, very dark humour. I was glad to hear that humour being responded to.

Afterwards people talked with me about the piece being ‘beautiful’, ‘intense’, ‘detailed’. People talked about parts of it being difficult to watch. They talked about characters emerging and disappearing in front of their eyes. Many commented on the precision, stillness and sudden dynamic transformations in the hour-long journey through the piece.

I received a couple of emails – one writing of what she called my ‘uninhibited giving of myself to the audience’ another of it being ‘brilliantly performed’. A text arrived from someone who says that she felt – though she was there the first night when the show was sold out – that she was alone in the room with me and the story I was telling.

This is all good. It talks to me of people who are responding not with ‘critical distance’ to a product they have consumed, but responding from their guts to an experience they have lived through. As you will know if you have read any of the other posts in this blog, this is what I aspire to. Live theatre. The Live Experience. Live, human contact between artist(s) in performance and the individual and collective audience. This is what theatre does best for me (when I am an audience) – it allows me, with my whole human organism (mind, gut, vision, hearing, imagination, desire, nerves, breath) to encounter the unfolding actions of an artist who is in the same space as me, at the same time. Theatre as an encounter,

So ‘Echo Chamber’ has launched. There will be three more shows in the next week in Leeds and Bradford, and then it will sleep for a while. It will reawaken in Australia in January and, after that (if I ever solve my complete inability to sell my work to the people who have the authority to buy it), perhaps it will have a continuing life over the next few years. I hope so. I think the show deserves it. It feels very strong.

And what have I experienced in these final stages?

Well a few things came into focus, as I fought the inner turmoil of preparing to perform a non-improvised solo for the first time in a decade.

The main thing was that how strongly and directly my work as an improvisor feeds, underpins, indeed makes possible, my work as a non-improvisor. I deliver a ‘performed-lecture’ sometimes (it starts as a lecture and gradually turns into a performance) called ‘Starting From Now – A Performer’s Guide to Improvisation’.  In it I talk about the fact that ALL live performance, at some level, is improvisation, because it involves reaction to the detail of here and now. One cannot perform a show with ‘live-ness’ if you are busy trying to remember what the show is. A live performance is not ‘remembered’ by the performer, but rediscovered live in front of the audience. This is clearly true in an improvisation. There is no ‘material’ to remember because I am discovering it as I go along. There are ‘skills’ and ‘principles’ that I can draw on, but nothing actually to remember. The same held true for ‘Echo Chamber’. I start the show lying under a blanket on the stage, listening to the audience come in. On the opening night I found myself, amid my nervousness, running through the scene-order in my head. Reminding myself of details that I ‘mustn’t forget’…. Then a wiser voice came into mind. A show cannot be remembered in front of an audience, it needs to be rediscovered. Otherwise it is not a ‘live’ unfolding. At the moment of performing I must trust that I know what has to be done, that I have the structure embedded deep inside me, and from that place of trust, I must allow the performance to unfold exactly as it needs to unfold for THIS audience in THIS room. I stopped ‘remembering’ and instead I listened to the room slowly filling, to my breathing, watching the ebb and flow of my mind.

Years ago – just starting out – I remember waiting to go on stage desperately trying to remember my lines. No wonder the performances felt so stressful! I was not performing, I was remembering and trying to reproduce a performance created the day before in rehearsal. A live performance must be discovered in front of its audience, however detailed the script or physical action.

I also became very aware of my journey of preparation for performance. Hours before the show I start to become forgetful, vague, uneasy. I start to disconnect from the world. Then later I become nervous. All of this is necessary. Closer to performance-time I start to take my diffused anxiety and to focus it towards a concentration on the precise act of paying attention to my body/mind while warming up. I become very quiet. Very internal. I sink into a silence. Then – and this is the hardest bit – about 20 minutes before the show starts, I need to find a way of giving up everything. A way to let go of everything. To taking everything as ‘lightness’. I can talk again (though I choose not to do so very much), I can relax. I have done the preparation that I need and I must, with a light good humour, trust myself to deliver. I must absolutely accept that the show will be exactly as it is and that no opinions about what is happening that I have WHILE PERFORMING will do anything at all to enhance my experience or that of my audience. I become a servant of the show. My job is to do each action with the attention to detail of a good servant but also with the slight detachment of a good servant. The ‘performance event’ – which is not a thing that I do, but is the experience that is created by the meeting between what I do and the particularities of the audience  on this particular night – that event must be allowed to go where it will. I, its servant, must react to its whims.

This is how it feels from the inside.

There are many other thoughts and reflections from this richest of weeks – and perhaps I will write about some of them at a later date. But for now, as I take a day off finally, this is enough:

DUENDE’s second show has launched.

I am delivering it at a level of skill that I am pleased with.

The creative objectives of the rehearsal process have been fascinating to explore.

Now, the birth having taken place, ‘Echo Chamber’ will have its own life. Though I am involved in that life, much of what happens – where it goes, how long it lives for, who meets it – is pretty much outside my control.

As I write, outside my window – inches from the glass – a cow stands watching me. Suddenly I raise my hand. The cow reacts. Our communication is live, but nether of us knows the working of the other’s mind. So it is with actor and audience…..

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. memoirsofadiscodancer permalink
    October 30, 2011 9:36 pm

    Well done.

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