New Brecht in Practice Resource – The Crucible

Are you looking for full overview of Professor David Barnett’s Brecht in Practice? Click here.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

A new major documentation of the Brechtian production of Miller’s The Crucible staged at the University of York in Oct 2017 has been added to brechtinpractice.org. There is a full visual guide through the acts and some video material, as well as several reflective pages on the various elements of the production.

This is a great resource for students and teachers studying Brechtian theatre practices and/or Miller’s play. The production offers an introduction to how a certain tradition of interpretation, with its own implied politics, can be challenged and re-presented.

New resources from the 2017 production are available here.

Get a full overview of Brecht in Practice here.

Want more on Brecht? Read our interview with Tom Kuhn here.

Tim Etchells on endings

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Two things. I think we are always very strong on this idea that you have to end in the language that you begin in, or the language that you’re working in. If you’ve got a question in the work, you answer the question in the language that you’ve been dealing with. So often you see endings that arrive from somewhere else in the form of a text or a song or a dance or a thing that hasn’t been earned. We’re obsessed with this idea that you have to answer your question in the terms you’ve already established. A big speech from the author at the end of a dance piece isn’t a satisfying solution. You’d need to dance the answer to your question.

The other big thing is that endings mustn’t close anything at all. I’m returning to this idea of ending with a problem rather than a neatly tied package.

Finally, I think about the ending as a way of negotiating your way back to the present time with the audience. We tend to start quite close to the audience, in the sense of making a certain kind of contact and a certain kind of present relationship with them – the simple starting place that I spoke about already. Then there’s often a sense of the performance journeying away from that closeness – getting thicker and moving deeper into something. Then in the last chunk of time, towards the end of the piece we row back to the place where we can see each other and feel each other across the divide between the stage and the auditorium. Tomorrow’s Parties is a show with two performers on stage making speculations about what the future will be like. There’s a feeling in that piece that you depart into quite a cerebral, imaginative world of the future but a couple of times, and especially at the end, we come back down to the idea: What will people in the future say about now? How will people speak about this time? So at the end there’s an attempt to return to the present time and space of the theatre, to audience and performers, to here and to us.

Tomorrow’s Parties. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Read the full interview here.

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Tim Etchells on transformation

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Again, I have a certain cynicism about the term, just as I might be cynical about virtuosity or imagination – a terrible admission perhaps! There’s something rather soft about it, a bit gooey!

What does interest me though is the transformation of materials and actions and experience over time: how understanding and perception change in and through the course of performance. Even when things stay the same they are changing. That’s why we work so much, over the years, with repetition.

It’s been a fantasy of ours for a long time, to make a work where all the materials are basically trash: nothing of any cultural importance, no statements of importance, no important anything, just lightweight stuff basically. But the desire is to arrange the rubbish in such a way that it becomes extremely strong – to make it sing, and really powerfully. The material for Real Magic is basically trash: a little scene from some half-arsed game show, about twenty seconds long in it’s shortest iteration. But we work that material fearlessly and we make something that has punch and a poetry, reach and ambition. I like the idea that the strength of what you’re doing in performance comes from the performance, from what’s done, rather than being a predetermined thing arising from the material. Everyone knows King Lear is important, or Three Sisters – I don’t want to borrow or lean on their significance. I’m more interested to make my own.

Real Magic. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on duality

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

In much of the Forced Entertainment work and in my solo practice there are moments, events, scenes, actions and texts that effectively refuse to confirm themselves as one thing or another: it’s funny but it’s not at all funny, or it’s extremely aggressive and extremely apologetic at the same time. We often, I think very deliberately, put these things in a close proximity – creating work that pushes and pulls an audience member at the same time, in two directions.

We don’t mind moments in shows where everybody laughs but we’re also quite known for those moments where a few people are laughing and other people are annoyed with them because they’re laughing. We like the tension that comes from this kind of duality.

At one level, for me, the work sets out to create situations or feelings or exchanges that aren’t reconcilable. Something is profoundly not finished or unbalanced or unanswered in what we’re doing. There’s a problematic lack of resolution in what you’re left with. A key understanding about art making for me is that it’s not so much about making statements as it is about opening space. It’s about wanting to leave the audience with a problem rather than solving it. I mean that’s Brecht of course – no catharsis, leave people questioning.

