In his Poetics, Aristotle considered that the best tragedies are those in which the characters go though or carry out something. By carrying out we mean the action of killing: But when the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another- if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done – these are the situations to be looked for by the poet, Aristotle concludes (Poetics, XIV, translated by S. H. Butcher).
Euripides shows Medea killing her children. Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, and then, mad with pain he takes out his eyes; Antigona commits suicide…Theatre seems a place haunted down by violent deaths and violence.
Either enacted on stage or just recounted by the choir, these tremendous deeds were supposed to raise feelings of pity and fear among the audience.
Therefore, ever since the beginning, violence was included in the performance, sometimes taken to the extremes, as it is the case with theatre in the times of the Roman Emperor Nero, when they would often use criminals on stage instead of actors, and they would kill them, thus reconstructing famous legends. They say that in one play about Icarus, at each staging they would use a child, who was lifted high up in the air and left falling, to literarily enact the scene. The child would splash on the ground, smearing with blood the Emperor’s cloak while he, deeply moved, would have his eyes brimmed with tears.
Therefore, nowadays playwriting and staging, however violent, is just some soft variant of that before, when everything was allowed on stage, when the actors were actually dying to create an artistic moment. Still, it is hard for us to accept the violent dimension of theatre.
Rodrigo Garcia revolutionizes both the dramatic formula of the drama part and the show itself, which, most of the times, is labeled as scandalous, dangerous and even deathly, as if passing from immoral to amoral right there, on stage.
This spring, the artist was awarded the prize for New Theatrical Realities during a ceremony, which took place in Wroclaw (Poland), under the patronage of the EU. For this category, which has been celebrating for 11 years the work of great personalities in the world of the European theatre, as well as institutions and theatre companies which have been enriching and expanding the aesthetical boundaries of the concept of “theatre as a show – performance”, Rodrigo Garcia’s work is unlike that of any other artist that has been awarded so far (among them Anatoli Vassiliev, Eimuntas Nekrosius, Théâtre de la Complicité, Royal Court Theater, Thomas Ostermeier, Oskaras Korsunovas, Josef Nadj, Sasha Waltz).
His stagings are considered sheer experiments seeking for a new stage language, a very personal one. He approached theatre from a point of view which has nothing to do with tradition. His only benchmarks were taking over some fundamental concepts belonging to certain innovators in the domain, such a Kantor, and rendering them very personal. Garcia focuses on stage image, but instead of creating it out of a pluralistic viewpoint, he decomposes it up to the lowest level of the ugly, the trivial, the sensational imbued with a shocking tinge. Garcia does not deceive one, but the artistic product he promotes stands on the utmost limit of the unbearable, and his texts, otherwise poetic and witty, lose reflective and revelation intensity once he directs them. His performances resemble a schizophrenic fight between an intelligent guy (the playwright) and a haughty hypocrite (the director), who turns the stage into an exhibition-like place where the all-disgusting and all-aggressive is explicitly exposed, in a cold-blood manner; and he is both of these entities.
Moralists do not have a place in an art gallery
However, Garcia’s gallery is the world of an artist who has started his career in a rather hostile manner. His aim is authentic: to give a performance unconstrained by beliefs or laws, to which everybody should have access. His texts are explosive which, if uttered, reflect the new automatisms of the human body trapped within the daily ritual of an insignificant life. He does not write dialogues and his characters interact weirdly, chaotically, aggressing the audience and transmitting an uncomfortable feeling, on purpose. At Garcia’s performances, the audience does not feel embarrassed to get up from the middle of the row, to disturb the others in their desperate intention of leaving the hall. At Garcia’s performances, the audience reacts verbally, in violent arguments with the actors on stage. Garcia’s shows impel you, the spectator, to watch those around you desperately trying to find some help, to initiate a debate on taste just by looking, theatre and exhibitionism, on how betrayed one feels when he gets a cocktail made of death, agony, sex, danger, unexplainable and delusion at its best.
Garcia’s staging is a mutilated performance which mutilates in its turn
Accident (Matar para comer) is a show from 2006 which lasts 20 minutes and which takes the spectator through all range of feelings, in a vertigo which makes the adrenaline run wild. The adrenaline is an element rarely associated with theatre precisely because everything is a convention. Accident however, does not contain any convention. Everything is real and happens for real! The onlooker witnesses the last 20 minutes in the life of a lobster, which will end up chopped on a hot barbeque. The play begins with an actor seated in a huge armchair, next to an aquarium full of water, with a lobster crammed in it. The minute the audience gets quiet, the lobster is hooked and they place a microphone on its heart. Taken out of the water and kept there hanging, the small beast is dying slowly while its heartbeats are heard more loudly and less rarely. But the lobster does not die there hooked. The actor takes it and puts it on a kitchen table where it will be chopped as if in a restaurant’s kitchen. The meat pieces are then fried; while waiting, the actor enjoys a glass of red wine in front of the audience. From the living creature to a healthy meal rich in calories, the spectator views the transformation of a living creature into a product, while a voice keeps on reciting a text on traffic accidents, on the hunting instinct which is completely stifled with the modern man, and on the connection between luxury and becoming extinct. Accident is a performance which fully addresses all human senses, which damages the spectator both in its existence as a spectator and as a human being. Garcia designed this play for confined spaces, with no infrastructure, for which the audience crams and tramples upon one another just to take part, eventually, at a miniature crime. The spectator becomes an accomplice even if he is outraged in the end. Mainly because this time it is not about any setting, and the respective being could have been saved – even if at the expense of one cancelled show. But it never happens!
