Research Area E
In Norwegian playwriting several writing strategies has been living happily side by side for the last 40–50 years. Some plot based, or character-based traditional strategies, some so called post-dramatic and therefore language-based strategies.
As I see it, many of the language-based playwrights in Norwegian performative writing have belonged to a late modernist tradition, like Jon Fosse, Maria Tryti Wennerød and Arne Lygre.
During the last ten years both Wennerød and Lygre has taken different directions with their writing. Wennerød exploring more theatrical and baroque strategies, like in her latest play Goliat (2018), while Lygre’s playwriting has almost gone in the opposite direction. Slowly thinning out all theatrics, all excesses, ploys etc. Leaving language itself to do the work.
A LANGUAGE BASED EVENT
In Lygre’s plays, action is a language-based event. The orchestration is founded in the act of discovery. It’s all about dialogism as its most fundamental level. In Lygre’s play, Let You be, the dialogue goes like this:
– We are married, she said.
– It is me you love, I said.
So, Lygre uses language works as a frame. As a place for the events themselves to be played out. The actual acts, or events: getting married, questioning somebodies love – comes to the surface through the framing of the added statement I said, that leads to an indirect, not a direct way of addressing. The characters point to themselves, as well as to the event. And, maybe most importantly, to the act of addressing in itself. There is a doubling here. It´s both the act that is important, addressing it, and involving the audience in the fact that it has been addressed. Through organizing the elements, or the language act like this, Lygre lets the act of addressing itself step into the foreground. It is neither the marriage, nor the questioning of the love that creates the actions – it is the framing that goes on. The fact that “I”, said it.
It is language that constitutes and brings Lygre’s events and characters to life. They exist there, in language, and as language. In let You be, the language acts instigate and take on the form of fragments, of sub-plots. These events resemble real life changing events: Two women gets killed by an accidental stranger. A man knows he is dying and befriends another, promises him that he will inherit everything he owns, as long as he takes care of him on his deathbed. Another character, a woman, wants a divorce and confides in a friend, but rather than letting these events fully take center stage, or being played out – they more often than not fizzle out, or get replaced by seemingly other sub-plots, or stories. In themselves, these sub-plots or stories constitutes tiny tragedies, or unambitious miniature comedies, but they are never at the core of what is really going on in the text. The main events continue to be the fact that somebody is pointing to them, addresses them and it is this fact that gives them, or takes away – their values. It is as if Lygre constantly insists on it doing that. On language ability to give or take away meaning and value. In this way, it’s the act of addressing in itself, that gives any of this importance or real meaning. A meaning that can be taken away from it, as fast and as easy as it was given. And as the focus shifts, the characters shift. One turning into another, a boy becoming a man, a man becoming a woman. Nothing is ever stable, only language. Language is the creator of this universe, and the form that holds it all. It is both the space and the event. The giver of time and place. The creator and the destroyer. It gives the play its drive and its rhythm. It contextualizes and emotes the characters, becoming the what which takes place between them (See also: Stay–leave. Don’t go).
GO. GO. GO.
– We are married, I said, it’s me you love, I said, give me another chance, I said –
These are the opening lines in let You be.
– We are married – is a condition.
– It’s me you love, – is an outcry, a supplication.
These addresses kick-start the play, and the relationship that constantly develops between the condition, the outcry and the supplication triggers both feelings and response. The trigging of feelings and responses happens in three parallel spaces at the same time: in the text itself, with the actors on stage, and in the audience. This creates a feeling of urgency. Something must solve this situation! And this urgency does not just belong to the story, the character or the plot – it is just as much placed in the audience. After all, they are the ones who are being addressed, who are getting involved in this.
This continuous addressing of the audience is one of the main conditioning structures in the play. These simple addresses immediately generate a feeling of progress and offers the text a certain dynamic. It makes us entangled in it. It makes us ask: What has happened here? What makes her tell us this? And why is she telling us this right now?
Does he leave her? Does he stay? And if he stays, did everything work out for them in the end?
Lygre’s play ends in an imperative:
It is never clear whether this is an order, a challenge or just a fact. This is the only thing the characters can do at this point. Go on. Continue. And as long as the text is being played out, as long as we are there in the theatre, in our lives – as long as we have a language we can go on.
There is a bit of Becket in this. An echo of Endgame maybe, or a way to get away from it, that places Lygre in line with the early modernists. Until there is nowhere left to go. Until we have reached the end. Until we cease to breathe, cease to be human. Until we are merely a rotting body. Matter. Mud. Earth.
LANGUAGE AS ACTION
When we refer to actions or events, to cause and effect, like in this Arne Lygre’s play – we are talking about language-acts acted out by physical bodies and voices, in a given space at a given time.