Dirty Work (The Late Shift). Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on virtuosity

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Mostly we cultivate a certain kind of mundanity on the stage: the idea that the performance is being built in front of you, here and now, using very basic materials, in quite easy to understand ways. Things build up over a piece; a language is established in the beginning and it becomes more complex. The raw material initially is quite basic and the moves that the performers make on it are quite basic as well. We often chose to start from a deliberately difficult or unpromising position. A good example is an early Forced Entertainment piece Club of No Regrets in which a set of scenes are enacted by two performers. In the first enactments of the scenes they’re parcel taped to chairs so they can’t move and their mouths are parcel taped shut. You can’t really hear what they’re saying but they’ve got their little papers with the scenes on, so you sort of understand that they’re enacting these fragmentary dramas. It’s as far from virtuoso as it could get! We make a deliberately unpromising proposal at the beginning – something dramatically minimal, even stunted – but over time the performers are cut out of the chairs, they ‘memorise’ the lines from the papers, they start to perform them more, music comes in to support them and the theatrical energy and power of the piece builds. It’s about journey and about using simple building blocks. We start from a much more ‘here and now’ sort of situation and in that sense we try to look not very virtuosic, much more amateur – as if the work is simply thrown together. It’s ironic though, as I was saying before – if you look at the work we’ve done over thirty-four years: often minutely scoring endless hours of performance and getting to the point where we can reconstruct very complex improvisations involving ten people with sound and light and make it look like it’s just happening, here and now – there is of course a huge virtuosity in that. It’s just a kind of virtuosity that hides itself.

There’s a really good interview with Stewart Lee where he talks about how he thinks of himself as writer but he does all of his work as a writer trying to make what he does not look or sound like writing at all. It should look like he’s just standing there saying whatever comes into his head and, if it doesn’t seem like that, then he thinks he’s not doing a good job. There’s often a similar sense in our own work: most of the effort goes into trying to make things look like they’re just happening – all of the hard work, the real virtuoso work, is done achieving that.

12am: Awake & Looking Down. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on play / games / rules

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

We shy away from narrative because, mostly, we find it boring and instead we think about structuring time in front of the audience in different ways. One of the structures we refer to a lot is the idea of game play and working within rules. I think that’s partly because if you establish a set of rules and operate within them, making them visible, then an audience can very quickly latch on to them – they see what you’re playing with, they see the rules and therefore understand the decisions you’re making, and what your choices mean. The performance Quizoola!, comprises two thousand questions written down and in it the performers take turns to ask them of each other. The answers are always improvised and answers can be short or long, truthful or not truthful. You only have to watch two minutes of that performance and you understand already how the whole thing works. So as an audience member you’re immediately in on the game and you can see how different performers are contracting, expanding, pushing and running within the rules of the system that we’re establishing. I think a lot of the Forced Entertainment pieces work that way – we let people in on the workings of the pieces so that spectators can judge and think along with us. Making the rules clear allows the audience into the space of the piece in a different way.

I find it very hard to get involved with narrative tension. It’s hard to persuade me that there is any tension, in theatre especially: this person’s going to leave this person or is going to kill this person… it’s a play! I’m more interested in that business of watching two people make moves in a game. For me performance has more in common with watching sport or watching games, even chess. You see people making moves, you understand the framework they’re making them in and you get involved because you want to see how the game plays out. It’s a different tension than narrative.

Club of No Regrets. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on chaos

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Chaos is the order that you weren’t expecting! That’s what my 19 year old son tells me. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as chaos really. Any set of actions in time and space has a structure. It might not be easy to see at first glance. But it’s always there. Pattern and structure are always present.

Of course there are plenty of moments in our performances that look chaotic. Many times there will be material created in improvisation where a number of performers are working, making their own decisions in a kind of friction with each other: some striking off in this direction, others going in that direction. It’s a very complex interaction and when you look at it, it can appear chaotic – hard to map or contain. But in the theatre works we tend to control that kind of chaos very carefully. So chaos tends to be a recreation rather than anything really out of hand – we study the video recordings of the rehearsals and recreate the best of them, move for move, line for line. Someone once observed that the things that look most chaotic in our pieces are often the most completely and precisely choreographed. We’re very interested in that texture – that feeling that the eye doesn’t know where to rest, that the centre is missing, you see it, in shows like Real MagicThe Last Adventures or Bloody Mess or even the new one Out of Order, but we know we couldn’t improvise those every night in the theatre (it’s too unpredictable). So the only way that we can get anything to look out of control and multi-directional is via choreographing the most dynamic of the improvisations – scoring them in relation to the video and then working on notation and mechanical repetition. It’s acting – making it look real when it isn’t, making time flow, but controlling it somehow. Chaos on stage is, by its nature, perhaps slightly oxymoronic!

Out of Order. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on editing

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Part one of a process for us is trying to throw a lot of material on to the table and part two is editing. That’s often about trying to carve up chunks of improvisation that have been done on different days or different weeks, maybe even in different cities, and to arrange them on the timeline of the piece in a way that feels like a show to us. In that process, usually, if we’ve got ten sections, by the end of editing they would typically all have been in every possible position in relation to the piece, and they would have all been thrown out (and then brought back in)! It’s a really big part of the work for us, basically making lists of the structure and rejigging it before running it and seeing what doesn’t work, then reordering it all and doing it again and seeing what doesn’t work once again. In this way we slowly accumulate the knowledge that we need in order to compose something using the materials that we’ve got. It’s a process in which we are trying to understand what the material will do energetically and dynamically but we’re also testing what material will join to other material, and in what sequences. We’ll keep doing that – rearranging endlessly – until the show opens. The normal thing is that in the days before the premiere (even on the day of the premiere) we’re still moving things around.

