The Korean Way

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Courtesy of my friend Paul Mór who teaches at Branksome Hall School in Jeju, South Korea,  is my second quick share for today. Theatre in Korea is a publication from the Korean Arts Management Service which explores recent theatre history as well as contemporary playwrights and directors from the country. An unusual find in English, it is a great resource for any world theatre student. Korea has a rich performance history and has really embraced, integrated, made its own and adapted western theatre traditions to create a very distinct theatre landscape. Click the link above for a PDF download of Theatre in Korea. Enjoy.

Carry On Screaming

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SD-1I have a couple of things to share this weekend, both of which are little gems. Firstly, courtesy of Open Culture, a recording of a never-aired radio play, written and performed Antonin Artuad To Have Done With The Judgment of God.  As any good student of theatre knows, when it comes to Artaud and his theories, tangibility is an issue, so to have this recording of his work is a rarity to be savoured. Generally speaking, his ideas about theatre were more popular than his actual productions. Perhaps his most famous play, Les Cenci, was staged in 1935 and tells the story of a father who rapes his daughter and then gets brutally killed by his daughter’s hired thugs. The play was a flop, running for only 17 performances and was generally considered not to be very good. Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu (to give the To Have Done With The Judgment of God its original french title) proved to be equally unpopular. Commissioned by Ferdinand Pouey, head of the dramatic and literary broadcasts for French Radio in 1947, the work was written by Artaud after he spent the better part of WWII interned in an asylum where he endured the worst of his treatment.

The piece is as raw and emotionally naked as you might expect –an anguished rant against society. A raving screed filled with scatological imagery, screams, nonsense words, anti-American invectives and anti-Catholic pronouncements.

Give it a listen and you will what I mean:

The piece was programmed to go on air on January 2, 1948 but the station director Vladimir Porché pulled it at the last moment. It was said, apparently, that he wasn’t terribly fond of the copious references to poop and semen or the anti-American vitriol. Parisian intellectuals including Jean Cocteau protested the decision, with Pouey resigning from his job in protest, but to no avail. It never aired. Artaud, who reportedly took the rejection very personally, died a month later. You can listen to the broadcast above. And, in case your French isn’t up to it, you can still appreciate its theatrical elements,  while reading an English translation of the radio script here.  It is a fascinating (albeit difficult) listen and really does give you a sense of what Artuad was getting at with the Theatre of Cruelty. There is an english audio version on Youtube, but it doesn’t touch the original recording. There is also a somewhat dated recording of a staged version of the piece, performed by Billy Barnum and John Voigt:

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The website that has the english translation of To Have Done With The Judgment of God is a good little find too. Surrealism-Plays is a mine of information about surrealism and avant-garde theatre.

Thanks must go to my good friends and colleges, Sherri Sutton (International School of Geneva) and Kerry Rochester (WIS, Hong Kong) for bringing the Open Culture post to my attention. Drama teachers of the world unite!

The Overcoat

For one month only. A superb offering from theatre company Gecko who have put on-line, for the month of May, the full recording of their acclaimed production The Overcoat. Loosely based on the short story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol and described as an exceptional and spellbinding work of art on its first outing 6 years ago at the Edinburgh Festival, it has played across the world.

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In addition to the production video, Gecko have also released a 20 minute video of extracts from the performance with a commentary from the company and show director Amit Lahav.

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This release of this material is a gift for anyone interested in collaborative theatre practice, but especially so for IB Theatre Arts students and the Collaborative Project. As a company Gecko willingly share their creative processes and there is an outline of their working practice here in their Student Resource Pack. In addition there are a further series of useful short interviews with Lahav about various aspects of the company’s work on their YouTube Channel.

By way of a post script, Gecko’s latest show Missing was in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre in London when it was badly damaged by fire in early March, destroying the whole show – props, sets, lights, costume – totally. Undeterred, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, together with a performance of an ‘unplugged’ version of the show to raise funds to replace all that was lost. Gecko’s popularity is such that their fund-raising target was reached in a matter of days and the show will shortly be off on tour around the world including dates in Mexico, Brazil and Hong Kong later in the year.

