IT'S NO JOKE TO BUILD A WALL
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE. IT STARTS... NOW. AND NOW. AND NOW. AND NOW.
IN WISHFUL BEGINNINGS, THEATRE COMPANY VERK PRODUKSJONER CUT THEMSELVES OFF FROM THE STAGE WITH A WALL AND THEN ASK: WHAT WILL WE DO NOW? THEIR FUTURE IS BEYOND THE WALL. HOW WILL THEY GET THERE?
BELOW IS A SHORT CHAT BETWEEN DRAFF EDITOR RACHEL AND DIRECTOR FREDRIK HANNESTAD. FOLLOWING THAT, THE COMPANY SPILL THEIR REHEARSAL ROOM INNARDS WITH PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED NOTES THAT DOCUMENT THEIR DAILY EPIPHANIES, FAILURES AND CONFUSIONS - THE ROAD TO MAKING THE SHOW.
FREDRIK: A wall – there is no scene, no stage. And, em, the strange thing is that when we did that, it’s very visual - but without the stage. It’s like it has pushed us to go much more into the visuals than we’ve ever done before. We work very much with making obstacles in our work and in that way we push ourselves, force ourselves to take decisions that we wouldn’t have done before because of the obstacles.
RACHEL: Building a wall that blocks off the stage is a huge visual statement.
F: Sure, but still we are making theatre, and that’s been the big discussion in the work, how much should we go into the statement, or how much we try to make theatre around the statement. Because the statement of the wall is very clear, but there’s been a lot of discussions around whether we should let [the audience] meet the wall. There’s a saying in Norwegian, ‘to meet the wall’, means that in some way you’ve come to a point of eh…
R: You’re exhausted? It’s the same in English – you've hit the wall.
F: Yes, and how conceptual should you be in that. Should you let the public meet or hit the wall, or should we try to find a middle way and … we ended up in a middle way that we’ve kind of managed to make some nice pictures also, without the stage. So the thing is that when you put this obstacle there, you try to compensate with something else. And in a way you could say the performance is like a compensation. When you don’t have a stage you start to compensate with other aesthetics, or you start to compensate with other ways of making theatre.
R: You don’t work with a script?
F: Not the last four performances. We make the script while we make the performance.
R: So it changes from night to night?
F: No, nonono, we have a script in that way, when we have a premiere we have kind of made the script and then we do the script. There are parts of the performance, in this particular performance, that are still very open. But then there are parts that are set. It’s more like finding transitions from the improvised parts towards the more structured parts.
R: Well, script in the sense of a score maybe? It says you went on a long process of gathering stories and having discussions. Who were you speaking to?
F: We made a performance like this before which was much more text-based and we did a lot of interviews with people working in the theatre and the arts and kind of intellectuals. And asking them questions about what do they see in the future? And what do they want to see? And what do they want to see in the arts? Very open and almost naïve questions. And this is the work that we started with in Wishful Beginnings. We also had workshops with people where we asked them to go on a walk and during this walk they should try to think about a story, either dystopic or a future story. It could be something they read, or a film, or their own fantasy. And so we gathered all this material for Wishful Beginnings, and then after some time working out, we found out that it was more interesting this time to only use the fiction of the future, the more fictional stories, and not the interviews.
R: And when you were asking, did you ask for a dystopian story, or did that happen naturally?
F: In some way, when we did the first workshop, that’s what people came up with. And then maybe we started to anticipate that a bit. But in a way, the catchy stories were the dystopic ones. Ones that came up when people started thinking about the future. But also when we told them to mention a film that’s set in the future, and there are a lot of dystopic films that people have seen. So it was difficult to say if it was us anticipating it, or if it’s a general feeling about a dystopic future. But of course we are also interested in the dystopia story.
R: Because it’s more dramatic?
F: But it’s also a feeling that we’re living in these very dystopic times. But then of
course, that is always the feeling when you start thinking about the future. It is a kind of general feeling that people are worried about the future.
