Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Blood, Tears, and Curtain Calls

Why the fuck would anyone work in theatre?

The day before yesterday (chronologically), or yesterday (experientially sequentially), I spent thirteen hours at the theatre, and then five hours drinking and crying.

Late, I found solace and comfort in spending five hours of that day singlehandedly painting most of the set. Later, I found my emotions exposed and burning in the caustic atmosphere of the external, uncovered by the physical, mental, and spiritual sandpapering that is Theatre.

Theatre is Magic. Theatre is beautiful, and absurd, and pointless, and utterly, primally, vitally necessary.

Allow me to dispel, first, a perverse misconception: ain't no glamour in showbusiness, babe. Theatre is grimy and masochistic. Take the curtain call. Some people seem to hold the belief that this an opportunity for the cast, like a beaming toddler proudly presenting hir mother with a freshly filled potty, to say "Look what we done! Aren't we brilliant!" IT IS NOT. The curtain call is there to thank the audience. Thank them for their appreciation, thank them for their money, but most of all, thank them for sitting through the two hours of sparkling bullshit you just served up for them on an MDF platter spray-painted silver with non-functioning props glued onto it. That's what the bow means. Bowing! An act of supreme supplication! We are your bitches, audience, and you have let us off the hook.

Blood and tears.

Blood. We die a lot. Complicated, antiquated electrical systems buzz amorally in a temperamental lottery of trappish synapses, makeshift repairs, and high voltage. Vast, awkward, unforgivingly heavy objects teeter against their precarious boltings, or lie in wait round darkened corners, or ponder in pendulous predation from dubious ceiling anchors. Pyrotechnics flash out in agentic malice. Lithe young workers dressed all in black work in the dark atop swayingly vertiginous ladders on ruttedly uncertain flooring, wielding paintbrushes, curtain hooks, hacksaws and lights. No wonder theatre technicians can't get life insurance.

Tears. I have never seen my father cry. I have seen everyone I know in theatre cry, and often. There is so much to organise, so little time to do it in, mind-shatteringly long hours, hair-tearingly hard work, there is, quite simply, and all too fucking often, just too much.

And for what? Two hours of sparkle and emotion on a thinly disguised platform for a roomful of paying voyeurs. A modicum of remuneration. A tendency to neurosis, addiction, and early death.

So why? - A question that answers itself. The ineluctable, existential romance of it all. Theatre is its own dark, tragic, visceral little complex. Turn up at any paralysed rehearsal, any late-night build, any eleventh-half-hour rush to piece together fan-dismembered shit, and you look in on a frantic, isolated, dystopian goth-fantasy.

We cast ourselves round the twist in the name of an evening of ephemeral entertainment. We drag our souls to the brink of despair, and further than that too, for a story. We kill ourselves so you can watch us prance around and pretend we're someone we ain't. And that, Children, is Beauty.

Yes, we can tell important tales. Yes, we can move, and persuade, and dazzle, and enthrall, convert, thieve, rape, CHANGE. But, Christ, ye gods, Macbeth, the things we do for it all! That we can expend so much of ourselves for something intangible, impermanent, immolatory; that we can make something that doesn't matter really, truly matter; that we can live, and suffer, and die for an idea, for a brief blaze of glamour and beauty and heady mental catalyst, destroy us though it will, reminds us that we are human, enriches us as people, makes us real and alive.

Behind every charmingly confident, careless grin in the curtain call line is a silent immensity of spilt blood, spat tears, and stupid, desperate, beautiful spiritual connection.

That's why we do it.


At 3:34 pm, Blogger Garth Wintergreen said...

The curtain call is there to thank the audience... That's what the bow means. Bowing! An act of supreme supplication! We are your bitches, audience, and you have let us off the hook.
Whilst Veins has a point, the players do, in some ways, supplicate to an audience, he seems to overlook the fact that theatre is also an interaction between those on stage and those watching the stage. The curtain call is there for the players to thank the audience, but it is also there for the audience to thank the players (thus the clapping). Outside the theatre, the bow and the clap are not equivalent*. The bow is commonly an act of supplication and applause is given in thanks for a service. In theatre (more so in modern theatre which was not written solely for a particular class of people), however, the bow and the clap have become almost equivalent. It is a two-way thing. It is in some senses closure on a relationship which has lasted two hours or more. It signals the signing of a contract, a shaking of hands between actors and audience, both of whom have had a level of involvement in the play. Where performance triumphs over script is in the act of collaboration. If the bow is just an act of thanks, it is little more than an author’s note thanking a reader.

The curtain call has various other qualities. It is the time allowed for an audience to be most vocal (particularly in a play in which laughter is scarce), to approve of or disapprove of what they have seen. It is a time to reassure the audience that the events in the play were not real, allowing the audience to recognise the figures on stage as actors rather than characters. It is the signal to the audience to end their ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. It is also, whether we like it or not, a chance for congratulation and approval, at least in some actor’s eyes.

I am certain Veins is aware of the multiplicity of reasons for the curtain call and the collaboratory aspect of theatre. His article just seems to drive too hard at theatre being an event where players serve an audience. Theatre should be (and has recently become) a collaboration between audience and actors. ‘We are your bitches…’ but you are also our’s!

*in some cultures, however, the bow is an act of acknowledgement, compliant rather than suppliant

At 11:12 pm, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

An excellent dialectic, Garth. I can find no fault.

"I am certain Veins is aware of the multiplicity of reasons for the curtain call and the collaboratory aspect of theatre."

Naturally. This is the basis of all my arguments for theatre over cinema (not that cinema is at all a bad thing - just that it lacks the quality and extent of experience afforded by theatre).

The reason I did not discuss the curtain call in full was because I was focusing on the Blood and Tears aspect of theatre, and also attempting to dispel one single prevalent misinterpretation of the curtain call.


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