In advance of Tomorrow's Parties, we asked performers Cathy Naden & Richard Lowdon about the show and their practice.
Answered by Richard Lowdon:
Would you describe your work as ‘theatre’ or ‘live art’, or do you find yourself at the boundaries crossing these concepts?
I’m not really sure that it’s important how one defines what we do, clearly if you’re marketing the work or you are an academic trying to write about then these labels are important! But I think if pushed I would say, that what we do is theatre, though our approach maybe owes more to live art practice. Often we are trying to find a “game” that can be played between us, so in Tomorrow’s Parties, that game is one of offering different versions of what the future may hold for us. So one might say that the action of the piece is essentially a playful dialogue, as much about the two performers in front of you, as it is about the content that they propose. It is also a text that is created out of improvisation. Where we maybe diverge from live/performance art is that we are interested in staging an object that has been finished and fixed in rehearsal, so in that sense it is closest to theatre. However there are many pieces that we have made, especially the durational pieces (anything between 6-24 hours) that are improvised anew each time, all that has been agreed on are a number of rules, and there is little attempt to pretend that we are anything other than ourselves, in these we perhaps sit closer to the world of live art. Maybe it’s futile or boring to try and define the differences between these two terms, but more interesting to look at what they share. It’s not a war after all. Both seek to work with time and presence and the presence of a viewer. We merely seek to fill that time with humour, difficulty, questioning and playfulness, hoping the viewer will leave the experience changed, amused, thoughtful and of course hungry for more.
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?
If there is a friction, it is one born out of a misplaced tribalism, rather than an ability to see what is happening in front of us. The best question is “what pleasures does this offer us?” And of course those pleasures can be many and various. When I was a student I saw a piece by Anthony Howell called Table Moves, in which he manipulated a series of objects within a gaffer taped square on the floor (two tables, two buckets, two wardrobes etc) As a 19-year old theatre student I felt I had no way of reading what he was doing. I was sat behind two kids, who I had imagined would be bored rigid by the performance, however, when he tipped over the wardrobes onto their backs, I heard one of them whisper to the other “It’s a coffin” I realized I was clearly more concerned with my own prejudices, than seeing what was actually happening in front of me. I’m not trying to laud the “innocence” of children. It is just that any performance is an invitation, to think and to imagine, and this is clearly what those kids were doing. Maybe the truth is, our own education and prejudices, get in the way of seeing what is in front of us. Any performance of any kind is an invitation to engage, an invitation we are all wise to accept.
What was the process you went through when devising the work, what compositional techniques did you use and how did you rehearse?
We had been commissioned to make a piece for the Belluard Festival in Fribourg, around the theme of hope, and had spent some time struggling with what we could do. It was only when we thought about making it a free flowing game of predicting futures that we really got going. Some time before, we had found a nice structure, in telling stories using the word “or” as a way of switching content or detail. We married the two things together.
We tried playing this as an improvised game for five people, which, while good at creating content, was rather un-dynamic as a form, so we decided that it was clearly a better game for two, an easier to understand dialogue of sorts. What became apparent was, that the game could free-wheel from well known sci-fi content, serious speculation and optimistic idiocy within the space of three utterances, which in itself felt like a nice mix. Creating this feeling that the content could shift, sometimes through counter proposals, or sometimes merely through word association.
When working within a tight rule constraint, it is always interesting to find where the “edges” of the game lie. Compositionally we stated to look for ways the content could shift:
“ In the future there won’t be any people…”
“Or in the future there will be a 3 or 4 people….”
“Or in the future everyone will work all the time..”
“Or in the future robots will do everything..”
“Or in the future …things will be just the same as they are now…”
“Or in the future …people will look back at our times and think…”
I guess, in all of this we were trying to find ways to talk about now, about all of our hopes and fears.
As with all of our work, we worked through improvisation, recording everything, transcribing “good” bits and re-improvising again. Laying the text out on a big table, watching playback of rehearsals and trying to edit not only content, but also the playful energy of interchanges between performers. Cutting one texture against another.
Answered by Cathy Naden:
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?
In general we tend not to begin with an idea of what a piece is about. We like material to grow organically- for meaning to be discovered in the making process. Tomorrow’s Parties was unusual in that it had to respond to the theme of hope as Richard explains above. I think we weren’t so interested in tackling the theme head on and looked for more indirect ways to talk about hope. Trying to imagine what the future might be seemed a good way to deal with it. It opened up the possibility to play with both optimism and pessimism. I think we always feel more comfortable when a show is hard to define, or can’t be reduced to one thing- that possibilities are opened up for the audience, rather a particular meaning created for them.
What’s next for you? What are you working on for presentation in the future?
We’ve just made The Last Adventures, a new large-scale piece for The Ruhrtriennale, a big festival in Germany. There are plans to present it again early next year in mainland Europe. We’ve also got plans to make a show for children aged 7-10, which will be a first. Next year it’s 30 years since Forced Entertainment first began in 1984 so we’ll also be marking and celebrating our anniversary with various projects over 2014.
Forced Entertainment's Tomorrow's Parties is showing at Arnolfini on Friday 25 & Saturday 26 November, 7.30pm. Full details can be found here.