SYNONYMSFORCHURLISH / POSTED ON 4 MAY 2015
3 things of note happened in the first 30 mins of Glanz und Elend der Kurtisanen at the Volksbühne this evening.
1: A woman in the opening linedance (yes you read that right, the opening linedance) got an itchy nose. So she scratched it.
2: A guy who’d just lit a fag (the performers chain smoke through pretty much the whole play) knocked his lighter onto the floor. So he picked it up.
3: Another dude, whose first costume included comedy teeth, began to find that they hindered his enunciation of a particularly ardent point. So he took them out and replaced them again when he was finished.
Let’s talk about acting for a minute.
Sean Holmes recently said that at the start of the Secret Theatre project he’d wanted to change everything about British theatre, but by the end of it he’d realised that “everything” was just a bit too much. That he simply couldn’t tick every box: diversity, ensemble working, text deconstruction, criticism. And that the thing he really achieved - that the company really achieved together - was a change in the way the 10 performers supported and challenged one another, contributed to the collective endeavour, developed their (posh voice) ‘craft’. Show 5 was a turning point for Secret Theatre for many reasons, but key was the acknowledgement of each actor’s own qualities. And I don’t just mean the idea of 'playing yourself’, I mean something more wanky than that, something about an actor retaining their agency in a performance. Maintaining the 'liveness’ of a performance by actually reacting to what’s happening, not what’s been rehearsed, or what’s been written in the text.
Again I’m gonna go on about the Stuttgart Uncle Vanya from last year. I remember being completely astounded by one of the actors turning around to look at something. Maybe it was another actor, or that car that was circling round or something; I forget. But I was suddenly like, stop. right. there.
You just turned round to look at that thing, didn’t you? Because you wanted to, right? Because it felt natural to? I literally just saw you do it. Just turn round like it ain’t no thing. Tell me, during rehearsal, did anyone in the company ask you to turn round and look at that thing just then? Did you go away and study your character and decide that they would be motivated to turn around and look at the thing? Are you gonna get in trouble for this? Is it gonna be in tonight’s show report? “Fraulein Gerling was distracted by some unknown fucking whatever during Act 1, Scene 3 but soon returned to full concentration. Audience apparently unaware of the error.”
I’ve spent the last 4/5 days making ill-researched and un-nuanced statements about the differences between German and British theatre, and I’m wary of doing so again, but seriously, acting is so so so different here. I don’t know whether that’s down to training, or employment status, or funding or culture (maybe screen acting is less of a draw here, I dunno) but whatever it is, it shows. The actors I’ve seen during this trip have simply been BEING, not PRETENDING.
When was the last time you knocked something off a table and didn’t just bend down to pick it up? You don’t have to become this complete other person, this ultra-studied, objective-driven, knocking-things-off-tables person. Even if you’re talking to someone at the same time, maybe they say “whoops, careful”, maybe they even bend down to pick it up for you, but they’re not suddenly gonna go FFS ALL THIS TIME I THOUGHT YOU WERE ONE PERSON AND NOW I LEARN YOU’RE THE KIND OF TWAT WHO KNOCKS THINGS OFF TABLES. YOU LIED TO ME MAN.
And conversely, have you ever been to a show where someone’s knocked something over and just ignored it? Left it fucking sitting there on the stage? Isn’t it the WORST THING EVER? Or one of the cast has entered with their shoelace untied or something. My internal monologue SCREAMS at that shit. Like, come on. Just take a minute, sort it out, by all means keep chatting your lines at us. But for the love of God would you do your fucking shoelace up.