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Heads Up

photo-exhibition01-1A couple of puppet based things to share today. Over the Easter vacation I spent a few days in Taiwan and while I was there I paid a visit to the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum, which is an absolute gem and I thoroughly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Taipei. Spread over four stories of an old colonial merchant’s house, the museum houses a 100 seat puppet theatre and puppet workshop where puppet carver Lai Shi-an plies his craft in front of visitors. However, the exhibit itself is what makes the museum really worth a visit. Beautifully curated from a collection of 10,000 artefacts drawn from right across Asia, it traces the rich history of puppet theatre in the region.

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I also want to share an interesting interview with puppeteer Max Humphries, whose work is largely inspired by Japanese Bunraku. In an article. No strings Attached by Max Dorey 4429097for Exuent, Dorey talks about the anatomy of the puppet, the puppet as actor and the joys of working with no strings attached.

I believe in trying to achieve the best possible mechanisms for a puppets movement and manipulation; finding the line between the needs of the puppet, the puppeteer, the maker and the performance. My ideal would be a theatrical landscape in which the puppet is viewed as actor, without preconceptions

Fascinating, I recommend a read.

Exchanges On Acting

Untitled_FotorOne of things that I enjoy about keeping Theatre Room is the fact that I am constantly surprised by what I stumble upon in my research. There are always things out there that I haven’t seen before and today I want to share a recent find. The Oslo International Acting Festival took place in 2012 and 2013, organised by The Academy of Theatre, Oslo National Academy of The Arts and The Norwegian Actors’ Center, with a view to exploring the nature and future of the art of acting globally. As I write I can’t find any information about whether the festival will continue in the future but the videos (posted on a YouTube channel) from the two festivals so far are a goldmine for theatre students. At the 2012 festival the theme was techniques and methods and explored the work of Constantin Stanislavski, Stanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Michael Chekov and Bertolt Brecht amongst others. I’ve posted the discussion about Brechtian technique below:

The 2013 festival had audience as it’s focus, with talks and discussions including one led by The Wooster Group’s Richard Schechner and another by Gisella Mendoza, a South American practitioner of Theatre of The Oppressed, posted below:

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A great and interesting resource.

Bending Light

fe1c42e4531891ca7abef4377b0834bbI have a few things to share today. Firstly, a couple of super things to watch for pure enjoyment and inspiration. I came across the first one on The Creators Project. Written by Jordan Backhus, the article looks at a digital solo performance, Hakanaïcreated by Adrien M / Claire B which combines live video projection mapping, CGI, and sensors which respond to the movements of the performer.  Backhus’ article also contains an interesting interview with the creators about the meeting of art and technology. Take a look at their incredible work below:

The second is from Lemieux Pilon 4D Art, a Montreal based mulit-disciplinary company that also works heavily with technology and projection. One of their latest works is Icarus, which, not surprisingly, is a contemporary take on the ancient myth and explores the complex relationships between fathers and sons.

Lemieux Pilon have a Vimeo channel with many more videos of their extraordinary work.

More Frantic Moves

A week or so ago I shared the video Frantic Assembly Masterclass: Building Blocks for DevisingToday, here is the second one from the company, Learning to Flythis time led by artistic director Scott Graham. Again, an excellent resource which presents a series of exercises and techniques used to create spectacular lifts.

Incidentally, DV8 Physical Theatre have launched a media portal as part of their online offering.  It includes excerpts of their productions as well as what are called instructional videos about the making and rehearsal of their work. There is a charge (by way of becoming a paying DV8 Member) for viewing the majority of the material, which seems a bit of shame given the generosity of other companies when sharing their working process and methodology.

A Human Earthquake

7e0981b0-3b29-4d4f-851f-5dd61a7bbc32-2060x1236In celebration of his 90th birthday, theatre critic Michael Billington has written Still centre stage at 90: Peter Brook, human earthquake of modern theatre for The Guardian. A super article that looks back at a career that has spanned 70 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.

The record books insist that Peter Brook will be 90 on Saturday. Personally, I find it hard to believe. I last bumped into Brook about 18 months ago at a new play about Kashmir at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I casually asked if he was staying in London for long. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I’ve got to be back in Paris to rehearse tomorrow morning.”

There was something in the urgency of his tone that confirmed Brook is a director who lives totally in the present and who regards all theatre as a work-in-progress.

Brook himself hates looking back over his career: not so long ago he told me with horror of a letter he had received from a West End producer asking him to restage his famous white-box 1970 A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a modern audience.

