What is playwriting?
Is it a writer at play?Is it a text played out?Is it the text talking to its writer – given to a setting, voices, actions, events, language, whispers, addresses and interludes?
Writing down a pause –
Writing down an action –
Placing itself within a frame – within a city – on a playground, in a sofa, in the shrubberies saying I give you this world
I inhabit it
I occupy it
I give it a purpose and I take it away again
Perform, I say:
in this way
What is a playwright?
The one performing inside the text?
The one performed by it?
What is a play?
That which is played out?
A system giving itself to a behaviour?
An organism shouting: bring me to life!
I am alone here without your voice
running towards me
being in this place where I place you
or that place where the text is being placed
Being born by it
being all that I ask you to be
until it’s all played out
until it’s spent
until it is over
What is my praxis?
To stand in the middle?
To tip back and forth?
To bend my head to rhetoric’s?
To feel that which is artificial
as was it
I write to …
I write to …
I write not to …
I want to merge myself in the text
I want this plurality
I want to merge myself in the sound of voices
not just my voice
I want to merge myself in history
To write in a mongrel-voice continuously tainted by others
As multitude I ask: Is there a we in this text?
Is there a we
1. THE QUESTION
In the poetic prologue to this meta-reflection – originally written for an artistic research gathering at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo 2016 – I tried to explore the central focus points in my research and praxis. I wanted to expose writing as a happening. To propose that the performative text itself is an event, not just a passive container of narration.
My research question has been: How can a performative text expose, or reveal, both the ethical tensions and the ties between individuals and society? The prologue places the writing itself at the core of the project. It states that it is through the praxis of writing that the question will be explored, and possible answers found.
In this meta-reflection, I will try and discuss what consequences and challenges this entails. The reflection is also intended to be a pathway into the different writing-projects that is represented on this web page.
My thoughts on methods, research questions and dilemmas as I started the project is sketched out in my deliberation, 1:100 and back again. You can read it here.
2. the STARTING POINT
The starting point for my research was a deeply personal.
For a while I had been living in what I later called “an ethical tension”. I knew I was free to act, but I felt stuck and locked in a situation that I believed stemmed from deep political and economic dilemmas. I wanted change, but I was afraid to make these changes. I hated the system I lived in, but I saw no alternative. It was as if there was a discrepancy between the narrative I was supposed to live by an underlying feeling of what was “really going on”.
I knew it had to do with a paradox. I felt isolated, while I knew that in a postindustrial, global economy there was no way one could separate oneself from society at large. And I felt a need to express this. I started to look for ways to force public, even political issues to collide with my private in my plays.
I had always looked at fiction as a laboratory. In writing and reading fiction, one can try out other agendas, see oneself as someone else (Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1994), even create new and impossible worlds. So why did my work feel so inward-looking, so insular and tepid?
If in fiction anything can happen, why not utilise that?
The tension was getting to me. Sometimes it made me feel nauseous, dizzy, disoriented.
I had to look at my praxis, and I started posing these questions to myself:
What mission was I on when I was writing?
Where did I go to find my material?
What and who was my writing for?
I needed to find a way to take in the world and respond to it. I felt a need to push myself. To go beyond my private sphere. To mingle with others. To collaborate. I was looking for new modes to operate in as a playwright. For new ways to write my texts (More on this in the essay Our Daily Discomfort).
Leading up to all this had been the writing of a play that I called S O A R E.
The writing process started in 2012 with a short monologue for a character I called Rakel. She worked as a security guard in a big Holiday Inn hotel, and in the opening scene she is studying the hotel’s surveillance system. There are cameras everywhere; in the corridors, the lobby, the reception, but not inside the rooms. As she watches, monitors, and records she knows that as soon as the doors to the rooms closes, she can no longer intervene. Later, more monologues, dialogues and characters emerged: a drone pilot, a domestic servant, a thief - and when the text had its first public reading in 2014, I knew that something new was taking form. It was while taking a closer look at this play, a research project started to emerge.
3. MY BACKGROUND
I come from a literature.
My first published works were short prose and poetry. I took a master (hovedfag) in film science at NTNU in 1998, and while doing so, I was especially interested in the films of modernist directors like Antonioni and Tarkovsky as well as the early works of Nicolas Roeg and the later work of Ingmar Bergman.
What interested me was the relationship between form and composition, and intertextuality.
When I wrote, I looked upon the material I worked with as not only “mine”, but something which communicated with other texts, its genre and the tradition it belonged too. Even while it was being created, before the text was finished, there was an ongoing dialogue taking place – not only with other texts, but also with the potential text this particular writing could become. As such, a text was both what was written and something which continued to write itself, and this process happened in a perpetual dialogue both with internal events and what went on outside it.
I was interested in how a text started producing meaning and affect beyond the bare narrative. In texts forms like the allegory, subtext, meta-levels, the hidden landscape inside the composition. It was this that I wanted to grasp and understand. I wanted to find a way to allow other layers of meaning to break free from the mold of the story. I wanted to push against the boundaries of that mold, even when it threatened to break open whatever plot there was, leaving the text as a landscape in itself. A landscape for the reader to discover in her own way.
In 1999 I wrote my first “real” text for the stage. It began with an invitation to contribute to a performance at Teater Ibsen. A year later I was given a commission at Trøndelag Teater where I wrote my first play, den Hvite Byen.
Since then I have been writing plays and radio-plays that have been published and are staged by production companies and festivals nationally and internationally. Such as: Haven (2003), Strømmer (2006), det Tredje Stadiet (2007), Vilde (2010), Funn (2013) etc.
During this 20 year period, I have also written librettos for opera and ensembles (Madonna Furiosa (2005), en Aids-messe (2007), Lot (2009), Himmelsoli (2008).
I have produced my own performances through my production company NOOR productions, as well as two lecture performances under the heading Vicarious Dreams (2012). For more visit the blog: http://noorproduksjoner.blogspot.com.
I have also created pieces for the internet, such as LysMørke (NRK/PNEK 2006 http://www.pnek.org/DigiFor/DIG8_Lys.html), dramatic installation pieces for festivals and galleries, and I have led and curated workshops and stage-laboratories, mainly through Propellen Teater (2004-2012) and ArtLab, a collaboration between RadArt/Dansearena Nord, Hålogaland Teater and Dramatikkens Hus.
I have also worked as a dramaturge, taking part in the process of staging plays, developing projects as well as co-writing plays for Hålogaland Teater, and after starting my research period, I did some stage directing of my own work. I also directed the play Alaska by Maja Bohne Johnsen for KHiO and FNN in 2017, but since this research is about playwriting, I will not deal with my work as a dramaturge or director here.
All through my work as a playwright I have been driven by a curiosity. What makes a text performative? When does it stop being poetry or prose etc. And I am still not at the end of that journey (for more, see the pdf of the conversation between myself and the playwright Lot Vekeman : Why do I write for theatre and more for the festival Ferske Norske (Amsterdam 2018 published by de Nieuwe Toneelbibliotheek).
THE HYBRID AND THE ALLEGORY
There is often a tendency in playwriting, or in drama, to lean towards coherency. A need for unity between time and space. One often strives to find a balance between the elements, and to make the character and the plot the event that sets things in motion. But the world is not always coherent, and in my feeling of ethical tension, it was the lack of coherence I wanted to portray.
If tension and paradox is at the forefront, clarity and flux are not the way to go, so what I needed to find, was ways of containing and creating collisions and tensions inside the composition of the play itself.
I guess a lot of modern art starts from this point; a need to find other tools, other formats to cover the life-conditions one lives under; and both modernist and postdramatic strategies has offered other tools than "drama". Avant-garde aesthetics for instance, allow for non-hierarchical representation and dramaturgies. For meta-layers, intertextuality, and montage.
By rejecting or questioning what is psychological, or the play as fundamentally mimetic, the modernist or postdramatic playwriting strategies gives opportunity to focus on surface elements and the dialogue between them. Offering tools to display the exchange of meaning and affect between what goes on in the text and its performative potential, but having evolved in a particular time, within a particular tradition, they also offer particular aesthetics. By rejecting techniques that have evolved through “drama”, one could say that these strategies offer both freedom and limitations.
In my playwriting drama and postdramatic strategies often meet.
While the first plays I wrote were mainly metaphorical or allegorical (den Hvite Byen, Trøndelag Teater 2000), Haven (NRK Radioteateret 2003), Strømmer (Ferske Scener 2006), things started to evolve. Seven years into my playwriting, it was in the work I created with the visual artist Erle Stenberg (Lys/Mørke, see link above), and in plays like det Tredje Stadiet (Trøndelag Teater 2007) and S O A R E, I really started play around with space and time. In det Tredje Stadiet I developed a technique where I used the scenes as building blocks; segments that could be combined and moved about, leaving space for independent scenic action. In S O A R E I used the same techniques but in a different way. Wanting to portray a discrepancy between what we see, what we feel and our ability to act, I wanted to bring that paradox and tension to the surface of the piece, and I reached for polyvocality and complexity to do so.
I felt no need to remove the characters and narrative all together. Instead I wanted to utilise the potential of allowing the “drama” to collide with meta-levels and metaphors. I wanted to write a play that combined techniques that exposed a tension between realistic situations, an omnipresent narrator and archaic symbols.
Re-reading the play as I started applying for my fellowship made me realised that S O A R E opened the door to a potential formal solution to my research question, and when I officially began my research period in October 2015, I started isolating and working with these formal solutions. I also dived mid-stream into the confusion and bewilderment of today’s theatre-text landscape.
4. S O A R E, PUTTING AN ETHICAL TENSION ON FORM
In S O A R E I combined many forms of text and introduced different points of views, and as a consequence I started to look at the play as a potential conglomerate of different text-types, a bastardised form of “literature”. I thought that if the play was this assemblage, and if this “organism” produced a certain aesthetic and a certain “behaviour”, the way I wrote would also produce ways of “being in the world”. As I started to look more closely at the text, I begun to believe that this had to do with setting, time, composition and the way the play utilised language. Realising that what I had achieved in S O A R E did not only have to do with the theme or the topic I had chosen, but that it was something intrinsically formal going on, I asked myself: did I need to look more carefully at place and scale in my playwriting?
I found that in my work, what often occurred was a zooming in and out. For instance, in to a person’s mind and out to the reality surrounding her. Or from the detail of a plate on a dinner table, to the vastness of the city.
This could also be said of the narration. Moving from a minute event, happening here and now, to a mode that tried to encompass a larger set of events or a wider span of time.
I had played around with time in my previous work, but in S O A R E the way I dealt with it was more strongly connected to the theme itself, and at the same time, it felt less logical. Here there was a representation of time that was both a here-and-now and a part of a duration. I also localised that I used language in this zooming in and out process. Through language I could expand the moment or go fast-forward. Dwell with something or skip from moment to moment. From event to event. Through this it was as if I wanted to represent the subject/event in detail and in overview at the same time (see also a short note on beginnings and time). I realised that this was something I could use consciously, that the zooming in and out effect could be vital when trying to portray an individual and society, in the same scene or at the same time. That it could be a way for me to go from the simplest and most private dilemma or idea, to the biggest, in an instant (more on this in the chapter S O A R E and fooling around with time later in this meta reflection).
Also when it came to setting, something was new in S O A R E. The setting did not only function as an echo of the theme, but as the work progressed, it started to take on a will of its own, turning from setting, to metaphor, and finally becoming an agent, acting out and changing the premise of the play.
In the composition I had continued working with scenes as building blocks, and I localised something in the way I combined them that made me long for a structuring principle close to how a choreographer works, combining the elements in a piece for a dance ensemble. So I started looking for a third way. What I thought was my own way.
What interested me in revisiting S O A R E, was not whether it was better than my previous plays, but rather what was new in it. And from the experience of looking closely at it, formal writing-experimentation became one of my most important research tools.
Other tools have developed from the experience of gathering and developing material and through knowingly putting myself in situations where I could collide with what went on outside my private sphere. Through that I have developed methods and collaborative strategies with other writers, actors, musicians, theatre-makers, designers and people working with sound.
In the process of shaping and transforming my material, my main tool has been sketching on paper, on the “floor”, through improvisations, together with my stage collective STATEX, and even in dialogue with the audience (for more see: Performing a Collective, Entities and Multitudes and Exercises and Addresses).
In this process, many of the texts I have written have taken on not one but several forms. By changing perspective, scale, point of view and format, or moving from stage to voice, from essay to audio essay etc. new texts and new text forms have been born out from the same material.
As I worked with different sequences and themes (on the floor, in sketches, and in finished drafts), it seemed like these sequences were starting to amount to a network of never-ending approximations and variations around my main research question.
My research now offered me the opportunities to respond to my research question in other ways. Mainly through the work with my stage collective STATEX (see www.statex.no). Together we have produced two performances: State and Ecstasy (2016) and DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future (2018), and through my position as a fellow at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, I also joined the European project EU Collective Plays! which resulted in the play Darkness the Enemy Inside with its twin The Island (2018). I write about these two projects extensively in the essays: Performing the Collective, and Darkness – the Enemy Inside – A Collective Endeavour.
Over the course of two years, 2016-18, I also wrote the radio-play Sweatshop – Aleppo, and from 2018 I began making a series of installation pieces under the heading The City Dwellers Project.
Besides this I have done several formal and methodical try-outs as well as collaborative ones, resulting in sketches, reflections and deliberations. I also collaborated with composers and theatre makers like Tormod Lindgren, Ulf A. S. Holbrook, Ida Løken Valkaepââ, Maja Linderoth and Knut Størdal. I will discuss and present several of these projects in the second part of this meta-reflection.
THE LOG AND THE BLOG
Another important tool has been keeping track of my own work. I have done this by keeping a blog – which only me and my supervisors have had access to. Here I have constantly logged my own thoughts and actions, and maintained the conversation with myself. I have logged texts, thoughts, links, recordings of discussions and conversations. I have posted sketches, discussed money problems and other practical issues such as stage bookings and so on. It has been a place to open up about my frustration and doubt. Somewhere I could return to old discussions. Rework material. Pick up sentences, sketches, themes and issues from previous encounters, and readdress them. This has also given me starting points for new texts, so one could say that this has been both a process of rediscovering strategies and finding new ones.
In my artistic research I have worked with different formats: plays, radio-plays, monologues, librettos, texts for installations, sketches and try-outs. Most of the work and its documentation is available through links headed documentation that takes you to shared drop-box-folders via this website.
6. THE REFLECTION
During my research, I have strived to document and store the different versions of my work. I want this material to be available as a part of my research. As previously explained, this has been a part of “keeping track” of myself, and a way to generate and rework my material. But there has also been another goal: I want there to be a connection between form and content when I present my material, due to that I have chosen to present my research through this web-page. The web-based format makes it possible for me to collect, connect and display different text/text-versions/text clusters and types, and thus lay open the different writing processes at the heart of the project.
My research is about expansion, not concentration. About multitudes, not singularity.
When I started the project, the title was From 1:100 – or how to narrate a “we”. Later, as the project progressed, I changed the title to 1:100 – the performative hybrid text as a feedback loop (for more see: From 1:100 – and back again). Throughout the research period – my goal was never to end up with a few finished and concentrated texts, but for the work to be expansive, accumulative – going “from one to a hundred”. From one idea, to displaying the myriads of text it could potentially bring about. Spreading material widely; turning it into a spectrum of variations. All in all this has been a constant process of accumulation, hopefully creating a pattern, or a series of patterns or paths; where the sketches and their manifestations, conversations and improvisations take us in certain directions. Here, sketches and try-outs inform and inspire new sketches and try-outs in a constant interchange between manifestations and improvisations, and these again function as building blocks for new text-constellations, taking me from one level of my research to the other. One could call the research itself a text-producing mechanism. A continuous process of addressing and readdressing, where the texts and the reflections feed off each other and intertwine.
As a research project, this is not a straight forward way to go about things. The sheer volume of material and the ongoing and outgoing movements between the different texts, can make it hard to grasp, and the constant feedback loop between them, can be hard to bottle up and contain in strict and logic thoughts and formats. So since it was against the idea of the project to force one form or a stringency upon the material, I created this meta-reflection as a guide to walk us through it, and the website as a container for it. I wanted the meta-reflection to shed light on what a feedback-based production of texts actually entails – and for the website to contain the work. As such each sequence alone cannot fully answer the question, but as a body of work, at least they offer an honest response. I recommend reading this web from the top down, but one can also read it sideways. Following the links, jumping from one text to the other. Loose oneself in the documentation in the dropbox, and then "surface" again. If one gets lost, one can return to the index. Here one can also find a list of literature and a timeline. I want the end result of my research to constitute a hybrid. The ultimate goal is for my work and the reflection to mirror the rhizomatic feedback loop in which it came about. One could say that the body of the work collected, constitutes a “place”. A shifting but entangled “landscape”. The goal has been for this website to represent this landscape. For it to be a “place” for the reader to visit and walk through. For more see the deliberation Working in a web.
7. THE SKETCHES AND THE “FINISHED” WORK
I have often found that when I strive to finish work, to solidify them so to say, something gets lost. It is as if the “theatre machine”, its needs and limitations, starts to shape my texts, forcing familiar forms upon them – as if the texts start adhering to pre-existing production modes. When my plays gets published in books and magazines, both my own and my editor’s expectations of what the text “should do”, or how it is supposed “to look”, starts shaping the plays and the articles/essays as they become printable texts. I often find this an unsettling process. Those final choices can steer the texts away from what I originally wanted them to explore, and there seems to be something in my work that wants to escape these formats. Other possibilities come to the surface when I move away from “paper” and choose digital platforms. Here one can pare, combine and group finished and unfinished texts in a useful way. Not through having to choose one or the other, but by allowing them to rest side by side; making them inform each other. It offers a publishing-tool where each version of a text exists as a potential doorway to another. And such, I would state that the unfinished works found through this website, can be as vital to this project as those that have been performed or published.
8. THE WEBSITE
The website has been designed by Martin Asbjørnsen. Together, Asbjørnsen and I have tried to give it a form that mirrors the figuration of my research project; both in layout, the way it is structured and through its design. In other words, to find an overall mirroring form to this “assemblage”. A concrete representation of a never-ending feedback loop of texts, feeding off each other. Each existing separately, but still interacting in close proximity with each other. Not in a binary pattern, or through rule-based principles or algorithms, but more like a hybrid – consisting of different dialogical building blocks.
To simplify the reading process, I have divided the material into a series of overlapping yet distinctly separate areas (see the index).
The landscape of this website is layered and has a dramaturgy that resembles an underground building
First there is the entrance, in the form of the oral prologue.
One step down, follows this meta-reflection as a gateway to the site itself – and then comes the work.
This work is distributed in six different research areas, or rooms. One containing plays, one my installation project, one a collective work and so on.
The final level of the website is found through links that leads us into a drop box that contains a pool of photos, videos, sketches, try-outs and more. The links connect the different texts and research-levels both horizontally and vertically. By linking the different texts to each other, and offer possibilities to look at documentation, I hope that my way of thinking in and between the texts will come to the surface, and make it possible for the "visitor" to access what they find most interesting.
The oral introduction/prologue seeks to establish the voice as an important vehicle for the written and audio-based work on this page. It is my voice reading the prologue on the recording. This is to remind both me and the visitor, that the work stems from one body, one will, and that it is written in a certain place and at a certain time by a certain person.
Level twoMetaphorically one can say that the meta reflection strives to works as a gateway to the other levels on the website. It is supposed to add a meta-level to the collective body of work, from which one can enter the different research areas and documentation through various links.
Level three and the research areasResearch Area A includes finished performative texts (plays, monologues and radio plays), most of them produced or published during my research period: Where the Children Sleep (see documentation here), Corridors and Rooms, Sweatshop – Aleppo), and since S O A R E represented the starting point for many of my research questions, it is also published here.
Research Area B includes the body of material (monologues, dialogues, confessions, outbursts etc) developed during my research period for my ongoing installation-project City Dwellers.
Research Area C contains a collaboratively written play Darkness the Enemy Inside and its twin The Island.
Research Area D consists of essays and articles written during my research period, most of them published in print or online (Our Daily Discomfort, Performing the Collective, Darkness – the Enemy Inside – A Collective Endeavour etc.).
Research Area E consists of a compilation of essays and performative audio-essays that together constitutes a body of work (future–PRE–Positions (essay), Stay–Leave. Don’t Go (essay) and The Heaviness of Palaces and Planes (essay)).
Research Area F contains a number of deliberations and notes that I made during my research periods. Some of them have been presented to my research fellows at seminars and symposiums, other are deliberations made for this website (From 1:100 – and back again, Entities and Multitudes, A short notes on ethics and aesthetics etc).
Each research area is followed by links to a sub-level of material where you will find documentation, sketches, try-outs, drafts and ideas – and also different versions of the same material, versions that could have become something but never did, or versions that might end up being something else after this research period is complete.
Here you will also find documentation of other collaborative work: ++ photos, DIY – manuals for a potential future, and Framund, and documentation for trial and context-based projects like: The Odyssen – everything is a remix, MOTforestillinger and Baltic, as well as music-theatre endeavours The Book of Prayers and The Human Genome Project.
9. WHAT IS IT TO REFLECT?
It is easy to read RA E and F as a part of my reflection, and RA A, B, C as pure artistic work. For me this is not necessarily true. Though the separation of the text by genre might imply such a way of reasoning and working, my thinking is often restless or nomadic – moving from text-type to text-type, from medium to medium – each intrinsically interwoven with the other.
The thinking or reflection I do is often directly based on artistic experiences and endeavors. After all I am my first reader, and writing is also a way of thinking; even when writing a poem or a play. I do not wish to hide this constant movement, between artistic and reflective endeavours, in my presentation. It is through my writing that I test my ideas, and where new ideas and insights evolve. My fiction is also my laboratory. So the reason for dividing the texts up by genre, is mainly a practical one. Call it a didactic tool, a way to make it easier for the “visitor” to “find her way”. And I hope that the links criss-crossing the different levels and texts on the page, can bridge that divide; showing the modes of thinking that connects what is seemingly just art with that which is seemingly just reflecting.
That being said, there is of course a difference between how I “think” when writing an essay and when writing a play – and the genres offer me very different tools, but as such they are both responses to my research questions in that they reflect the dilemmas and quandaries the research is engaged in; on the one hand by studying a topic or a question through non-fictional prose, or on the other as artistic praxis.
Some of the texts here are also merely descriptive. Aimed at proposing processes and methods (mainly through articles). There are also texts in the assemblage (such as this meta-reflection plus some of the essays and deliberations) that focus on exploring philosophical or political quandaries, or discuss and propose definitions and terms (like the terms “ethics versus moral” and “pre versus post”). Here the argument or the deciphering of the term at hand is at the forefront.
What I want is for this presentation to present the totality of my production, not as thinking versus art, or thinking on art – but as thinking and art, or even sometimes thinking as art. Or about writing itself being an activity that involves different modes of thinking, and different modes of art-production, and how both have the potential to take the form of a play, an essay, or a dramatic meta-log. Some of these forms are also hybrid forms, and since the hybrid became my modus operandi when I moved into the later stages of my research, it felt like a natural consequence to write extensively about the hybrid form in the second part of this metalogue. It is here I want to expose and exhibit the flux between artistic expression and reflection in a graspable and hopefully aesthetically gratifying way (for further deliberations see: Working in a web).
10. COLLABORATIONS AND COLLABORATORS
Most of the performative texts represented on this website, are pure formal exercises. They are written as experiments to find different formal answers to how the material, or the idea, might best expose the ethical tension and the ties and tensions between the individual and society.
One of the main challenges has been to find new focus for my writing. To do that it has been important for me to find ways of exposing myself to what goes on outside my private sphere. To push myself out of “myself” so to speak – out of my comfort zone.
To do that required finding ways to collide with others. This has involved using and developing several methods. Some were already familiar to me, and some were new, or being tried for the first time. Some methods have been:
1. Working with actors on the floor(I have worked on the floor with actors on many of my projects, but this time I aimed to push it further; such as during the development of Baltic (See documentation here) where I experiment with full/whole play length improvisation formats that lasted for hours, and where I also tested the combination of acting/improvisation methods and writing exercises for material development.
2. Collective writing
I have also done collective writing before. Mainly as a pedagogue and dramaturge on Ekspedisjon Ingenmannsland (HiNT, 2011), Æ har rett, and Tidens Korthet (Hålogaland Theatre, 2013 and 2018). But this time I wanted to see how collective writing with colleagues would effect my writing, and my invitation to join the project EU Collective Plays! (Darkness the Enemy Inside /The Island), as-well-as an invitation to join the festival MOTforestillinger, gave me the opportunity to work with international colleagues.
3. Live writing
I had tried live writing before, but only alone, and in small intimate contexts. This time I took it further, and also included live writing with others (Documentation: ++), and live writing for an actor in a performance, producing text there and then on Framund (KHiO, 2019) (see documentation here)).
4. Bouncing off readymadesDuring my research period, I have also sought ways of bouncing off news and readymades (articles, quotes, texts from conversations etc.) both as a starting point for my writing (Where the Children Sleep (2015) (see documentation here)) and Sweatshop – Aleppo (2018)), and as a source of material inside a body of different text-types (see documentation ofthe Detroit-complex here and The City Dwellers Project here (2016-20)).
5. Working inside a stage collectiveI have also worked as part of the stage collective STATEX (see: www.statex.no) creating performances and texts along with five other performing artists, and in that context, I have even had to be a performer myself. The act proved to be important especially for my understanding of what it means to be a part of a collective endeavour, and what it means to work interactively with an audience. See documentation for State and Ecstasy, FiN (2016) here, and documentation for DIY– Manuals for a Potential Future FiN (2018–19) here.
Through these “experiments” and try-outs, I have attempted to place myself in new settings. To force myself to think and write from a new perspective. By bouncing off other people’s thoughts and texts, I have tried to not view myself as the sole starting-point, or the person with sovereign control over the artwork.
