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
Read the full interview here.

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Tim Etchells on witnessing

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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, it’s about the relation to the spectator. Perhaps theatre has in it this idea of the spectator who passively consumes or watches something in a distant way – consuming the events as they unfold in front of them on the stage as if your responsibilities to the theatrical event are not much more than being entertained or keeping track of what’s going on down there in the dark. The witnessing idea arises from a desire to go beyond that – to make that relation between the spectator and the stage more complex ethically and politically.

Brecht talked, in that poem about the street accident, about the idea of the witness and the guy who’s explaining how the car went this way and the other car went that way. The explainer in that poem has the responsibility to get it right because it matters. Who crashed into who? Who’s fault was it? How did the guy got knocked down? So there’s something about witness that’s about being truthful.

You also have somebody like Chris Burden who in his 1971 piece Shoot is shot in the arm by his friend in the gallery. He talked about the people who were there that night for the performance as witnesses rather than spectators. That’s to stress the reality of the thing that happened – a bullet going into an arm. Burden says that watching that is different from watching a fake bullet fired from a fake gun – there’s a quality of “realness”.

 

We’ve done nothing with that kind of bold claim on ‘reality’ but I think we’ve always tried to look at the stage and the auditorium and how to implicate the spectator in a more complex way.

We make work that refuses to be simply an entertainment taking place at a distance, down the other end of the telescope, down there on the stage. Instead we try to find ways to triangulate the work directly to the auditorium. As if to ask the audience who they are and who is sitting with them, to wonder not about the narrative of a drama but about the truly present situation and dynamic of the theatre. So many of our shows ask that question in different ways. Often we have worked by creating a kind of dramaturgical tension in the auditorium or between the stage and the auditorium. For example, in First Night the performers appear as rather failing vaudevillians or nightclub entertainers who effectively turn on the audience in different ways – vague insinuations and then direct attacks, the surface of the entertainment crumbling. “It’s all good people here; there’s no racists here; there’s no homophobes here; there’s no wife beaters here.” Taken together it creates a kind of probing of the audience, forcing them to take a position, to think about who they are and who the strangers in the seats nearby might be. Theatre perhaps sees itself for the most part as a gathering of the good, honest and true to watch something that will enlighten them. A benign, convivial space. I think, a lot of the time, our work wants to niggle at that, transforming it into this unfolding set of ethical and political negotiations with the audience which connects to this idea of witnessing. Something is at stake.

First Night. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Read the full interview here.

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