But, even if Brook is immersed in the here-and-now, the rest of us are entitled to put his 70-year-long career in perspective….(continue reading)

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Frantic Moves

A very simple first share today, marking the 300th post on Theatre Room.  The first of two videos from Frantic Assembly about their working and devising methods.  Absolute gold and a great insight into a company widely recognised in their field as makers of innovative collaborative physical theatre. IB Theatre Arts students take note – your CP on a plate.

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I have posted this before, but here is their excellent Frantic Assembly Resource Pack  too.

Lacking Definition

3.190241Like anything else, the academic and theoretical study of theatre-making is always bound by a shared lexicon. However definitions sometimes lead us astray. Take Bertolt Brecht’s concept of Verfremdungseffekt for instance.  When John Willett published his seminal english language Brecht on Theatre in 1964, he translated Verfremdungseffekt as the alienation effect, which for many years led to a mis-interpretation of what Brecht actually meant. Subsequently it has been re-translated as defamiliarization effect, estrangement effect, distantiation or distancing effect, the latter having become generally accepted as nearer Brecht’s original intent. Another would be the definition of the role of the Dramaturge, which differs almost from theatre to theatre, let alone country to country. In this case, it has recently been removed as an area of study from the International Baccalaureate’s Theatre Arts course simply because there is no one internationally accepted standard definition.

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Currently one area of performance that is struggling to find a standard definition is Immersive Theatre, which continues to grow in popularity around the world. In an article for Everything Theatre published a few weeks ago, Marni Appleton asks the question What even is immersive theatre?

Traditional theatre is making room for a different type of performance. More and more often, audiences are invited to throw themselves headfirst into a show rather than simply sit back and watch. But what does this mean? With everything from laptops to restaurants being described as ‘immersive’…… what we should expect from this type of theatre.

Punchdrunk are widely considered to be the pioneers of immersive theatre, having been at it since 2000. There is no such thing as a typical Punchdrunk show; projects range from interactive audio-tours to secret collaborations with musicians, so it is not always easy to identify the common ‘immersive thread’. Their most recent, large-scale UK show, The Drowned Man, was like being inside a dream. The venue started life as an abandoned postal sorting office, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell. The award-winning design transformed the space and no detail was overlooked: drawers were filled; real trees were brought in for the forests; authentic smells and textures were sourced, all of which heightened the senses and gave audience members very surreal experiences. The space could be treated as one giant art installation – it was possible to get a sense of the narrative without crossing paths with a single performer – or you could chase one of the many characters across four floors. The choice was yours. There is so much in a Punchdrunk show that you can never discover everything in a single visit; just one of the reasons Punchdrunk enjoys repeat visitors and dedicated fans, who love the fact there is always something new to be found.

Performances in The Drowned Man were mostly physical, set to an impressive (and loud) cinematic score, so opportunities to converse with the characters were thin on the ground. If you were very lucky, you might be selected for a sought-after ‘one on one’ experience, where a character would draw you into a room and interact with you alone. But aside from this, audience interaction with performers was fairly minimal. There were no opportunities to influence their journeys or the direction of the story; the next scene always continued as scripted.

Does this affect whether or not the show is immersive? David Frias-Robles, co-founder of the theatre company Myriad & Co thinks so. For him, audiences have to be able to change or influence the narrative of the show, for it to be considered immersive. ‘Of course there has to be a basic structure,’ he says. ‘But there also has to be some form of choice for the audience.’

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David has worked extensively in immersive theatre. As well as establishing Myriad & Co, he has worked as actor and director on a range of projects including The Backstage Tour, shows with Secret Cinema and epoch’s The Factory, soon to be seen at VAULT Festival. One of David’s recent projects, Canvas City saw Canvas Bar in Old Street transformed into a 1930s speakeasy. Audience members came to the bar dressed in clothes from the era and were encouraged to adopt their own persona. As the night unfolded, the lines between performer and audience became blurred. There were three crucial, pre-planned moments, but in between those, audience members were able to aid and influence each character’s journey.

The only drinks available on the night were a selection of whisky-based cocktails served in tiny jars. This added to the authentic feel of the night, which was surprisingly effective, considering very little of the bar had been changed. For David, it is these details that are crucial. His idea of an immersive show is one where the audience is in costume, where a narrative has been built up before the performance itself, and where every single detail that might betray the experience as a performance has been eliminated. While this is almost impossible to achieve, the best immersive theatre, he says, comes very close.