As a result the work has been accumulative. I have produced many texts at a fast pace, and have tried to expose them to a multitude of readers, situations and contexts. Sometimes I have put my normal focus on aesthetic value aside, and tried to see the text as a product of a particular meeting in time and space, not first and foremost as an art-object with a “literary” value that has the potential to transcend that meeting.
The process has been fun, exhausting, bewildering and at times I have felt extremely vulnerable and out of control.
I have often asked myself:
When I say that I want to expose myself to the world, is that really true?
When I say that I want to find new ways to de-mask my ethics and aesthetics, at what cost am I willing to do so?
And when I say that I want to explore the tensions and bonds between the individual and what’s shared, what does that really entail?
I say that I want to reach outside myself, but do I really care about the world around me, about the context I write in, about “my” audience?
These questions have constantly reappeared, and forced me to consider both the ethical and the practical side of this endeavour.
11. DILEMMAS AND THE COLLECTIVE
The work I’ve done with the stage collective STATEX has been essential for testing these positions and intentions.
STATEX was instigated by Jon Tombre in 2015, and consists of five artists from different branches of theatre. Jon is a director, Lawrence Malstaf a scenographer and visual artist, Liv Hanne Haugen is a dancer, and Amund Sjølie Sveen is a percussionist and theatre-maker.
The forum was not intended for large-scale text-production, but rather for collisions and discussions in a forum where the different paxes could meet on stage. A place where we could test thoughts and theories in praxis together with an audience. Our working method has been open and non-hierarchical, and our goal is to make a series of three performances that discuss our hopes and dreams for a potentially better future. We have so far made two productions and are currently working on the third (State and Ecstasy (2016), DIY – Manuals for a Better Future (2018) and Faith, Hope and Thermodynamics (2020).
Being faced with group dynamics can be fun, but it is not without frustration and pain. The safety of a “group” can offer many things, but in a close-knit collective it’s more difficult to hide. In the collective, your dilemmas are exposed. Something happens when you unwrap your own personal and political agendas. When you have to confront your need to influence, or your need to NOT influence. I write extensively about this in the second part of this meta-reflection, and in my essay Performing a Collective (I also discuss some of the issues involving audience participation in Exercises and Addresses).
I have found that, at times, the line between research and the need for personal development, can become blurred. The constant log-ins, have helped clear a path. So has writing this meta-reflection, but neither the blog nor the meta-reflection are about drawing up distinctions between the two. When the blurring occurs, the goal is not to remove it, or pretend it is not there, but rather to expose it. To see this leakage as something productive and turn it into performative or a potential space for reflection.
12. OTHER COLLABORATIONS
Other collaborations have also been essential to my research.
To be able to work with actors, especially at Master-level in theatre (actors, playwrights and scenographers), at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, has been of vital importance – especially when it comes to working on the “floor”. The students have been both my readers and my performers. The collaboration with the improvisation-based theatre, Det Andre Teater, has offered the chance of working with experienced and creative actors specialising in improvised theatre, and a collaboration with NRK Radioteateret and NOTAM in Oslo, has made it possible for me to explore different sound-based formats.
Collaborations with the theatre festival SAND, the festival for new playwrights, Dramatikkfestivalen, Vega Scene, and support from the Norwegian Centre for Playwriting, have provided arenas for meetings between my texts and the public – as has my extended cooperation with the production company Ferske Scener and the festival Scenetekstivalen in Tromsø.
The MOTforestillinger festival (Se documentation here), Oslo International Acting Festival and the project EU Collective Plays! made it possible for me to explore different collective writing endeavours. These endeavours have enabled me to develop new methods and the exchange with other writers has challenged and influenced my work; as has my ongoing collaboration with Paul C. Castagno and UNC Wilmington in the US, the collaborations with the theatre department at NTNU in Trondheim, and Minerva Art Academy in Groeningen.
For my final research-work (The City Dwellers Project), I have also collaborated with NOTAM, Malmø Inter Arts Centre, and I am currently collaborating with the composer Mariam Gviniashvili, designer Tharadon, and Gallery Bananaz.
13. WHERE I AM AT
Throughout this research, I have looked for ways of making performative texts expose ties and tensions between the individual and society.
I have been looking primarily for formal solutions, but I have also developed new methods of gathering and transforming my material.
In my writing I have turned to language-based strategies, and looked for the generic and theatrical qualities in language itself.
I have engaged in different types of collaborations, trying to find ways to clash with “reality”: with different readers, audiences, other texts and so on.
I have also aimed to avoid binary dichotomies and linear narration, and instead sought to create bodies of work that operate as systems which constitute an organic flux of interchangeable events.
14. OPEN-ENDED SYSTEMS AND THE ANTHROPOCENE
Why this need for an open-ended system?
One reason, as previously explained, is to find formal solutions to my research question. But there is also another aspect to this.
It seems as if we are today facing a new paradigm, an understanding of reality where we see ourselves as interlocked not only with other human beings, but with everything that surrounds us. Like many other artists, I have felt the necessity to open up for the production of texts that can explore the fact that we are not only in this world – we are an intrinsic part of it. That we exist in a constant feedback loop between life and matter, one being connected and dependent upon the other.
It is also obvious that our current crisis (ecological, economic, cultural or existential) is global. What happens to me, is also happening to somebody else. Maybe this was always the case, but we now have the knowledge and science to make it graspable.
If we change our perspective, we also change our ability to act. Believing in that I have strived to do just that. To change my perspective. To break out of this paralysed state. Maybe not to change the system, but at least to change myself and the way I think and work. I have come to the conclusion, that since we already know that the systems we keep reproducing will not solve the crisis we are in. To criticise it is not enough. We have to start looking for other strategies. Perhaps to enable change I have to move from a feeling of “post” to a “pre”. Here, fiction can play an essential part.
To see myself as a part of something, I need to listen. To address it, I need to be open for "its" answer. In my work I want the text to constitute a reciprocal room. A space where several realities, entities and actions come together at the same time. This is true for my reflection as well as my artwork, and has been the inspiration for the layout and form of this website. I guess it has also become an ethical stance.
15. ETHICS AND AESTHETICS
Ethics and aesthetics are one, said Wittgenstein. An aesthetic praxis is also an ethical praxis. In what I write and the way I write, I expose not only my preferences when it comes to artistic expression, but also my world-view.
I have always believed that content derives from form. Through its form, the text reveals itself – through its ethics, its world view, its understanding of society and its performativity. Positioning itself in relation to the public sphere. In the form and its use of aesthetic strategies, the text expresses its “need”, the way it wants to be understood, and, if it is a play, even how it should be performed. As such, the form, or the text as form – “acts”.
In other words, through form, the text “behaves” – emotively, rhetorically and sometimes even politically. As such, in writing, form has power over the material. As a result, finding the “right” form becomes essential to making the idea “happen”.
The totality of the text is what manifests the form. In my short text, A short notes on ethics and aesthetics, I try to deliberate on that.
The way the texts are composed can be simple or complex. Guided by metaphors or poetry or by logic and strong rhetoric. They can guide the reader/performer towards one clear meaning or open up for many meanings and interpretations. In choosing the latter, I also choose to state that I think the latter offers a specific understanding of the world that is “better”, or more ethical. That it tries to open up for the readers ethical stance and world view. This can be done through metaphors, open endings, polyvocal strategies etc.
Another way of creating reciprocity in one’s work is to expose the framing of the work itself. Since fictional texts both produce and reproduce reality, to show its mode of production can play a role in “opening” it up to the reader or the performer. This can be done by adding meta-layers to the text, by using intertextuality on the surface of the text, or by exposing the composition by making the shifts and jumps between scenes visible. I am always looking for ruptures in the text – or “tears”, to open up the text and let “reality shine through". To lay bare the fabric of society as a construction and as a conditioner of the text production as such.
As I moved into my research period, a need grew. A need to understand my own praxis. To de-mask my ethics through looking at my aesthetics. To look at my writing inquisitively and see what it “says” through how it “says it”.
16. DE-MASKING ONE’S OWN PRAXIS
How do I try to de-mask my own praxis?
My main tool is writing. My techniques are inquisitive and immersive, but also to some extent eclectic and pragmatic. In a way, I go where I need to go, and one thing leads to the other. I would say that at its core, my research is process oriented and experimental.
Writing and formal explorations along with reading theory and plays by others, has formed new insight. In this meta-reflection I will draw in particular on works by Paul C. Castagno (New Playwriting Strategies, Routledge (2012)), Hans Thies Lehman (Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre, Abingdon: Routledge 2016), Edward J. Soja (Thirdspace (1996)), and Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhori (Land/Scape/Theatre, University of Michigan Press (2002), and plays by contemporary writers. Mainly from Scandinavia and Europe. Still I have a lot of exploring to do to find and read the works of my Asian and African colleagues, and although I try to sum up and find new ground in this meta-reflection, my work has not reached its conclusion. I am still looking for potential new insight through plays and theory not yet read, through new collective endeavours, to find new potential forms of composition to bring the ties and the tension between the individual and society to the surface.
17. OTHER CHALLENGES
Having said that, during my research period I have faced many challenges and quandaries.
How does one write about writing? What should be in focus? The writing or the performance? And what ethical challenges does my research entail?
WRITING ABOUT WRITING
It is always challenging to research your own art-production. Sometimes writing about writing makes it harder.
I have often thought that things would have been “easier” had I been a ceramist or visual artist. There one medium, writing, can reflect the other - making ceramics. The same goes for music, visual arts, film etc. Not so with me. After all, when I reflect on my own artwork, my praxis is the same – I write.
Since text is the medium both for the artwork and the reflections, a double bind appears. Instead one form of writing, mirrors another form of writing, and there is no shift in the media when I reflect, so a need for clear boundaries between reflection and art-production may appear in the reader.
I realise that working dialogically and in hybrid forms, where thinking overlaps artistic production, can make this separation-process harder. This meta-reflection is thought of as an antidote to that. To help matters, I have also tried to separate my writing into different research areas – to provide some structure for visitors to the web-site.
In the meta-reflection I have tried to be as descriptive as possible regarding both the content and the form of the texts I have made. The goal has been to expose the motivations, the ethics, the processes and the methods behind them.
Writing about one’s own writing, can be a precarious business.
It is hard to describe a text without interpreting it, but it is not a writer’s job to judge or evaluate the quality of her own work. And if she tried, it would be easy to mix her own intentions with what’s actually on the page.
Sometimes writing this meta-reflection has helped clarify things and make my evaluation-process sounder. At other times the constraints and limitations of this “cold” language, has felt reductionistic and limiting. At times suffocating. As if the “real” outcome of the research is just as often lost as it is revealed. After all, what I am after is thinking as “art” and “art” as thinking, and in this research, looking for cause and effect is not always the path to follow.
In addition: at the core of this research is myself, the researcher, and where one stands, there is always a blind spot. In the beginning, my movement outwards and away from myself, shifted my focus away from this blind spot. Later on, this stance became more problematic. I will return to this in the last chapter of this meta-reflection.
READING AND TIME
Reading is a time-consuming process.
It might take no longer to make a ceramic pot than it does to write a monologue, but you cannot comprehend a text in one glance, as you would do with a pot or a painting. A text, no matter what format, needs to be read. You have to spend time on it. As such, it would take much longer to read a series of even my roughest sketches, than to browse through a sketchbook.
Obviously, to deal with such a large volume of plays, sketches and try-outs as mine will be time-consuming, and it might all end up being hard to fathom. The amount of material alone could be overwhelming, even for me. And although I might insist that the work is written simultaneously, and that the texts overlap and feed off each other, the fact remains: One can only read one text at a time, and one text after the other.
A selection has to be done; choices have to be made.
Even in this meta-reflection I can only scratch the surface.
Since the idea when I started was not to concentrate and distil, but to move out in all directions, to produce a lot, and do it fast. And since variations, feedback loops and accumulative exploration has been the goal – the output is what it is. Choosing has been difficult. All is not "here". But in the end, if this is a map, a map should never cover everything. If it did it would no longer be a map (as Borges so elegantly points out in his short story On Exactitude in Science 1946). All I can hope is that the choices I made serve the purpose.
THE WRITER AND THE PERFORMANCE
My field is playwriting. But some of my research is based on performance-praxis and the execution of dramatic installations. That entails more than just writing a text. It is just as much about the physical representation of a text, and through that interpretation and staging: texts performed by body, voice and movements. The placing and framing of a text in space, with an audience, and instructed by me.
Since what I research is the performative text (I am neither a director nor a composer) I am faced with two dilemmas: Should that part of my research be included in this meta-reflection? And if so, how and for what purpose?
Sometimes the page does not reveal it all. Sometimes the text needs the space or the body to “show itself”– like in my installation work and site-specific work. This is also to some extent true for my librettos and more context-based work, like Where the Children Sleep (see documentation here).
There are at least two reasons for me to “stage” my own work. One is to find out what I was actually doing. To see how this particular piece of writing works in a space, for a performer, in interaction with the audience etc. Another is as an exploration of how this particular text works for the specific situation or space it is written for, like in Corridors and Rooms (see video documentation of general rehearsal here). Sometimes the two overlap.
A staging may also be necessary to make work readable or understandable for myself. Or to find the right way of notating it.
At other times, like in The City Dwellers Project, the staging was a part of the writing and the composing-process. In The City Dwellers Project I composed in space. It was a constant back and forth between written material, and spatial try-outs. The space was the page, so to speak. The space offered something notation couldn’t. I had to use voices and speakers to manifest the form physically. Only there could the effects of the intended mesh of parallel actions and texts reveal itself.
For now, many of the presentations of The City Dwellers Project do not really have a sound, printable manifestation.
Seen in connection to this, notation is sometimes a challenge too. A page cannot offer a sound-based Thirdspace, which is what I needed here. Nor is it necessarily the best place to check out gests and the physical aspects of language; as I discovered when writing more polyvocal or choir-based sequences involving more than two or three “characters”. It was sometimes of the essence to take things to the floor.
My other research projects, like Baltic (See documentation here) and The City Dwellers Project, are ongoing.
So how does one judge what is playwriting and what belongs to another praxis, like directing or composing?
Sometimes I find this distinction relevant, sometimes not, but what has been and continues to be true, is that playwriting, not directing or composing, is my field. Even when working interdisciplinary in this research period, performative language, text and dramaturgy has always been at the core of the work.
ETHICS AND SHARING
Working in collaboration, drawing from and being inspired by other colleagues, friends and strangers does have some ethical implications. It is important that they receive credit for their work and are not misquoted. And it is important for them to keep their anonymity where needed, and not be exposed when they do not want to.
In a large project like The City Dwellers Project these things are almost impossible to keep track of, and I make sure that everybody involved in the process knows this as they get onboard.
Still, I try to point out the source where it is possible.
One thing is using ready-mades in a big immersive conglomerate of texts like in The City Dwellers Project. Another is overwriting other people’s work, as I do in Where the Children Sleep (see documentation here) where I am directly inspired by a photo-reportage in Aftonbladet (https://darbarnensover.aftonbladet.se). I even use small formulations from interviews made there, directly in my short play.
One of the needs for staging this piece (at the SAND-festival and at Scenetekstivalen in 2016), was to see if I could find a way of making this material not just something to watch, but something that the audience as well as the actors could participate in. Something that made us part of the situation, not just in the text itself, but in the way it was performed and presented (see documentation here).
The material that I based Where the Children Sleep has already been made public, and since what I write is fiction and the sources are anonymised, there was no immediate need to revisit the sources to seek permission to use them. But it is important to always include a link to the article in the script and to show the connection (For more on the project, see: Exercises and Addresses).
I have also had ethical quandaries of another nature during this process.
Some of them related to cultural appropriation (especially when working on Sweatshop – Aleppo). Others were of a more fundamental nature.
How, and what right do we have to portray the other?
Especially from a privileged position?
If I see my characters as suppressed, as sufferers or victims, with what gaze do I then portray them? How can I preserve their individuality and their humanity. Dealing with this has been a major part of my work, especially in the first part of my research period, and many of my reflections and deliberations are about this and the role fiction plays in the way we understand “the other”. It was also a major part of my motivation for writing Sweatshop – Aleppo. In the play I felt the need to give a face and a voice to the faceless. To show the refugees in the current situation as human beings. Not as numbers or as a “problem”.
That being said, although my work has deep ethical issues both at its source and at its core, it is first and foremost a formal exploration. And as my research took shape and progressed, it was formal, not political or ethical issues, that started to take centre stage. The core issue became: How can this specific text answer my research questions and how can I strengthen their potential for being polyvocal.
Another dilemma that arose during my research period was “the finish” – or the concept of finishing a text.
When working on a play, there is always a point when you have to weigh-up revision against polish. One thing was the potential for “over-working” the material, causing it to lose its elasticity or freshness; so achieving a level of perfection or fully-worked-out aesthetics does not always fit with what I am after. If the principle I follow is to achieve something organic and dialogical, there must also be a feeling of randomness and chance in the work. A real “openness” in the composition and in the attitude it prevails.
This has been a challenge and I am not sure that I have always succeeded.
Another thing is closing a process.
Saying: That will do.
One can always make a new revision, another version, a continuation or an extract.
There is often, for me, a greater joy in continuation, than in a finished “master” product.
Theatre is always live. A play is the opposite. Solidified. So, even when I publish my plays I feel a slight hesitation. Is this the right version? Can I say that this is it? Knowing that it is still a version that could potentially entail hundreds of others. So when have I walked the road to its end?
Today, I cannot say what work is finished, or what is not in this body of text, only what type of text it is: a sketch, a draft, a try-out, a metalogue, a monologue, a duo, a play etc. There is something schizophrenic that happens with me when I write performative material, and there is something schizophrenic about writing for theatre. I have rarely had this feeling when it comes to finishing a novel, an essay or a collection of poetry. Theatre is the container the play exists in and exits for. Performance is king and the real work happens in the mind of each audience-member. A published play is a finished product, there to be read over and over again, while a performance can only live on in memory.
So some opportunities were missed.
Some methodical discoveries had to be left, to be explored later.
Some of the work I did early on in the process is still in a blur.
Some collaborations did not make it into this meta-reflection. Not because they weren’t interesting or viable, but there is a limit to what there is room for in a reflection like this.
One of the many things I would love to have written about was my collaboration with Ida Løken Valkeapââ, when we revisited Homer’s Odysseen – everything is a remix (see: https://khioda.khio.no/khio-xmlui/handle/11250/2561880), or my collaboration with Bertil Palmar Johansen, writing the libretto for the opera /concert-performance Queen Sacrifice (https://olavsfest.no/en/arrangement/apningskonsert-dronningoffer/).
There were also things that were made, but due to time constraints weren’t finished and had to be postponed; such as the material where I am striving to understand what I experienced in Detroit, the draft for the play with the working title Kirsten and Sterling, or the strange hybrid I called Detroit-Revisited, as well as a Detroit-Medley (see documentation of different sides of the project here).
The same is true for my various projects dealing with the city, such as my collaborations with Tormod Lindgren’s Prospekt, and more.
When my research period is over, I look forward to re-visiting and reconnecting with these works.
PART ONE – CONCEPTS AND CONTEXTTHE HYBRID PLAY AND THE FEEDBACK LOOP
I have called my project 1:100 – the performative hybrid text as a feedback loop.
In this part of my meta-reflection I will explore what I mean by terms like “hybrid play”, and explore why the idea of the text as a feedback loop has become so central to me.
I will also try to place this thinking within the landscape of contemporary playwriting, and try to give a short historical outline of the background for the central terms used when writing and theorising around playwriting. Terms like “drama”, “tragedy”, “postdramatic” and “theatrical”, as well as new concepts such as language-based playwriting.
My main theoretical sources for this part of the reflection will be the works of Hans Thies Lehman and Paul C. Castagno. Especially Lehman’s Theatre and Tragedy, Routledge 2016, and Castagno’s New Playwriting Strategies, Routledge, New York 2012. This part will mainly deal with concepts and context, while the next part will look closer at the research itself. The text I have produced and the methods I have used.
Let me first look at the term “feedback loop”.
INTERTEXTUALITY AND THE FEEDBACK LOOP
In her essay Word, Dialogue and Novel (1966), Julie Kristeva wrote that there are always other words in a word, other texts in a text. The concept of intertextuality requires, therefore, that we understand texts not as self-contained systems but as differential and historical, as traces and tracings of otherness, since they are shaped by the repetition and transformation of other textual structures.
Seeing the text as a dialogical, circulatory movement between what goes on inside the text itself – with the writer’s ambitions and goals and what goes on outside it – is a part of a post-modern schism, a mentality that is perceptive to intertextuality (Kristeva) and polyvocality (Bakhtin). For me one of my major tasks when I write, is to listen to this exchange and to be perceptive of it. When I started writing for theatre, I took this way of thinking with me into the work.
I see the text as an ongoing exchange, a feedback loop between the writer and what is written. Between the text and the reader, and between the text and the world. This is as true for a text when it is being written, as when it is read or performed. When a text is written to be performed, another layer is added to the exchange.
As such, a text for theatre must always relate to a performative praxis. As Hans Thies Lehman states: “[In the theatre] the emission and reception of signs and signals take place simultaneously. The theatre performance turns the behaviour on stage and in the auditorium into a joint text, a ‘text’ even if there is no spoken dialogue on stage or between the actors and the audience” (Hans Thies Lehman, Postdramatic Theatre, Abingdon, Routledge 2006, p. 17).
To perceive a performance, is to decipher this joint text.
As I see it, a play is both completely “finished” and not yet “there”. It is something in itself, but always ready to become something else or something more, and this process starts inside the writing itself. Therefore, all plays and performative texts come to life in a constant dialogue with present and future potential performances. It gives itself to, or looks towards – a completion that has not yet happened.
There is a potential tension present in this relationship, between the text being something in itself, and being a part of what is performed. This tension becomes obvious when one sees both the theatre and the play as artforms in their own right.
So, if theatre is an art form in its own right, whatever distinguishes writing for the theatre from writing literature must first and foremost be the knowledge and awareness of this constant and continuous feedback loop: From text to the stage, from stage to the audience and so forth. As a playwright I am not just influenced by the plays I have read, and the reception they get, but also by the plays I have seen. Some in many different versions. The complexity grows if we understand this not only as a personal experience, a personal feedback loop, but as an historical process.
For me, getting to know how to write for the theatre was about understanding “theatre”. And to understand it, I had to understand its history.
1. THE FEEDBACK LOOP AND THE THEATRE
For many, theatre is drama.
Theoretically the term drama is understood as literature that presents symbolic actions performed by actors.
In the fundamentally influential texts on poetics by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, plot and character are seen as the most vital traits of the drama. Together they constitute the core of the dramatic form, or tragedy.
Aristotle concerned himself with the effect tragedy had on the reader. He saw the theatre as a mimetic artform, with characters, heroes and villains that people could relate too and identify with. Aristotle was interested in the text’s rhetorical potential.
In his book, Aristotle did not concern himself that much with the aesthetic agencies within the play that did not directly involve characters and plot; such as the chorus or the musical aspects of the play. His focus was not on style or language (rhythm, alliterations, pauses etc), nor the way these plays lend themselves to performative praxis. It was neither how it was going to be performed or in what setting – and how that could and would influence content and meaning. For Aristotle, opsis, the visible components of a performance became of secondary importance. The least artful and least valuable.
This focus on plot/action and the mimetic quality of the play had a great influence on European theatre. But in a historical context many, like Hans Thies Lehman, considered it inadequate, since predramatic tragedies, as he called them, also involved dance, masks, the chorus, musical elements and were a part of a larger ritualistic setting.
At the centre of the “classic” performance, lay the ring of the orchestra. To one side was the peripheral, where the acts and the text of the protagonist were performed. On the other, was the public, where the chorus belonged.
The chorus, just like the dance, was a central part of the classic Greek tragedy. The chorus performed or acted out material lamenting, commentating, dancing and singing, but as modern drama evolved, the chorus faded away, the stage became one unified space filled by characters and plot. The audience were no longer part of the ritual. Stage and auditorium became separate units. Separate “worlds”. Everything that worked “against” the hermetic sphere of plot and character, everything that disturbed the illusion, had to go, as Hans Thies Lehman states: “... gestures that communised the theatre (as it were) had to be tempered with so as not to stand in the way of the new dramatic paradigm” (Routledge 2016, p. 216).
In the book, Theatre and Tragedy, Lehman tries to locate the tragedy as a vehicle towards understanding theatre in a historical context. He does not perceive the tragedy as a literary genre, or a set of formal traits, instead he sees it as a way of perceiving the world or a way of being in the world. The tragic experience does not belong to a genre, but to life – and in the theatre it is expressed in different ways.
Trying to see tragedy from an essentially anthropologically point of view, he looks at the underlying artistic agendas of the playwrights that wrote the plays; their understanding of plot and intrigue, their use of language, placement of the audience etc. He also looks briefly at the social and political changes and the power structures that dominate the times they lived in.
In his book, he elaborates on the different historical shifts in the way the tragic experience has been expressed in theatre, from the time of classic theatre and the Greeks, what he terms as a predramatic form, onto the dramatic texts of the 18 and 1900s. He then he follows the developments of the early forms of dramatic text onwards to what he defines as postdramatic forms, via more lyrical texts and writers like Hölderlin, Schiller, Maeterlinck and Yeats, on to what he calls postdramatic theatre today (Routledge 2016, p. 8). Historically, he states, what seemed to slip away from theatre was theatre.
