Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Theatre Tuesday: Car Stories and the Infringement Festival Redux

Glad to see that debate is still raging down at the last Car Stories post. Forty-nine comments (as of April 6 12:30 am) is a record here at On The Fence.

Two quick things, then I'm dropping the subject until at least June:

1) Donovan King has written me a most interesting e-mail, in which he helpful delineates when he is "playing" and when he is not:
Our players and their characters are free to operate in any medium – they are not restricted to the stage.

[T]his talk of “erratic behaviour” is misleading to say the least. Given our duality in practice (the actor/character), it is important to get the facts straight. For the record: Yes, the characters are erratic – in our guidelines they are “bold and slightly grotesque urban creatures who populate the dramatic space and lead the spect-actors from car to car”. My character at the beer tent was loud, obnoxious, American, and drunk. He didn’t get it that he wasn’t making any money with 30 actors “on the payroll”. He was concerned with “stolen vehicles in the show”. He also tried to recruit others and sell the show. On other days, it was Matt Legault who played a drunken Irish lunatic in this role. Yes, the characters are erratic. But we are not. The word “behaviour” should be replaced with the word “performance”.
My response is this: Theatre requires only two things: audience and performer. Once the audience doesn't realise it is an audience, it is no longer an audience and we are no longer dealing with honest theatre.

What I love about theatre is that you go out there and say, "I am going to lie to you" and then do. And everyone goes along with it anyway. There is an agreement, a contract between the audience and performer. Because everyone knows it's a lie, theatre is more truthful that reality.

The "inter-performance" that King describes in his letter isn't honest theatre: it's activism; or it's manipulation; or it's lying; or it's just plain reality (or indistinguishable from reality, anyway). It's onanism: if you never reveal yourself, then the spectator and the performer are one and the same. It doesn't make people sympathize with you; it makes them suspicious of you. You know the story about the boy who cried wolf...

Now that King has revealed to me what (he says) is performance and what is not, I am more sympathetic to him. He's lifted the curtain. I used to be very interested in Augusto Boal myself; a couple of years ago I might have even been on board with King, disturbing the shit.

But I now feel strongly that invisible theatre is dishonest and condescending to the audience. It's the activist equivalent to a politician's staged photo op : only successful when the lie is kept up.

2) RE: The Infringement Festival. As I wrote in the comments below, I think a valid question raised by King, McLean and others is the question: Is the Fringe still on the 'fringe'?

The answer, in my opinion, is no. In most cities, the Fringe is thoroughly mainstream and a humungous festival. In Edmonton and Winnipeg, the Fringes are the largest festivals of the year.

So it's natural that fringe Fringe festivals like the I.F. have emerged. And they aren't bad ideas. Every year, there are many, many applicants to the Fringes who are unable to get in, because only so many artists can be accommodated. And there are fringey folks who feel that the Fringe has become "corporate" and "exclusionary." If you feel that way, by all means, go and form an anti-corporate festival. Nothing wrong with that. The more theatre festivals the better.

But it seems to me that the Infringement Festival is more about opposing and protesting the Fringe and less about creating a separate, "ethically sponsored", no registration fee, fringe-fringe event. This seems to me, a pity.

[EDITED tuesday morning, for clarity/hindsight. Word "honest" added twice.]

No comments: