VAN REIPEN COLLECTIVE
The construction of the actor-director dyad as practiced in Off-Off and Off Broadway is fraught. I had to direct “OBJECTS” because I wanted to be in it and I didn’t want anyone to direct me. I had to play an authoritarian role as director to avoid submitting to authority. When I refused to exercise authority the members of our group who had been trained in theater sought to usurp my role.
The apotheosis of stage theater is an ersatz spontaneity, which deploys its synaesthesic array in subtle or surprising ways that frame a pre-existing text as if it were just bubbling forth from an actor’s soul. As an improviser I have an aversion to direction because it often destroys spontaneity in order to create its simulacrum. Why not just present spontaneity? The cult of compulsory work sees this as lazy, arrogant idiocy. Worse, the ungainly techniques that have evolved to control theater sound and light are very difficult to adapt to the demands of improvisation.
Even in the most scripted performance a good performer finds a space for life. A habit of compliance with the dynamics of the director-actor relationship leaves theater-trained actors vulnerable to extreme anxiety in the face of less structured situations. While they want to find something that works and repeat it, I wanted to find simple situations and find out how many different ways they could be done.
Gertrude Stein’s Objects is notoriously difficult to memorize. But as song lyrics, it’s easier. I assigned each poem to a composer. Poems became songs. The songs became numbers.
My cast was mixed. Four musicians who were fun to watch on-stage, all die-hard improvisers; two butoh dancers; a veteran modern dancer; and two actors with a theater background. The musicians and dancers liked the idea of spending time living in and inhabiting the songs to see what they could discover. The theater actors, on the other hand, bridled. The idea that I didn’t want to converge on one particular way of doing the performance was met with incredulity.
The musicians wanted to get just familiar enough with the material to improvise on it, and the actors wanted to master the material first before finding their regions of freedom. As a director I exercised my authority to protect the right of the freedom-loving performers to do their parts the way they wanted to.