Garcia’s staging does not have characters. The actors come as themselves, becoming somebody insignificant, with no identity that needs to be revealed for a better understanding of the show. The actors are mentioned in alphabetical order, and nothing else is written next to their names. Is the performance without actors still a performance? With Garcia, the body seems to lack artistic memory; the body is just a mechanism performing some automatic commands, more or less visible. But there is not pantomime! If an actor can teach his body to talk Molière, no actor’s body will ever accomplish that with Garcia’s texts because his playwright lacks this level.
The production Arrojad mis cenizas sobre Mickey (Scatter my Ashes over Mickey), 2006, is a sequence of scene tackling all taboo topics on violence, family, human body, food. Three actors (one woman and two men) discuss and explain the barbarity within our bodies and minds, which are imbued with democratic principles. It is hard to state whether Garcia’s theatre is or not a politically influenced theatre. His texts undoubtedly seem aimed at this direction in theatre. He himself declared that he wanted theatre to be able to change society or, at least, to offer a viewpoint different from the imposed one. However, the result is a hybrid system of tridimensional images which come off with some key words in the text of a drama. The notions used as triggers offer this new perspective on reality, exploring in a shocking manner all that civilization has been covering and deactivated so far in the socio-cultural human pedigree.
If this experiment means theatre or not, if this is theatre for the masses or for the elite, this is a debate which should bear some multidisciplinary forms. The excess of “here and now” is his theatre performance is an additional proof that we are on the verge of watching the birth of a new aesthetic category, which will combine the shocking, the uncanny, the ugly, the sensational as means of analysis – the same basic principles on which today’s mass media functions.
‘How wonderful that I don’t understand what you’re saying’, confessed Kelly Stuart, the author of the drama Overdose, one of the texts chosen for the ARTE program, which the Odeon Theatre and LARK Theatre (New York) realized in 2006. Still, the voice inflexions indicate her where she got with the reading part at the first lecture. ‘It would be too painful for me…’, the American playwright continued. The text is an autobiographic one and however awful it may seem, everything written there is perfectly true…August 2000, Los Angeles. Three months after the first appointment of George Bush as the President of the USA. Everybody has something to say; everybody is hiding a lie. Either it is about genocide in a haze somewhere out there, fire attacks on the opposite side of the street or the crime over her own kitchen table, Susan must decide which eventually her story is.
Alina Nelega, the translator and director of the lecture-performance, starts by presenting her personal view on the text. She characterizes the characters and considers them capable of being happy only if involved in dramatic events. There is a debate on America’s collective fault, on the text which apparently lacks a message, but which expresses something very close to photography, therefore containing something very human-like. The characters develop, and this is the only action. For precisely this reason, the staging of the text in the two previous attempts – with Royal Exchange Manchester and The Evidence Room in Los Angeles – was centered on some static points with little action.
Without Skin or Breathlessness by Tanya Barfield is a powerfull and orginal play, which takes place in New York – the metropole where „people walk on the streets without being stressed or looking good all the time” – as a character in the play explains. Mary Jo is an adolescent going through dangerous phychological moods and the attempts to save her only deepen her suffering. In the background, as a very important element in the play, the self-destruction path which the adolescent is following is counterbalanced by the presence of a father whose interest for world politics is growing along with his understanding of the phenomenon. The play looks down into the tumultuous evolution of a family thoughout a personal drama, on the background of an agonising world, two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The theatre performance should be a ceremony worth being reiterated periodically. The American system suggests a show being stertched out over 2-3 weeks, with daily performances, while the European system of playwright theatre votes for showing a particular production only a few times a month. There are however some shows for which not even the European popularity style becomes dangerous for the actors.
Lili Handel – blood, poetry and music from the white whore’s boudoir is a one-man show by Bulgarian artist Ivo Dimcev, considered the most promising talent in his country. The show is an original combination of blood, poetry, music; it is forbidden to children under 16 and offers a new vision on the human body, which is used exclusively as a means in a consumerist system, both physical and aesthetical.
From the very beginning, the spectator is forced to give up on any artistic clichés, because his watch goes beyond any horizon of expectation. The show redefines and abuses nudity and indecency. The movement is rigorously delineated. First, a constricted voice in high pitched tones is shown, intermingling with Nat King Cole’s tunes of Mona Lisa. From the dark behind there appears a naked, powerful body, yet with fragile movements. The being coming forth into the light has nothing human about it. It inspires pity and fear. Lili Handel – the character – strives to find a balance, moving in between obscene gestures and gracefulness while trying to create and authentic artistic moment. She tries and fails; she tries again and fails once more. The most moving scene is rendered by the desperate intention of the artist to still offer something to the spectators at a time when any other artistic attempt fails. The artist, using a disposable syringe, takes out some of his own blood, which he then puts out for a bid. The scene of the blood is an artistic representation of a real episode in the life of an artist. Taken by surprise by the birthday of his bosom friend, Ivo Dimcev, the child, wanted to leave him as a present a part of himself, so he cut himself in order to leave a few drops of blood on a handkerchief. Over the years, that naïve action from childhood becomes a dangerous one. In the era of HIV and AIDS, the gesture of an unknown person pinching himself to blood, out in the open, becomes and aggressive, dangerous possibly terrorist attempt. Yet the moment does not look imminent as long as blood sampling takes place in a building with the word theatre written above the front entrance. The audience takes in the moment as something constructed, created out of some theatre setting, although the actual action is a real one, occurring right in front and next to the audience.
The fact that theatres have open their stages to more outraging, darker, violent, uncanny shows is related to the fact that the audience has become increasing less sensible due to the present context. Theatre manages to offer the authentic, absolutely necessary perspectives for the analysis of the individual and the society. After all, the events on 9/11 2001 were possible precisely because the professionals in the American national security system lacked “imagination”. Theatre today aims at preparing the civil spectator, exercising his imagination even if in a negative perspective.
Translated by Sanziana Mihalache, MTTLC, 2nd year