2. THEATRE AS HISTORY
Since we cannot travel in time, there is no way for us today to experience the performances of the ancient Greeks, but the plays are still there. Since how we read a play is based on the experiences we have of seeing the play, we do not read the plays like the Greeks do. Many of the signs and hints to a performance praxis that lies implicit in these texts are now invisible to us, but for the practitioners at that time, they were probably obvious. They could easily extract those implicit signs from the text, relating them to tradition and current performance praxis. All we can do now, is to decipher artefacts and remains from the period, and try to reconstruct what could have been. And we know that as the dramatic arts developed and became drama, the chorus, the dance, the masks and the spectacle were pushed aside, along with the ritualistic interaction with the audience. The chorus, as a commentary or lyrical element, was soon conceived as a literary concoctions that had nothing to do with theatre “itself”. It was hidden “inside” the play, where it wouldn’t obstruct the direction of the plot, or in the representation of the “real”.
The idea of mimesis brought with it realism, an ideal that what happened on stage should seem real and true. In its purest form, like in the plays by Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekov, drama becomes psychological and limits itself almost wholly to dialogical discourse, rejecting anything that does not belong to it, it being epic commentary, lyrical effusions for their own sake, digressions and the matters of everyday life.
The result is an imbalance, states Hans Thies Lehman, and stems from the habit of honouring drama as literary text. A praxis fails to recognise that the theatre represents an aesthetic and social reality wholly different in nature (Routledge 2016).
To understand what theatre really is, we must acknowledge that this way of understanding theatre, and its praxis, stems from a Eurocentric world view, and has led to a literary infliction upon the theatrical arts, both historically and in an intercultural perspective. For if theatre is a performative artform in its own right, not just the praxis of staging a text, then we must change our understanding of what a play is and can be, and acknowledge that the performance constitutes an independent text in itself.
3. POSTDRAMATIC PLAYWRITING
It was with this in mind, that Lehman came up with the term postdramatic theatre, established in his book Postdramatic Theatre. Today the term is widely used when commenting contemporary theatre forms.
His main point is that when seen solely as drama, theatre became synonymous with the performance as a model of the real through the creation of “believable” illusion.
During the 1900s, theatre strived to tear itself away from the literary per se, but writers were still writing plays, and having them performed. Some of these plays, written by Becket, Gertrud Stein and later by Handke, Pinter, Sarah Cane and Elfriede Jelenek, entered the literary canon.
In postdramatic “plays”, the mimetic illusion or the “fable” gives way to what Lehman calls a “metaphor of language”, an automatisation of language even; and through that a change in the way the play represents human subjectivity, maybe even a new way of perceiving what constitutes a subject. What being human can entail (Routledge 2006, p. 18).
The field is broad and varied. One could say that the only thing unifying the writers, is that they show a renunciation of the tradition of the dramatic form: "Dramatic theatre ends when these elements are no longer the regulating principle but merely one possible variant of theatrical art" (Routledge, 2006, p. 22).
The turn from dramatic to postdramatic occurred at the same time that modern art moved away from an object-oriented understanding towards the social and relational side of art-production. The fourth wall in theatre fell, and a series of new dramatic forms emerged. It was time for intertextual awareness and meta-perspectives to take centre stage, and for theatre to bond with its audience.
Lehman, in his book, looks only at the western dramatic tradition. In African, Asian and performative traditions of the polar-regions, more social and relational forms of theatre already existed. For centuries these non-European, and European traditions have lived side by side, as such, the postdramatic theatre offers a chance to develop new forms of dramaturgy.
In this new aesthetic climate, where process and interaction can be as valuable as a work of art, where a play is no longer necessarily dramatic, it is neither the sole source for a performance. If the performance is a text per se, then the text in the performance is material. In theatre today, texts that are “no longer dramatic” now represent the norm, Lehman states. And these “new” texts, that break with and rebel against the established power structures and their aesthetics fall under the term postdramatic.
So as theatre strives to tear itself away from drama and moves towards modernist strategies, the praxis of playwriting also changes and expands, both in opposition to the old and in embracing the new. Resting his argumentation on Christopher Menke, Bettine Menke and Gerda Poschman’s analysis of modern and postmodern drama, Lehman places writers like Heine Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Werner Schwab, and Sarah Cane, and groups like the Wuster Group, and directors like Heiner Müller, at the core of contemporary theatre.
4. TEXT AS MATERIAL
When establishing the term postdramatic, Lehman tries both to locate and create a shift. To expose how theatre moves away from theatre as literary praxis. Through that he shows us how postdramatic playwriting developed from an opposition to, or as a critique/a reaction to dramatic theatre and the hierarchies it produced. He states that through this revolt, theatricality is once again at the forefront and that theatre has become an artform in its own right.
Paradoxically, in his last book Tragedy and Theatre, does so by solely looking at plays, not performances. This in itself shows how intrinsically complicated the relationship between contemporary theatre and the performative text/the playwright has become. Even now, in a postdramatic era, literature and theatre, are aesthetically mutually dependent on each other in a productive relation of repulsion and attraction (Routledge, 2016.)
5. SHIFTING HIERARCHIES
The term “a postdramatic play” is now established and widely used. And since the term is so broad, it can also be used in different ways. I see postdramatic playwriting strategy as both an aesthetic praxis in itself – striving to set itself apart from the dramatic arts – and a part of a large conglomerate of postmodern emancipatory strategy that tries to de-mask the shifting faces of power in a postindustrial era. As such the term is deeply connected with a critical tradition. A tradition of power that has often been termed post or new-Marxist, and that leans towards being political.
In the postmodern discourse, there has been a strong focus on how power is reflected in the text, and how it is situated in the institutions and systems that surrounds us. There has been a focus on emancipatory art. And lately, there has been disillusionment with it. Thinkers like Derrida, Guitarri and Deleuze, Foucault, and Ranciere, but also Hannah Arendts writing on the political, produces an ideological and political backdrop for this reflection. In my essay Change, Protest, Theatre, I try to reflect upon the relationship between theatre and politics.
In this thinking, art and society are not separated, since creating art in a society can be a way of rebelling against it, gaining autonomy from it, or maybe in my case – a tool for understanding it.
So in this meta-reflection, I understand both the dramatic and the postdramatic forms of playwriting as belonging to specific times and ways of production in the live arts. It is also a product of a particular political climate within the live arts. Both are created by, and in opposition to a specific hierarchy. When the dramatic arts instated the fourth wall and placed the audience in the role of spectator, looking at a whole and coherent fictional universe made by the playwright interpreted by actors, it also established certain specifications on what a text for the stage should be. The production apparatus needed the playwright to structure her material in a way that suited the tradition. In other words, it determined what kind of material, and what kind of writing praxis was viable. By that, it influenced how one understood what a play was and could be. This is also true today. But as then the emphasis shifted from the play to the staging-praxis itself, hierarchies also shifted when it came to the art of playwriting itself. As drama lost its hegemony, a new emphasis could be made on the elements outside of character and plot. Even on “the spectacle” itself.
Rebelling against hierarchies means rebelling against form.
To rebel one must criticise. As such, there is an inbuilt criticism against the dramatic art in the postdramatic forms. A need to look at theatre once more; at its relationship to spectacle, to theatricality and to its audience. Again, with this comes a certain aesthetic, bringing about a meta-theatrical verve. What we often see in postdramatic theatre is a game with what was. As if the tradition it left behind provides a kind of wall to bounce against. Meta-levels and intertextuality become central along with avant-garde strategies.
On the other hand, one could say that within the postdramatic schism, there comes a need for a fundamental break-down of the theatre hierarchy. Even within the text. Sometimes doing away with the text entirely.
As today’s theatre does not really need new plays to be considered current or “good”, or to be artistically interesting, it is no longer of the essence that the text is new, or sometimes even good. Or what makes it good are not the qualities that belong to the dramatical or the literary. As long as it caters for a staging that is interesting or current, the text is fine. As a result, when staging, interpreting, programming and conceptualising the performance – the director, the curator and the dramaturge – are now the core players in the theatrical processes, seemingly pushing the playwright to the curb.
This places the playwright in a volatile, but exciting historical situation. A situation not without its challenges.
The hinge for the playwright in this current climate, is that today, any material can be viable, and an old play can be as current as a new one. In this, writing a play has become just one of many playwriting strategies. There are many ways for a writer to play a part in the production of a performance.
6. THE TEXT
Today all these terms are in use when describing different playwriting strategies: writing a play, a drama, a text or writing a performative text – and they are sometimes used haphazardly.
Let’s first have a look at the definition of what a text can be: A “play” or a “monologue” is a text, just as an “essay” or an “article” is a text. A text is something to be interpreted, experienced and understood in its own way. It constitutes a dramaturgy specific to it, and when one looks at the definition of what a text means in dictionaries etc., one immediately discovers how broad the term is. As defined, it can be a book, a text in a book, a message (such as a text-message/SMS), it can be a broadcast or the transcript of a broadcast, a performance or the transcription of a performance etc. It can in other words be both oral and written. All the types of text mentioned above, are in use in the contemporary live arts, where they can be performed, read or transmitted. They can form part of a whole, constituted as a monologue, a part of a monologue or a play etc. They can be danced, read, projected, and communicated through speakers – the possibilities are endless.
In order to communicate what type of “text”/“text-production” I will be focusing on in this meta-reflection, I have chosen to use three terms and then try to keep them apart.
I use “performative text” to distinguish the written material used in a theatre production or a play.
When I use the term “play”, I mean a finished text constituting a work of art. A text that can be read and experienced autonomously, yet lends itself to being performed. And when I use the term “the text”, I am referring to the performance as a text; the totality of the dramaturgy of a theatre-performance. Here the term “the text” (read as the experienced performance) need not have anything to do with language, written or spoken, at all. It can be text without words. A system of actions, gests, movements etc.
The terms “performative texts” and “plays” on the other hand deal with written and spoken text only: written and spoken text production in the performing arts. The terms should cover any kind of written or spoken material: a play, a song, general information, readymades, even prose. Constituted as a whole or included in the total composition of a play or a performance. There they will differentiate in modi – but be unified either by the dramaturgy of the performance, or by the composition of the play.
One could simplify this by saying there is one category of text being performed (the play), then another text that is in the performance (the performative text/material), and finally: text that is the performance (the text/the performance).
Sometimes “text” is also used as a term entailing “any material whatever”, and I hope that when I use the term in this way, the context will make its use self-explanatory.
In some places, I will use the term “material” instead of “performative text”; the term material being more open. Material can also include information, a framed improvisation on the floor, a logged-in conversation, information found online etc.
7. THE POSTMODERN AND THE HYBRID TEXT
Developments in theatre in recent years have blown the field of playwriting wide open. In today’s theatre, a wide range of playwriting strategies coexist. The dramatic text lives side by side with the postdramatic, devised theatre lives side by side with performance theatre, we have community theatre, documentary theatre etc. There are playwrights who work specifically with dramatic forms and there are playwrights that consider themselves as postdramatic playwrights. There are playwrights who work in group-constellations and with devised theatre, and there are playwrights that combine these different strategies or “text-agendas”. There are also playwrights who do whatever they please, taking on the role of auteurs. Gaining full control of the whole production apparatus.
Among these various strategies, we also have playwriting strategies that combine different strategies.
When I was introduced to the project EU Collective Plays! I was also introduced to the writings on new playwriting strategies by Paul C. Castagno.
In his book New Playwriting Strategies (Routledge 2012), Castagno describes a shift in American playwriting from the early 1990s. What happened, he states, was a move away from plot and character (more about this later in this meta-reflection), and he points to writers like Eric Overmeyer, feminist writing collectives and playwrights like Suzan Lori Parks and Noami Izuka as central agents.
In this period, writers started to mix dramatic techniques with avant-garde aesthetics, the high with the low – taking in elements from the baroque theatre, cabaret etc: “One significant trend is the blending of new playwriting sensibility with traditional narrative and character development. More playwrights are producing plays that merge traditional and new poetics, the dramatic with the theatrical. A meta-theatrical-verve is loosening traditional dramaturgy from its moorings” (Routledge 2012, page 5.)
Many of the plays Castagno includes in this shift, are what he calls language based. In these texts it is language, not the plot, which operates as the generic force in the play (See also the essay Language At Play). The result is neither a dramatic nor postdramatic play, but instead a variation of an endless number of hybrid forms.
In the hybrid, Castagno states that a multiplicity of perspectives can coincide and collide, creating a space for addressing issues like race, class and gender, where different perspectives exist simultaneously without one being privileging over the other
Although Castagno’s work is based on an American reality, it is easy to locate similar hybrid traits and mixing of strategies in contemporary European playwriting. German playwrights like Roland Schimmelpfennig and Rebekka Kirchenbaum combine myths with realist writing along with avant-garde strategies. Combining genres and levels of humour, tension and polyvocality. The same analysis is viable in a gem of a play like Faraway by the British playwright Carol Churchill, or in the work of Norwegian playwrights like Lisa Lie, Maria Tryti Vennerød and Eirik Fauske, Mari Hesjedal and more. In their work, one sees this tendency of combining perspectives, forms and techniques. Although one could say that they all produce works inside the postdramatic and post-modern paradigm: Fauske with his language based strategies, Vennerød and Hesjedal with their use of a building-block structure and popular references mixed with mythology and intertextuality, and Lisa Lie with her use of the baroque mixed with the post-modern, as well as her need for excess and montage of forms - all of these forms also point towards the hybrid.
Another trait Castagno locates is a shift towards collaboration. Not only in the form of devised theatre, but in straight playwriting. New plays are being produced in collaboration with others: with actors, scenographers, a composer, a video-designer or other writers. This tendency is also present in current European playwriting. For instance, the Icelandic playwright and author, Kristin Eìriksdottìr co-wrote her hybrid play Karma for Birds (Eìriksdottìr/Grèturdottìr (2013); and the Danish playwright Christian Lollike chooses different collaborators for his projects (Folmer Jepsen We are not real (2015), Matiakis inThe Vampire Revolution (2017) etc.) In Norway the playwright Eirik Willyson teams up with the director Hildur Kristinsdottir in a series of collaborations.
One also sees a tendency to write on pre-existing texts. Re-writing them, or over-writing them. Seeing the text as a meeting point, an intersection between old and new traditions, old and new aesthetics. Finn Iunker worked with Ifigeneia (Tre skuespill, Cappelen Damm, 2004), Sara Stridsbergs takes her turn with Medea (Medealand, Albert Bonniers Forlag 2011), and even established playwrights like David Kelly and David Hare, have grappled with old texts. David Kelly with Mac Beth (Where the Gods Weep, Oberon Modern Plays 2010), and Hare with Ibsen’s Per Gynt, which premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2019.
Paul C. Castagno talks about this hybridisation as a trait in new playwriting. Often they take on the form of collages. He states: “The hybrid play take on a myriad forms and combinations: from literary pastiches to collage-like performance pieces. The collage is an apt corollary from the world of art, since collage transform diverse found materials into a new aesthetic whole” (Routledge 2012, p. 52). And he places writers like Suzan-Lori Parks and Eric Overmeyer at the core of this shift.
Since hybridisation in playwriting as such involves the mixing or clashing of different genres, cultural or historical period styles, and techniques, it also mixes the high and the low, eastern and western performance traditions etc. All this exists side by side, even within the same play: the farcical and the serious, the high-toned and the vulgar, folk-tale elements and literary elements. What connects them all, is language orchestrated by the playwright.
It is easy to see that what Castagno refers to here has less to do with relational theatre. He is looking at the writing. But when doing so, we can immediately spot a divergence from the classic, formalistic modernist traditions. From writers like Becket and Gertrud Stein, or the poetic fantasies of Maeterlinck. Even from the more expressive, late-modernist works of Pinter. Rather, Castagno states, the hybrid forms have more in common with the carnivalesque and theatrical works of William Shakespeare, or with cabaret and vaudeville. Or the early works of Brecht, where Brecht moves constantly from realist drama to different forms of “verfremdung” – back and forth between the characters and the chorus. In this work he uses dramatic dialogues, epic sequences as well as directly addressing the audience; and he includes different text-types, songs and numbers as a part of the dramaturgy. As Drude von der Fehr and Siren Leirvåg points out their book Teater som betyr noe (Vidarforlaget 2019), Brechts epic style strived to represent both society and the individuals that lived in it. To be able to break away from the plot based and individual drama, he not only needed a new form of writing, he needed the “old” for it to break against. Writers today, like Brecht utilize these techniques. The different components function as a set of building blocks combined in sequences and combinations. These text-blocks constitutes the polyvocal play. Here structure is a product of the relational patterns between these blocks, and style is determined by the nature of sequence and transitions. Thereby, in revising a play, it is all about determining what pattern to follow. The right combination of components and scenes. Maybe this is the most common trait of the hybrid form.
The hybrid plays, states Paul Castagno, combine a variety of stage traditions: American, European as well as Asian – as do the aesthetics of theatre-makers like Robert Wilson and his “theatre of images”. In Wilson’s work, there is an emphasis on gesture and movement, and although today’s playwrights put an emphasis on language, they have things in common: “Both experiment with formal qualities of juxtapositions, repetition, and patterning. This underlying thrust for theatricality supersedes dramatic procedures. Seen in the light of the external, the plastic, and the theatrical, the new playwright is more like an auteur/director than a traditional dramatist” (Routledge 2012, p. 70).
The hybrid play is dialogism in its widest form. Here means and ends are no longer hierarchical distinctions since juxtaposition supplants linear progression as the prevailing structural scheme: “The play itself is a dialogical system. The basic structural components in playwriting is established in beat juxtaposition. The playwright envisions the script as an interactive mechanism in which each beat is in ‘dialogue’ with other beats” (Beats constituting the smallest identifiable unit of language, action or thought in a play) (Routledge 2012, p. 145). When summing up the shared aesthetic principles at work he ends up with four points: – A juxtaposition of opposites – A fragmentation, dissolving, or deconstruction of linear time – A recontextualisation of historical systems – A dynamic of scale
A world of it’s own
In the new language-based and hybrid text-forms, playwrights insist on creating an anti-world of their own:
”Language not only serves to shape the play’s universe and fabricate characters, but also provides the primary building blocks of the play itself. In the polyvocal play, structure is a product of the relational patterns between the building blocks while style is determined by the nature of sequences and transitions.” (Routledge 2012, p.15).
So, for the playwright the emphasis has shifted from the psychological to the theatrical. While in traditional dramatic playwriting there is a tendency to see the script as a vehicle for the director and the actor. For character and plot – now the playwright is free to pursue the theatrically of the play, freeing herself from psychology, plot and even sometimes character.
This of course does something to the question of mimesis. As such: “New playwrights do not attempt to mirror or represent the visible world; rather, they create a theatrical world parallel to it, a world with it’s own ontology and conventions. This imitable world enters into a dialogical relationship with the “real” world” (Routledge 2012, p. 25).
At the core of Castagno’s theorising around the hybrid play, is the idea that the play itself is a system of language. In this dialogical system, one can combine different text-types, styles and genres, even found material, like readymades, jokes and quotes.
The playwright orchestrates the voices in the text, entering into dialogue, whether coded in a specific genre or found in another text. Historically based, or produced by linguistic impulses. This can unleash slang, unusual syntax and foreignisms. Language discourses in the widest sense (for more see: a short note on Theatre and the theatrical).
8. THE HYBRID AND RE-THEATRALIZATION
Castagno states that the hybrid form is intrinsically theatrical. His idea is that he locates theatricality not only in the staging of the play or in its narration or form (situation, characters, events), but as something that latches onto language itself, and the way a playwright utilises theatrical qualities in their playwriting: playing out roles as artefacts, using props and masks and costumes as transformable ploys, putting an emphasis on transformation; often putting the gestic or exuberant/spectacular sides of language at the forefront, cultivating make believe; producing new universes with the inbuilt knowledge that language can at any time tear them down again; the raising of the dead, the march of the forest, the de-masking of the clown. All the qualities that might mimic at the same time become theatre.
Working with the play Darkness the Enemy Inside, I tried to utilize these qualities. I will write more extensively on that in part two. See also Darkness – the Enemy Inside – A Collective Endeavour.
Since language has this ability to establish alternative theatrical realities parallel to our own, the world it creates, and the characters that belong to this world, can be changed and altered any given time by language acts.
So, in a language-based play a character is no longer there as given, or as a psychological whole and believable entity, as it is in a dramatic play. It is a flexible figure open to flux and transformation. From male to female. From human to beast, from living to dead. From him to her, as in the plays of Arne Lygre. From young to old, as is often the case in the plays of Jon Fosse who proposes that in a play, the wording can change a character’s sex, age, time or setting at any time. In both Fosse and Lygre’s plays, this can take place in the naming, within a sentence, or within the same sequence, or over the course of it if it is a dialogue. By going from he to she, from now to then, from you to it etc.
This also means that the character is no longer a given “one” but has the potential to be a container for many realisations in the same play. It is more like a fixed, transformable line or movement, constantly able to change size and direction, within the composition.
Pointing to the production of plays by the American playwright Mac Wellman, Paul Castagno shows how a character can be and become anything; a hare, a crow, a dog, an alien – even a shadow (Routledge 2012, p. 85).
Castagno talks of today’s plays not only as theatrical, but as places for clashes and confrontations. They are in themselves polyvocal, contradictory texts. They make room for different social perspectives and social views, and as a result these texts can be containers for a new medial reality.
The term polyvocal was established by the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. He was interested in the contemporary novel. Seen in a playwriting context, Castagno understands polyvocality as when, “multiple language strategies and sources coexist in the play. Characters and narratives in the script may contain diverse interests or objectives, expressed in different speech forms. Polyvocality resists the notion of a single or dominant point of view in a narrative, thereby supplanting the single or authoritative voice” (Routledge 2012, p. 22).
Polyvocality is not just the combination and clashes of different voices, or the potential to produce collisions and tensions between the composition and its parts, and between parts inside the composition. It can also exist within the parts itself. Inside the sequences, even inside a character. A character does not need to be consistent or speak with one voice. It can transform, and by that split into a choir of voices, or be a polyvocal entity unified in one figure.
These strategies strive to avoid an overall aesthetic consensus, norm, or a specific point of view within the play. To achieve this, the writer may introduce shifting narrators or mix sources and texts to avoid one type of text, style, or an overriding point of view dominating the whole. This also destabilises the idea of a unifying narration or narrator. It shows an ethical stance, stating that there is not one truth but many. That we perceive the world differently, and that opens up for a discourse which does not conclude one way or the other. In that sense, the hybrid play points towards some modernist emancipatory strategies. Strategies that might even have political implications. When trying to expose the ties and tensions between individual and society, this could be an invaluable tool.
Through the hybrid, I once again discovered the joy of transformation, and the merging of layers of theatrical strategies. My focus moved from trying to cater for situations and characters, to a rediscovery of theatricality through language and gesture. I discovered that this bastardised form could give shape to both pure performative strategies and language as action in itself. Not just as a vehicle for characters and plot, but as something intrinsically theatrical in itself. And when combined, they could present different perspectives contained by the same compositional whole.
There was a new-found joy in discovering theatricality within the text itself. Not just as potential, released through a director’s concept or a performance. I will return to some examples of this theatralization of language later, but first I want to have a closer look at the concept, because theatricality is not a given term. Frequently, and in most of the literature I have read about playwriting and theatre, the writers operate as if the term is self-explanatory – something we can take for granted. But looking at the various definitions online, it is immediately obvious that this is not so, and that the way it is defined, is connected to the way one sees and understands theatre.
10. THE JOY OF THE HYBRID
For me, the act of writing a play often resembles a building process. The play itself takes on a form of an unknown landscape. It’s a space to be filled in a certain way by potential dialogue, lyrical monologues, scenes, actions and pauses. As I move into the material, the need for new texts or new “building-blocks” occurs, and then the process continues as I assemble them in the way that is most beneficial for the whole. This potential play constitutes a space I visit. The space that needs to be filled is “the play”, and the act of writing it is the act of discovering it. Assembling it happens in dialogue between the text at hand and this potentiality, and this again brings forth new material.
In the hybrid, there is a move away from what is a psychologically based and character driven story. What we see is a merging of new and traditional poetics. Old forms being transformed or incorporated in the new. One could say that in the hybrid, the dramatic, the predramatic and the postdramatic merge.
In the large scheme of things, the hybrid could easily be grouped as one of many forms of postdramatic playwriting. It is not my mission to pit one against the other.
Castagno’s reasoning is practical and close to the praxis of writing contemporary plays. His thinking is for and about the praxis of the playwright.
Lehman looks at theatre as a whole. When he established the term, it was very much used in a historical context. None of these terms are very precise, since they both want to encompass a wide spectrum of forms. As I moved into my research project the hybrid stayed with me, because it embraced all forms of aesthetics, as-well-as involving a shift away from psychology, character and plot as it’s main focus point. In other words, it is a true place for polyvocality, and its core aim is to open itself up to juxtapositions. To tension. And since tension is what I want to engage myself in, the hybrid form suited my purpose.
11. THE TIPPING POINT
A major shift has occurred in how we perceive what a play is. Both Lehman and Castagno talk about historical changes in the way we write.
Castagno locates one of these major shifts in American playwriting in the mid 1990s. He calls this “the tipping point”.
As new counter-approaches and vying for primacy emerged, other praxis had to be developed and this changed how actors and theatre-makers were trained and educated.
In American theatre’s “eco-system”. There was now a new emphasis on the corporeal actor. On muscular and vocal articulation. On theatrically-based versus psychologically-based characterisation etc.
Castagno places the playwright at the core of this process, saying: “The outcome then is that new playwriting is no longer the ‘other’, or some outer orbit: but rather, the centre core exerting gravitational pull that has altered and shaped the mainstream” (Routledge 2012, p. 4). The new form of playwriting strategies not only influenced the mainstream theatre scene, they also spilled into mainstream television and the production of television series.
If there has been a similar tipping-point in Norwegian theatre, I would locate it during the 1980s. But I am not sure whether the playwright was such a central player in this process. Rather than it being a result of the emergence of new hybrid forms, it seems like the re-energising and major change in Norwegian theatres stemmed from the clash between postdramatic and dramatic staging strategies, and the synergy it created. It placed the director and the curator at the centre of the artistic endeavour. As I see it, forty years would pass before the playwright returned to the scene as a major player.
