Is rehearsing in the russian wo… — ,
Reflection on two learning plays, the horizontal Vs the representational – a false dichotomy:
The indignity of speaking for others was felt when whilst one person complaining about the representation of females via very obvious female stereotype of the cheerleader (ignoring the positive female representations of the play or indeed the negative male representations) then represented our experience with their own interpretation which for me was wholly inaccurate. I was not exploited, it was fun and I made a choice to be there.
The indignation I found strange, it was after all a narrative, a construction, we were not embodying the roles in reality, it was highly theatrical. It was a performance of stereotypes that exist. You can’t deny the word ‘homo’ exists and is used negatively, what you can do is represent it out of its agency. The word ‘representation’ seemed to have been misunderstood in this context and was hijacked by the identity politicians. Perhaps I am ignorant of community and activist work, perhaps I don’t know about the specific local struggles of a certain group of people but it doesn’t mean I hold no empathy – I certainly know about the macro, I know the system we share. In this context as an observer it seemed that by certain members of the audience displaying their old school leftist hangups, we were distracted from the real issues at stake which could have been discussed. The focus was on the micro politics of our group and experience rather than the macro common ground which was unfortunate not to have been discussed; nationalism, the neo liberal cycle of discontent, the possibility for a new communism, the fears that drive prejudice, the problems of representing anyone – it felt like there was a number of things that could have opened out that were shut down.
Also it was very quick, two evenings and two afternoon rehearsals is not much and they did what they could with the time. There seemed to be a discrepancy between what was advertised initially and what they were able to do in practice, perhaps they could have been clearer on the first day that this was not a participative learning play, it was, as Dimitry emphasised on the 2nd evening, an internship. For me, having participated in a more horizontally structured learning play previously (How can you be at home in an alien world?) the distinction here was that it was being created for the audience and not the participants. This was fine by me. I know their work. I was very happy to lend my self to helping produce one of their works, and to watch the process. Perhaps I was more comfortable with this and understood it because I had worked with them before. But I think one should come to these events with an open mind, you can’t expect your expectations.
I was part of a learning play which was more participative, in that we as a group who had never met, drove the content. This was scheduled for 2 days, 9am – midnight both days, it ran onto three days, with the performance on the third evening at 8pm. It was a much more difficult experience. People argued, walked out, there was more tension, it was more terrifying in the sense that by the end of the 2nd day we had not yet agreed on any content as the discussions had taken so long, even to understand what a learning play was in the first place was difficult but key if one was going to really get to grips with the process. On the third day it came more together because the people left in the group (who had not walked out) had committed themselves or resigned themselves to being directed – someone needed in the end to take authorial responsibility although still in collaboration. And time was also needed for everybody to get past their own subject position and assume the role of a stereotype ( because thats what under developed characters are). What I missed from the Tramway production was the opportunity to take on that character and learn from it. We also had more chance to be with each other, work through ourselves. The group was more diverse in terms of age, background and ethnicity but was still composed of the silent, the vocal and the dominant.
But the play itself could not be compared to the quality of the work presented on Sunday. And making good art is still important, is it not? Anyway there still existed room for manoeuvre within the form the play took, with the movement especially being driven by word association and discussion, and for myself in the role of forest pathologist in the way the lines were said, how I moved and costume, these were not directed dictatorially.
From my Amsterdam notes I can see again the preoccupation with being in an institution, and with my previous experience I did feel inadequate, as if Chto Delat/Ultra red would have preferred working with other people. There was lots of talk about why are we working in this institution, why are we not at the Occupy camp etc. As with the Arika audience there was this idea of the mythical “real” person, the real community out there that we cannot coerce into the arts, the unhelpful othering that goes on and the privilege guilt on display, which seems to serve only to further entrench positions. We were a community ourselves, right there in that room, communities are not static entities. As the Russian Woods demonstrated our privilege is only relative to the next person, we all have all had our place under the Dragon, but perhaps we will realise soon that we are all hamsters.