Dramaturgy of Autumn 2022
Dramaturgy of Autumn 2022
Dramaturgy of annihilation
I get deep into Nick Drake’s Pink Moon LP for a few days. When I’m cycling through his discography, writing something or other, the lyrics of the album’s eponymous track jump out at me. ‘Saw it written and I saw it say/ Pink moon is on its way./ And none of you stand so tall/ Pink moon gonna get ye all.’ Pink Moon is (and a friend pointed this out to me long, long ago and it has never left me) a song about apocalypse; the moon is an omen which will annihilate us. The tone of the song is soft, sure, grateful, even. It is a relief. It is a relief in the same way when I listen to this music. It sweeps me up, dissolves me – I am in an instant the same boy who first discovered Nick Drake as a teenager, and the man twenty years from now who will still return to him. I’m lost for a moment in time, which is larger than I will ever be.
When being reduced to dust on the wind, there is still wind. After the heat death of the universe, all matter will still exist, frozen in its lightless final moment forever. Being small and insignificant and powerless is liberating. Not because it means I won’t try to shift my own small world to a better place, but because I might as well do the things I think are best. In the face of this annihilating, time-manipulating magic which is music, I am reminded of my own little abilities; I can manipulate time, too, if that’s by telling a story or by living my life.
In an earlier song, from his album Five Leaves Left, Drake sings about ‘the plan for lilac time.’ Riverman is composed in 5/4 time, lending it a liquid, ambling quality, as if the music itself is strolling by a canal, open to be distracted. Life is both suspended and urgent, time is short and it lingers the whole day long.
Dramaturgy of mapping
In November I run a drop-in workshop in line with my project, We Live Here. I call the workshop ‘Mapping Hulme,’ out of a desire to welcome people who care about Hulme, where I live, and who are interested in maps. I’m as interested in learning what a ‘map’ even is as I am interested in learning more about the area and its history. Everyone who attends brings their own maps. Some of their maps are photos they have printed out, many of their maps are stories they share with me and the group. I am doing my best to create a space where our maps of Hulme can fill the space between us, exist like a ghost does – many maps of a single place. I love when this happens in any workshop: where people are present in a space and are comfortable speaking to fill it.
When the maps are floating in the air, I produce a large sheet of paper (two pieces of A1 taped together). It is time to set down our maps. We will place them on top of each other and find the paper is both too small and too large. Everyone is thinking on a different scale and the boundaries of Hulme are blurry at the best of times, let alone when some of us have lived here for decades, are older than most of the buildings around us. And together we begin the work of marking out the places in Hulme where we have lived, trying to figure out how far they are from each other, where old landmarks would have been in relation to where we are now.
The map we make is inaccurate, but for navigating our communal memory, our shared imaginary, it is perfectly suited. It is also a beginning, I will add to it, we will add to it. Space is messy and we are messy and this is our messy map of the messy place we live.
Dramaturgy of a game
Workshops are a kind of game. If I am facilitating, I spend some time planning, figuring out what ideas I want to set into motion. I arrive and set the conditions rules then we play in the space together. If a workshop goes entirely as I expect it to that is a kind of failure condition. Like the maps, I want the end result of our game to manifest in the space between us, a consequence of everyone who is there today, a hurricane conjured by every butterfly-thought we place in the air. Sometimes it is important to set things down; often it is only important to have been part of the game.
Obviously rehearsals are the same kind of game. We hopefully are in a room which we all have equal claim to; we throw things into the air and we are listened to; something lands and we try to make sense of it and perhaps we throw it into the air again tomorrow. This season I attend a workshop run by Kimber Lee, writer of Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play. She invites us to approach writing a play from first principles, and it is truly liberating to sit in a group and answer the questions ‘What is a play?’ ‘What is a scene?’ ‘What is a character?’ ‘What is structure?’ ‘What is form?’ It’s fun – and it’s a reminder that we all know a lot about what we are doing. Writing is hard, but actually, because we’ve spent years practising and thinking about it, there is a lot of expertise in this small conference room.
Workshops are most successful when they are fun, I think. For years I’ve been saying I’m not in this industry for the money so I better bloody well be having a good time otherwise there’s no point.
