THE ART OF THE MONOLOGUE

24/03/2014 at 1:54 pm 1 comment

HIGH WINDOWS, LOW DOORWAYS

presented by subtlenuance at the TAP Gallery, March 2014

 

” ‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange! “

Lord Byron, Don Juan

 

Image

pictured: Peter McAllum (photo courtesy Zorica Purlija)

It’s not a new tradition, by any means, but certainly a trend in the local independent theatre sector; the re-emergence of the monologue as dramatic form, and particularly the re-telling of the personal. Recent months in Sydney have found theatres small medium and large hosting a variety of curated (collated? collected?) works of the simple yet eminently complex and yes, strange tales told by actors, alone or with chorus; true stories from their lives.

One isn’t privileged enough to travel interstate or overseas to know if this trend is global yet – it feels very Sydney, very Right Now – to reach and look into the personal journeys of the people who make this city what it is. A year ago with The Political Hearts of Children this phenomena was observed, but since then we’ve also seen Performance 4A’s Stories Then And Now (using the “William Yang method”) – featuring incredible family histories and conflicts leading into more personal and moving journeys as the actor relates the tale of their happening to be here, in Australia, at this time.  These are vital histories for the city’s coming of age; a step toward a true embrace of our diverse roots, and storytelling is so bound up in this land that the intimate circle of the small theatre has begun to gel into a ritual engagement of sharing. 

It’s something that will grow and evolve as teams of writers and actors and storytellers and theatricians collaborate with each project. But the broad strokes are forming.  A writer is teamed with an actor or director to find a set of truths to convey, or question, or ignore, however they might. Sometimes it’s within a broad theme and curated for context (like Augusta Supple’s productions of recent years Singled Out or A View From Moving Windows) – slices of modern life, cut into individual short tales of fantasy or memory.

The trick with these monologues is that it doesn’t matter which parts are true. Which parts are impossible.

The trick is that it’s not even a trick. Know your audience, and the monologue is a communion.

We are there with these actors, we are there with the impossible, the fantastic, the remote.

The German theatre historian and theorist Max Hermann noted: “The most important aspect of the theatre art is the performance” (Research on the History of German Theatre in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,1914). Distinguishing from the notion of the “classic” academic theatre text as literature –  and identifying the ritualistic elements of the performance proper as a text unto itself. This duality of text / story vs text / performance is key to the emergence of this personalised framing of theatre art.

Simply put it is the confluence of actor and audience in the ritual space which makes these works so powerful.  Add that we can reach into the personal journeys of seven (using the Gilchrist method) tales at once creates a tapestry of the personal, spiritual, philosophical and emotive memories that make us who we are.

The stories are unique to the actors, translated back by seven different writers with care and diligence and craft, and then translated once again to the performance realm.  And as audience we are taken with them into the most uncharted and dangerous and moving territories, into the realm of the impossible, the irrational, beyond death, into questions of free will and fatalism. 

Hard to believe some critics did not find this “confronting enough” – but in a world so desensitised to possibility, so attuned to cynicism, I supposed some people just want their art to be less subtle, more “Piss Christ“.  Not this time. Gilchrist has weaved a truth of wonder and confusion, not a beacon but a kind of blanket, that maybe on the cold nights of winter we might find comfort we are not alone.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Mark Twain

HIGH WINDOWS LOW DOORWAYS presented by subtlenuance

Written by Ellana Costa, Noelle Janaczewska, Jonathan Ari Lander, Mark Langham, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke and Melita Rowston. Performed by Kit Bennett, Matt Butcher, Alice Keohavong, Naomi Livingstone, Peter McAllum, Gavin Roach and Helen Tonkin. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, until March 30 at the TAP Gallery.

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PRINCIPLES of OPERATION A MOMENT ON THE LIPS

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