Friday, 10 August 2012

the Future Imperfect of Physical Theatre

In this article John Towsen ponders the difference between recorded media and the live experience, with a heavy preference for the latter. Or as he says
 "...loudly extolling the many virtues of live (physical) performance over "artificial" technology-aided media.' 
These are some excerpts from 'With your Brains & My Body: the Future Imperfect of Physical Theatre.' John Towsen is the author of Clowns. I found this on his great blog All Fall Down.

Some twenty years ago (when transistor radios were still the rage),Norman Mailer wrote that it was better to step out to a local club to catch a little known jazz quartet than to stay home listening to the world's finest jazz recording on the most expensive hi-fi. To sit in that jazz audience is to be party to the performing contract. Live jazz, with its insistence on improvisation and embellishment, its call-and-response structure, its vocal audience, is as good a model as any for modern comedic and movement theatre. Rather than passively tuning in from the safety of one's living room sofa, ready to switch channels at the flick of a remote control, the jazz audience is engaged in a dialogue by the performers, and plays a far more active role than it imagines in the experience.

Audience members are often the last to realize the crucial effect they have on a live performance. But performers are keenly aware of it. It's their business. The performer understands far more than laughs, applause, and hacking coughs. The performer has a sixth sense that monitors audience chemistry, offering instant feedback on energy levels, depth of focus, eye contact thresholds, attention span — the whole gamut of good and not-so-good vibrations that constantly bombard the stage like so many invisible gamma rays.

The faith of the live performer is that though he/she may be only reaching 75 people at a time, the experience is more "real" because it is live, communal, visceral, three-dimensional, riskier, and ultimately more memorable than the television sitcom that reaches75 million. Through their willingness to risk all with body and soul,they keep alive a vital performance tradition that engages the audience, that is neither chewing gum for the mind nor opiate for the masses.
A graver threat to physical theatre, but one we can exercise some control over, comes from within. The danger is that our art will too infrequently transcend its technique, contenting itself with dazzling displays of physical and/or comedic virtuosity, growing more and more isolated from the world we live in. Too often the tricks performed seem far riskier than the artistic statement. Too often the amount of homework that goes into mastering the craft dwarfs the amount of time spent exploring and evolving an artistic vision. 

 You can read the whole article here.

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