Dramaturgy of baby spiders
One of my best friends gets married in Spain in October. I travel to the wedding from Manchester with another close friend. When I return, a clutch of baby spiders has hatched in a cobweb in the corner of my bathroom ceiling. Suddenly, baby spiders, a burst of the tiny bastards (affectionate) – specks, trundling up and down the threads of the web. I don’t know where the mother is but I do know that baby spiders ride the wind on single threads of silk and that is called ‘ballooning’. I don’t know if my absence created enough peace for these spiders to hatch or if they would have been born even if I was there. I wonder where they will end up and how long they will live.
I’m fascinated by small things. Tiny pinheads which have lives of their own. Each one is like an audience member – who knows where they came from? Who knows what accidents lead to them choosing to spend their evening with us, tonight? Who knows where they will go, what effect we will have on them, what (if anything) will stick with them? I and my spiders are a theatre, because I’m thinking about them and we are sharing the space, and the story is the story of their life. When I’m feeling romantic, I think theatre is only ever the story of our lives and how we share them with strangers.
Dramaturgy of a closed currency
Morocco has a closed currency, the Moroccan Dirham. ‘Closed’ means you must exchange your currency inside the border. If you try to take too large a quantity of Dirhams out of the country, you are breaking the law. If you take a more trivial amount out of the country it is very difficult to exchange it into a more usable currency without taking it back to Morocco. The Moroccan Dirham is a currency which resists translation – it makes most sense when it is within its own state and becomes less useful the further from it you take it.
What is the single/singular, precious thing we don’t want to make sense outside of this story? What part of this play do we want to sound like absolute nonsense when an audience member tries to explain it later? When we create theatre, we build the world. We can create a world so specific that there are things which only function within the context of our performance. Think about clowning – have you ever seen someone stand perfectly still in a way which reduces you to tears of laughter? Think about the long moment of silence before they begin singing in The Shipment. How do we create those places where even (especially!) doing nothing can make our audience feel like the world is falling apart?
More important than the moments of the play is another thought. I want to make useless art. Art is very often a currency, and as artists it is important for us to be aware of who is in control of that currency. For my part, I do not want my art to be useful to the state, I do not want my art to be useful to the process of gentrification which is eroding the things of worth in the places I love. I do not want my art to be a tool of empire and so I am beginning to think hard about how I can make my art useless, entirely useless, in the right places. I’ll write and think more about this in the future I’m sure, but for now, writing this at the start(ish) of 2023, I want to be in control of my own uselessness – I want my art to be revolting to the state, to the police, to landlords. I want my art to be revolting.
Play which is annihilation: in which the characters are powerfully small; in which the scale of the world impresses itself and the events of the play insist on their significance even while they are domestic and terrestrial and short-lived; in which all events take place during the life-span of a moth.
Play which is mapping: in which the audience’s knowledge of a place is important; in which the ways the audience’s knowledge contradicts itself is an integral part of how the world works; in which everything about its world is true, whether it makes sense or not, and the world changes size because places change size; in which some people are giants, sometimes.
Play which is a game: in which we remind ourselves what the word ‘play’ really means; which is created out of a desire to play tricks on the audience which let them in on the joke; in which we show off how clever we are and celebrate how fun it is to know a lot about this silly, ancient art form.
Play which is baby spiders: in which our definition of life is extended to the lives of brief and tiny creatures, whose lives are brutal and beautiful because everything is about eating and living; in which sudden discoveries change what we understand of the past and our place in it; in which story threads are distributed to audience members, that they might ride the breeze home, clinging to them and their home will be different because of the story which has carried them there.
Play which is a closed currency: which is down-to-the-ground useless to landlords – brings them out in a cold sweat and makes them cease existing; in which exclusivity is a tool of the revolution and not a reason for tickets to be priced higher; which in the moment is perfect and couldn’t be anything else and yet is untranslatable; which is a live moment which makes us glad to be alive and eager to share our lives with others.
The Unreal and the Real Vol. 1, Ursula K. Le Guin (2014)
Reliquon: The Gospel of Saint Doome, T. V. Hood (2022) (here)
Against the Manchester Model, Isaac Rose (2022) (here)
Goblins are Real, videogamedunkey (2021) (here)
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, AMC (2022)