Manifesto Incomplete (v.1) 20.03.11

Posted on March 21, 2011


There is something about the unconscious that we can never put into words, never quite pin down. It is not something we can prove; yet everything we can agree with. I might as well be talking about the dream, the dream being the state closest to an authentic participation in one’s being – pure uninhibited desires, emotions, uncluttered by self-imposed restraints. I had desired to use the term ‘real’ before I took to ‘authentic’ but with the knowledge that both risk being confused with their physical manifestation – ‘authentic’ perhaps less so? The dream explores how we function, without social conventions and physical limitations. Anything and everything can evolve.

Last night I dreamt that it was time for me to perform. To do what, I wondered. With what, I looked around. I had nothing. It was just me, and fellow humans, and the space. So I sat, and I spoke, and I asked questions, and the audience gave me answers. What it was all about, I don’t remember. The dilemma was resolved, the content unimportant. I gathered this came from an anxiety to create, all without material that could be grasped. There is a pressing need to find this space that exists between imagination and reality. The answer exists – it is there, and at the same time, it is not.

I recall the one time my blood glucose levels went dangerously low and I found myself in a state of psychosis, influx between consciousness and unconsciousness. This was similar yet different to a dream. Every image I saw was reality, but I thought otherwise – as opposed to a dream where you think it is reality but it is not. How do you relive the moment where a dream crosses over to reality? I longed to recreate that struggle in a performance. That would be powerful. But it is difficult. That inexpressible horror is more terrifying than a nightmare. A sudden coming to terms, that the faces staring at you are real people – family, paramedics. They are there holding on to you for dear life, while you hurl insults and rude remarks at them. You do that quite intentionally, but not by whom you know yourself to be. You live in one inescapable reality, and then you straddle both, before you arrive at another. You recall the faces, the smiles, the fear and terror, the feeling that they were enemies, and then the horrid feeling that no, they were not. As you get pushed in the back of the ambulance, the clinical white box that envelops you, you watch the faces of the men in constant observation of your face and every move. You read their names off their tags, mumble and scream at their every attempt to appease you. They try every bit of what they know could save you, and thankfully they do.

I lay in the back, in full knowledge but without any control, stuck in a dual-reality. Minutes before I disembarked the vehicle, I had made the full transit. From consciousness to consciousness, now aware and surprised. I apologized. I was now alright. This was the end. I remembered just moments ago I was battling with my mum and dad, like a demon child. I didn’t know why I did it, just that I could and I did. I spat out every ounce of juice they fed me, whacked at every limb that followed my way. Fight, fight all I could while I could. That seemed like the motto for the moment. Now the bruises that remain from failed needles and necessary drips act as temporary reminders of that tumultuous four hours I subjected the people around me to. I am afraid, perhaps rather perturbed at the events. That failed reality, that moment of transit, was a precious awakening in so many senses. Somehow, I hope I remember it. As I sit here today, I am trying to remember, trying to relive those moments. It is almost an obsessive attempt to re-enter that instance of dread but with no success except momentary emotional recollections. As much as I hated it, that moment of crossing over and back, was a moment of victory and that experience, ever so precious.

For decades and centuries, many have sought to realize that headspace in the realm of the visible. This can mean many things. All these different artistic movements had aimed toward their version of primitivism – an emotional immediacy that is universal and unrelenting. Of course, the aim for universalism is a tough challenge. So many have argued against the humanist logic. I am not concerned with this discourse surrounding classification. Where physical circumstances are specific and limiting, I perceive the metaphorical basis of the psyche as giving more access to a diversity of people. Indeed there are numerous ways of accessing that unconsciousness, and all these methods are differently accessible. The dream is a space that should be experienced – a wealth of emotions that need no proper logic, hampered perhaps only by an attempt at mimetic conditions. Perhaps, I am talking about a performance with nothing to hide, nothing to lose, nothing to prove, except for its own existence.

In this era with an abundance of hybrid physical practices, technology, and art forms, there is no doubt that our perceptual understanding of space – metaphysical and physical – is a highly complex and often confusing one. Performances should chart that environment through creative application of all accessible media. This poses a different problem in practice, because however multidimensional our experiences can be in the real world outside the theatre, there is still a need for order inspite of this acknowledged chaos. If video or sound is used, one must take extra care to see that it does not compete with the other elements in the space, but rather work together in the same perceptual direction. If a performer enters, he/she should exist as part of the space and not to reference a different physical space, although this does not impede the existence of several mind spaces. All elements of the scenography (including the performer) should therefore maintain a strong presence, though not imposing or didactic.

We may look upon the histories of Avant Garde theatre to understand the inclinations of past directors / designers. The Symbolists, Expressionists, Futurists, Surrealists, Dadaists, Artaudian practitioners were all fascinated with confronting this perceptual realm. Some took to reinventing or annihilating the use of text, some took to the revolutionizing of stage aesthetics to forgo mimicry, some took to the suggestion of a more psychological dimension, some took to the acknowledgement of the real stage space, and some took to the intense stylistic physicalisation of emotions to compensate for the otherwise falsity that had perpetrated most of Western Drama’s history. They were all varying approaches to the same anti-traditionalist stance. How do we look upon the tendencies and methods of contemporary performances in recent times? I think there needs to be a way of articulating the several directions contemporary performance is headed to determine their stance.

Christopher Innes gives an example of the different approaches to what constitutes primitivism in his insightful book Avant Garde Theatre 1892 – 1992:

“Since directors like Brook or Grotowski are primarily concerned with the physical performance, they tend to see a return to ‘primitive roots’ as being located in the body. By contrast, Ionesco is typical of the dramatists in turning to the subconscious; and this is equally the case with Sam Shepard, whose work has largely defined the themes and techniques of contemporary American drama.” (p.218, Innes)

Evidently, every artist has their inclinations and abiding practice. The dialectics of these approaches can be analysed to the benefit of theatrical development. Given the wide-ranging options available to theatre practitioners these days, common with the interdisciplinary interests and training of so many, what would be the methods of experimentation reflective of our times? (There is profound knowledge to be discovered using a historicist approach to the trajectories of contemporary performance – I found myself interested in this theory and the variations of it. It seems to agree with my outlook on the developments of performance practice, at this point at least. I will need to read up more about this methodology.)

I also find it necessary to return to the psychoanalytical theories that form the basis or are in agreement with Avant Garde theatre’s value system. (Sigmund Freud, Josef Breuer, Edmund Husserl – Phenomenology, Martin Heidegger – Being…)

Psychoanalysis can function both in dissecting experience and creating new work. It is not a foreign concept. In fact, we can consider it already very much in use when we consider the abandonment of scripts and a non-adherence to plots. Improvisational aesthetics often rely on free association. In theatre, it is often seen as a method of output, but if we take time to analyse and reflect, what can performances tell us about whom we are as individuals? I think there is a lot to be discovered.


Christopher Innes, Avant Garde Theatre 1892-1992, Frome and London: Routledge, 1993

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