Professional training for theatre directors started in Norway as late as in 1986 (at Oslo National Academy of the Arts), and getting this education in place was a part of a larger ongoing professionalisation of the national field of theatre. Directors had already been working in Norwegian theatre for a long time, but this new education – through its program and methods, based on Penka, Brecht and Stanislavski – placed the theatre-director as the core artist in the theatre production. The theatre-director became the one solely responsible for interpreting the text and developing the concept on which to build a performance, and the visual team was there to strengthen this concept, just as the actors were there to execute it.
This emphasised the artistic importance of the director and brought about what in Norway is often called “directors theatre”. Here a new level of meta-reflection appeared in the staging of the plays. An awareness of the intertextuality between different directors’ versions of the same plays. The fact that one director’s version of Ibsen’s The Dolls House was talking to another created a foundation for the director as an artist with their own praxis. By comparing one staging of a play by Jon Fosse with another version of the same play for instance, the director became something more than a theatre-maker or a leader of collective work processes. Directing was no longer about finding the right or “true” way of interpreting the text, it became about conceptualising it and staging it. The performance became more important than the text being performed.
It is not a part of my research to elaborate on this, but I think it should be mentioned in order to give current playwriting a context.
Group-theatre and project-based theatre has also had a strong influence on the Norwegian theatre scene.
From the 1960s and onwards, several independent theatre groups started to make their own performances influenced by visual theatre, political theatre, performance theatre, devised theatre and theatre-makers like Grips, Artaud and Grotowski (Odin Teateret, first established in Norway, Verk, Grenland Friteater, Studio Teater, Total-Teateret and more).
In the 1970s, the 68-generation became politicised, and some theatre-workers rebelled against what they saw as bourgeois theatre, seizing the momentum, and taking over institutions and transforming them to create political and emancipatory theatre for the people, many inspired by Marxist doctrine (Hålogaland Teater and Norland Teater).
In the mid-80s, the group-theatre and theatre-makers started creating networks and meeting-places. Black-Box theatre started up as a new stage in Oslo, and this was the start of the programming scene in Norway. The programming scene soon became independent of the groups themselves and created their own network; bringing international performers and companies to the major Norwegian cities (Black Box, BIT, Avant Garden) by groups like the Wuster Group, TGstan, the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, Gob Squad etc.
This also created a need for new skills and a new understanding of theatricality among theatre-workers; and new training programs for actors and theatre designers were soon established; like the founding of a Le Coq-based theatre-school at NOR University at Verdal. Existing educational programs also changed their profiles. For instance, the academy for puppet theatre became the Academy for Performing Arts in Østfold.
The most influential education, which introduced students to new tendencies in the postdramatic field, was probably theatre science at the University of Bergen. A leading figure there was professor Knut Ove Arntzen who has inspired and influenced playwrights like Finn Iunker, Cecilie Løveid, Lene Terese Teigen as well as leading theoreticians and programmers.
Although the dramatic and realist tendency continued to dominate Norwegian playwriting during these years, the playwriting community continued to be influenced by writers like Pinter, Becket and Antonin Artaud – and later on Elfriede Jelenek, Peter Handke, Sarah Kane etc.
Political theatre, has also been important to experimenting with form and the way one interacts with the audience. Many playwrights, from Jens Bjørneboe in the 1960s and 70s, to Pia Maria Roll today have been at the forefront of this experimentation.
12. NATION-BUILDING AND THE “NEW” THEATRE
As stated earlier, dramatic and realist theatre have dominated Norwegian theatre.
There is a historical reason for this.
As Norway grew to be an independent nation in the 1800s it built its national theatre institutions, establishing their own hierarchies, production modes and aesthetic.
These aesthetics and hierarchies were challenged by the upsurge of new groups and performance strategies which came in the 1960s and have antagonised the theatre of the “old” ever since.
Norwegian theatre, both institutional and fringe, is heavily supported by the government. Norway is a small nation, and the Norwegian language is a small language. Funding theatre institutions and makers is a part of Norwegian policy. The aim is to ensure that a high standard of live art is produced in Norway, and that this art is available to the public; therein strengthening the development of the Norwegian language while contributing to an open and vibrant public sphere.
As such, the government secures the institutions financially, and funds fringe projects.
In the 1980s, all these factors came together and produced a “tipping point”. A change that would revitalise the live arts in Norway and the way Norwegian playwrights work and operate.
Today, the institutions are still mainly run as before, but some of the aesthetics have changed. Now, postdramatic strategies are used in the productions, and postdramatic plays are now performed on the main national stages. And due to the national funding and the establishment of programming scenes and theatre networks, today both dramatic theatre, postdramatic theatre, devised and collaborative performative strategies exist and thrive side by side. Norwegian theatre today, is no longer subordinate to the primacy of text.
All this has transformed Norwegian theatre and turned it into the exciting, but sometimes problematic “scene”, at least from a playwriting perspective. One could say that if it wanted to, the live arts in Norway today could easily do away with the playwright altogether, yet thrive and produce interesting work for its audience. The theatre can “help itself” to material in many ways: dramatising novels, using interviews and articles, working with devising techniques, developing physical work etc. This does not mean that there are no plays being performed in Norwegian theatres. Old and modern “classics” by Ibsen, Brecht, Euripides, Shakespeare, or American playwrights like Miller and Albee are on the repertoire. Living European playwrights are also performed, as well as contemporary playwrights like Arne Lygre and Jon Fosse.
For the theatre body as a whole, one could say that the play is still central, but that any text could be viable as performative material. This relationship of attraction and repulsion between theatre and literature, as Lehman puts it, is often productive artistically, but for the playwright, the situation also produces friction and frustration.
The question is: What does the play of today have to offer?
As a dramaturge I have seen how many important and artistically achieved contemporary plays never reach the stage, and while the work of many of my colleagues is performed abroad (Bratberg, Grønskag, Fauske etc.) their plays are not staged “at home”.
This development is a regular topic at national seminars, and both governing, as well as oppositional politicians, are looking for different economic incentives to secure the production, publication and performing of contemporary plays.
It’s a precarious situation, but it has also opened up new ground, and in this open landscape, many playwrights have found the freedom to develop new forms and create exciting work. In other words, it has brought a potential for change and artistic exploration. By asking what a contemporary play is and what it could be, playwrights are now taking part in revitalising contemporary theatre, producing texts with a wide range of artistic expressions and forms.
13. WHO WRITES AND WHY?
In drama the play primarily functions as a role-script, today’s variety of performative texts and plays emancipate not only the theatre-maker, but also the theatre-writer, as Lehman states in his book Postdramatic Theatre.
The younger generation of playwrights and performers relate to various traditions, developing new strategies for what theatricality can be – both in their texts and on stage. One can see this open-ended approach in works like Becker/Langaard’s New Skin. In Trine Falch’s Susi Wang project, and in the way playwriting auteurs like Eirik Fauske and Lisa Lie work.
In these projects, realism is set aside. Instead, you get fictional strategies for constructing possible new worlds. It mixes the personal with the political, and the mythical with the factual. It samples, distorts and extenuates found material. Time becomes matter, often breaking up into a variety of gestures and layers, and this seems to happen effortlessly and of its own accord, in a manner that is full of self-assertiveness and even baroque in its form.
Meaning is not dead, but rather produced in bursts of gesture and language, representing and presenting meaning as momentary discoveries. The sense of crisis is present, but also as a potential for new beginnings.
It is not only the playwright who writes in the potential collective, and many of today’s performative texts do not constitute plays. They might sometimes be a system of notation, a guideline, a score, or a body of material so interwoven into the logic or the aesthetic of the performance that it has no value beyond that particular context. It can only be understood and reproduced as a part of the whole this performance constitutes.
The text, both plays, dramatisations and score-like scripts like this can result from the efforts of a dramaturge, a director, an artistic team or a team of actors, a collaboration with a playwright and so on – and it can be executed by one, or all of the above. The starting point can be a concept developed by a director, by the collective of the artistic team, or by the group as a whole. Generally speaking, the director or the artistic director is the one having the last word in this process.
Today, contemporary Norwegian playwrights use different strategies and aesthetics.
Writers like Lisa Lie, Kate Pendry, Eirik Fauske, Hanne Ramsdal, Ludvig Ulhbors, and Lene Therese Teigen place themselves at the centre of the theatre body, by taking on the role as directors and concept-makers, often staging and performing, or producing their own texts and establishing their own production companies.
Some, like Lisa Lie and Eirik Fauske, have become theatre makers in their own right, with strong artistic signatures. Through their praxis they have also been able to do pioneering work as writers with full control over their aesthetics and the production apparatus: Lie with her hybrid and expressionist version of network-based text collages, entailing strong visual, almost ritualistic elements, often echoing other classic texts, popular art and mythology Mare (Det Norske Teater, 2018), Blue Motel (2016) and Terje Wigen (Trøndelag Teater, 2017) – and Fauske through focusing on text and scenography, especially in his collaboration with scenographer Signe Becker as in Lindås (Avant Garden/Black Box, 2012) and LIVE – sorgarbeid (Avant Garden/Black Box, 2018), projects that sometimes totally remove the performer from the equation, leaving the space to the performative power of the writing and the mise-en-scène. Fauske also experiments with autobiographical material and live-writing.
Others work as traditional playwrights outside the theatre body, and do not stage or interpret their plays. Most write open plays in the modernist tradition, easily attuned to the praxis and aesthetics of the contemporary stages around Europe. Some with great success internationally, like Jon Fosse, Arne Lygre, Cecilie Løveid, Fredrik Bratberg, Maria Tryti Wennerød and Kristofer Grønskag.
While Bratberg and Grønskag’s plays are mostly performed by theatre houses and theatre companies abroad – Bratberg mainly in France and Eastern Europe, and Grønskag in Denmark and Germany – Lygre, Fosse and Wennerød are also frequently played in Norway.
As mentioned earlier, some writers also write both plays and performative texts, or are part of group constellations, or write for production companies, or are involved in devised theatre or documentary praxis, taking on the role of dramaturge or doing dramatisations. Some of them rarely produce plays as such. Many have been a part of great pioneering work in theatre for children and the young, or in devised and documentary theatre.
In my research, I have been interested in a broad spectrum of methods for producing performative text or finding scenes and material for a play. I enjoy the possibilities and processes involved – at the same time, I aim for my plays to be works of art in their own right. This means using different methods and abiding by different ethics and aesthetics simultaneously. In my development of methods and strategies, I have made efforts to bridge that gap.
14. LANGUAGE IS ACTION
In Drude von der Fehr and Siren Leirvåg’s book Teater som betyr noe (Theatre that means something, my translation), the authors pick up on the semantic understanding of language and use it to look at the role that performative text plays in theatre.
They refer to linguists like William Sauters and John Austin, stating that language is action. Language-acts produce both cognitive and affective effects, and when used performatively they can traverse the boundaries between true and false. As such, a statement in a play can ring through independently of whether it is actually true or not. When a character says that it is raining today, we can agree on the fact, although there is no rain to be seen.
In other words, language refers to the real world, but is not identical to this reality. Through language, one can constitute a shared reality that exists there and then. And by building images and emotional stimuli, one can influence the way the audience sees not only the world created by the play/on stage, but in accordance – the world that surrounds them (Leirvåg/von der Fehr, Teater som betyr noe, Vidarforlaget Oslo, 2019, p. 38).
“All forms of theatre, but especially postdramatic forms utilise this ability,” states the composer Kent Olofsson in his doctoral theses Composing the Performance (2018). Here he tries to explains what he calls a tendency of “de-semantification” of the text in theatre: “Dramatic theatre is all about staging of plot-based stories with actors playing out fictional characters,” he states. Olofsson also writes that while postdramatic works mainly base themselves on gestures, movements, sounds, visuals and choreographies, here concrete experience is at the forefront.
Olofsson’s and Hans Thies Lehman’s thoughts overlap somewhat although Lehman never uses the word de-semantification. Instead he writes about language as surfaces, or of heightened, poetic spheres of language. Castagno, for his part, locates the trend of a re-theatralization of language. Here he sees the writers utilising language as action, as gest, and as a creator of theatrical worlds. What is true for all of these, is that they point to a change in playwriting, a change in how playwrights work with language-acts, and the fact that these acts are “true”, not based on what is actually real, but based on a contract made with the audience. This makes it possible to have many truths represented in the same play, and it makes it possible to negotiate which “meaning” is being played out, as we have seen played out in the tradition of surrealist theatre for instance.
When I have been writing performative texts, where collective experiences and individual dilemmas are situated in the same space and time – often within the same piece, or in the same “frame” so to say – I have looked for such multiplicity of truth. I have also sought inspiration beyond the field of playwriting. In dance, in composed theatre and in music.
15. CHOREOGRAPHING THE PARTS AND THE WHOLE
There is something deeply fascinating about watching a large dance company establishing a communal body. Especially when the dancers move like a choreographed one, then divide into solos, duets and smaller groups, to form a set of parallel but separate actions. By doing this, dance shows its potential to display collective processes and deep individual processes simultaneously in an ongoing flux, a movement back and forth between the one and the many.
When the choreographer assembles sequences of moves that include both collective and singular passages side by side, she has the potential to show both how the one and the many work separately and as one. Through gestures, movement, steps, rhythm and beat there is a constant potential for creating a connection between the two. The tension and the bond between the whole and its parts, and in the right context, a connection between the individual and society. I have often wondered if it could it be possible to accomplish the same in a performative text. Could a text represent some of the same forms and figurations in shared time and space – and what would such a text look like?
Choreographer Anouk von Dijk and the playwright/director Falk Richter have had a long-lasting collaboration, producing a string of performances together.
Watching their performance Shame (Schaubuhne, Germany, 2009), I experienced some of the same mechanisms at work as I did when observing large, ensemble-based choreographies.
Here, all the actors/dancers were present on stage throughout the performance, and as the performance progressed, a polyvocality developed. There was a feeling of progress, a build-up of tension, outburst and release. But the build-up never added up to a “story”, and although the performance constituted a theatrical and performative whole, this “whole” was time and time again split open by dialogues and rants both verbal and physical. By helpless outbursts of frustration, or by almost virtuoso monologues (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GC1WpihJGA&list=UUmtDNQymhlQQu6BDPpWQI1g&index=315).Sometimes these outbursts and sequences of verbal or physical action put all else to rest. At other times, several other actions took place simultaneously.
In Shame, Richter and von Dijk had created a polyvocal composition, where the collective situations and imagery were in a constant movement between the one and the many. The performance, like the text, had no plot as such. Instead, a theme – or a kind of zeitgeist, a feeling of shame, or shaming – permeated all the action on stage, and the combination of text, physical movements, gestures and choreographic elements, exposed both a tension and a connection between the singular episodes and the whole. This was modern dance come text-theatre or vice versa, and what tied the performative elements together besides the theme, was not the text, it was the movements, the choreography, and the sound and visuals: lights, music etc. Broken down on the page, the text sequences would dissolve into singular speech-acts, assigned to one or more performers, and the whole would be lost or invisible.
After having seen the performance, I kept asking myself: How might I do this in a play? How could a performative text create this merging and separation between the one and a many without losing the text as a whole?
16. COMPOSED THEATRE
Inspired by this idea of composition as a way to think dramaturgically, I turned to what Kent Olofsson calls “composed theatre”.
In his doctoral thesis Olofsson writes about zonal dramaturgy and how various musical principles can be used as tools to organise theatrical events. When using these composition tools, he states that a new potential occurs for zonal or vertical dramaturgies. Dramaturgies that utilises the potential of layers of transformations that is interconnected in certain moments in time. It is about allowing “two” realities to merge into a “third”. To create a synthesis of the two, where the relationship between them gives new meaning.
In composed theatre, composition is perceived as the axiom of putting together, combining or forming the different elements, parts, or ingredients in a piece or a performance. The praxis of looking for and combining visual, temporal, spatial or musical expressions (Kent Olofsson, Composing the Performance, 2018, p. 68). In it, compositional thinking from music is used for all theatrical and overriding dramatic structures. One could call it a theatricalization of music or vice versa, where all the elements exist as independent voices in a polyphonic interplay, creating connections, hierarchies and patterns of mutual impact. Here the score is not a work of art, as in music, but seen as inseparable from the performance, and this is often a collaborative process, involving artists from several fields. In other words, it is in its essence an interdisciplinary endeavour.
Composed theatre today, is an established field with its own seminars and symposiums. Central figures in this field are Heiner Goebbels, Petra Maria Meyer, Cathie Boyd and more.
In his work, Olofsson collaborates closely with the playwright and director Jörgen Dahlquist under the production-umbrella of the Weimar Theatre in Malmø. Together they try to merge text, performative elements, video and sound art.
Although Olofsson and Dahlquist’s work includes text (Dahlquist being a playwright himself), it is clear to see that Olofsson’s focal point is the performance. What Olofsson is looking for is an interdisciplinary and intermedial theatre praxis.
In my research, I often work interdisciplinary, and I have sometimes created performances (See documentation: The City Dwellers Project, The Book of Prayers and DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future, but my research question focuses on written performative text, and when I write, the performance is not yet there. I can only imagine it.
I can try to manifest what I imagine, but for all I know the text could end up in a version very different to what I envisaged. In other words, when writing plays, the final “result” is out of my control. But when working with the hybrid form I can recognise these musical strategies. When I make my plays, it is often about composing, “putting together, combining or forming the different elements, parts, or ingredients in a piece or a play”. This is even more true when I write for the voice or for audio.
17. A PLAY FOR THE EAR
Kent Olofsson writes: "Since the radio play lacks the visual dimension the listener must imagine the place where the play is set through what is heard. The radio play is free to move quickly between different times, places and situations, or let them occur simultaneously in a way that cannot be done on stage." (Composing the Performance 2018, p. 29).
In the radio play, one can create layering and parallel scenes, that resemble the solos and communal sequences of a dance-performance or a musical composition. This is true for a dramatic text where the listener has to be able to follow a narrative. In radio, scenes can intercut and run parallel. You can have a war-scene going on in the background, while placing a dialogue between a few main characters in the foreground, interweaving them with an inner dialogue, and even add a narrator commenting the scene.
The war-scene could be situated in Japan 1942, while the dialogue takes place in New York twenty years later, since the inner monologues reflect what is going on in the scene here and now. Since the narrator speaks from the structure of the play itself, one can even add a meta-level to the mix, through commentary, digressions and reflection.
So, in the dramatic radio play, one can work with many times and places at the same time, introducing many characters, situations and perspectives. If one works with other dramaturgical models; the hybrid form, postdramatic plays, or if one works with experimental hörspiel or contemporary radio-opera, for example, there are endless opportunities for introducing techniques like montage, pure musical elements, intertextuality, juxtaposition etc. In other words, opportunities to move freely among the different layers of the composition, and between the internal and the external levels of the play. Creating tension and release, clusters of themes, plays on meaning and so on – and through that, polyvocality.
I have been working with sound-installations since 1996 and radio plays since 2003; and in my work, especially in my radio plays, I have experienced radio’s ability to manifest several time-levels simultaneously, and its potential for creating parallel emotional states or levels of consciousness within the same scene, or in the same play. As I did in Haven (2003) and Funn (2013).
In these plays, perspective collide. Inside the scenes, in the spaces of reflection between the scenes, sometimes even between the voice of the narrator and the events played out.
In Haven, a young woman has her greatest wish fulfilled when her husband buys a garden especially for her, but as she invests time and effort in it, the garden starts taking on a monstrous quality and in the end it devours her.
The story is narrated by the woman’s younger brother, and the point of view constantly shifts between the narration and the characters and events.
In Funn, a family struggles with the past manifested through the effects of diving sickness. The father, once a part of the pioneering diving-teams in the north-sea-oil bonanza, now suffers from memory loss, mood swings and disorientation. When their daughter disappears, a battle for ownership of what’s real breaks out between the parents.
The “story” is narrated by the mother, but there is a discrepancy in what she narrates and what we experience in the scene that unfolds. The emotional landscape becomes shaky and the lines between what’s real or not starts to dissolve.
In both plays, different modes of reality and consciousness are present at the same time – sequences, monologues and scenes, all interfering with one another, creating new connections and meaning.
I have tried to take this synthesising potential further in the audio work I have been doing during my research and I will return to that when I discuss both the radio play Sweatshop – Aleppo and my installation work The City Dwellers Project in part two of this meta-reflection.
18. THE MONGREL
A play is in itself a mongrel, always combining different text types: dialogues, stage directions, monologues, outbursts, confessions, laments, questions and answers etc. One addressing the other. As such, they are montages where different types of texts are put together to communicate something very specific. This assemblage of different layers and text-types tells a skilled reader not only how to interpret it, but how to deal with it performatively – directly or indirectly. In other words, a play always offers itself to a praxis.
The genre, being dramatic, predramatic or postdramatic, is in itself dirty, and when I call my texts dirty – I mean that they are conglomerates understood almost in a geological way.
As Bakhtin discovered when looking at the novels of his own time, Castagno discovered too that many of the plays of his time were dialogical or polyvocal (See Language at Play).
This gives freedom.
A freedom to create fictional worlds. To bend time. To express more than one opinion and show more than one world-view. To produce an ethical tension.
I know that my texts are a part of me. That whatever I do, they will reflect who I am and the time I live in. The life experiences I’ve had, and the way I foresee the future. Still, they are something of their own.
In recent years I have started to see them as entities in themselves. As intact and unique systems that consist of events, text-surfaces, intertextuality etc., and that all these separate parts interconnect.
These interconnected systems have a “behaviour”, and it is the way these different parts are put together give them this behaviour. It is something the text is, and at the same time something it does.
As a result, the text itself involves an imperative that is not necessarily mine. It wants something. It demands something. Not only in the way it may ask to be performed or interpreted – but in the way it wants to be understood.
This praxis also endorses a world-view and an aesthetic. And this aesthetic, and the world-view it represents is “there” inscribed in its structure as something self-explanatory and given. The fact that it is given, also entails an ethical stance, and this is how I structure my texts, the way I compose them, and what gives each text its specific behaviour.
It all comes from somewhere. The question I often ask myself is where am I speaking from?
Sometimes I even ask: What is speaking in this one?
The place does something to you. Space, to me, is not passive or neutral.
Like when we enter the maze-like streets in the old part of a city. Suddenly lost. Disoriented. Staring up at the sky to see what’s south and what’s north.
Spaces can change who we are. Just as a city forces us to wait for a red light. We slow down as we pass through a crowd. It teaches us patience. It keeps us on our toes. It closes us in, and it leaves us exposed and alone in the open.
Today, there are theatre forms and ways of writing plays that are not solely concerned with narration. Theatre-makers and playwrights have rebelled against the solely plot-based structures. Old forms have been reconsidered and rediscovered and the playwright of today has a toolbox full of strategies. In part two of this meta-reflection I will look closely at how I try to use them in my research project.
A play is always a small part of a bigger puzzle, the context it exists within, and all the other plays that preceded it.
This web-page is an assemblage.
This meta-reflection is a part of its feedback loop. It is both where it begins and where it ends. As such it is a map of itself. A way into it.
PART TWO – THE RESEARCH
In this part of my meta-reflection I will try to reflect on some of my artistic endeavours. How I have attacked them formally, the work-processes involved and how they took on my research questions.
Since so many of these projects have been going on at the same time, I have not attempted to create a timeline for the different endeavours here. Instead I have tried to group them according to the thematic or formal challenges they entailed.
I will start with S O A R E, the work that opened up my research question.
1. S O A R E – FOOLING AROUND WITH TIME
In a space/time composition like a play or a performative text, time works its magic everywhere. It is not only narrated or exposed, it acts. It is being “played out”. It moves, and shifts, and modulates within the text, not just chapter for chapter, or between the chapters. Not just scene after scene, sentence by sentence, – but within the words and utterances themselves. The affective and sound-like qualities of words, when both written and spoken, can expand time, punctuate it, stretch it or run away with it. Say or write the word soothing – and time lingers and stretches and stays. Say or write the word blunt – and time becomes dense and hard and short, as if the word fell straight out of the sentence, too heavy for it to hold on to. Say or write the word hesitant – and time starts to stutter. Say or write the word run – and time has already run away with it.
This fascination with the flexibility of time within the text and within words and utterances has always been present in my writing – in my novels, my poetry and my plays. I think of my texts as containers of time, and at the same time as a place where I can “set time free”. Where it can behave how it wants.
S O A R E is a play with a multi-story plot. It is the setting that brings the different characters in contact with each other, a bit like in a television-series. In S O A R E, the action focuses on a high-rise hotel in a big western city where “Rakel” works as a security guard, and the drone pilot “Samuel” seeks refuge here when he needs to escape from home and try to shake off the nightmarish thoughts of a mission gone wrong.
The other characters in the play are “Anna”, Samuel’s domestic servant; Anna’s boyfriend “Ewo”, Ewo’s wife “Hannah”, and an omnipresent narrator called “One”.
It was all about what parts of our lives we can control, and what parts are beyond our control.
This produced both urgency and a tension within the piece at a compositional level, and on an operational level. Within the scenes, between the scenes, and between the characters, in a constant play between the here and now.
Samuel experiences some kind of mental collapse. It is as if the borders between experienced time, the logics of the pre-programmed attack, and the time out there, where the attack actually happened, starts to implode. Mentally he finds himself stuck in that moment, trapped in the image of the continually collapsing walls, as he re-lives those minutes again and again, trying to make intellectual and emotional sense of it all (read more about time here: A short note on beginnings and time).
It is as if each of the characters in the play are struggling with time in different ways.
