Thursday, 15 December 2011

Scared Speechless article, published March 9, 2008

 March 9, 2008

Note: I wrote this article in March 2008 but perhaps it is still relevant. KH

Is theatre scared speechless in the 21st century?   

We are increasingly seeing the emergence of theatre without words. The international theatre marketplace has an impact upon the form of theatre, and touring to major international festivals or non-English speaking countries is great motivation to communicate through wordless theatre.

'Performance' may be a more appropriate name for this work which is often a hybrid incorporating theatrical styles and conventions such as narrative, character, set design and dramatic development with visual and digital arts, puppetry, dance and circus.

European House – A Prelude to Hamlet without Words by Teatro Lliure in Barcelona, places a replica of a three-storey European home on stage. Inside, Hamlet’s family enact their wordless lives after Hamlet’s father’s funeral.

Theatre without words is not new. French mimes, by definition, use no speech as do masked performers. Director, Jerzy Grotowski, began a theatrical revolution with inarticulate grunts, intense physicality and symbolism being key components.

The current wave of physical theatre furthers Grotowski‘s work but is often includes dance or acrobatics. Melbourne has Kage Theatre and numerous circus groups. But dance-theatre comes in as many forms as it has creators. UK show Edward Scissorhands, described as a “dancical”, combines dance, character and narrative.

Bodies talk. Geoffrey Milne, Head of Drama, Latrobe University, believes that in Australia, “There has been an increase in the desire and capability to work in the body.”

Milne attributes the increase in Australian of non-spoken word performance to several factors:
  • The number of spoken word theatre companies has reduced in inverse relationship to the increase in physical/contemporary performance; 
  • non-verbal performance is eminently exportable;
  • the world is excited by the sexiness of Australia’s exported bronzed and fit bodies; 
  • the digital age allows creation of virtual worlds; and 
  • the increase in site-specific performance, particularly outdoors, often precludes speech.
German company Theater Titanick, performed a spectacular outdoor show in which they built, launched and sank the Titanic outside the Opera House. The only one word in the show is “ Iceberg!”

A hybrid of visual arts and performance is common. Installations such as Talia Sharif’s In Other Words are performative without accentuating spoken word. Don’t Look Back is wordless visual arts/theatre about Orpheus and Euridice at the Adelaide Festival.

Australian puppetry/visual theatre came of age in the 80s with Handspan and numerous productions by French puppeteer/mime, Phillipe Genty toured here. Local show, Apples and Ladders, depicts old age with tiny puppets while Coop rejigs Genesis with puppets, actors and gibberish.

The Melbourne Green Room Awards even introduced a new category called New Art Form that accommodates contemporary performance.

A steady stream of Australian actors journey to Paris acting schools to study clown, mime and mask and others study Butoh dance or Suzuki method in Japan.  In the 90s every small company boasted a Butoh influence.

“Post-dramatic theatre” displays a distinct lack of interest in traditional text, often not even crediting a script-writer but employing modern technical forms: sound,  visual and digital imagery, light and installations.

Do we mistrust language so much now?  The word is dead?  Long live the word.

 by Kate Herbert

No comments:

Post a Comment