The grass on the side of the road

That's entertainment! Richard Foreman's "Rhoda in Potatoland" (1975). Photo: Kate Davy.
Richard Foreman’s “Rhoda in Potatoland” (1975). Photo: Kate Davy.

Language provides the conceptual frame and scenography the perceptual frame of drama and performance; no wonder that some dramatists choose to take the director’s chair as well. But far from providing prisons for performers and audiences, they constitute only an individual aesthetic perspective in which the individual performer’s aesthetic energy can reveal itself within those frames. The provision of rich, demanding language and rich, demanding scenography requires the performer to call upon new energies and virtuosities within herself as she communicates these bodily, visually, and sensuously to the spectator. The efforts of the dramatist are almost laughably futile; however strict the frames, the performer adds to them a personal, individual energy that confronts whatever strictures the dramatist seeks to impose. The dramatist and performer are simultaneously reluctant collaborators and affectionate combatants (explanation enough for the tensions of the rehearsal period).

The more extreme and subversive the construction of the aesthetic environment — the more it seeks to undermine the perceptual and conceptual frames that habit has encouraged us to think of as permanent and unchanging — the more unapologetically difficult the work becomes for both spectator and performer, who for the duration of performance are bound together within that environment, resisting it or accepting it from moment to moment. Here theater and drama have their closest resemblance to new music. As this music exploits the undreamt-of possibilities of timbre, tonality, harmony, technic, duration, and structure, this theatre exploits the undreamt-of possibilities of narrative, language, dialogue, duration, costume, technology, and scenography.

This kind of theater and drama is so rare at this point in history that it may be described as theoretical, despite the fact that it once existed in our recent past.

This theater and music does not teach lessons, they provide examples, and they provide them through the live performer. They open us to the untapped potentials of a deliberately broadened, critical consciousness, and the sensual possibilities of this consciousness. We are encouraged to take the possibilities of this aesthetic experience and apply them to our non-aesthetic experience outside the theater — to see beyond our own limited frames and somehow find new joys and pleasures in that new perception, which remains dynamic and open to revision. Hence Martin Seel: “[Objects] are given to us in an outstandingly sensuous manner; they are grasped by us in an outstandingly sensuous way. This applies no less to articles of clothing and locomotives than to symphonies and novels, no less to the grass on the side of the road than to the banal object in the domain of modern art.”

1 thought on “The grass on the side of the road”

  1. Thanks for this post. Your theatre postings are always refreshing.

    This is the theatre I am searching for, the theatre that I write, but there are no willing collaborators. And it seems like theatre currently (at least in the States) exists not just for entertainment, but as a showcase for actors as they move into movies. Very little difficulty in content or performance exists. Sure there are a few exceptions such as Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, Richard Foreman, and some pieces that Sam Shepard is immediately involved in regarding production. Or you have the Potomac Theatre project.

    Also it seems new plays, at least from what I see out of Playwright’s Horizons or the Playwright’s Center in the Midwest are mostly whimsical, with no real weight.

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