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
Read the full interview here.

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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
Read the full interview here.

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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
Read the full interview here.

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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.

 

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