R: I guess at some point in history it wasn’t like that.
R: Like when you had the World’s Fair in the late 1800s, and there were all these amazing inventions and people thought ‘oh, the future’s going to be incredible and efficient’.
F: Yeah. Maybe.
R: Maybe it’s a 21st century affliction.
F: Maybe. I dunno about that.
R: You think it was always dystopic?
F: Well, you know, I’ve lived for some time now. 50 years. And in the 80s, it was the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb and the ozone layer. They were the big dystopic stories. And now the ozone layer is ok. And they managed to fix that. And the atomic bomb, that’s not the biggest issue any more. But it’s important in some way to maybe make it more dystopic so we can take care of the problems that we’re having.
R: To magnify them a little bit?
F: Yeah, maybe. And of course if it’s too dystopic, then you become kind of numb. That’s a problem. But… in a way, we are living in a time when now we have to take care of climate change and we have to do it NOW. We can’t wait… it’s like the ozone layer in the 80s. and they managed to do something with that. And let’s hope that… we’ll be able to do something with this problem we’re facing now.
R: Let’s hope, yeah.
REHEARSAL ROOM NOTES
Intro - show - a memory that crumbles along on the journey. Archives are what we want to bring forward when we know there is an end. How do we relate to the times we live in? Visions and dreams can trickle up, do not be dogmatic. What could the future be?
Yesteryear - present - future
What represents what we have gathered together? Stories are moralising - all of us realise that there is a thought there with them.
We talked about the ‘things’ lecture Camilla attended. In relation to the wall. The difference between ‘things’ and ‘objects’. Somewhat vague, but a ‘thing’ is not just an object, it is something more, it has several sides that we don’t see, it has various stories on the basis of who is looking at the thing, and that in itself makes it larger than an object. So the wall - may in our case be, or already is - nothing more than an object. It can also say things, it can act.
Tilo says that it’s no joke to build a wall. He also asks what sound does the wall have. Is it a hard or hollow sound?
Saila told us about an exhibition she had seen once when she was in Paris; a gallery with many rooms where they made chocolate figures. Either of Santas or dildos - it was unclear to me. Whatever it was, the rooms were full of these figures. Room after room. And you could see the people making them. And it stank of chocolate. I think it was giant chocolate dildos, but I'm not sure.
A small debate breaks out about whether it is in bad conscience to have it so good. How can we operate when there is complete chaos in the world? Refugee Crisis! All agree that countries must open up their borders, not without the correct process, but there is a crisis, it’s happening now. Saila believes in a conspiracy theory - some secret conspiracy leaders who control Europe. (Is this what believers call God?) We leave the topic, noting a taste of ginger in the coffee.
We discuss Hamlet. Should we not make more of the quote ‘To be’? Technocrats becomes TECHNO crats. We discuss that the pace is very important. This is not monologue, there’s dialogue. The rhythm is central. The contrasts. The abstract vs. concrete. Solveig says that this time we will probably need a little more practice on the lyrics, a preparation for the tempo changes. Till suggests that the texts can be ‘fixed’ in a sound program. Inserting a pause where it should be paused and speed where it should be accelerated. Fredrik gets GarageBand.
We open the day by talking about Ole Martin Moen and transhumanism. Although you might disagree with Moen, it’s refreshing that he actually takes a position in a major ethical debate about technological developments and the consequences it has for us humans. Moen’s goal is noble (?) - a technological future without suffering, but the route there might feel quite complex.
Suffering is deeply human, and is inextricably linked to other human feelings and actions - such as joy, creativity and originality. It's this that is to be human. The contrasts, the dualities, to be strong and weak - to be able to evolve and improve yourself.
Solveig has seen The Revenant, the new film with Leonardo DiCaprio. Solveig’s impressed by DiCaprio. She’s not alone. There’s a collective agreement that Leo knows what he's doing. Titanic, The Beach and Revolutionary Road - damn, he's good ass!
