Toward ‘Precarious Theater’

Now – after my “Spinoza-Theater” experience – I understand why, before performing, actresses and actors in France say “merde” to encourage each other.
I consider the “Spinoza-Theater” that I integrated in the “Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival” and directed, a disaster. It is a disaster concerning what one would call the staging, it is a disaster on a human level, it is a disaster in terms of technique and material questions, lastly it is a disaster in terms of acting. But it is not an artistic disaster because I have done it, we are performing every day and I am learning a tremendous amount from it. I exposed myself to an incredibly big challenge without foreseeing or measuring the difficulties. Very soon I realized that I would not succeed in doing the “Spinoza-Theater” as I had first planned, too tired as I was – after a full day’s work on the construction of the “Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival” – to be concentrated, awake and present, lucid enough to engage in such a demanding task as this one.
I thought – headless – that the actresses and actors, which are all inhabitants of the Bijlmer, should know their lines by heart, but it was not the case and some of them won’t know them – ever. So I finally had to accept the fact that sheets of paper would always be there on stage with of course, the consequence of a relative immobility of the actors obliged to read their lines. That’s how the use of microphones – which were necessary for me since the “Spinoza-Theater” was to be performed outdoors with the surrounding noise of children playing, cars, subway, people talking at the food-bar – imposed itself as the condition to read and speak out the text while also being a fixed point in space. To be clear and without self-indulgence – I am really a bad theater director – but, facing this unavoidable fact and although I am astonished by the disaster and my incapacity to avoid it, the “Spinoza-Theater” makes me happy – yes, happy. What makes me happy is that despite my complete insufficiency, despite the extremely difficult conditions, I fulfilled the mission I set myself to perform every day and maintain this mission and stick to it at whatever cost.
What makes me happy is to have kept my engagement and my truthfulness toward the beautiful and new text of Marcus Steinweg, which, through daily performance, is gradually entering people’s minds word by word, sentence by sentence, assertion by assertion.
What makes me happy is to have stood up to the actresses and actors of the neighborhood, who resisted with force and made me pay a high price for my lack of preparation and savoir faire with ‘people’. But that’s how a conflict rapport was established – which I believe is healthy – since it comes from the permanent frustration that an actor cannot do what I, myself, cannot do either. What makes me happy is that I maintained the equalitarian (everyone in the play is of same importance) and totalitarian direction (no discussion) which I imposed upon my actors. What makes me happy is that, out of aggravation, I finally found a way to do the “Spinoza-Theater” with the lack of discipline (to come and perform every day) of my actors which turned out to be completely coherent with my position versus the neighborhood here: I cannot do it alone, I need support, and it happened sometimes that the “Spinoza-Theater” was performed by only 3, 2 or even one single actor, but never was I left helpless and alone. What makes me happy is that, without control, out of urgency and precipitation, completely overwhelmed in doing something impossible, we achieved within every performance, some very short, rare and furtive moments which had beauty, precariousness and grace. For these very few and exceptional moments it was worth going through such a disastrous experience. What makes me happy is to have found a sort of cease-fire between my hopes and demands, my inability and self-limits, to have taken responsibility for this huge gap and by assuming this gap to think ahead toward future projects. This cease-fire gives me the impulse to start defining what performing theater integrated in a work of art should be. Doing the “Spinoza-Theater” – even in its disastrous outcome – has made me, during these three months in Amsterdam, develop and imagine new possibilities for future work which I want to call “Precarious Theater”.
“Precarious Theater” is never a play, it’s a piece of art always integrated within a whole work. Following this precept, the stage-set, the decor, the accessories and the space for the audience of “Precarious Theater” are always elements of an entire work. “Precarious Theater” is happening in the unstable instant and the precariousness of the moment. “Precarious Theater” is made of the extreme difficulty of doing things. “Precarious Theater” is made in ‘low control’. The guidelines for making “Precarious Theater” follow definitions and conditions.

The definitions of “Precarious Theater” are:

1) use only new texts written specifically for the occasion (no classics, no repertoire, no references)

2) use text as blind text

3) performances take place in one spot during a set period of time, a “Precarious Theater” piece cannot be played without the artwork to which it is integrated.

4) actors must memorize and know their lines

5) no rehearsals. “Precarious Theater” starts directly with the first performance

The conditions of “Precarious Theater” are:

1) “Precarious Theater” must be performed daily

2) at least one actor (person) says nothing

3) there is a short briefing and de-briefing with the actors before and after every performance.

4) there are no costumes, no light effects and no sound effects

5) microphones are used as fixed points in space for speech.

Thomas Hirschhorn

Amsterdam 18. June 2009