In advance of Testimonium this week we asked Every House Has a Door about the show and their practice.
Would you describe your work as ‘theatre’ or ‘live art’, or do you find yourself at the boundaries crossing these concepts?
‘Theatre’ describes our work well if one considers theatre a container that can hold combinations of events of different modes: visual, physical, textual, sonic. ‘Live art’ makes sense because it diminishes expectations of a prominent narrative, replacing them with an emphasis on the potency of presence. In fact, Testimonium is premiering in a dance festival. The performance trades on and frustrates conventions of various sorts, including those of the rock concert. We have tried to follow where the work leads us, even when it takes us into a territory that reveals the partialness or inaccuracy of each possible term used to describe it.
Do you find there is an element of friction between what is seen as the ‘staged’ of the theatrical and the ‘real’ of live art?
For us those distinctions fall away. We rehearse and detail the actions in our work in order to make them more immediate. The staging of the ordinary eliminates the confusion between real and artificial.
What was the process you went through when devising the work, what compositional techniques did you use and how did you rehearse?
In this performance we rehearsed the three modes differently. We had music rehearsals with the band, recitation rehearsals for the spoken text, and stage rehearsals for the movement sequences. In each we worked to compose the clarity of each part according to its own logic. At a certain point we then had a fourth kind of rehearsal that worked find the coherence of the parts in the larger composition, and this often meant scaling back to make each part incomplete. The sense of completion could then come from the total assembly at the end.
Did you feel, when conceiving the piece, that there was something that had to be told, or did this develop organically in the process of creation?
We began with the Testimony poems of Charles Reznikoff. They brought an urgency to the process, with their alternative sense of first-person American history and their ring of concrete everyday reality. So much of our work in this piece concerns delivering those words and those events in the most effective manner.
What’s next for you? What are you working on for presentation in the future?
We began an archival performance called 9 Beginnings here in Bristol last year, and we are expanding that performance to include other archives from other cities around the world. We have also begun research into ancient history for a performance that will situate on a stage-like structure based on a bridge designed by Julius Caesar to allow his troops to cross the Rhine River during the Gallic Wars. This resulted from an invitation by a Chicago gallery called Julius Caesar Gallery.