[Circa one month until premiere]
Espen is sick. He’s at home vomiting. Pernille is washing the masks he’s used…! And the rest of us are washing our hands and feeling a little nauseous. Håkon tells us about the time he vomited on stage.
We develop the image of mechanical empathy. The image is now called Sun King. Saila with the white hair and ears, Håkon with the Elysium light, glitter Pharaoh hat, Solveig with the sallow mask, Abba hair, and white cap. The sallow woman talking into the mic. No-one understands what she’s saying. But the chick with the long white hair and the ears comforts her. The sallow lady is crying a little down her beard.
We develop. We have found two worlds. It’s starting to develop itself into two parallel worlds. We have a poetic base - do we put stuff inside or outside of that? Or just melt it all together?
The undersigned is happy to be back. A day and a half of vomiting and diahorrea - hell can wait. Thankfully, the reports in the past two days been informative and rich, so I feel that I hang quite well with the notes, despite the absence.
I notice that I'm still a little compromised by having been ill and don’t fully understand why soap is on the agenda. Oh yeah, it’s something about Joseph Beuys. He makes soap. Out of human fat? No, that was the Germans - or? They did make soap out of human fat in Fight Club.
It’s been a productive week. Gradually we’ve drawn an exciting world, a world with its own logic from the work we’ve done so far.
I think that’s why we take a little extra time around the table before we go to the floor this Friday. We take the time to talk about baking powder odour remover, Henry Miller who powdered his penis in the 30s with talcum powder - and the soap of course.
Before we leave the table Fredrik brings out the Beuys book. He’s looking for a quote that has annoyed him a little, a Heidegger quote that unfortunately goes slightly against Hirsch Horn’s idea that we are all artists. I think the quote was this (even though I am now completely unable to understand what it was that made this quote incompatible with Hirsch Horn’s thought):
“Philosophy will not be able to effect an immediate transformation of the present condition of the world. This is not only true of philosophy, but of all merely human thought and endeavor. Only a god can save us. The sole possibility that is left for us is to prepare a sort of readiness, through thinking and poeticizing, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god in the time of foundering [Untergang] for in the face of the god who is absent, we founder. Only a God Can Save Us.”
So it’s time for the floor. We start just after the Sun King section. Agnes comes sliding in wearing a glitter cape. Forming a fine trio image with Solveig and Saila, Solveig’s character speaks her own mythical/mystical language. Fredrik decides to throw in the text of the film at Palais de Tokyo “The city scares me.” Narrated with an Apple-robot-voice. So it’s as if what Solveig says is a translation of the text. And further it develops like some like of wasted music-video-esque dance with the trio, while Espen frames them in the blue default light from the projector. Mixed with the music are the sounds of the traffic. We hear a crash, and then Espen turns the projector away from the trio to find the reason for the crash. We’re shaping a strange mood throughout the whole thing. That was the image we worked with today.
It’s interesting to see how we handle improvisations. It does not have to just be a radio show, because it also depends on the positions of the actors. Perhaps they stand on opposite sides of the room? It’s nice with a bit of distance between them. Maybe they can move around a bit? Establish a relationship with the audience? Open questions. Remember breaks. And it doesn’t need to be entertaining. But we still need a certain amount of pressure in these sequences.
The conversation moves to Plato’s allegory of the cave. Cave parable and radio plays. Get into the show in different ways, through different stages. Collage! The wall is fundamental. It can be an echo chamber, shadows, radio, sounds. Shadows of the actors if you can see the wall. If you can hear the text, you need not see the actor, but maybe only see an echo of it? See other images. The actor is not the focal point, but part of a composition. Sometimes maybe audiences WILL see directly. The Sun King for example? Must make it possible then.
Wishful Beginnings is presented at Røkeriet USF as part of METEOR until October 23rd.
Images: Ingrid Eggen
Posted: 22 October 2017