Rakel, is in her here-and-now, watching the hundreds of cameras that monitor the 16-story hotel she works in, rewinding back and forth between what went on, and the thoughts that plague her here-and-now. Anna watches the children in their sleep, stuck in the domesticity of another man’s family, while Ewo sleeps rough under bridges, spending his time as he pleases, trying to hold on to something he calls freedom.
What ties all this together is the composition, and the “willed” time in the play itself.
There is a hybridisation of time going on in the text, a bastardised and intermingled feeling of time and place, and towards the end, the narration becomes monstrous, as everything culminates in a kind of biblical metaphor, or a Deus ex Machina, a “divine” or nature-born intervention that belongs to the allegory, or the myth. After months without rain, water starts seeping into the hotel’s foundations. Rising from floor to floor. Flooding the whole place, and in the end killing everyone inside. Maybe the play tries to propose that if there is no “human” answer to the deep ethical tension the characters experience, then all we can do is to listen to the voice of nature.
I think I wrote this play as an outcry. I was in pain. It was as if I was shouting back to myself: Look! You see all this, and you cannot change it! You know all this, and it does not change anything! It does not even influence your actions. It was as if the act of seeing, and the act of doing had lost all connection.
“You cannot end a play like that,” one of my supervisors, Øystein Stene, said to me after the first reading we did at NRK radioteateret. “It’s ‘cheating’. You can write it as a metaphor, but then you have to continue with your characters. This is not the time for divine intervention in playwriting. You have to write another ending or another act.”
But I didn’t.
I couldn’t. And today the end remains how it was when I started this research.
2. HYBRIDISATION AND TIME
When Hans Thies Lehman discusses how time can behave in contemporary plays, he turns to Shakespeare to find an historic example. Shakespeare’s use of time is not linear, he states. It is like a knot of wool: Here, time – the medium of all theatrical experience – neither describes a continues line nor does it form a mythological or religiously determined circle; instead it appears as a disorderly sphere, so to speak, the threads of time are like a knot of wool. The temporal orders of nature and the state, stars and dynasties, the crown and the crowd, the animal and human realms, individual live and generations, and the body and the spiritual flights intersect and become entangled (Routledge 2016, p. 212).Since the hybrid plays around with time, it also values plays and playwrights that does the same, Paul C. Castagno states: “The way the hybrid play operates, turns our canon upside down. And a playwright like Shakespeare, whose mix of myth and reality, dream and triviality now feel strangely familiar. What we see, is a hybridisation of narrative time itself.”
As mentioned earlier, the character One in S O A R E, is an omnipresent figure in the play. The other characters never see him, but they can sometimes sense his presence, and they talk to him.
As such, the character One constitutes both the narrator and character. Being just a voice, he can move freely between the scenes, appear from nowhere and speak from anywhere.
One has the ability to unveil and bridge the gap between realistic scenes and the allegorical dimensions of the play, between action and narration. Between scenic action and composition so to speak.
An omnipresent, bodiless figure can be hard to represent on stage, but exciting to work with in audio.
When re-visisting the play, making it into a play for radio, sound-designer Nils Jacob Langvik worked with the recordings of One’s voice, he removed all traces of a physicality in the mix, (breath, noise from clothes, footsteps etc). What he wanted was to create a purely mental figuration.
Your browser does not support the audio element.
Sketch for full length audio drama S O A R E.
Re-visiting S O A R E, the play, and doing these recordings in the studio gave insight into how the text worked with space and time. The recording produced a new script, a radio-version of the play, and in this version strengthened the reflective side to S O A R E and increased the feeling of flexibility. Later – when I started to develop a series of audio-essays, I built on that experiences.
3. A FIGURE WITH NO BODY AND THE AUDIO ESSAY
As Hans Thies Lehman points out: “The body represented on stage can also become something else: a ghost, an object, a mask. An inanimate statue, a gesture, a sculpture, even mirroring mechanics” (Theatre and Tragedy, Routledge London, 2016, p. 131).
When one removes the text from physicality and location, a bodyless voice can become a wavering borderline between what is and what isn’t, leaving the realm of time and space.
When I look at the series of audio essays I wrote during my research period, I can now see how I tried to fuse together the reflective and the playwriting side of my research. Here I wanted to look closely at the idea of representing mental processes through voice.
When writing and recording them, I attempted to mirror content and form. Creating metalogues where content shaped the form and vice versa.
Gregory Batesons was an English anthropologist, social scientist and a founder of system theory. In his explorations of the metalogue, he tried to develop a dialogical method to reflect on a term or a subject-matter. He states: “The metalogue is a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject” (Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Jason inc, 1987, p. 12).
What he wanted to achieve, was a kind of double format. If you talked about sensitivity, a sensitive touch should be given to the form and aesthetics of the conversation. If the topic was chaos – likewise.
In my audio-essays I strive for the same.
My first two audio-essays were built on essays I had written.
A written essay is a short prose text written to explore a subject. It is understood as analytic, speculative and often personal. In an essay it is this exploration or the speculation, not the conclusion, that is at the forefront.
In the second year of my research period, I wrote the essay Stay–Leave. Don’t Go (essay).
When I had finished my second essay, I started thinking, what would this essay “look like” if it took on the form of a performative text? If I turned it into a small play, would it continue to be an essay? As a test, I tried to make it into a dialogue between three parties, and then I recorded it. The result was my first audio essay, Stay–Leave. Don’t Go (dramatic metalogue).
In Stay–Leave. Don’t Go (essay) I discuss how imperative addresses, not necessarily plot, can be the primary mover and the engine of a play. And how a relational, not a conflict-based understanding of the dramatic arts, changes the idea of what the artform is and can be.
Since this was a personal essay, it felt natural to use my own voice when recording it. The other two parts were read by Line Verndal and Torgny Anderaa (Listen to the recording: Stay–Leave. Don’t Go (audio)).
How listening to a voice can induce an acknowledgement of “the other”, was also a central point in the essay. I wanted to emphasise the emotive and imperative sides of the address inherent in the voice. To enhance this in the recording, I introduced a voice improvisation by Silje Aker Johnsen (see documentation of the whole recording-session at KHiO here). By choosing a voice-based improvisation, not music or sound, I wanted to put the expressiveness of the voice at the centre of the production.
After having finished this audio-essay I turned to the next: future–PRE–Positions (essay).
This time I tried to deal with the term “post”, and to open up for speculative fiction as a possible new position to write from. I also explored an attitude which I call the “PRE” as a way of looking at the world and my writing that is proactive, instead of reactive. A mode that entails an innate mode of listening. To be in what is, instead of taking a critical stance against what was.
Again, since this was a personal essay, I read one of the parts myself, along with Jørn Bjørn Fuller Gee and Liv Hanne Haugen. Later I asked the experimental electronic musician, producer and sound artist Kristoffer Lislegaard to produce music for the piece. He also ended up doing the final mix (See: future–PRE–Positions (dramatic metalogue) and future–PRE–Positions (audio)).
In my third essay – The Heaviness of Palaces and Planes (essay) I wanted to look at how a play produces different perspectives, and how they can be changed by language. And I wanted to utilise the generic qualities of language to create a specific reality; to constitute “characters” that represented mental processes.
The piece is a dialogue between two characters, in the form of question and answers – the core question being: What happens if you change the perspective? It appears to be a game between the two parties. But it is a deadly serious game, where one of the characters gradually transforms; from a human into a mouse, a snake, then earth, then grass, then a flowering weed, before returning to human form.
In this piece, I wanted to see whether it was possible to litterary change “reality” through changing the perspective. I wanted to see if I could create a “world” that could be continuously moulded by language. My hypothesis was that I could achieve this by using language-based strategies working only with voice.
For the first time, I wrote the text for the audio essay first. The style in this work was closer to fiction than my previous works. (I later branded this form as poetic, reflective, performative fiction. Something perhaps closer to Batesons’ metalogue than a personal essay). And since this was more of a play than a purely speculative dialogue, it felt wrong to use my own voice in the recording. Instead, I recorded the piece with two actors, Samantha Lawson and Torgny Anderaa (See: The Heaviness of Palaces and Planes (dramatic metalogue) and The Heaviness of Palaces and Planes (audio)).
In The Heaviness of Palaces and Planes (dramatic metalogue) , I tested language-based strategies to find a way to represent the transformational and generic powers of language in both content and form.
In the editing process, I added a mix of instrumental music by Slagr, and parts of a voice-improvisation by Ann-Helen Schjølberg (see documentation from the recording session with Ann-Helene Schølberg here. This session took place in October 2018 and was based on work done during the collective writing workshop at OIAF in June the same year).
When compiled, these three essays and audio-essays establish a body of work. (You can find all six essays and audio-essays in research area D on the website).
4. A POTENTIAL SPATIAL RENDERING
Working with the audio-essays, and the radio version of S O A R E, I wanted to explore the potential of disembodied figures through voice. Through that, I tried to express mental processes, and test the flexibility of the hybrid form in audio media.
Both the essay and the radio-version (S O A R E (radio)) functioned as a laboratory for me, and as a kind of “lehrstykke”.
If I could go further in exploring these bodiless figures today, I would have loved to give them a spatial rendering; still working with audio, but with a multi-speaker set-up that allowed me to create three-dimensional sound in space; physically transporting the voices from speaker to speaker to give them more agency. I believe that through these techniques I would be able to develop more complex forms of mental landscapes. The idea would be to create an immersive “thinking” landscape, where the visitor/audience could be “inside” the piece itself.
This interest in using spatial sound in my work is a paradox for me.
Coming from a literary background (I published two poetry collections and two novels in the 90s with Gyldendal Forlag), to end up working in this format was not a given. Nevertheless my first encounter with the performative text was through a series of voice-based installation pieces that I found myself making for several collaborative projects with visual artists in the late 90s (Vibeke Steinsholm, Elin Andreasen and more). This came about at the same time as I discovered new media in the arts. Central to this discovery were the works of Bill Viola and H.C. Gilje.
I had already developed a fascination for contemporary photography and artists like Cindy Sherman, and I would soon be acquainted with the early re-enactment pieces by artists like Crispen Gurhold.
It was the clash of references, time and attitude, that attracted me to these works. The way that time and society’s passing fads and technologies were set into play by the mixing and overlapping of visuals and references. The paradoxes and tension they produced, along with gestic theatricality and the intrinsic instinct for staging, felt inspiring.
Although my first installation-pieces did not resemble any of these works, I think the potential for awakening these qualities, as well as a fascination for the human voice, drew me towards the installation as a medium, because I had found a growing need to explore parallel actions and layers of time. So without knowing it, I was probably looking for a way out of the dichotomies of dualism early on. Striving to merge time and space, to create parallel scenes, even parallel worlds and allowing them to co-exist side by side.
In my installation-project The City Dwellers Project, I began some spatial experimentation. Not with sound as agency – I didn’t have the technology to move the sound from speaker to speaker at the time. Instead, as I started the project, making City Dwelers # 1–4, I operated with stationary speakers and linear sound, and used multiple sources (101 voices, 406 texts and 37 speakers), trying to create an immersive landscape of voices through this multiplicity of performative texts in a spatial representation. The idea was to explore the possibility of portraying the ties and tension between the one and the many through presenting a city scape and its development over time (see documentation: First draft City Dwellers # 1– 4 Detroit 1701–2024 here). But the result came closer to a mental landscape than I had imagined. I will elaborate on this here, in the chapters: The Hybrid and the Chorus and The Trials and Tribulations in the World of Immersive Sound.
5. THE VOICE AS THE TOPOI OF THE TEXT
While working on The City Dwellers Project, just as I did when working on my audio essay, I had a voice in mind. When there is no visual information available, imagination takes over. Thus, the generic potential in language grows. When all we have to hold on to are the spoken words, the music and the sound-effects – the voice and its expressiveness comes to the forefront. Its tonality, what in music is called the prosody, – acquired through intonation, attack, speed, volume, timbre, dialect etc. becomes vital.
As Tore Vagn Lid points out in his article on text in the book Skuespillerens arbeid med teksten, this demands that one also "reads" or sees the performative text as a text of sounds, not just meaning; vowels and consonants, producing musical/rhythmical reactions both in the performer and in the audience. He talks about specific texts that are based on sound (in Norwegian he calls them "klang-tekstar"), but these qualities are in my experience more or less present in all performative texts (Skuespillerens arbeid med teksten, Oslo National Academy of the Arts (2017), p. 112).
But the way material comes across, relies not only on the voice and the acting skills of the performer. It also resides in the affective qualities of language itself. On how it is written. The rhythm, the beat, the use of alliteration, the length of the sentences. Repetitions, riffing, pauses. Use of different sonic qualities of the word, etc. All this adds meaning, gives texture and creates style.
I enjoy reading plays that utilise this. Modernists like Becket and Pinter were especially clever with pauses, rifts and silences. In Shakespeare’s plays the exuberant quality of language gives a feeling of something almost carnivalesque; while the short sentences, the sparseness and repetition in Fosse’s plays not only give his writing a distinct style, they also increase the sense of urgency and intensity. At the same time the plays take on an almost metaphysical feeling of spinning and vibrating in stillness. Some of the same strategies resonate in the works of Norwegian playwrights like Linda Gabrielsen and Fredrik Bratberg who write plays that have many musical qualities, albeit in very different ways. Gabrielsen’s work being fugue-based and impressionistic, while Bratberg’s follows strict, repetitive and metric patterns.
I also feel an affinity with the expressive use of the sonic qualities in the grouping of words, rhythm and alliteration in the radio play by Dylan Thomas, Under Milkwood (commissioned by the BBC in 1954), and the use of imagery and sudden shifts in plays like Carol Churchill’s Far Away (Nick Hern Books, 2003). Both these plays have been of great inspiration to me. There is a willingness in Thomas’s and Churchill’s writing to enter something liminal. In Dylan Thomas’s work it is to pierce the thin membrane between the play and song-like poetry. In Churchill’s work it is to break down the borders between the poetic and the political, entering a theatrical space where realism is no longer viable. These are attitudes and ways of writing that I can recognise in my own work, as well as the works of three very different contemporary Norwegian playwrights; Malmfrid Hovsveen Hallum, Lisa Lie and Runa B. Skolseg.
In the monologue, one can easily spot how playwrights utilise the different gestic or performative sides of language. Paul C. Castagno states in his book New Playwriting Strategies that it is in the monologue, that the writer’s attitude to language becomes apparent.
6. LANGUAGE-BASED STRATEGIES AND THE MONOLOGUE
A monologue is often composed and orchestrated for effect, marked by a heightened, even formal level of language – informative, expressive, rhetorical or reflective. Here, the virtuoso or the tour de force monologue, can take on the same quality as an aria or a dance number in a circus act; demanding great skills of the writer and from the actor; elevating the material, establishing the spectacle inside the play, in language itself.
Through its way of addressing it can also create a feedback loop between the character and the listener, between the play and the audience, and between the whole and the parts of the play. As such, it functions as a vehicle for style and tone, but also as a key structural device.
Castagno states that today the monologue has become the dramaturgical topoi of choice. Playwrights like Roland Schimmelpfennig, Kristofer Grøndal and Jesper Halle use this technique, and I used this strategy myself when I wrote Det Tredje Stadiet and Strømmer, and in my radio plays Funn and Haven.
I have also used the monologue as a structural device in writing I have done during my research period. The monologues in Sweatshop – Aleppo, S O A R E and Darkness the Enemy Inside both frame and situate the material.
In Sweatshop – Aleppo I wanted to construct the play as a montage between tour de force monologues and trivial scenes between the characters. Between simple scenes portraying mundane, everyday situations and monologues with a heightened language, rhythm and rhetorical power, even incorporating mythical aspects. I had this idea, that the tension and release in the flux between these different text-types could constitute a generic engine in the play. To constitute the “drama” so to say.
Doing so, I was inspired by several contemporary playwrights, like Falk Richter, Roland Schimmelpfennig, Rebekka Kricheldorf and Eirik Fauske.
In Sweatshop – Aleppo, the monologues not only frame the material, they also establish the world we are in. The vehicles for this are the dreams of the boy. They open and end the play, functioning as a kind of narration all through the play. But two-thirds in, the point of view shifts, and we are transferred from the boy’s dream-world, into Meriam’s. From then on, the two perspectives blend, before we end up in the final monologues where we are yet again solely with the boy and he becomes the main character in the play.
7. SWEATSHOP – ALEPPO, THE STARTING POINT
The starting point for the piece was not a formal quest, but a reportage in the newspaper The Guardian about a raid on a sweatshop in Izmir ( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/06/refugee-crisis-turkish-police-find-factory-making-fake-lifejackets-izmir). The owners of the sweatshop we producing fake life-vests and employing refugees. Among these workers were two children. Two girls, fifteen and sixteen years old. Both from Syria.
I found the dilemmas presented in this news story both heartbreaking and dramatic, and I immediately knew I wanted to write something on it.
When I sat down to write it was December 2016, the bombs were raining down on the Syrian cities Hommes and Aleppo, and as I wrote, a boy started to figure in the text, standing in his bedroom at night, watching the bombs falling. Missing his friends that had escaped. This was a boy that had visionary dreams. He dreamt about things that had not yet happened.
With this in mind, I wrote some small scenes and a couple of monologues. Some based in the boy’s bedroom, some in his dreams, and some were dialogues between the girls in Izmir.
After having written a cluster of texts, I took to the floor along with the actors Karin Klouman and Sarah McDonald, both master students in acting at KHiO, I worked on situations and dialogues through physical and verbal improvisation (see documentation here) We elaborated on the material I had and produced new texts and ideas for scenes. As we worked, the text grew in complexity and became richer in detail.
Several monologues were also written during and between these work-sessions.
With support from the Norwegian Culture Council I also managed to work with Alexandre Gjerpen, Marina Popovic, Lars August Jørgensen, and the dancers Mari Bø, Åsne Storli and Sudesh Adana, in a workshop where I tried to pair acting and dance, creating parallel scenes where the dancing and acting mirrored and contrasted each other. My idea was that doubling the three main characters would create the potential for polyvocality. To allow the dancers to mirror and interrupt the activities of the characters in the scenes. The work on the floor confirmed this strategy. It was as if the piece became about potentiality, not individual destinies or stories. About how we could all end up in a similar situation under certain conditions (see documentation here).
During the workshop-period the directors Maren Elisabeth Bjørseth and Cecilie Moslie, also took part in the work (see sketch/documentation from the dance-workshop: Fuglen monolog Sweatshop Aleppo here).
Unfortunately, I was unable to raise the finances or get a co-producer, and pursuing this line further became financially impossible within my research budget. Instead of making a complex and physical script for the stage in collaboration with my team, I had to try and turn the page, to find a physicality and theatricality in language itself.
8. SWEATSHOP – ALEPPO, A FAILED ATTEMPT?
Knowing that there is always potential for polyvocality in a radio play, I started making a version for radio. While doing so, I immediately saw the possibility of framing the scenes in the monologues and dreams of the boy. Once I did this, everything fell into place. I knew how to make this play.
Having used these techniques before, in Haven and Funn, I also knew that there were two potential dangers involved in using them. One being that the technique could make me harmonise the story, and move towards drama. The other being that the play could start being about one particular boy. By framing the scenes in one point of view, I risked making a script where one voice monopolised the text.
It was not the first time I had I found myself in this dilemma. Being trained and continuously exposed to drama, it is easy to search for something that unifies, rather than a potential juxtaposition.
Sometimes this “instinct” made me search for ways to make my characters psychologically believable, or for the “story-lines” to add up, and I ended up with a “well made play”. This rarely happens when I work on sketches and try-outs, but it happened when I was about to finish the work and started to feel the expectations of others.
During the process I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor Cecilie Moslie. In the conversation she focused on what she saw as a lost opportunity to strengthen the dramatic potential of the play. She said that I should have explored the dilemmas and processes of the antagonist, as well as the other characters. Without it, she said, I lost the momentum to establish a real conflict and a real potential for polyvocality.
From a dramatic point of view I understood what she meant. I realised that for her the play was about these “characters”. These individuals, and their “stories”. She believed that the conflicts they exposed could produce what would add up to a feeling of something universal. Through that story I could turn the play into something that was about “us all”. Something collective.
It was not that I disagreed with her, or that I was not aware of this potential, nore the potential for real drama and “conflict” in this material. The reason why I had not done this, why the antagonist was pushed to the periphery in this work was purely intensional. I did not want Sweatshop – Aleppo to be a story about these two people living in this house. I did not want to expose the conflict between the girls and their “keeper” – I wanted to break free of the “drama”, and address another form of dilemma hidden in the readers respons. To get there I wanted to test a hybrid form where language, not character, was king. Simply writing a “good” dramatic text would not be sufficient. Rather I had to work against the dramatic potential in the material, and in doing so I tried to introduce bits of lyrical texts and use the virtuoso monologues to destabilise the plot. So I tried to tear the fabric between reality and the dream-world apart, creating a disturbance, all this to burst open an otherwise classic dramatic composition.
To check what was going on, I also wrote an opening for another stage version of the material (see documentational sketch: Huset) where I purposely strived for polyvocality and hybridisation. Here I wanted to test what happened if I moved away from my central characters. For one, I did not start with the boy. I started on the city lawn, in a small, dingy communal park in Izmir. The first scene was between two squirrels living in this park. Then it moved into different scenes and monologues with various people in the building where the girls were working. The idea was that the play would not be framed by one character’s dream, but move seamlessly between sequences with the girls, the boy in Aleppo, his dreams and the squirrels. With the owner of the sweatshop, the aunts living in the fourth floor, three sisters from Jordan living in the basement, and even some accidental people just passing by.
The finished play, the radio-version of Sweatshop – Aleppo was neither a dramatic or true polyvocal piece, but maybe something in between.
Maybe it was the material that took me “where it wanted to go”, as some have said. I don`t think so. I think I moved too close to one of my characters. That there would have been a greater polyvocal potential and a better response to my research questions if I had worked with a multi-story set up, or in a combination between dance and text, where I could have doubled the characters, and introduced pure physical sequences, like in the works of Falk Richter and Anouk von Dijk. In the end I managed to make a complex and rich text, consisting of different types of text and some parallel dramaturgies, but it was not intrinsically polyvocal. It was a play with hybrid traits. A play that utilised language-based strategies and involved some interesting shifts in perspective, and some polyvocal qualities – but as a hybrid, it was a failed attempt.
Sweatshop – Aleppo was performed as a staged reading by Vega Ung at Dramatikk Festivalen 2019, and staged by Vega Scene the autumn of 2019 (see documentation here).
In Sweatshop – Aleppo the boys dreams enables us to move freely in space and time. In S O A R E the character One has the same function. Both are narrative ploys that give me, the writer, the possibility to traverse the different levels of narration, between what’s private, what’s socially shared, and an overview of the “reality” surrounding them, making me not only able to move between the actions of the private dilemmas, but to have all of these perspectives present at the same time, in the same scene.
In Norse mythology, Ratatosk is a squirrel who runs up and down the world-tree Yggdrasil, carrying messages between the eagle perched atop the tree, and the serpent Níðhöggr, who dwells beneath its roots. Although Ratatosk is often seen as a troublemaker, spreading rumours and gossip, he is also a messenger between worlds.
When trying to expose the ties and tensions between society and the individual, or let’s call it between the social and the private, I have found that these text-types or characters can function as bridgers of “worlds”, both traversing realms and creating a rift that exposes how they don’t actually exist separately, but constantly interact.
When the goal is to expose both this feedback loop, and what separates the world, I need to find agents who open up this connection. In Darkness the Enemy Inside the stage directions serve this purpose, exposing the ties and tensions between the social (society), the individual (the private) and the natural world (what is often called “the real”). In Corridors and Rooms, the use of direct and imperative addresses function in the same way.
One of my problems when working with the many versions of The City Dwellers Project, was that this element, or this “agent” seemed to be missing.
In Sweatshop – Aleppo, establishing a shared “dreamworld” allowed me to leave realism and generate co-existing realities at the same time. More often than not, these realities became constituted in the monologues. They become my “Ratatosk”. The role of this traversing entity became apparent to me when working with the play, and I think that could be my biggest discovery.
Working with the monologues, I also tried to expand my language-based techniques; to find ways of expressing the theatrical and gestic qualities in the texts. One way of doing this was by combining narration and situation in the same text (what’s being said is what’s actually happening), and by combining the poetical with the physical. This, along with the exploration of entities that can traverse the different “worlds” or levels in the play, enabled me to move effortlessly between the collective or shared, even between historic realities (the ongoing refugee crises) and the private reality of the boy (his longing to be with Meriam).
10. THE MONOLOGUE AS SPECTACLE
In the monologues in Sweatshop – Aleppo, S O A R E, and Darkness the Enemy Inside I aimed to create a sense of physicality through language. A sense of language being the event. Of something producing a world there and then. I aimed to do this through a feedback loop; a feedback loop between the audience and language. The tools I used were the different forms of addressing (between the characters, between the characters and the audience, through having the choir address the audience and/or the character etc.). And by using these addresses I worked to establish the spectacle inside the language itself.
Eirik Fauske, in his long monologue written for the production company Ymist’s performance Draumkvedet (2017), uses the quality of the language and the syntax to create a physical fall or vertigo inside the written material itself.
The performance is built on an old, Norwegian visionary epos from medieval times about a man who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and doesn’t wake up. For a year he wanders at the edge of “reality”, deep inside a mythical maze between life and death.
The language in Draumkvedet is full of imagery and alliteration. Fauske’s text is placed in a modern setting, but borrows this expressive quality from the original, and as the character plummets out of space and time, so does Fauske’s monologue, bringing forth the sonic and performative sides of language itself. It cascades, stumbles, tumbles over consonants, in a seemingly endless flow, only broken up by brutal stops as he clashes into new levels, or thresholds of reality, like a metal ball in a pinball machine.
Through language-based strategies, Fauske utilises, the performativity of language itself, omitting theatrical qualities that work in some of the same ways as visual elements (masks, light design etc) would do in a performance.
