When good physical actors work I sometimes think I’m watching a spider weaving first
the spokes of its web then an intricate pathway of interconnecting perpendiculars to
those spokes. Great actors might be playing one scene but they are holding the whole
play as they play this scene. Like a hologram, the whole is in all the parts.
These web lines are playful, elastic connections with everything and everyone in the
play. Every playwrights thinks he or she has created a unified Universe no matter how
bizarre that thought might sometimes appear to us, the paying public. The actor’s duty is
to play the play as if its a unified Universe. Like a lawyer he says,’it’s none of my
business whether my client is guilty or not, my job is to defend him according to the
law’. An actor’s commitment and raw ability can, at least for a short time, turn a badly
rendered story into King Lear.
The play they are in demands that actors build not one web, but many, strung in different
And unlike the spider ,actors are not trying to trap our attention (or ARE they), but seem
to be building a series of vibrating web planes, architecting a kind of eardrum that can
sensitively react to every sound, every footstep on its surface, sounds from the actor, the
play and its other actors, and from the audience too as they breathe and sound in
response to the play. The silk material just might be produced by the coming together of
the two attentions, the actor’s and the audience’s.
Actors, I think, are working to affect the space itself, to fashion the materials IN the
play space, in order to funnel sound to a place shared by all of us in order that it become
available to all of us, in this very moment we share. What is true for sound may also be
true for images. Actors bounce images down these web lines to a space at the core
where all of our attentions meet, a kind of black hole but one where things get
illuminated rather than annihilated. What the hell, could we call it a white hole?
Jean Louis Barrault said “all senses reduce to the sense of touch”. Actors touch but do
more than touch things, touch on ideas, touch on feelings. They caress the words, they
caress the objects, they caress the emotions coming from themselves and from fellow
actors, and these caresses linger longer in the space, like an engraving rather than a
stroboscopic image. WE in the audience then have a chance to also caress it, take it in,
hold onto it, nurture and remember it for a very long time. Good actors are engravers of
the space, they are not glib cartoonists content with a caricature that struts his hour and
then is heard or remembered no more.
The stroboscopic world of advertising which uses some of the best creative brains in the
world, spits us out the back of IT’S theatre once we have purchased, become deflated
with the purchase and are now in no mood to re-purchase.
Actors pick us up in a limo, waltz us through the front door of THEIR theatre, amuse
us, rouse us, inspire us and even listen to us, all the while pausing between phrases and
allowing us to assimilate what has just been said by them and by us. Even in the
shallowest of plays, there is play, real play attempted if not brought to fruition and on
some level we are revived by this attempt. We play again like the child artists we all
were. We touch again the re-enchantment of everyday life. Occasionally we walk out of
THEIR theatres having accepted all that we have become and all that we have not
become like the jester in the Tarot deck that knows he is all the characters and so is
content to be called fool.
Can so called empty space have walls, web walls like this? I don’t know. I’m only
imagining it can.
Maybe this metaphor, if it is one, is not something that has practical merit, but I would
like to think that in our attempt to physicalize emotion, thought, passion, all these
invisible and fleeting things we know have impact on our lives, we benefit from creating
a language that translates the seeming ’emptiness’ of space between ourselves and others,
into something vibrant, elastic, tangible and inspiring.
Decroux, in being asked “why do Mime”, said, “well you have to do something
between breakfast and lunch, it might as well be Mime”. By the same token, we hang
out enough in the emptiness of space. Why not turn it’s ‘floor’ into a responsive
trampoline, its ‘wall’s into the walls of a listening eardrum and its various ‘rooms’ into
echo chambers where sounds and passions move through like torrential water ways
just dying to be embodied by someone.
We can say we want to be loved, we say that all the time. All cowboy songs attest to
this. We also want to be heard, and its possible to feel loved but not heard. We know
what that feels like do we not? The word ‘parents’ springs to mind.
Do good actors and playwrights know about this need? Is this the driving desire behind
the playwrights and the actors work? Was the theatre invented to provide us with a
laboratory where we could collectively grow new ears, new eyes for experiences we
only dreamed of inside the dogmatic borders of all polite society?
When others concerned themselves with Philosophers Stones that could turn base
metals into gold, were actors working in their cheap, damp studios in the hills
surrounding the cities, not to produce gold, but to re-work space into a vibrating series
of planes that could dynamically funnel the gold down and down the mountain, driven
on by torrents of water, arriving straight into our hearts at the bottom of the hill?
I don’t know but am only imagining that actors must have had SOME strong reason to
collectively turn their backs on money for so many years. There are some film
celebrities of course, that are making up for lost time. But most theatre actors were
doing something between breakfast and lunch and it wasn’t adding to their stock
portfolios. They were mining gold, even taking some of it to market, but along the way
to cashing it in they got this strange idea that became an obsession.
The idea was, “gee, the only way I discovered any of this gold was through working
closely with others in my ensemble and feeling safe enough to plummet into myself and
my creative life. What if I invited everybody into my ensemble, whether they had
training or not, regardless of their age, background or ethnicity or socio economic
status…… What if I assumed they could totally hear what I had to say or what the play
had to say, ? What then? I have watched myself and countless others in my group, rise
to the occasion and create huge breakthroughs on physical, emotional and intellectual
levels. What if, in fact, it wasn’t about training or knowledge but that my training
merely gave me the time and the space to realize I had valuable insights, connections
and experiences that were always and already inside of myself? I saw in that rarified
space of training that what I was discovering was available to everybody that took the
time to see and know that it was there.
Our training as actors points to that and says “be the first one in the water, swimming,
and invite them in to swim with you. The swimming is what’s important not who sends
out the invitation.”
Speaking of spiders, isn’t it one of the great ironies to discover that spider web material
is woven into fabric then used in bullet proof vests. The material is stronger than steel
of the same thickness. Have spiders known all along just how flexible and powerful
their webs were and have they, for centuries, being trying to find the words USE IT TO
MAKE BULLET PROOF VESTS YOU IDIOTS, every time we wrote a poem about the
romantic nature of spider webs? We might never know. Unless, that is, some actor gets
the bright idea of opening a theatre training centre for spiders. Then, all bets are off.
They will no doubt go on and on about eardrums, and trampolines and sharing
everything with the collective. Inviting everyone into the swimming pool with them
may require training techniques that can only, at this moment in time, be imagined.