|Reading in Barcelona | Joseph Danan
« While at the Sala Beckett in Barcelona last July giving a writing workshop to young Catalan playwrights (writers, actors, performers and visual artists) during the Obrador d'estiu, a series of workshops, readings and discussions held every year for a week at the National Theatre Institute, I was delighted to attend a magnificent reading of my play, Roaming monde, translated into Catalan by Carles Batlle, a few of whose plays have made it to France (published by Théâtrales).
|Roaming monde is a short play I wrote in 2000, commissioned by Roland Fichet for the last phase of his birth narratives. I first staged it in Spanish in Mexico City in November 2004, for the first Nuit du théâtre organized by Jean-Frédéric Chevallier, then in France in 2005: at the Mousson d'été (in the huge multi-purpose hall at the Espace Montrichard, which looks a bit like an airport concourse) starring Jacques Bonnaffé and Ariane Dionyssopoulos, then in the large space at the Gare au théâtre in Vitry-sur-Seine (which published it for the occasion), starring Jacques Bonnaffé and Laure Wolf. The two actresses then alternated in the role the few times we were able to stage the show, mainly at festivals due to its length (not quite 40 minutes).
What characterizes the writing in Roaming monde is that the two characters, who seem to be living a more or less romantic and chaotic relationship, only talk on their cell phones except in one scene where they are actually face to face. Other voices are also heard - like snippets of phone conversations and messages left on voice mail floating in the air around them.
When I wrote Roaming monde, as usual I hadn't given the least bit of thought to how it could be staged. I only did so after the commission came in from Mexico City, which ended up being quickly staged in a few days. It was a huge space - the lobby of an abandoned museum with a central staircase. The idea driving the staging was to give the two actors wireless mikes and to have them occupy as much of that huge space as possible. The same principle was behind the staging I did the following year in France, almost as quickly. It was about doing the play as far as possible in a huge, preferably non-theatrical space every time we staged it. The voices were recorded.
What Jordi Prat i Coll did in Barcelona in the beautiful rehearsal space at the Teatre Lliure (across from the National Theatre Institute, inside the "City of Theatre") was basically the opposite of what I had done. It was announced as a reading but turned out to be a real staging (in fact, in the face-to-face scenes the two actors, Montse Morillo and Xavier Pujolràs, dropped the text). In other words, in the restricted space of that room, made even smaller by the lighting, the two actors were talking on their cell phones; and, above all, they were not alone. The voices belonged to a dozen actors and actresses, who were also holding cell phones (they also knew their lines) and were standing across the entire stage like a kind of chorus from which the two protagonists emerged after a choreographed prologue. The raw and "loose" quality of the staging (in which I chose to do as little blocking as possible for the actors), stood in contrast to the polished, sophisticated aesthetics of this staged reading (the sound, lighting, choreography, the lecterns which the actors could return to after leaving them, and the musicality of their diction).
In addition to being an enjoyable experience, the staged reading brought up some questions that have been preoccupying me lately, related to the writing workshop I had just led over the previous week. I called it "Playwriting and Performance," in an attempt to highlight the main issue faced by playwrights today, both inside and outside Europe, namely: how to reconcile playwriting (set in stone) and performance (where the accent is on what comes to life in the moment), the demands of which seem to be increasingly driving the current theater world? I won't attempt here to explain why the text of Roaming monde seems to me to satisfy those demands (for reasons which I'm still trying to clarify). So I would like to focus on another aspect of this issue, involving the current status of theatrical texts and their relationship to staging. Indeed, it would seem that we are moving increasingly toward stage productions ("theatrical performances") which no longer rely on a pre-existing text or separate the writing of the play from its staging, but rather unite playwright and director in a single "stagewright?" I had formulated the workshop around this issue, which more often than not led the participants to design ways of staging (possibly including some text too), rather than working within the structure of what might resemble "a play."
The reading of Roaming monde in Barcelona was a powerful reminder, just when I was on the point of rejecting it, of a play's intrinsic value, which escapes the playwright's control and is capable of generating form and meaning by eliciting radically different stagings of the same text, enriching the stage in the process. I am not trying to establish a hierarchy for these two different processes (the playwright's and the "stagewright"). What I've come to understand through this reading is that the one has not completely swept the other out, and that they can (still) coexist, which is probably a good thing. »