Ymist’s performance of Draumkvedet, used only sparse lighting, the audience members were placed on chairs in the same room, on the floor, along with the actor. There was no scenography or creation of illusion besides the introduction of a sculptural element at the end of the show. Language became the creator of worlds. This gave freedom to the actor Morten Espeland. His skills, his voice, the pure physical task it was to deliver the text, was at the core of the experience – and it was a “spectacle”.
In the collective work producing Darkness the Enemy Inside, the German playwright Albert Ostermeier wrote a 24-page long monologue called Sprengsatz (see documentation here). The monologue was written for the character Julian, a performance artist, who threatens to set himself on fire. What are you going to do about it? he questions his audience. Should they watch him burn or put out the fire?
Julian addresses his audience directly, and Ostermeier uses strong imagery and a pounding rhythm. Drumming, or whipping the message across in a hypnotic machinelike beat. It is as dazzling as it is scary. The artistry of the text turns it into a spectacle.
After the premiere at UNCW in the US, critic William Becker wrote about the monologue: “One of the most excitingly psychotic speeches I have ever seen in theatre (See photo/documentation Julian Darkness Wilmington here). There is a borderline Shakespearean monologue, audience interaction, suicidal ideation and a bit of dry wit sprinkled in it.” (https://theseahawk.org/24623/lifestyles/words-cant-capture-the-essence-of-uncws-darkness/?fbclid=IwAR11KtwV_Wdqm-WyAzT1YFzfqidghxB1YCg-7WEvIJS4lrUR0vaVPLlYCsg).
Language in itself, is also gesture and music, as Hans Thies Lehman points out. And as such, it can conjure up what cannot be depicted, what proves unimaginable because it contains an impossibility: “…exorbitant language, rhetorical artifice and what seems unnatural offered theatre, for much of its history, a way to indicate that the terror on display should not be taken literally; instead it signifies and gestures towards what defines direct representation” (Routledge 2016, p. 104). It takes us beyond what is morally or emotionally plausible, to the unbearable through hyperbolic speech.
The monologues I wrote for Sweatshop – Aleppo are a far cry for Ostermeier’s ostentatious, artistic rant. But I was striving for some of the same: To connect narration with imagery and physicality.
I wrote some for the boy – to have a character whose dreams come true, gave a lot of scope for playing around with language – but I also wrote some for Meriam and Sara.
One of the monologues written for Meriam, never ended up in the play. It had the working title Fuglen (the bird) and took shape in a recounting of a dream (see documentation here).
In this dream a tree was the central feature. Meriam wanted to get to it. It was a sacrificial tree, and she wanted to redeem herself maybe. Or revenge herself.
The hill was steep. She seemed unable to reach it, and I wanted to express this struggle and her desperation, through rhythm and repetition – in the choice of words and use of alliteration:
– and I was praying, whispering, begging, looking for signs skidding and sliding – all just grit grit gritloose and sharp and light And I hung on to a slabI put my foot on a stoneand the stone gave awayand I falltumbleone meter, twobanging my knee against a rock
and the skin on my knee cracks and my stockings tareand I am face down in the grovel – and that’s when I see it
A tiny birddead on its back
Between the rocks
Chest uptwo wiry feet in the air
It is so smalland coldand rigidAnd I want to touch it
I have it in my hand – and I keep thinking – I am in control of this, I’m in control of this
I stand there
Holding the bird
thinking: I am in control of this – and I started climbing again
Sliding backUpskiddingcontinuingupwardsFalling getting up again – and my knee is bloody
and my chin is bloody
my yellow dress caked in mud
11. CORRIDORS AND ROOMS – AWAKING THE PAST
This search for physicality through language has also been vital for me when writing with specific performers in mind. As in the live-writing for Fredrik Høstaker in his master-performance Framund (see documentation here) and in Corridors and Rooms which I wrote for Sarah McDonald.
Corridors and Rooms was a site-specific project and part of the MOAI-project in the Italian festival Qartierie dell’Arte, which was part of the EU Collective Plays project for KHiO.
The location was a shut down monastery in Vitorchiano. The monastery had also been run as a hotel, but for the last ten years had been designated a crime scene and sealed off, I never quite knew what had happened there (See documentation here).
In the piece I wrote, I strived to evoke the different historical epochs of the place while exploring language-based strategies, using direct and imperative addresses to utilise the theatricality of language itself.
In the performance, the actress Sarah McDonald led the audience from floor to floor, along corridors, opening doors and entering rooms. Evoking the past, making it come to life through the imperative of language.
I strived for a language that was both poetic and precise, concrete and ephemeral. And for a direct way of addressing the audience, where the performer herself was close and personal, and even encouraged to touch the audience. I also wanted to create spaces for silence, to allow the building itself to have an impact.
Both in Sweatshop – Aleppo and in Corridors and Rooms, I deal with “worlds” that are not “real”. Sweatshop – Aleppo constructs a dreamworld side by side with the mundane fictional reality of the sweatshop in Izmir. In Corridors and Rooms, the past becomes fleeting moments of present through language. In both works the audience and the characters are placed at the brink of something. A place where boundaries between life and dream, life and death, present and past are being blurred.
In S O A R E, another crack opens as the play ends. For no obvious reason, water starts pouring into the basement of the hotel, into the very topoi of the play, the place where the “story” is situated, reflecting a breakdown in what narrative itself can cope with, perhaps a moral and ecological breakdown too. A crack is opened and bridged – between the social and the existential, between the natural world and our world. Between culture and context. Between metaphor and event.
It was a conscious effort to tear open the divide between our desires and the social fabric, between the mental and the actual. Between current affairs and the “world” of dreams.
In the collective endeavour Darkness the Enemy Inside and The Island, the boundaries between the social world of man and nature itself started to disintegrate. (see documentation here).
12. COLLECTIVE ENDEAVOURS
Paul C. Castagno writes that today, the rigid paradigm of the playwright as the sole creative source for a play has become less of a mantra. Writing alone has become just one of many ways to write a play (Routledge, 2012).
Through crashing into the collective, I find that I have enriched my playwriting, my methods and tools. Embracing the possibilities and paradoxes this entailed. The toing and froing between writing solo and working together has first and foremost been fruitful.
My methods have been manifold.
I have developed texts through workshops, with actors, dancers, directors on the “floor”, and through improvisations combined with writing exercises. This was especially vital for the development of Sweatshop – Aleppo.
In the project Corridors and Rooms I wrote for an actor and on site.
I have also led and taken part in collective writing endeavours with other writers. This has taken on different forms. In MOTforestillinger I collaborated with writers from Palestine and Norway (See documentation here), and in Darkness the Enemy Inside I put together a team of professional writers from different North European countries, Iceland, Germany, Italy, Sapmi and Norway. I will return to this process later in this part of the meta-reflection (see also: Darkness – the Enemy Inside – A Collective Endeavour).
I have also led large collective workshops with 8-13 participants that have focused on exploring methods and material, on behalf of Oslo International Acting Festival and Cornerstone/Meteor Festival in Bergen, NTNU etc – all of which have resulted in public readings.
Taking the collective effort further, I have also worked and developed performances along with my stage collective STATEX. Working against the ideas of hierarchy, we produced work within an egalitarian structure (See: Performing the Collective).
During my research period I did some live writing which, among other things, included one collaborative live writing at the ++ Black Box-event in November 2018 (see documentation here), and later at Fredrik Høstaker’s master-project Framund (June 2019) (see documentation here).
I have sometimes brought pre-written material into the process. On other occasions I have come to the “floor” with a current project, a play, or a specific material/theme in mind. Or I have worked from scratch. In the methodical week-long laboratory Baltic (See documentation here), I worked with three actors, Torgny Anderaa, Henrik Hoff Vaagen and Veslemøy Mørkrid. We improvised on paper and on the floor in long improvisations, trying to see if we could, together, produce a text-sketch for a full-length play. We succeeded.
In all these collective endeavours I have made an effort to remain as open as possible, not only towards the theatre-body and the maker-praxis, but towards a wider public and political sphere. Towards what I have called “the many”.
This has affected where I look for my material and how I give it a dramatic form.
Instead of looking inward for motivation, and drawing on my personal experience, I have tried to look beyond myself – to current affairs and other people’s stories and experiences, and to ready-mades and fun facts. To see what happens when I enter into dialogue with what’s beyond me.
The collaborations are ongoing processes where I am striving to create some movement between the one and the many, in my writing as well as in my thinking, in my choice of material and themes, and in who I’ve been collaborating with. I am striving for text-production where collective experiences, “real” events and individual existential dilemmas become situated in the same space and time.
While doing this, I try to look at the dilemmas I encounter as potential, not a problem, and I have sought inspiration in current affairs, in the way nature works, and in the other works of art. In dance, in sound-based performances, in composed theatre and music.
I will look at some of these collective endeavours in this meta-reflection.
13. THE THEATRE OPENING UP
In the following chapters I will look at the work I have done with my stage collective STATEX.
STATEX is a stage collective consisting of artists from different fields, working collaboratively within a non-hierarchical structure; where we strive to find ways of celebrating community in its various forms. From ecstasy to the workings of the state.
We all perform, we all write, and we make the dramaturgy of the performance together.
Our work has at its core community. It wants to expose the tensions in society, but it also wants to create ties. To build togetherness. But how can one be together with one’s audience?
And if we want the audience to participate, what does that really mean?
STATEX tried to open up the fourth wall in the theatre space. We did this in the performance State and Ecstasy and DIY and in DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future that we made in collaboration with the Arctic Arts Festival in Harstad. Through this exploration I gained new awareness about my dramaturgical tools, and insight into how audience involvement could influence the way the audience perceived the written material.
Later we took it to KHiO (https://vimeo.com/302937101) and on to Festival Trajectoires in Nantes, where we started to introduce guest performers to widen the circle. When performing the play at Hålogaland Teater in September 2019 (see: DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future), we invited the audience to what we called a utopian talk after each performance, to further develop the connection between the audience, the theme and us.
In 1967, Michael Fried wrote an essay called Art and Objecthood. In it, he tries to show how art discovers and discloses the positions and activities of its beholders. He states that this is embedded in the discourse that constitutes art and its distributional system. Many art practices since the 1960s, can be understood as attempts to define their identity in relation to the recipient, and by doing so, redefine art’s function.
Art became interested in its audience. And since the 1960s many artists began seeing their production as a relational system. Not as objects, but as something that “happens” between the work and the recipient. The object is not just something in itself. It gains meaning through the feedback loop between the work, its context and the audience.
Today, the thing that really sets theatre aside from other forms of acted-out narrations (TV-series and films) is that it is live. The audience is there. We are talking about a mutual presence of live bodies. For many, including Hans Thies Lehman, this is the essence of theatre.
A constant tension is present in this relationship. A tension between the role of a passive audience member and that of a witness, or agent, or even a potential participant.
In contemporary performance-based art, this tension has become a central focus-point providing energy and meaning to the artworks themselves. There has been a tendency to open up the space between the performer and the audience and to explore this relationship. To expand it, expose it and reflect on it inside the experience of the performance itself. For many theatre-workers, even playwrights, this potential for audience engagement has been seen as an emancipatory strategy. It is true that there is joy in the safety of the beholder. At the same time, there is both a political and artistic potential in audience participation. In bridging the gap between the stage and the auditorium the dichotomy of the performer and the viewer disappears, creating a potential communal “we”. It can also be a breaking down of hierarchy to create a real communal sharing. It was both the breaking down of hierarchies and the creation of the “we”, STATEX, was looking for.
A lot of writing went into the process of making the performances. But in the end, of the work presented to the audience, about 80% was non-verbal. For me this did not necessarily diminish the importance or amount of text being produced, or the quality of the text. Although very little text was left, and most of it was transformed during the process, it was still there. It was as fundamental to the physical and interactive processes going on as anything else. One could say that it had gone silent, but that it operated within the whole, as an invisible structuring element among the movements, sequences and sound.
Both our way of working and what we wanted to achieve shifted the focus towards the situation itself, towards the actions and the events shared with the audience. The focus soon became less about writing and more about making. Making sequences of action was vital in the first part of the process. Later on thematic discussions and trials with the audience also took part in shaping the piece.
In the end what we had was a hybrid-performance where the audience took part in building and manipulating the scenography. All in all it was a collage of music, dance, text etc.
14. THE COLLECTIVE ENDEAVOUR
In State and Ecstasy, everything went seemingly smooth, but in DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future (see documentation here) things became more complicated. On the blog I wrote: Our goal was to make a performance that looked at a potential of a future that was better than the present. And – on our potential to reflect collectively on the subject, hopefully also involving the audience in the process.
This time we wanted to leave criticism behind, and it was when we started discussing our visions for the future, and the potential manuals for getting there, that things started to become difficult.
Sometimes the atmosphere became tense. Arguments would suddenly flare up out of nowhere. One of us had trouble sleeping, one became withdrawn, another left the room in anger and refused to come back. I constantly felt like crying.
It was as though, by making our scenarios for the future concrete we had exposed our political inclinations, and it soon became obvious that we could not agree on a common idea or a common agenda. A tug of war began. Who was going to set this agenda? We were about to find out just how frail our collective really was.
For a presentation at a conference in Sweden Gjönköping later that year I wrote: While discussing, brainstorming and trying to come up with artistic suggestions and an overall structure, a great deal of tension arose. It was hard to imagine a potential better future. Even harder to come up with possible actions that would help create it. Our political differences became obvious, and with that our aesthetic choices, our relationship to rhetoric and – for once – it was hard for me to write texts, AND for Lawrence to solve the visuals. …Only when we fleetingly gave up on our vision and returned to criticism, did we again feel safe. When we were able to go back to reacting on our current state of affairs, we gained momentum. Our language returned, and we could write, dance, create, laugh, feel good once again.
What had happened?
Had politics come between us?
If so: What is politics?
In his Ten Thesis on Politics the French philosopher Jacques Ranciere states that to be political is to imagine possible new worlds. Just doing so, is a political act per se: “Political argument is at one and the same time the demonstration of a possible world where the argument could count as argument, addressed by a subject qualified to argue, upon an identified object, to an addressee who is required to see the object and to hear the argument that he or she ‘normally’ has no reason to either see or hear” (Jacques Ranciere, Ten Thesis on Politics).
To imagine worlds in which things that now seem impossible, become possible, is a political act. The slave can be free, women can vote, homosexuals can practise their sexuality, we can live in a world without plastic etc (see the article: Performing the Collective for more).
In the end we had to leave the text behind, and the last third of the performance was only music, movement and dance except for a few sentences that I wrote which resembled poetry.
In the end the installation became the agent as it took on the imaginary and the impossible. The future as a wordless unknown, an emancipatory power that might already be there, already in the making. In this new “place”, Liv Hanne danced with her dog, Hera, and everything melted together: matter, human and nature.
Working with this stage collective on State and Ecstasy, and DIY – Manuals for a Potential Future (see documentation here), was testing. Being a performer was testing. Being so exposed and vulnerable in the collaboration was testing. Trying to think new thoughts was testing. To constantly continue to take everything in – the space, the objects, the audience, each other – was testing. To expose my vulnerability. To cry in public. To register, react and respond. To insist, in discussions, in in-logs and out-logs.
Not only was the text a laboratory. Or the place where we worked. The collaboration itself was a laboratory. To keep myself going I needed to change the way I think. Change myself. To get where we wanted to be, we needed to let go of our expectations. We needed to change the rules and the perspective.
The project Darkness the Enemy Inside was also all about collaboration. But here, text was all we had.
15. DARKNESS – THE ENEMY INSIDE A COLLECTIVE ENDEAVOUR
The writing of this play came about through the large project EU Collective Plays!
The project started in 2012 and was directly inspired by Paul C. Castagno’s book on new playwriting strategies. Oslo National Academy of the Arts was one of seven partners, which, when I became involved, was headed by pedagogue and stage director Gianluca Iumiento.
One goal was to develop 8 collaborative plays. I would be the head-writer of the Nordic group.
In our work we were to explore the use of collective writing as a method to achieve polyvocality. We were to produce a play that never attempted to homogenise different styles, but, on the contrary, created a collective narrative structure resembling a cubist painting; one which incorporated different perspectives, styles, languages and idioms (for more see: www.eucollectiveplays.eu).
Since my research had many overlapping focus points with this project, and since I had experience with collective endeavours, Iumiento invited me to join the project, as a dramaturge and head-writer.
Together, and with the assistance of Gian Maria Cervo, we put together a team of writers from different Northern European countries: Sigbjørn Skåden (Sapmi/Norway), Kristín Eiríksdóttir (Iceland), Albert Ostermaier (Germany), as well as Iumiento and myself.
We spent two years working on the play. Writing separately but meeting regularly to discuss potential forms and characters.
Today, the material consists of scenes, stage directions, monologues and dialogues, assembled in various ways. Two of these versions, The Island, and Darkness the Enemy Inside, have been staged.
Readings and context
A research group was established, in proximity of the project; consisting of Iumiento, the pedagogue and writer Øystein Stene, professor in playwriting Jesper Halle, and me. This research group followed the project, read various drafts, and added valuable comments and reflections. The master students in playwriting and theatre were also introduced to the work.
Over the course of the project, several readings took place. And early on there was a short reading at the conference for Translation into Theatre and the Social Sciences in Oxford June 2016. Preparing a text for this reading, was my first step towards piecing together the material. I called it Darkness – a bric-a-brac (see documentation here).
In the year to come, there were also several readings at the Academy in Oslo where the audience consisted of the research group, former and current master students in playwriting, and colleagues at the Academy.
At Oslo International Acting Festival in June 2018, there was a staged reading directed by Iumiento; and in October 2018, the third-year acting students at the Academy performed a shorter version of the play The Island.
The Copenhagen-based Belgian director Jacob Schokking directed the performance. Jan Tariq Rui-Rahman composed the music for the play. Not only making the stage directions performative, but turning them in to choir-work, and to musical elements inside the performance. Some performed live, some recorded and played as kind of "voice-over", others performed by the actors as video-portraits, projected onto elements in the room.
Opening choir-sequence for the Island (performance at KHiO)
We have this forest - choir-sequence for the Island (performance at KHiO)
In November 2019, Paul C. Castagno directed a full-length version of the material with his students at NCWU in Wilmington USA. The version performed in the US is published in two publications. One by the project which entails the play in Norwegian, Icelandic, English, German and the Sami language, and one in an anthology Collaboratory Writing, edited by Paul C. Castagno and published by Routledge in 2019.
A hybrid play
The writers did not know each other before meeting and had no obvious overlapping interests. The goal for me was to find a framework for them to write within that would create connection points in the play, without unifying their writing into a plot or an overall aesthetic. I wanted to avoid developing a particular language or one consistent way of seeing the world, and to find a form that lent itself to polyvocality.
Inspired by the idea of having the setting as a common ground, I introduced landscape as a potential “dancing partner”, thinking that a shared geography could work as the structuring force, a frame for the events, and a common experienced background for the creation of text-blocks and potential characters. I thought that such a shared geography would unify but still allow room for different narrative strategies and polyvocality.
This became formative for the development of the play.
In the play we meet Julian, a successful performance artist in an existential crisis, his wife Kate, a level-headed architect, and their children. We also meet their neurotic neighbour Lina, and her newfound friend Emil, who awakens a passion in her for target shooting.
The setting is a suburb on a peninsula somewhere in Scandinavia in the near future, modelled on the idyllic suburbia of Nesodden, outside Oslo. The backdrop of this suburbia is a wooded mainland with rivers, ponds, hills and forests.
In the wooded hinterland of this neighbourhood, two hunters are hunting, revisiting the landscape of their childhood. And as the suburban life plays out as normal with people taking out the trash, arguing, doing art, doing nothing, the children go missing; taking on the figures of animals (a squirrel, a crocodile, a badger and a fox) and leaving suburbia to disappear into the woods; deep into the mainland where the hunters are hunting their prey.
As this happens, the world cracks open and the peninsula starts literally shaking itself free of the mainland, becoming an island adrift.
The play explores how living in an egalitarian and harmonious society can bring forth an inner darkness, something Gianluca Iumiento calls “the enemy inside”. While “catered” for by the state, depression, angst, even the thought of suicide floats to the surface. This was the premise given us when we started the project, but as the work progressed, another perspective surfaced: Maybe this angst was not at all narcissistic and irrational. Perhaps the harmonious state of things was just a thin glaze covering a deeper crisis. A real and existing threat. Perhaps the angst and depression the characters experience were not signs of narcissism, but the results of a real and reasonable fear; a growing knowledge of the fact that the society, as we know it, might not survive the recent global developments; and that the forces of nature are beyond our control. That even the solid Scandinavian welfare state might fall.
These two ways of perceiving the connection between personal angst and society, are both present in the play. The dramaturgy does not try to unify or harmonise these world-views it tries to have them co-exist within the play. Portraying both a sense of inner, narcissistic angst, stemming from a lack of outer tension, and a real sense of foreboding and fear. The tension between these two perspectives produces both humour and horror. The play not only thematises the presence of a crisis, it is in itself in crisis – a crisis, produced by the clashes between world views, genres and forms. The compositional tools of hybridisation had turned the play into an event itself.
The writing process
The collective writing process started in spring 2016.
During the project-period, the writers continuously read and commented on each other’s work, and worked individually between the meetings, producing characters, settings and scenes. In their writing, they explored the theme and wrote on the inner and external landscapes they wanted to portray.
Eiríksdóttir added the characters Lina and Emil to the mix, Skåden the hunters. Iumento worked on texts involving Kate and Julian’s dilemmas, and I introduced the scenes involving the runaway children.
After having established these characters and their place in the geography, we began to cross-feed and elaborate further on both our own and the other writers’ characters, events and settings.
The team met five times, in Oslo and Reykjavik, where we discussed the theme and the texts between ourselves. Notations I made from these conversations were included as dialogue in the play, constituting both a deepening perspective of the underlying theme and adding a meta-element to the text.
Between the different meet-ups, I gave the writers different tasks. Sometimes these tasks led directly to fruitful text production; at other times the writers deviated from the tasks, inspired by current affairs or by other writing projects that took the writing process in new directions.
A vital contribution to the process happened when the stage directions began developing a “will of their own”, taking on the role of a performative element within the play itself. Not from an omnipresent narrator. They are still stage-instructions, but they have taken on the form of “voice” and by that been given a potential place in the staging.
The process started with contributions from one of the writers, and I immediately recognised the potential. Here was a possibility to introduce an extra layer to the play. To constitute place as agent in the text, I started elaborating end expanding those text-types, establishing a commenting and interfering text-layer. The language of the stage directions became epic, gestic and poetic in character. This introduced a new layer of “language” to the whole. A language situated, beyond the realm of the social, that was able to address the characters as well as the audience directly. In other words, to change and influence the course of events:
And as rocks start rolling down the slope as the rumbling grows louder and as the river starts to spill its water onto the marshes and the lake rips open like a ripe fruit
pouring its sweet water into the ocean as the hunters picks up their guns in that dark interior far away from danger as the rivers ripple – as the Badger clings to the Crocodile as the Squirrel clings to the Badger
and the Crocodile keeps slamming its tail in the mud shouting to see if her voice is louder than the rumble
– the peninsula tears itself away from the mainland as if it had a will of its own
In Darkness the Enemy Inside, the peninsula tears itself away from the mainland. Drifting into the sea, separating the adults from the children and the hunters.
Through the added layer of these performative stage directions, the polyvocality in Darkness the Enemy Inside manifested itself and became a part of the structuring core of the play. Once the stage directions were freed from being just the mise-en-scene, I was able to move freely around in the “architecture” of the play, and create connections, tensions and actual rifts between sequences and levels of narration in the piece, without it “falling apart”.
With this layer in place, I could start carving out an overall composition for the piece, adding some additional sequences and scenes where necessary.
The writing process was a constantly accumulating and fast running process, but it was not without challenge. Writing together is never just easy.
In his article Collective Playwriting: A European Experience in the magazine The Theatre Times, Castagno quotes me from an e-mail I wrote where I had tried to outline both the task and challenges in the process: We want to “show” – or lay open the hybrid forms, the different ways of using language –maybe even different languages in the composition itself. I ask myself: How can this play “come together” while the differences continue to be present and vibrant. There is a force in the composition. I am looking for tensions and shifts, for the baroque and the theatrical. It is a challenge to think of this as real experimentation. To make something that can only happen with us, with this theme – at this particular time and space – in this historical momentum with this project, – and not think about: will the theatres like it, who would possibly want to play the roles, etc. I think we have a real chance to produce what you call a “hybrid” play. And a real chance to make this something from which we can learn (https://thetheatretimes.com/collective-playwriting-european-experience/).
Halfway into the process, we had a body of text that was in need of a structure.
This was also the point when Albert Ostermaier entered the group. During three days in Oslo, we discussed the possible ways of structuring the play.
I wanted to keep a multitude of perspectives and different types of material flowing through the text, from dialogues, songs, found material, virtuoso monologues, jokes and games. And I wanted to continue creating scenes, monologues and episodes and compile them as building-blocks connected by a geography, but there were also other options. Choosing a main character was one of them; to use the dilemmas of this character as the engine for the play.
Ostermaier was especially interested in the character Julian. Could Julian’s art-production be a starting point? Maybe the whole play could be one of his artworks? Julian’s “performance” so to speak. Or maybe the whole play could constitute a discussion about the various consequences generated by the work of artists such as Julian?
It was an intriguing thought, but also worrying. Was it possible to stay so close to Julian, and at the same time include our different languages, writing styles, ethics, characters and scenes? Or would he start to dominate, and influence the way every other perspective that was introduced into the mix played out?
The character Julian was a conceptual performance artist. Which brings a strong aesthetic. And with an aesthetic like that comes a way of seeing the world, and art-production in society and with that comes a view on what role artistic production and audience involvement plays in the arts.
