REVIEW: The entire human body – and then some – is mobilised in Beat The Drum. The result is a very wise performance. Grethe Melby writes about Verk Produksjoner ́s new project.
by Grethe Melby
Meteor – International Festival of Theatre Verk Produksjoner
Beat The Drum
When everything is connected to everything else, it is not so easy to know who is speaking, where somethings starts and ends, or what is more or less important. The question is whether it always is important to know that. Perhaps the need for these clear divisions are connected to our Western culture ́s division between body and mind, between you and me, culture and nature, man and technology. In the performance Beat The Drum, reflections upon these issues are happening concurrently and on many different planes. Such a situation could have become too much; quite overwhelming, incredibly confusing, or right out terrifying. Yes, we are on unsafe ground, but neither of these feelings occur when Verk are the organisers of the gathering. On the contrary; the atmosphere is filled with friendliness, quietude, openness and generosity, combined with a definite and decisive performance structure, and perhaps it is exactly the stringent disposition that contributes to the feeling of safety. It is on all accounts reassuring to have the opportunity to know how far along we are in the performance, due to its proceeding being conveyed through small posters on the wall, so that we have a certain anticipation of what is in store for us.
Verk Produksjoner describe their project as an ‘ongoing investigation of our time’. Within this word – ‘ongoing’ – lie multiple dimensions. Firstly; we can understand the word ‘ongoing’ in the sense that this is an investigation that is always happening. Little is finished or concluded. But this ‘something’ that is happening can also be ongoing in the sense that we are affected by it whether we like to or not. [ongoing in Norwegian also means insistent].Thirdly, the performance opens up for a literal understanding of the word ‘ongoing’, as the first thing we are asked to do as an audience is to walk. Simply to go for a walk, and we are guided through Nordnesparken, and passed Akvariet, whilst being asked to observe what we can see around us, and our thoughts about what we would like to see in the future. The performance is thus not a sitting meditation, but a walking one.
By inviting us into this concrete act – to walk – Verk are clear that the way we understand the world is dependant on which modes of experience we are currently in, and that the thought is a bodily experience. Simultaneously, we are urged to reflect on where the body really ends, and if the body sets a limit for presence. When the audience are instructed by one of the company members to start the performance with a walk, this happens via Skype, as if to point out that to be present here and now, you don ́t need to be spatially present. We are introduced to the walking traditions in philosophy history, from the Greek philosophers wanderings in the academy, to Nietzsche ́s argument that the thought which is thought while sitting, is not worth a thought, whilst the thoughts which are thought when walking are those of value. And if that is true, many a theatre experience is wasted. The contemporary traditions of pilgrimages and the corporate trend of walking meetings are plugged into our consciousness, so that we are sufficiently tuned in. There is something about this scene; the audience are asked to use their bodies by a person who is not themselves bodily present.
This form of switching between one and the other; one not walking, not riding, not naked, not dressed-attitude, is a protruding feature in Beat The Drum. The texts presented are ‘dreams, anecdotes and thoughts about our present time’, texts written by ‘acknowledged artists, intellectuals and colleagues’, and collected by Verk Produksjoner. During which, we as an audience are invited into this philosophical society, as we are asked to share our thoughts from the walk by sketching on a piece of paper. The papers are handed inn, and will presumably be performed on another occasion.
When the texts are performed, it soon becomes clear that the actors are taking on the roles as mediums, and the question is what the meaning of that really is. The references to Marshall McLuhan are clear; he is the man quoted for saying ‘the medium is the message’. There is an opening for asking who is really saying what, and what meaning does it have. The performance itself portrays an ambivalent engagement, underpinned by the company ́s somewhat naive style, perhaps not unlike the flowing relationship to language McLuhan himself has been said to have had. It is also said that he investigated the sonic qualities of language and their significance for meaning without testing the words. And why not try it; The medium is the message. The medium is the massage. The medium is the mass age. In such a way, Mc Luhan apparently tasted the words, to see what meaning it could bring.
To me, it becomes unclear if what is said has been processed many times through the actors brains, bodies and minds, or if they just perform the text directly via an in-ear speaker connected to a mobile phone. Nor is it clear if someone is in another room speaking to the actors directly, or if what the actors are mediating is based on sound recordings which in a short time can be spoken of as thoughts of the past. But this element lifts the performance to a truly great theatre experience, to a continual development of how we usually practice the performing arts, whether we take the role of audience or performers.
While some of the performers show us how they as people can be mediums for others, other actors show us how technology can be a medium for humans, as an elongation of the body. The main motif of the performance is how a drum-kit can be understood as an elongation of the heart beating – or as a youthful mind, upset for not being seen and understood by their parents. Thus, we find that it is not just the interaction between people on the agenda, as central is the interaction between technology and man.
Throughout the performance we share the joy of mediating energy and emotions through music. Especially through long stretches of great drum-solos. We are invited in, into the rhythm, into a society, the traditional ritual function of the drums is taken into use for all it ́s worth. At the very end the invitation is emphasised as we are offered drinks, and we get a choice of beer or soft drinks. We are not only sharing music and stories together, having a glass together is a well known community builder. With this final act, the performance is framed by again activating the audience ́s bodies, this time through our pallet.
By and with: Saila Hyttinen, Anders Mossling, Fredrik Hannestad, Solveig Laland Mohn, Camilla Eeg-Tverbakk, Mia Keinanen, Pernille Mogensen, Palle Krüger and Per Platou.
Supported by: Norsk kulturråd. Photo, video: Camilla Jensen
Beat The Drum is shown in Oslo through Black Box Teater 6.-8.November