This might sound abstract and feeble, but language is a powerful tool. If one uses the terms from Aristotle’s rhetoric, addresses creates feelings of anger and joy, interest and disinterest.
The way Lygre frames his character within the language makes us relate to them, or empathize with them, but in this sudden unstable shifting world, a character that one moment ago could make you cry, could the next moment leave you cold or indifferent.
Through varied artistry of addressing, the new language based playwright, has re-theatricalized the play and given the actor a new set of tools. This theater re-theatricalization comes from the generic and transformative qualities that language brings to the stage. Language is both real, and totally manufactured. Through insisting on the statements or addresses in a here and now, it frames the situations. It can make things come alive, and at the same time, it has the potential of dissolving or transforming them or letting them disappear altogether.
The act of addressing belongs to drama, states Aristotle in his book on rhetoric. These acts of addressing influences the audience through ethos or through pathos.
In a play, characters address both each other and themselves through dialogues and monologues. They can address the audience and leave the narrative, and the combinations and types of addresses are endless. There are outbursts, confessions, and information shared. There are witness-statements, curses, attacks and seductions. In the address, and in addressing – language becomes action.
In his book New Playwriting Strategies, Paul C. Castagno writes about this new turn to language in current playwriting: As such, language prevails as the dominant force in the shaping of characters, action and theme. The playwright orchestrates the voices in the text, entering into a kind of dialogue with character and language. The playwright is open to language in the widest sense... While “writing through” the other (often multiple) voices, the playwright remains the creative and orchestrating force behind the text.
In his speech, addressing the Norwegian Playwrights Festival 2019, Ibsen winning author and playwright Demian Vitanza talks about this turn to language and its relationship to the body. Insisting on the body as a container for language in an age that is dominated by what he calls-non-space and social media: Jeg har inntrykk av at dramatikken som skrives i dag tar ordet på alvor på en helt ny måte, både i sin tyngde og sin letthet. Det er en dramatikk som tar kroppen på alvor. Den tar rommet og tiden på alvor. Jeg tror ikke det er tilfeldig. Det er kanskje ikke så originalt å spekulere i at dette skyldes inntoget av de sosiale mediene: ikke-rom, hvor ikke-kropper møtes og drukner i en tid som egentlig er en ikke-tid. Selvfølgelig er teater relevant i dag. Kunstformen som insisterer på at kroppen finnes. Rommet finnes. Tiden. Og ordene, selvfølgelig (see the whole text here).
THE BAROQUE OF THE HYBRID VERSUS LANGUAGE AS FORM
In Lygre’s plays, language takes on an almost sculptural quality.
His works are the opposite of the hybrid. Although it entails potential of the hybrid in its language-based focus, it stays true to its path. Morphing and exploring, even language as dead matter, but staying almost surgically inside its own genre. Its own language universe.
In Wennerød’s latest play Goliat, small scenes are being played out in a block like structure. Each with its own headline. Some resembling poetry, others in the form of monologues addressing the audience directly. And some as dialogue sequences, verging on the affective, the satirical, or a kind of hyper state of reality insisting on a theatrical, even gestic quality both in the text and in the way it presents itself to a potential interpreter, being a performer or a director.
The kings and queens of Lygre´s plays are the language-based characters. Quoting the modernist Mac Wellman, Paul C. Castagno states that in modernist literature: The actor, rather than “representing” as character, is the “plastic material” that can become whatever … Language is the playwrights’ primary material, and their characters are configurations of language rather than vice versa.
Wennerød’s text Goliat, plays on the myth, as the title implies, and as such it derives from realism. Here the dead can come alive, an unborn foetus can talk, and life is as staged as it is real.
Wennerød’s world has always had a touch of the burlesque. But never before has the hybrid form been so outspoken as in Goliat.
Paul C. Castagno states, that in the play, one makes up new realities, realities that enters in dialogue with the real world. This is true both for Lygre and Wennerød’s plays. Both represent an independent will to create theatricality through language. Worlds that needs no defending because they are based on an intrinsic inbuilt dialogism. Lygre through his addressing, and how the addresses pull the audience into the chore of the play. Wennerød through her composition, and through her will to interact with a landscape beyond her text. A mythical landscape. And a sort of theatre pre modernism. Theatre as we knew it when Shakespeare wrote it, maybe even in classical times. When one could talk to the Gods, and even summon them down to earth.
Castagno, Paul, New Playrighting Strategies, New York: Routledge 2013
Lygre, Arne, La deg være, Oslo: Aschehoug Forlag 2016
Lehman, Hans Thies,Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre, London: Routledge 2016
Wennerød, Maria, Goliat, Oslo: Gloria Forlag 2018
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