Another consequence of this idea that was discussed, was whether it was right or ideal to choose a white middle-aged male as the main character.
If we chose this path, would we still manage to produce a polyvocal play?
At the end of this three-day period everything was up in the air. What would the outcome be?
When the team returned to their lives, new material started to float in. Looking at this material, I soon discovered that it was all as versatile and rebellious as before.
Ostermaier produced a virtuoso monologue for Julian, a powerful piece of writing Sprengsatz. And although this monstrous and deeply beautiful text could have been a tipping point, forcing the rest of the text to the periphery, too large for the whole if it were to be included – it finally found its place.
Through these discussions, some new territory was gained, and with that a deeper knowledge of what we were doing and what was at stake, I resumed development of the play within the structure of its geography. Through a reading with the research group and colleagues at KHiO, we also discovered that the female characters were underdeveloped. I took on the job of creating scenes that strengthened this aspect of the play .
It is my belief that, in the end, we ended up with a polyvocal, hybrid play. To get there, I had to work with maximising the flexibility in the structure, something I managed by sticking to a building-block based form. As a whole the material resembles a Deleuzian assemblage where the parts, combined in various ways, feed meaning and references back to each other, using riffing, rhythm and repetition as central hooks. (Riffing is a way of using repetition as a tool that embellishes variations derived from a word or phrase of dialogue (Routledge, 2012).
16. THE SPATIAL TURN – A DELIBERATION
In their book Land/Scape/Theatre, Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri write about what they call theatre’s “spatial turn”, stating that theatre has been associated with culture, not nature, and when the performing arts began relating to the will of the landscape, it gave us a fresh new framework in which to think about contemporary theatre.
When theatre began challenging the Aristotelean hierarchy, it produced, a flux of dramatic structures and a gallery of fractured subjectivities that has turned the Aristotelean hierarchy on its head. Now, they state – spectacle may have become the “soul” of the dramatic enterprise” (Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri, Land/Scape/Theatre, the University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2002).
Although landscape has always played a part in classic theatre, something changed with modernism. We can see it in the works of directors like Robert Wilson, and in plays by playwrights like Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett. Both Stein and Beckett, among others, gave dramatic form to the natural and built environment of the non-human order; where theatre begins to manifest a new spatial dimension; and for the first time, landscape set itself apart from the character and became a character of its own. With this shift – from character to territory, or space – even a city, a flat, or an everyday environment can gain agency.
Today we live in the age of the Anthropocene. Soon, no corner of this planet will remain untouched by humans. At the same time, humans have started to acknowledge that their presence here might have had dire consequences, and that nature has its own voice; that it speaks through its droughts, its earthquakes, its fires and floods. And that it does what it does, paying no attention to whether it suits us or not.
In some European plays, such as Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon and Arabian Nights, the setting “plays up”. Here a Chinese restaurant is not just a Chinese restaurant, and an apartment block is not just an apartment block.
In Darkness the Enemy Inside the landscape “acts out”, and it clearly does not care about the humans that live in it. It has its own agenda and this agenda speaks through action.
Landscape as drama
Early on in our collective work, Sigbjørn Skåden stated that he was especially interested in landscape as drama. He wanted to explore the language of landscape and its place in our lives. He also wanted to portray the effect that loss of landscape has on us, and how it leads to loss of language and the development of blank spaces in our minds. There is an ecological awareness in thoughts like these, and a knowledge about the consequences of industrialisation and man’s colonisation of nature. Especially for people living with and close to nature, like the Sami people, or the traditional fishing and farming communities of pre-industrial Norway.
Skåden’s hunters are walking in a landscape that they know, or they used to know. It is there, but at the same time it is disappearing, as a way of life, a way of being in this landscape is disappearing. Praxis and activities that once took place here are gone, and with that loss the act of naming these activities has also gone. This produces both numbness and pain in the characters, as the familiar landscape produces confusion and solace.
Skåden’s writing shows how space, self-understanding, knowledge and language are deeply linked (See photos of the production directed by Paul C. Castagno here).
The hybrid play lends itself to such endeavours. Castagno writes: "Language playwrights have been particularly effective in creating shifting scenes, usually in the form of landscape altered and formulated by language. The seemingly desultory relationship between scenes is mitigated because the language provides a structural linkage. And: When language alters space and time, established moorings are loosened, as conventions are interrupted or replaced." (Routledge 2012, p. 69).
Language provides a structural link between the parts since the play constitutes an interactive system in which each element is in dialogue or dialoguing with the other elements. Setting being one of them. As such, language is not only a mitigator between the characters or between the play and its audience, it can also provide a structural link with the landscape in the play, and the landscape that surrounds the play: the place where it is being performed.
All in all, I would say that Darkness the Enemy Inside is as much a result of spatial investigation as it is a construction of a narrative. At its core, is the relationship between man and nature.
Through the various tools and strategies it utilises, the play investigates how language can change the landscape, but also how the landscape influences language, and how it influences us. At its base lies a celebration of theatre’s potential for transformation, and the joy of theatralization in itself. Through that, even the rock and the straw can start to sing.
17. DARKNESS THE ENEMY INSIDE – AND THE CHORUS
As an introduction to Darkness the Enemy Inside, I wrote:
All actors are on stage all the time. The scenes and actions run parallel more often than not. Sometimes they overlap.
The text in italics can be read as stage directions.
They could also, or as well be shared between the performers, read by one actor, or shared between the performers representing the children.
This involves the stage directions potentially taking on the form of a “chorus”.
In the staging by Jacob Schokking, some of the stage directions were recorded for a choir and some were shared by the characters and performed live (see documentation here).
In Castagno’s staging of the play, he also introduced a troll-like figure as a narrator – giving this character some of the stage directions, as well as sharing them between the characters.
In S O A R E, I give the same instructions, and in a staged reading of S O A R E in Tromsø 2015, the end monologue was distributed among the characters and took on the form of a chorus, while in the staged reading in Copenhagen 2016, it was performed by one actress playing the character One.
My first piece for the stage, which I wrote as early as 1991, entailed a chorus.
It was a text for five choristers and one soloist, with a strong emphasis on rhythm and alliteration.
One could say that the chorus was one of my first fascination points in theatre. The communal form, its sensitivity for rhythm and form, as well as text forms often used in a chorus, voicing pity, dread, lament, doubt and joy, commentating and reacting, are all central to my playwriting praxis.
18. THE HYBRID AND CHORUS
Although modern drama discarded the chorus, its function was still present. As Hans Thies Lehman points out, it became woven into the play itself, represented through characters, not exposed as commentary or exposition. There – hidden in the voices of friends, comrades, witches etc – the chorus took on the role of individuals and more or less rounded characters.
When the rounded character began standing in for the messenger or the seer, language became something spoken by the character, and language as spoken, could exist only there, between the roles. While in the predramatic schism, a sequence in a play could have several other functions (musical, rhythmical, sharing of experience, lament, exchange of messages or questions and answers etc.), in modern drama it is only there to serve the characters and the plot through dramatic dialogues and dramatic monologues.
But the monologue still has the potential to comment and reflect – and through that fulfil some of the function of the chorus – it also allows an actor to break free of their role. When an actor breaks free of the rounded character, we not only see a return to the function of the chorus in a play, but that language is no longer tied to producing believable situations and rounded characters serving the plot, and the performative text opens up to a varied, performative language-praxis. Even to the chorus. Hans Thies Lehman states that types of texts, like the chorus, express more than they communicate and open up a sonic dimension.
When writing for music (librettos), the chorus (as sung text for several voices or a choir) comes into play, as well as the affective sides of languages that don’t necessary deal with semantics. In the next chapter I will share some of my experiences about that, and then return to my latest, ongoing project; The City Dwellers Project.
19. WORDS AND MUSIC
Listening to music, as with watching modern dance, I have sometimes had a sense of an organic whole consisting of diversity. Such as when listening to composers like J. B. Bach or Messiaens, where great complexity manifests itself, a kind of assemblage where singular melody lines, beats and motives are introduced, that move in several directions at the same time, often presented in distinct, separate layers and plateaus inside the totality of the composition.
After all, the term stems from musical composition.
Language is never the totality of any experience, as Siren Leirvåg and Drude von de Fehr point out in their book Teater som betyr noe (Oslo 2019). All that a speaker, writer, communicator can do, is present a stimulus. Hoping that it will trigger some cognitive process.
As such, an artist can also work against this production of meaning. Test what potential language has when it boarders on the unintelligible. When it becomes incoherent, baffling, and produces associations and affect through more musical or sensory qualities.
Historically, writers like the Dada writers, and poets like Kurt Schwitters worked with the pure sonic quality of language, trying to remove meaning from the equation.
Other live artists play on this interplay between linguistic meaning and cognitive triggers. As when the Norwegian theatre maker and choreographer Jo and choreographer Jo Strømgren works with gibberish.
Other artists have tried to use zones or sequences in their work where all references disappear; where meaning, syntax and the ability to communicate breaks down as a crisis of some kind, even within a coherent sequence or a play.
When working with hybrid forms it is entirely possible to include such passages. Passages where language crumbles or becomes pure sonic experience or loses its potential for communicative meaning. Where meaning is lost and other potential expressions come to the surface. In the hybrid form, anything goes as long as the composition holds.
But there will always be a relationship there, between the language that strives to communicate logic and meaning and the parts of it that does something. Since words are always words, never just sound or music. And words have meaning in a way that a note or a bar of music doesn’t. They also have musical qualities and produce affects and associations that are pure affect.
When writing librettos, the interplay between linguistic meaning and the sonic effect of words are obviously present. I wrote two librettos in my research period. Both productions premiered in 2018. The first, the oratorio Book of Prayer (see documentation here), was commissioned by the jubilee for Vår Frue Church in Trondheim. The other The Human Genome Project (see documentation here), was commissioned by KHiO and Ultima Academy, and was developed over a four month period in collaboration with master students (singers and musicians), and the young composer Maja Linderoth.
The composer for The Book of Prayers (see documentation here) was Knut Størdal, which was made especially for the church that commissioned it. We wrote for an ensemble of five musicians: two solo singers, one actor, and a girl-choir. At the core of the project was the space itself, the church as a place that contains the ties and the tensions between the individuals and society. I also worked with texts from the church’s guestbook which contained hundreds of entries, some formal, others personal. They were about grief, experiences from the army, loss of partners or children, about illness. But there were also entries about thankfulness and joy. What bound them together was the church. The form we chose was to use these entries as a base, and then included recitatives, choir-parts that already existed (mass-texts, psalms etc.) and then I developed new material: solo-songs, duets and prayers. In the end, the libretto constituted an assemblage of layers of material. Material I wrote for the piece, but also passages from the guest book, from mass-texts and psalms.
In The Human Genome Project, written and composed the same year, the topic was more general. We worked with facts concerning our genes; what is given to us, and what we can change through praxis.
The form we chose was total-composition. You could call it composed theatre, where guests and movements were as important as the music and words, where the musicians were present on stage and part of the visual and dramaturgical whole. Here we worked interdisciplinary and as a team. Establishing the theme and the overall aesthetic together, as one ensemble.
In the libretto I worked particularly with the sonic quality of words, repetition, gests and pauses. I tried to create a performative text that lent itself to the affective and expressive quality of the voice and opened up the space for meeting-points between the singers and the musicians on stage and interaction with the audience.
Although writing for music (librettos) has not been the main focus in this research project, some of the experiences from doing them have spilled into my playwriting. Especially my experiences with notation.
When working with parallel scenes, with layers and choir-sequences, putting one sequence after the other onto paper was not enough. The A4 format has its limitations. Although I could not totally break free of that format, in the librettos I tried to find solutions for how to present the material on the page. Ways of notation that showed the polyvocality of the piece, and still made it readable and performable.
Today I see the formal aspects of the script, the way I notate it – the way it looks on the page so to speak – as a potential tool for artistic expression. Expanding the concept of how to notate a play or a performative text, would be at the forefront if I was to move on. The goal would be to find ways of increasing the flexibility of the format and the notation-system, to better achieve and communicate polyvocality and hybridisation.
The libretto for Book of Prayers also gave me an opportunity to work with readymades/ found material. The experiences I had when working with this material informed some ideas for the work I would do later in The City Dwellers Project.
If the chorus is a predramatic construct, I have been working with this predramatic form throughout my research period. From Where the Children Sleep (see full script here), via Darkness the Enemy Inside, to The City Dwellers Project.
In these hybrid attempts, I have wanted to juxtapose individual outbursts and intimate dialogues, to create a tension between the different forms, and through that display the ties and the tension between the one and the many/between the individual and society. At times, the stylistic boundaries in these pieces became unstable, blurred, or started to collide; creating friction within the piece itself.; between classic dialogues, lyrical sequences, the virtuoso monologues and the readymades. My approach has been to welcome this.
In the project City Dwellers, I sought an immersive strategy believing that there was a potential in being inside the text; surrounded by it, just as we live in and are surrounded by society.
20. CITY DWELLERS
City Dwellers is today an ongoing project.
Altogether I have made 7 variations of the same material. My first four trials with the format took place at KHiO in March 2019 under the heading City Dwellers # 1, 2, 3 and 4. The following autumn I made some smaller trials; City Dwellers # 5 at Vega Scene (see documentation here). City Dwellers # 7 will be displayed at Gallery Bananaz in February 2020.
In spring 2020 I will do two more presentations. One at the Intonal Festival at the Inter Arts Centre in Malmø in collaboration with Ulf C. Holbrook, and one in Nord-Norsk Kunstmuseum during the theatre festival Vårscenefest in Tromsø. Both representing new venues and new ways of assembling and “displaying” the work.
At KHiO I worked in close collaboration with NOTAM and Ferske Scener. At Vega Scene and Gallery Bananaz I have been working with Tharadon, a designer doing his masters in design at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, and the composer Meriam Gvinashvili.
City Dwellers consists of a pool of different texts. Some are written in advance and some during the production. Some are transcriptions of conversations, and some are found material from newspapers, Facebook etc. The material continues to accumulate while I work on it, and now consist of 461 texts – gathered and developed throughout my research period. These texts have been constantly feeding off each other and taking on new forms and variations. I continued writing texts during the recording sessions. Mainly through guided improvisations with the actors in the studio and inspired by the readers I met and worked with. Some changes and new text-forms came about in the editing process. I see this as a continually expanding and open-ended process.
I have recorded the material both with actors and ordinary people: friends, family, colleagues and people I’ve met along the way. Many of the texts were recorded with different readers/voices and are repeated in different ways as a kind of shared language in the piece. These are mainly simple addresses like: “Look, the neighbours are up,” or “Look out for the dog!” etc.
I wanted to see if a “gathering” of an unlimited amount of voices and texts, could function similar to a kind of “public domain”. Whether it would become a place in itself, or even an agent representing or constituting the bond and the tension between the one and the many.
21. TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS IN THE WORLD OF IMMERSIVE SOUND
Working with this project, many choices had to be made. Like how to represent these voices in space, the placement of the audience etc. And what about the room itself? Should there be lighting? Should there be live action and performers involved? Should the sound have a feeling of being amplified or distorted, or did I want to go for a more “clean” and toned down aesthetic?
To avoid creating an audio drama or hörspiel, I decided to edit out all the other sound, leaving only the voices. To achieve that, about half of the recordings were done in a studio.
The idea was to leave the voices as captured moments, not to amplify them. What I wanted was the feeling of a normal speaking voice. For the presentations, the speakers I worked with were Music Angels; small speakers with limited capacity, which led to the general problem of the volume being too low, giving the whole sound-experience a feeling of something frail, whispered, even distant – when what I was actually after was presence.
There is no added atmospheric noise or music in the pieces (besides some church bells in City Dwellers # 1–4). Any musical elements come only through the readers/voices, singing, humming or repeating the texts, thereby creating rhythm and beat.
In my first exploration on City Dwellers – I had wanted the hybrid form to take on an almost monster-like quality. I had welcomed all types of spoken and written text. Even bits of daily conversations, quotes from newspapers and social media etc. But although the polyvocal was evident on the page, it did not manifest itself in the space.
The goal was for the piece to resemble a fictional city-scape of voices. A kind of public domain consisting of whispers and cries, discussions, explanations and confessions.
In the summer of 2018 I spent a month in Detroit, researching its history, studying its city plan and talking to people. I also did several live readings of this material City Dwellers (see documentation here)
In this preliminary work I used the history of the city as a dramaturgical structure, and tried to construct waves of history which passed through the installation, beginning at the point it was founded in 1701 and into an unknown future.
The form was not a play as such, but of a web of voices that together constituted a narrative following the history of the city. From an apparent wilderness to fortification, to French settlement through civil war, then to our time, capitalism and eventual economic collapse.
I worked out that for the first 30 minutes, dividing the material into several minutes in then started recording and editing the material, adding texts as I went along. What follows is from the very first draft. Here you can go to the documentation and listen to the first 20 minutes of a sample/sketch I made for stereo before I started working in the space.
THE FIRST WAVE
As I went along, I made a stereo mix in Pro Tools, using my experience from making radio-plays to create a broad, impressionistic multi-voiced narrative, where those addressed where linked to each other by their engagement in parallel events (building a fort) or involvement in parallel actions (the break out of a fire etc.). The idea being that the audience would be able to follow the “events” guided by hooks, associative or narrative. It could be about letting the dog out, singing a child to sleep, or other everyday events. Or they could be sound-based elements: a whispered; a hush, a mumbling, laughter, a sigh etc.
By the time I started composing for the try-outs in March I had recorded a total of 346 texts, read by 96 voices.
The presentation was to take place in a black box at KHiO.
To start up in the black box and hear the sound-composition played back in stereo and in surround-sound, by eight large speakers from the ceiling, was exciting, but as I started placing the sounds spread about the room as intended, things changed. The space and the content did not behave as expected, and now the experience was shocking.
I will return to that shock further down in this chapter but let me first take a look at what I had planned for:
The original idea was to spread 37 sound-sources (the Music Angels), hung on wires from the ceiling in a fan-like grid. On the grid hung 37 speakers on tight wires from ceiling. Each speaker was placed in a small house made from a transparent, white plastic material and in each house I placed a speaker along with an iPod and a light source (two small led-lights). The sound and the lights were then synchronised, so that when the voice spoke, it triggered the light.
The grid itself was designed to echo Detroit’s city plan from the late seventeen hundreds, and the piece would follow a historic narration, constituting a rough sketch of the rise and fall of Detroit. The plan was to make a one hour performance, using the history of the city of Detroit as a shadow-dramaturgy. Here the story would be a montage of seemingly random episodes, by a multitude of singular voices.
Lighting designer Isak Bjørn joined the team. He set up a series of lights (led lights and a series of par cans), and made a light-design for the space with a gradual, shifting light throughout each performance, and in two of the four performances/try-outs, an acousmatic immersive composition by the composer Ulf A. S. Holbrook (http://www.komponist.no/staff/ulf-a-s-holbrook/) was added to the mix. Holbrook’s composition was played from 24 speakers, placed around the room and in the ceiling, creating a sphere of sound. The idea being that they would constitute a background or a universe – a “space” with sound-bursts and silences for the voices to exist inside.
In my team I also had three actors: Helle Bendixen, Fredrik Høstaker and Mina Yasin. Bendixen was also responsible for the costumes.
The job of the performers was to engage with the audience and gently manipulate the "houses". To lift them and make patterns and variations as the performance progressed.
You find documentations from the process and the trials here
The idea was that the piece would start with a few voices, and slowly grow, or become “populated”, until we were in the middle of a buzzing city, and that the voices would gain agency and offer a feeling of history unfolding. Together the voices would represent urban life, or the maze of the interactive feedback loop of a living breathing place, but that is not what happened.
Earlier on we had listened to the material in the protools-mix, and the experience was that it was too much. The ear could not cope with the amount of voices going on at the same time. The composition had to be thinned out. The surprise came as I started to place the sound-sources in the vast space of the black box. Here the voices did not become "too much", rather the space thinned them out and all connection between the different texts and their readers seemed to disappear. And I started to add more voices to the mix, it became obvious that we had another "problem". Instead of bringing to life a kind of forward movement of a vibrant, lived community – of waves of history – something else occurred in the room. It was as if the narration fell apart in the vastness of the space. The low voices combined with the flickering lights elevated in the dark space, and turned the piece into a kind of music. Frail and distant. It was as if the voices, followed by their flickering lights, were speaking from a time and place that was no longer there. Like ghosts or spirits. Not only was the narration gone; what had functioned as the glue between the different text had lost its momentum inside the “empty” space of a black box, but the voices rang more like the fading presence of the dead, the whispering of spirits, the communal echo of everything long gone. A reminder almost, that we will all eventually fade away.
The experience of being inside the space was both exhilarating and shocking.
The web of stories I had spent months writing, recording and weaving carefully together, lost its impact once it was dispersed in the space. And on top of that, Holbrooks’s droning music gave the whole piece a sombre feeling. A sense of something foreboding.
I had not created an event.
I had created a lament.
The first thing I had to do was make sure there was enough audio material in each of the speakers in the room.
A voice here, and a short dialogue there was no longer enough.
The second thing I had to do was scrap the narrative.
Instead I had to go for an opera-like composition: combinations of solos, chorus-parts. And I needed longer monologues and dialogues, to keep some anchoring in the room. If not, people would start wondering aimlessly around, looking for a speaker that would still be active when they reached it, or maybe just give up all together.
I also found that repetition and rhythm worked; and in this dance of sound and light without a narrative, time dissolved and the light became as important as the sound.
I realised that this work was much closer to writing a libretto than writing a play.
We had little time and the technology was slow. It was obvious to me that we would not be able to create a finished piece, but we might be able to to put together some sketches, and use the “performances” to test this new form that had now appeared. To see what kind of "music" this "instrument" could play.
In the end we made four different try-outs or performances. In all four the audience were free to sit down or move about as they pleased. There was no seating, but there were cushions on the floor if people needed to rest or wanted to sit down and just listen. The performers were then instructed to relate to the audience and interact with them in different ways. In that way, all four performances also became an investigation of audience-participation.
We also investigated how the formal and more choreographed the movements by the performers would work.
In two of the try-outs the performers wore costumes designed. In the other two they wore everyday clothes (see video here).
In two of the performances the emphasis was on the formal and the visual. Here Holbrooks’s music played a vital part, the actors wore costumes and the room was dark when the audience entered the room. These try-outs functioned as a kind of sound and light -meditations.
In the other two, the emphasis was more on audience participation. Here we wanted to create a more informal atmosphere that encouraged the audience to move around in the installation and explore it more on their own accord. Here the performers wore normal clothes and the room was lit up when the audience entered the space. I did a short presentation in the room, and colleagues and members of the team took part in creating an atmosphere that made it easy for the audience to move about and experience the space as they liked.
In the performances involving costumes and extensive lighting along with Holbrooks’s music, the visuals almost took over. People withdrew to the peripheries of the room to take it all in. It stopped being interactive, as such, although the performers were there manipulating the space. To me being in the room, it was like looking at a large, meditative, slow and ever-changing spatial painting (see documentation here).
Some of the try-outs worked better than others, but in all four, a pendular movement occurred, swinging back and forth between meaning and pure sonic effect; approaching phases of clear dramaturgy, then disappearing into an open random composition of light and sound. Since we could not fully control the elements (what sounds came where and when), but only anchor it at certain speakers. We learned a lot about what happened according to what text came in what speaker at which time etc.
In the performances without costumes and music, where the light changed less and the performers encouraged the audience to move into the space, there was more of a feeling of a communal gathering. The sense of it being a living painting decreased, nevertheless, but all throughout the try-outs, there was still a lack of energy, life and vibrancy.
The spatial turn and the voice
I had wanted one thing and gained another.
The texts were the same; as was the way they were being performed. It was the way they were composed and distributed in the room that was different.
I had created a space for spirits, not for lived life. Spirits trapped in a series of see-through houses that looked like paper lanterns when they were being lit. If a voice always speaks from a place, then ironically I had done my best to remove the physicality of space from the voice. And the result of that, combined with the openness of the black box and the small lights, was not a new place – but a non-place.
Together they made me think of what Hans Thies Lehman writes on the chorus of antiquity: “It sings its pity, dread, lament, doubt and joy; thereby, it opens a sonic dimension that should be understood more as an echo space than as a dialogical answer” (Hans Thies Lehman, Tragedy and Theatre, Routledge London, 2016, p. 196)
And an echo was truly what I had created.
Polyvocal yes. About the one and the many, yes, but without involving any real tension. This was a truly unexpected answer to my research question.
So what was the next step?
It was obvious that the space was too big for me to achieve what I had wanted. Was that what had drained the energy from the material? Or was it the theatricality of the place. The stage that the black box offers that resembles a clean canvas.
My next step was to try and see what another space had to offer. How would the idea work in a public space?
City Dwellers # 5 and City Dwellers # 6 at Vega Scene
When Vega Scene invited me to show my work in their foyer, I thought why not. This space had a bar/café and accommodated other activities like lectures or visits from kindergardens. Due to the practicalities I would only be able to use a limited number of speakers, so the project as a whole became a bit amputated and my experience was mixed (see documentation of all City Dweller projects here).
At the same time I had found a small gallery, Galleri Bananaz in the eastern part of Oslo (Grønland), and when I moved the project there in December 2019, things felt better. The gallery had a large window facing the street so one could experience life going on outside. It was situated in a rough area, with brown cafes, bars, barbers, second hand-shops and kebab joints. It was a place where life seeped through, and one could see the work while passing by.
There was also some sound-leakage from the street outside that I liked: buses, voices, traffic lights. The gallery was also much smaller than the black box and the walls were white (see documentation from the work here).
It was time to use the experience I already had and get ready for City Dwellers # 7.
