Saturday, April 14, 2007

Scraps of distraction: Part 1

When I was cleaning up 'my room' the other day, I found my Theatre Scrapbook. And with the heart-attack inducing speed and efficiency of Jason Voorhees, it always closes a particular window on my world. It's a point of impact. Hard ... and I always have to prepare myself to consider it again. Like a surgeon considering the length of the first cut.

The detritus of my time as an Independent Theatre Maker occupies lots of little nooks in my environment. Like landmines. I'll be searching for something else and suddenly find myself at the knuckle-whitening climax of a rollercoaster ride before idling in the company of familiar ghosts - back in the musty and haunted old Carlton Courthouse.

And beyond.

I also found this quote:
"It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others." – Virginia Woolf

My relationship with reviewers and reviews is complex. I have known many critics. I am one of them. And as an Independent Theatre Maker I have endured more than my fair share (which is actually a lie - on both counts). The questions that are often raised about how a critic should respond to a work constantly fascinate me. What is their purpose? Is anyone else ever really guaranteed to know? Is the act of criticism, much like the act of creation, essentially selfish? The kitchen is closed, but you sit down and read the menu anyway - fully expecting to be served.

I am preparing to make theatre again. It's a more significant statement than it might, at first, appear.

But first, I am going to dissect the single greatest love affair of my life. I am going to do something for myself that I have steadfastly distracted myself from doing up until this point in my life: I am going to remember. I was done with auditioning years ago. I'm done seeking validation and I don't need permission. I never have.

Many, many years ago I lost hold of something.

And now I need - and want - it back.


London. 1991.

My play about maestro Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky - Tunnels Without End* - is about to preview at the tiny New End Theatre in Hampstead. The owner of the theatre - Sonia Saunders - has taken a huge and significant risk. She loves this play, and has bumped six weeks of pre-Edinburgh try-outs out of the way to make room for it. And 'it' has arrived: costumes, sets, furniture, audio tapes, props, passion and hope. We absorb every particle of the theatre's being into our anticipation.

It is a ridiculous time.

Previewing any play is impossibly fraught - and this one was a breach birth. As a Director, you literally writhe in the agony of internalised (and sometimes externalised) reaction too vast to truly comprehend at the time. Lines are fucked up. Entrances are missed. Lighting cues are late ... or early. Fades don't and pauses extend ... and emotional truth is suddenly sacrificed at the almighty altar of Actor Insecurity. You are helpless as you watch your babies study recall. The light of comprehension in their eyes switches off ... leaving only panic in the light through the window. Meaningless stares into the middle distance. Nuance becomes a noisy hiccup. The carefully plotted interspatial relationships and complex stage patterns look like sloppy guess work. Silk threads become fence palings ... and snap. The tips of your fingers ache as you scribble notes ... veritable cures for cancer ... in the dark. Your internal organs strangle each other while your ankles tango and your knees embrace.

As a Writer, it is - quite simply - a sadomasochistic death-defying stunt of the highest order ... and leaping from The Empire State Building onto a matchbox-sized safety net would be like a walk in the park by comparison. It is not what you wrote ... nor what you heard, remembered, meant or intended.

As a Writer/Director, you want to leap out of your seat! You want to start again and again. "This scene is actually quite wonderful when they do it the way we've spent the last fucking eight weeks rehearsing the fucking thing!" you silence. "I actually do know what I'm doing - it's these lazy fuckwits that don't!" you mutely protest. He's too far downstage, upstage, offstage ... she's not even on the fucking same stage!

And all evidence of every whiff of creative potential is lost in the maelstrom - like a tea-candle in a typhoon. There is no contest. Or hope. But there will be Notes. Lots of them.


* Piotr Tchaikovsky once described his life as being "like a tunnel without an end". After seeing the rehearsed reading of the piece at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre, Joan Harris AM suggested I change the title of the play to Maestro. So I did ... as you would.

Image: Outside The New End Theatre, 27 New End, Hampstead London NW3 1JD


Snidley Whiplash said...

Maestro returns? OUTSTANDING.
Put me down for an entire row of the stalls, not too close to the stage. Fourth wall, and all that. It'll be worth 24 hours on Emirates to see your face when the crowd screams "author". I, naturally, will be the cheerleader in chief.

Anonymous said...

I remember that reading at the Malthouse, quite possibly the first time we ever met ... brilliant. I was terribly impressed ... but I cant leave this mortal coil without at least one delicious memory of a Sydney Premier (seated on O/N somewhere in front of Snidley please!)and following season accomplished with much acclaim ... including 99% '5 star' reviews! (sorry darling, it's Sydney so we just cant expect 100%) ... I await my invitation!! JDx

Quick said...

Bounced this way via Nicholas Pickard. Am looking forward to reading more installments as soon as I get the chance.