Through editing we try to understand the material: where you can put this scene, this dance, this text and what changes when you move it? We talk a lot about the timeline – from minute one to minute one hundred and twenty: Where are you? What’s changed? What’s building up? What kind of knowledge is accumulating? What shifts in energy or information or understanding are happening? In that sense it is totally like film editing or editing a novel – you just look at the big time line and say, “What can I move?” “What can I tighten?” “What can I cut?”

The Last Adventures. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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Tim Etchells on memory

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Two things. I’m interested in creating a structure or system that allows (within the space of an hour and half or two hours or whatever) you to learn the way that it’s working. In that structure or system you can then begin to locate yourself so that it becomes a world in and of itself that’s maybe looping or repeating or returning to certain things. Again, it’s to do with a piece not just being a parade of newness – it’s both new and repeating. In terms of memory, you’re remembering back to half an hour ago or you’re remembering back to fifteen minutes ago or you’re remembering back to an hour ago and it becomes a sort of system that refers you back to yourself in it.

The other thing that I think about is that often we work with improvisation in the making of things and/or in the doing of them depending on the piece. We have a real interest in performers not being able to remember. For example, in Bloody Mess John tries to tell the story of the big bang – the beginning of the universe – but he doesn’t know anything about physics so what he remembers of the big bang is just a home made, ‘down the pub’ version. I think we do that a lot. In Quizoola! (the piece with all the questions and answers) people constantly ask how a car engine works or what’s the plot of the bible, things that you can’t reasonably be expected to explain, but they do try. We’re very interested in the process of them trying to explain those things or remember them and articulate them in language. The failing memory is more interesting than a fully functioning one because you only get a partial version and a partial version is always more interesting than the full version – it’s got more holes in it.

Memory also links back to imagination and witnessing. We try to engage people in a different way and one of the ways we do that is to work with fragments. We like to work with pieces that aren’t connected so that the audience will have to do that imaginative work of joining them together. We pass on (almost) the job of imagining to somebody else. We’re about materialising a set of facts, events, things in the space and other people are the ones busy imagining. We’re more about putting some things there that they have to deal with.

 

Read the full interview here.

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Tim Etchells on imagination

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

My first thought is that I don’t have any! We make things by doing them. Our capacity to imagine in advance any of the things that we have made is extremely limited. Mostly what happens in the rehearsal process is that I will make a proposition or a set of propositions and something will happen in the space in response – improvisation, investigation through action. The responses also include the performer’s creative mishearing of what I’ve asked them to do. So it always, in any case, exceeds our ‘ideas’. In any process I’d say ninety per cent of what we do is trash but maybe ten per cent, if we’re lucky, is worth hanging on to. That’s how the work emerges. I’m very interested in this idea that the work comes from being in a room with people who are doing things – it doesn’t come from me sitting down at home and writing it – it doesn’t come from anybody drawing it – it comes from being in a room with bodies and action, argument, conversation and doing. It’s social. It’s material. It’s tangible. Text in our pieces tends to grow this same way too. There are a few of the performances here and there, where there’s been a basis in writing, but mostly text comes out of the room, it doesn’t get made separately.

We have a big habit of using found things, i.e. when you see Forced Entertainment’s work it’s not a question of “Oh my Lord, I would never have thought that such a thing was possible!” It much more like, “Oh my god, they’re doing that, I’ve seen that already so many times!” So Real Magic enacts a fragment of some very bad game show or cabaret routine and even if you haven’t seen it, you feel like you have. It’s generic. Off the peg. Very often, in the work, there’s a sort of redundancy, almost a lack of imagination at one level. I’m aware that in one sense we always want to do the most unimaginative and boring thing, not the radical, flight of fancy image. That sense of limit is really important in the work, it’s not orgiastic, free self-expression. The work is made in relation to our culture that’s already full of images and actions and we’re often picking them up and trying to animate them. There’s a limit, a language, a set of givens that we are negotiating.

If I’m teaching writing, I meet a lot of people who are obsessed with the idea that it’s about expressing themselves in a language that comes from themselves, i.e. writing is a kind of internal, deep sea diving process. By contrast I think of writing, at least in good part, as a process of repeating, echoing, speaking and passing through voices that come from other places. I think about the way that, when you speak, it’s hard to speak without your parents speaking through you, without your teachers speaking through you, without the movies that you’ve watched or the computer games that you’ve played speaking through you, without your friends speaking through you, without all the crap you’ve watched on television or the internet speaking through you. I have a sense of the person as a meeting point of other signals rather than just ‘themselves’ – my voice is mine, but it’s also a kind of switching station.

Bloody Mess. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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