City Dwellers # 7
In City Dwellers # 7 I worked in a much smaller space than at KHiO.
In the end I decided to work with 17 speakers and only create a 22 minute piece, to make sure that I could control the format (see documentation here).
I also wrote a prologue, or an introduction to the piece, placing myself in the streetscape, to allow for a more mental representation of the material while still describing the environment outside the window. Since I could do nothing about the volume-level or quality of the speakers, I had to change the mimetic principle of the piece, adding a meta-level and myself as a reference point.
I had four weeks to work in the gallery-space, where I also recorded the sound of the street, conversations in the shop next door, and I wrote new texts based on stories told by people passing by. Having said that, the core of the material was still the same, I was now mixing the fictional material I already had with stories from the area.
One could say that the chorus that I developed for City Dwellers # 7, also reflected a spatial turn. A kind of landscape that was both mental and physical. Abstract and concrete.
My hope is that the finished work will give a better response to my research question, but while writing this, the trials are still going on.
22. THE SOUND AND THE SPACE
Through my experimentation with the City Dwellers project, I had learned more about how space and sound come together. I had discovered that sound/voices in space, worked very differently than in a radio play or on a stage. When working with radio in stereo, or just with surround, the listener managed to tie the different "meanings" or texts together, and then bridge the gap between them through associations. Framing them and turning them into one meaningful event and place. It was also my experience that here, in the radio-play or the sound collage, more could go on at the same time.
In spatial work, my experience was that this did not occur in the same way.
Being immersed in a stretched out soundscape functioned more like walking through a landscape. The perspective shifted as attention drifted, and one meaning did not necessarily connect with the other. If the space was too big or too small, the whole piece could easily unravel. In my experience, the larger the space, and the more spread-out the voices were, the more abstract the composition seemed to become. And since the listener/visitor was free to focus her attention where she wanted, the experience of the space would widely vary. Here there was never just one answer, or one way of taking in or understanding the space and what was going on in it. It was neither one nor the other. Another situational space occurred. It was perhaps what E. W. Soja would call a “Thirdspace”– a both/and-also place, always about to become something more, something less, or something else (Blackwell Publishing 2017).
In my work I have often chosen to remove the body from the equation. When working with sound in a large space, this had consequences. And constituting the material in a theatre space like the black box, black box being a "non-world", constructed to create new “theatrical worlds” that block out any reminder of the “real” world – had consequences too.
The idea that voices in space could constitute historical narratives had failed, but to some degree I had had success previously when composing, creating patterns and layers of solos and choirs for composers. These experinces I could make use of now. I also saw it as a game of building patterns of release a bit like in a choreographed piece for performers. Here tension and release, groupings, solos and clusters, outbursts and silences, solos and choir-work came together in a very different way than in a play written for characters. Working with City Dwellers # 7, I saw real potential in this form. A potential to portray and expose the ties and the tension between the one and the many, and for the audience to be inside this experience. Immersed by it, as we are immersed by society, by the public domain.
The process I am in now is expansive in nature.
It does not grasp its limitation.
It cannot stop. It has to go on, just as the world itself goes on. It is as expansive, culminating, and constantly morphing as the “we” or the “world” that it tries to encompass. New readers will take part in recording sessions and new texts will be written and gathered.
The City Dwellers complex is a vessel constantly changing shape and form, and its only limitation is what-ever each vessel in this project can hold.
My idea was that the body of the work should resemble a flock of starlings – a murmuration, or a habitat – an ever-changing landscape with all its living and non-living entities, surrounded by the culture that has occupied itself within it. This is not a world left alone. It is a world that has been tampered with and invaded by man’s mind. It as much a world of man-made beliefs as it is matter and nature. It is a world of names and legends, politics and jokes, rumours, life-stories, fake and real facts. Science and fiction. And all the “things” in this world are present – together and separate. Intertwined and separated, just as letters and words are when separated from the sentence, something in themselves. Through this, I strived to display collective processes and deep individual processes simultaneously in an ongoing flux, a movement back and forth between the one and the many.
There is something deeply fascinating about trying to establish a communal body. To make the text move like a choreographed one, and then break it up into solos, duets and smaller groups, forming a set of parallel but separate actions or vice versa. When the work assembles sequences of movements that include both collective and singular passages side by side, it has the potential to show both how the one and the many work separately and as one. Through addresses, events, monologues and dialogues. Through rhythm, beat and repetition – all producing a potential for creating a connection between the parts.
I wanted to create a thirdspace. Interwoven texts that encompass culture, time, and space as though they were one. I had started using “a thirdspace” long before I knew it already existed as a concept. Later, when I read Edward J. Soja’s book Thirdspace, I understood both the use of the concept and its history – how it has played a role in reclaiming space as equally important entities as time and culture.
Using the French architect Henry Lefebvre’s book Productions of Space as a starting point, Soja sees the concept of Thirdspace as an emancipatory tool; something that has contributed to changing the way we look at things. Thirdspace can thereby be a viable tool when shifting perspectives, loosening up old perceptions and power structures.
If we are spatial beings, from the global to the most intimate, then space is a vital part of our lives. And as our lives changes, space changes just as our perception of it does. Thirdspace, encompasses the simultaneity and interwoven complexity of the social, historical, and the spatial. And he sees them as inseparable and inter-dependant.
While Firstspace focuses on the “real” (the material world) and Secondspace focuses on “imagined representations” (culture, narratives etc.) – Thirdspace encompasses the spatial and the social, as a place for the production of history, in other words it is a “both/and-also” term.
When Lefebvre used the term, he wrote about architecture and the way we organise our society, but he had used references to polyvocal music to create an understanding of the term and the way of thinking it produced. Soja writes that, for Lefebvre, polyvocal composition involves a productive space or even the production of space, where a multiplicity of instruments and voices play together at the same time as a polyphonic fugue, with variations of radically different forms and harmonies; where thesis, synthesis and antithesis can appear simultaneously.
Another influential writer on Thirdspace, the influential Indian-English scholar and critical theorist Homi Bahba, uses the term to allow for resistance on the fringes of cultural politics by rethinking space and terms like “territory” (Blackwell Publishing 2017, p. 14). By seeing the world not from the centre, but from its borders and peripheries, Bahba introduced a new perspective and the potential for rebellion.
The idea is, that when space is no longer immobile, what we live in is what Michel Focault saw as a life-world of heterotopias, another kind of space than the structured, logical place of cause and effect. Heterotopias are certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow “other”. They can be disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming.
Today, artists re-align with activists, with local social movements, scientist and sociologists. Looking at power from different angels through their praxis. This has especially been a strong tendency in documentary theatre the last years. Here groups like the Yes Men develops strategies to take power on straight at hand. They have used (quoting their own web-page): … humor and trickery to highlight the corporate takeover of society. One, so to say – starts knocking on the doors. Visiting the power where the power lives.
The Norwegian theatre-maker Pia Maria Roll uses both these strategies in her performances. Sometimes, like in Ways of Seeing (2018), and National Apology (2015), she manages to catch the attention of the public, the media and the state apparatus, and as such she manages to de-mask power.
One often says, that if one wants to locate power – all you have to do is to follow the money. Maybe one could also say: to locate pain, one needs to follow the hate.Ways of seeing confronted the connection between state racism and control of power through surveillance. It turned the surveillance on to the power-figures themselves. Though the strategy, which were artistic at its chore, was not recognized by the politicians as such, the power-figures exposed, saw it as hate, as an insult, as a disturbance of the private sphere. An invasion of their personal space. They did not know the world and the language of the theatre, and Pia Maria Roll had to face the sanctions of that apparatus. All it could see was a mirror. All it could see was itself.
Pia Maria Roll and her team tried to create a crack.
They tried to tear a rift in the membrane between art and society, between the powerful and the powerless. Between pain and power, and for once, we could actually feel some kind of tremor – but so far and still, the membrane stays intact and seemingly solid.
With The City Dwellers Project I wanted to produce a disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory and transforming space. An immersive composition that moved in polyvocal fugue-like patterns. A space-time-narration-event. An interwoven and flexible system of text and sound in space, where dissonance and harmonies exist side by side, not as the end-product, but as approximations. A system that constantly produces affects and surplus meaning, that can be added to, and exist in a multitude of variations. From one to a hundred, in a performative text as a feedback loop.
23. EXPANDING PERSPECTIVES
Today, new materialism and object philosophy asks us to increase the value of matter. What’s not of man has been given a new value.
To understand the world, we need to see how the world of man and objects in the world of man are intrinsically connected; and in this respect, we need to see nature as an agent, not just mise-en-scene.
For many theatre-makers, it has become important to use theatre to create a dialogue between man and matter. To explore the connection and to increase our understanding of how dependent we are on the physical world we are part of. Many have called this development a part of the spatial turn. A turn that strives to connect the humans to their wider surroundings, creating a feedback loop, a reciprocal exchange between what goes on in the play, with the audience and the “world”. Between mind, context and matter, so to speak.
In the hybrid, language-based play, these three are represented through language.
Language is not something that separates us from the world. The Danish poet Inger Christensen states that language is a part of the world, and art is a way to give form to this world. When the poet’s work gets dictated by the form, like when writing a sonnet, or following a mathematical pattern etc., the poem opens up to its surroundings – to the world. For Inger Christensen “systemdiktning”, or rule-based writing, was a way of giving what was nonhuman an influence over her writing.
Early, in the 1960s, composers like John Cage and Morten Feldman, and movements like the Fluxus movement, developed similar ideas and concepts. Many of these ideas and techniques are still vital today, particularly within the theatre. Especially in conceptual and improvisation-based work. They were also seen as emancipatory strategies. Strategies that would open our minds and free art from convention to achieve a more dialogical and receptive form of artistic expression (for more see: Language and the world).
Many see this turn towards landscape and nature as a part of the many emancipatory approaches in postdramatic theatre.
I share this ideal that writing is in essence a praxis of listening, responding and sharing. And to reach a level of “openness”, I use many different techniques, both during the writing process and when finally assembling the material, in an effort to move away from cause and effect-based dramaturgies or having dualism as the organising principle of my work. They can be techniques developed by the avant-garde or the Fluxus movement, like the cut-up techniques of Dada – or different forms of logins, feedback-sessions and improvisations, both when writing and on the floor, alone or with others.
In all these techniques, error and chance are welcome.
When writing, developing and assembling the various City Dwellers Project, these techniques were extremely valuable. After I had left the script and the idea of using narration behind, it was important for me to keep everything open throughout the process. To continue being influenced by current affairs, the space where I worked, my readers, random visitors, the team etc. Many ideas also came from listening to the material played out at random, and in versions of City Dwellers # 1, 2, 3, 4 there were levels of randomness and chance even during the performance.
In City Dwellers # 8 – which I will be making for the Intonal Festival in Malmø in April – all the recorded text will be played randomly, distributed by a computer program to “float” around within an acousmatic composition by Ulf C. Holbrook.
“Rule-based” art tries to “restrict” this creative control by introducing outside forces.
Although the writer might like have the last word in any text, it is obvious that with such techniques comes a potential for freeing the text from the writer’s ego and central perspective. In theatre that can mean opening up for the performer to contribute, for the audience to respond, participate and evaluate, and for “the world to shine through” the work, as I strived for in my presentation of City Dwellers # 7 (not necessarily by using rule-based techniques, but by working with and for the space).
But try as you might to make your work transparent, to create a “we” in the text, in a performance or the space you present. No matter what you do, the researcher, ergo I, will always be there.
When I began my research, I felt that I had come to the end of, even exhausted “individualism”. That there was no room to find an interrelation between me and the world just in the “me”. In myself.
Let me put it like this: when I went looking for me in myself, I was not sure I was there. So much of “me” was out there, with the others. So, I started up by stating the obvious – let me go out there. To “them”. It was a kind of immersive technique. I was embracing intersubjectivity.
But what I found, doing so – was just a start. I opened a door, and as soon as I pushed it open, the world started talking back to me. I think secretly I had longed for this door. Even searched for it – both in my writing and in my reading, and there it was. And it was impossible to ignore. To keep this backdoor, hidden under the fabric of society itself open, became my new mission.
But I was right in the middle of it, and throughout this research, I have often felt that I had a blind-spot, and that this blind-spot was "me". And late in my research I realised that there were things I had not taken into consideration.
Working with current affairs and other people’s situations and dilemmas, I sometimes would find myself overcome by a feeling of being exposed. It was as if I had nowhere to hide, and being quite introvert, I had to constantly challenge myself to do things I normally wouldn’t do. To go outside my comfort-zone, even to go on stage as a performer, as I did during both productions with STATEX. To make this work, I needed to be constantly open for change, for new ideas, new versions, new forms.
This sometimes took me out of my comfort-zone aesthetically. I would end up collaborating with people I differed from, or making things I normally wouldn’t. Even showing work I considered poor or unfinished. By the end of my research I realised I had not made room in my schedule to properly accommodate the whole process. To heal and recuperate.
And then there was the ethical tension which had set the whole thing off.
I still felt chained to a system, and at the same time bewildered by the way the system benefited me as an educated, white, middle-aged citizen. It felt like a double bind. I was both the one being exploited and the one exploiting others, and it sickened me. I felt ashamed, and since I had been trying to write from and within that shame, that shame was now with me constantly.
Instead of the work releasing me from that shame, I sometimes felt engulfed by it, – and this feeling was not always satisfactory or productive.
I know now that when I began my work, I had planned my research carefully, but I had not made room in my plans for my own reactions. And I had not fully appreciated that the ethical tension I described so early on was not a constructed or intellectual pain, but a real one. And to be constantly revisiting that pain has been challenging. All this constant listening, talking, responding, recording, including people; taking on suggestions etc., has at times made me shaky, and it all caught up with me when I was doing my final work on City Dwellers # 7. Here I had finally found a space with an abundance of opportunity to involve the neighbourhood and to be current. To engage with the many, but when I started working in the gallery, I soon realised that I had neither the guts nor the energy to go “out there”. All I seemed able to do was reflect on what I had. So in a way I ended up making an immersive audio-essay instead of a piece representing public life.
At the end of the production period I managed to include a few pieces; such as a conversation between the owner and a customer in the bric-a-brac shop next door, the words of a man that barged into the gallery one evening, and the story of the man in the local barber-shop. I also recorded the sound of the traffic outside. But this was not really opening myself up to or truly engaging in my surroundings. It was, at best, simply being there. I had no more left to give. I was spent, or completely filled up, depending on how one sees it. All this work had contaminated me. I found myself in the belly of the beast.
24. 1:100 AND BACK AGAIN
My supervisor often shakes his head saying, “do you have to write about everything at the same time?” But I guess that when trying to expose the ties and the tensions between the collective and the individual, the one and society, the word “all” often comes into play.
It helps to see the text as something made up. Something different from “the world”. The performative text might mimic it, but even by doing just that, it also “reads it” – or gives its interpretation of it.
A text for the stage, or for bodies and voices – is not just that interpretation, or that “reading” of the “world”, it also entails, or gives an understanding of what it means to be performative, or what “theatre” is, what “theatrical” is or even what “drama” can be.
These “understandings” and “readings” of theatricality in texts both ties the writer to "reality", and frees her from it. One does not write in isolation, but the texts are as such free to create new and impossible world.
When I have chosen a dialogical, relational and process-oriented approach in my research, it has to do with both these aspects of writing, and this widens my field. One could say that it blows my work wide open. All the major elements are at play at the same time – so what then, gives focus and purpose to my project?
This is the paradox of it, and the core of it.
The method I have used has been to try and develop a polyvocality inside the text itself, and to work with narrators, or text-based agents inside the same texts that traverse the individual, the social and the meta-levels of the text (One in S O A R E, the dreams in Sweatshop – Aleppo, the stage directions in Darkness the Enemy Inside/the Island etc). I have called it a kind of a ripping effect at the chore of the text itself. Both splitting the text open, and connecting the different levels: the individual, the collective, and the intertextual. To both show how we are conditioned by society, and develop a gaze inside the text that can set us free from it. And to acknowledge the tension that can be produced between these two.
At the core of this thinking is the idea that autonomous art can offer an alternative to the doxa and at the same time expose this doxa.
That in seeing Man both as separated from the “world”, and a part of the world, widens the potential when working on scale and time. After all society is something we have created, and after all - the universe will go on without us in it.
We live with the world and with other human beings. The crux of our survival, physically and mentally, depend on this simple understanding: Man is not alone. Or as the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas states in his work Existence and Existents (Duquesne, 2001): “Through addressing the other, I become me.”
I now try to adhere to this when writing my plays.
They are about how the world addresses me, and how I reply. And in order for this reciprocal exchange happen, I have to stay open, I have to make myself vulnerable.
Through thought-processes like this, I have become intrinsically just as interested in addresses, as I am in dialogue as such.
You cannot ignore the imperative address in the cry of a child. For me it is there, in the address of the other and what follows – rejection or involvement, action or event – that the birth of “the play” lies. And herein lies our intrinsic need for it (for more see the essay: Stay–Leave. Don’t Go).
This relational way of understanding playwriting, intrinsically involves any form of call or response: lyrical, reflexive or dramatic.
For me playwriting is an art form in its own right.
A play is always a small part of a bigger puzzle. It exists in a feedback loop with its context, with the other plays that came before it.
At the same time, I do not believe that a play is a play – and that theatre is theatre. My tools are words, sentences, scenes and the blank space of the page surrounding them, but when I write and as I write, I visualise theatre. Through the theatricality of language, I stand somewhere between the page and the stage.
What did I find?
All of the texts on this website have been written to shed light on or grapple with aspects of my research question. As a group, they are rizhomatic. Each existing and functioning on their own, but they are all part of the same organism. On their own they perhaps don’t provide many answers, but I hope they might do so collectively.
The question I have asked myself has been: How can my texts portray the tension and the bond between the individual and society? The need for an answer stemmed from an ethical tension I was living in.
In the run-up to my research period I had written the play S O A R E where I had felt a surge of this tension. I knew at that point that I wanted to express this tension both on a communal and a personal level. The question was what tools did I have?
In S O A R E I had worked with what I called an inbuilt theatricality in language itself; with its ability to create and transform; to build and tear down “worlds. I wondered: could language be the vehicle for performative events, rather than situations, characters and actions? Could language itself be the tool to use when making a performative text that contained a multitude of perspectives, or a representation of the perspectives of multitude? I understood that I needed to find compositional tools to exposed and created complexity. In order to seek other methods I needed to know what I was doing.
I also new that if I wanted both the reader/audience and myself to be “inside” the material, not just to recount or narrate it, I needed to work on scale and space instead of narrative, plots and characters.
If there was an unexplored potential in my artform, I wanted to find it.
All that being said, one could say that every well-made play manages to portray the tensions and the bond between the individual and society. That it deals with our every day-dilemmas and turns them into something universal. That when they succeed, they manage to tell us something about the individual and structures that consolidate our lives? From Shakespeare to Edward Albee. From Moliere to Lars Norèn.
After all, isn’t that what any good story does?
Why then this need for complexity, polyvocality, and theatricality?
Have I been trying to force open a door that was already wide open?
I don’t think so.
If it was, why then would the modernist tradition rebel against the well-made play?
It did so for a reason. There was something that needed to be expressed. Something that felt urgent for their time. As the postmodern theatre did. For both it was essential to leave the story and the plot behind. The modernists did not see the world as a coherent place, and the subject as a consolidated unity.
Through modernism a new grand narrative was consolidated, the one about modern Man. Then postmodernism rebelled fundamentally against all grand narrations. Trying to create heteronormative expressions with an inbuilt power-critique, both breaking down the power-discourses in society and bouncing off them. This created contemporary playwriting as we know it and what Lehman calls postdramatic plays.
This important shift in focus, aesthetics and form cannot be ignored. Neither the socio-economic realities that brought them about, and the hybrid form, that I am drawn to, stems from this process.
The play and the human experience
As Lehman writes in Tragedy and Theatre, tragedy is not a genre, it is a part of human experience. Art finds different ways of expressing this experience.
This ethical tension I feel, is also a human experience, and for me I needed to find a way to express it. It was as if the tension brought me to the end of individualism as such.
I remember the reaction I felt when first seeing the photo of the life-wests left by the refugees that had come ashore on Lesbos in 2016. First, I could not make it out. It was is like an abstract orange of shapes and forms. Soft. Like petals carelessly thrown together in multitudes that are without numbers – but then I see what it is. Later I learn, that the image is a still from a video has been taken from a great height, with the title: Flying over “life vest valley” in #Lesbosflying over life west valley # Lesbos . The photo aroused great emotions in me. Emotions that was not tied to an individual story, it had to do with scale and with realisation. An epiphany maybe (For more on this see the essay Our Daily Discomfort). A respons that did not have to do with the story of individuals, but with events current and terrible events unfolding, that did involve multitudes.
There are two cruxes here. One has to do with tension, the other has to do with place.
Today there is a new urgency connected to place. It is as if we have discovered that we do not live on something, but in something, and that this place, this planet, the cities we live in are agents in themselves. Not just formed by man, but also as forming man. Places are partners in our dance of life.To find strategies, I revisited the chorus. I turned to the allegories, to legends and folk tales, the carnivalesque in Shakespeare. To texts where the forests talk, where men can turn into animals and vice versa.
When working with the hybrid I felt that I could leave nihilism behind, together with irony, and what I felt had become a self-centred game-based feedback loop of meta-games and intertextuality in many postdramatic strategies. Strategies that de-masked power, yes. But that was mostly lost among the self-referencing, in the commenting on itself and its own tradition.
The other crux concerned perspective because it was not really a double perspective, the individual versus the collective, that I was after. Nor was my research about the tension that potentially exist between the two, or about capturing both an existential and a shared experience. For me the solution was to not move between these two perspectives. If that was what I wanted, I could have used any postdramatic form there was, and to some extent the strategies of a well-made or a modernist play. My radio-play Sweatshop – Aleppo is a good example for that.
What I was looking for, I discovered, was a play that produced a kind of crisis.
A play where the setting/place both produced and constituted this crisis.
When I use the word crisis, it is not just a negative term. A crisis is also generic. One can even call it cathartic, and as such close to Slavoj Zizek’s definition of an event. Crisis seen not just as a place for a potential breakdown of what has been, but as an opportunity for new beginnings. For genesis (Michele Serres, Time of Crisis, Bloomsbury Publishing 2013). According to Zizek, an event is thus the effect that seems to exceed its causes. One of the central questions then would be, does the change happen in how reality appears to us, or does it change reality? (Slavoj Zizek, Event, Penguin Books, London 2014, p. 3)
A play can never change “reality” as such. Neither as an object or as a political tool. But it can change the way we perceive reality, and from what perspective we approach it.
CALL AND RESPONSE 1
In Darkness the Enemy Inside I had come closer to what I want to achieve. The hybrid form was there. Polyvocality was there. Theatricality through language was there too, and the setting had become an agent in the play, but the reader/audience still had to decipher it.
In D I Y – manuals for a potential future, we (STATEX) sought to create a place with the performance, building it together with the audience. At our best performances, we did just that.
The City Dwellers-format has offered me a new a possibility of combining solos and chorus-material in a composition, resembling a large-scale choreography. A place where I can combine “literary” and dramatic material, readymades, found-material and affective outbursts and fragments. Here I believe there will be space for clashes and confrontations, not only inside the pieces but with the space it is performed in. Here I still work with building-blocks. The work is still language-based, but now I try to see the piece as something I can place both myself and my reader/audience “inside”. That being said, I still see it as a try-out. There is a long way to go.
CALL AND RESPONSE 2
So what did I find?
I found the hybrid through my lovely, but failed Sweatshop – Aleppo, and through the more fruitful work with Darkness the Enemy Inside.
I found that I wanted to move away from dualism, and try to approach more language and landscape-based strategies.
Now it is not as much about zooming in and out, or doubling the perspective. If the play is a landscape, it is no longer just about walking through it; approaching one thing and leaving another behind, it is more about being in it. About the act of watching and listening.
I found that I wanted an ethic of reciprocity. To see myself as “the other” and “the other” not just as people, but to be able to take in all things. And due to that I must somehow include myself in the work. I wanted to create a feedback loop in the widest sense, and if possible, even make the creative process visible in the work itself. I hope that it will bring new energy to my work. Make it more current and less tepid, less inward-looking. The question now is not so much who am I addressing, but what is addressing me? This brings about another ethic and its aesthetics. In a way it takes me away from “play-writing” and into a cross-over mode, but it also makes me more perceptive to the world as “pure” experience. Not something for me to interpret, but something to experience and respond to.
It is as if I have opened a door to a new and fascinating landscape, and now I have to re-orient myself again.So far I found that the best way for me to expose the ties and tensions between individual and society in a performative text, is through hybrid forms. And as writing continues to be at the core of the project, I believe the answers can be found within the process itself. As the project is now over, I have to grasp at the same tools as botanists or zoologists: Ordering and sorting. Naming and organising. Pushing things into their respective corners, as when putting together an herbarium, an encyclopaedia. Trying to find my bearings, to make a map, a system of coordinates to navigate by.
I am a child lifting a cranium up from the mossbone-white and brittleas the Gods find their place at the drawing boardsketching with broad, slightly aggressive gestures: a square an anglea bluff of a buildingas a city rises out of nowhere
It is the mind at workCreating patterns and connections where non seemingly exist
In this world of hybridswe are mostly self-thought
Here we disembody ourselvesHere we turn too imaginary worlds as in myths long gone – where the Gods killed the giantand turned his flesh into soilhis blood into riversWhere they litter the sky with stars and got lost in dark forests sprouting from his beard
We are what time reflects back at usThere it de-masks itselfHolding on to a face and then yet another
– and the rooms fills up with instruments
a litter of kittens of whatever
Look – a road spins out of itall lit uppulsating as in an old arcade-game as the picture completes itself
I am the roomYou are the key
Do you see me?
Download text as PDF