Coney is one of the companies producing ‘audience-led’ theatre. Coney’s A Small Town Anywhere and Early Days used the audience as the cast in shows that were part-game, part-improvisation and partly structured. There are a number of experiences that operate in a similar way, such as Heist by differencEngine and the recent New Atlantis by LAStheatre. But if everyone is playing and no one is watching, do these events still count as theatre? And if they are, this begs the question of live action role-play, murder mysteries and other similar games. Do these come under the umbrella of immersive theatre too?

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With audience-led, fully participatory work at one end of the immersive spectrum, there are also supposedly immersive shows that sit right down at the other end of the spectrum. The word ‘immersive’ is often used in relation to shows that simply have non-traditional aspects or some immersive elements. The Roof at the National Theatre was a non-traditional performance staged in a car park, which made clever use of audio by giving each audience member a fancy pair of headphones. However, there was no interaction with the characters and there wasn’t even anywhere to go; viewers simply stood and watched the show instead of sitting down. Whilst this may have been different and exciting for immersive novices, it would have been a disappointment to anyone wanting to get properly stuck in. Many would argue that this was not representative of the genre.

While immersive theatre is difficult to define precisely, it is certainly enjoying a boom at the moment. Is it just a phase? Perhaps. But this writer hopes not. Immersive shows are pushing and breaking down the boundaries of theatre and attracting new audiences – many who aren’t regular theatregoers. As audiences, we should expect the unexpected from this type of show, but what does that mean in practical terms? Great theatre is often risky, and immersive shows are no exception. But throw yourself into the experience, and it might just be a revelation.

In a short, but instructive piece on its website, arts venue The Space in East London, attempted to answer the same question as Appleton:

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Many people go to the theatre to lose themselves in the production, to forget their everyday worries and troubles and be transported into another world. However, no kind of theatre transports an audience quite like immersive theatre. In immersive theatre, the audience are not merely passive bystanders. They are part of the story, however small their role may be, and they are in the middle of the action.

In an immersive theatre production, the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character. They may be allowed to roam and explore the performance space as the performance happens around them, allowing them to decide what they see and what they skip. They might be herded from room to room so they see the key scenes. They might even be invited to become a more active part of the performance. The lines between performer and audience and between performance and life are blurred. The audience is placed within the environment of the story and therefore play witness front and centre to the events without the distancing factor of a proscenium.

However, this lack of separation can cause anxiety. If an audience member is not expecting to become part of the performance or is uncomfortable with that idea, it can be very off-putting so there must be some form of consent between the performer and the audience. Whether that’s the conscious decision to take a performer’s outstretched hand or knowing that one has the safety net of being able to back away from the performance, there must still exist some form of separation and boundaries between performance and audience for the benefit of everyone involved.

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The origins of immersive theatre go all the way back to the beginnings of modern theatre in the 19th century. Call-and-response, when a leader puts out a call and an audience calls back a pre-ordained response, has long been a concept in music, adding a participatory element. In the centuries that followed, things like murder mystery theatres and haunted houses also put their intended audience into an environment and allowed them choice in how they viewed the story. Even traditional proscenium theatre started to adapt some immersive or interactive elements. In 1985, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, required that the audience vote on who killed the titular character, spurring one of seven possible endings.

Well-known UK-based theatre company Punchdrunk are known as pioneers of the form of immersive theatre. While they have been producing immersive and promenade theatre since 2000 in the UK, they and immersive theatre as a genre meteorically shot to worldwide fame after Sleep No More, their 1930’s film noir adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was unanimously well-received in New York.

Since the success of Sleep No More, countless immersive productions have popped up on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, these include Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, a techno-rock musical adaptation of a chunk of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Then She Fell, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland set in a mental hospital. London’s immersive theatre scene has recently featured an all-night production of Macbeth in a block of flats; Leviathan, a production of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in which the audience stands in for the crew of the ship chasing after the famed whale; and The Drowned Man, a combination of Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck and Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust set in a 1960’s movie studio and produced by Punchdrunk.

No doubt the debate will continue long and loud as the form evolves.