First Night

description

“Ladies and Gentlemen. While you’re with us tonight, we’d like to ask you to try to forget about the outside world completely. Try not to think about anything outside of this room. Anything at all. Try to forget about cars, and meetings, cigarettes, and road accidents. Try to forget about births and deaths and funerals. And bereavements…..Try not to think about agonies and bitterness and smiles. And sadness. And the kind of bitterness that comes from making one really big mistake. And the kind of regret that comes from making many many many many small mistakes...”

Forced Entertainment’s first theatre work for middle-scale stages is best described as a kind of disastrous vaudeville. In it, eight performers stand before the audience in a line of dazzling smiles, dead eyes, sequined lycra, tottering heels and loud check suits. First Night begins with a grand welcome, but soon disintegrates into dark predictions of the future, psychotic escapology acts, unexpected dances and unhinged show-biz anecdotes.

Like earlier works Showtime (1996) and Pleasure (1997), First Night concerns itself with the nature of the theatrical event itself, exploring what happens when it all goes wrong and when audience expectations are challenged or toyed with.

© Forced Entertainment 2001. Theatre performance.

 

Credits

Conceived and devised by the company
Performers: Robin Arthur, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O’Connor, John Rowley, K Michael Weaver
Direction: Tim Etchells
Text:Tim Etchells and the company
Design: Richard Lowdon
Lighting Design: Nigel Edwards
Soundtrack: Found sources

First Night was co-produced by Rotterdamse Schouwburg (Rotterdam), the SpielArt Festival (Munich) and Festival Theaterformen (Hannover).


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Press

“diverting, accessible and viciously funny... just the sort of show that we should be seeing at the National Theatre.”
The Guardian

"a riotous treatise on the performer / audience dynamic."
Chicago Tribune

“a powerful statement of malcontent that boldly transcends the usual segmented live art venues and audiences. No more preaching only to the converted and the contextualised. This one goes out to all of us.”
Live Art Magazine

 

Programme notes and essays

Read the programme note by Forced Entertainment’s Artistic Director Tim Etchells here.


Audience Tactics:
Notes on First Night


‘Look. I know a thing or two about the clientele. They're a bunch of liars and wrigglers. Put the frighteners on them … give ‘em a bit of stick. That’s the way to make them jump. They love it.

(Performance, Donald Cammel and Nicolas Roeg, 1972)

Be with the audience in real time. Be ‘a group of people who are doing a job in front of another group of people’. Think about doing a task, about ‘work’, about the strange yet simple situation of being paid by others so they can watch you do things. Construct an onstage presence that is ‘human-scale’, everyday.

There is a generosity in this. A kind of openness.

I saw Roy Faudre (Wooster Group, No Theatre) talk in the LIFT festival in London. He said a beautiful thing.

The live actor is the one who says ‘Look I am a person in front of you. You can look at me from the top of my head to the tips of my feet.’

*

Build the audience. Draw them in. Mass them. Make them feel at home. Make them part of ‘it’. Make them part of the crowd. Call them ‘human beings’.  Give them the taste of laughing together.

(I think we know enough now about these kind of crowds – of people acting ‘together as one’ – to be very suspicious of them.)

*

Split the audience. Make a problem of them. Disrupt the comfort and anonymity of the darkness. Make them feel the differences present in the room and outside of it (class, gender, age, race, power, culture). Give them the taste of laughing alone. The feel of a body that laughs in public and then, embarrassed has to pull it back.

*

Work with exaggeration. With the ‘theatrical’ and with its opposite, the banal, the everyday. Give them gifts. Pleasures. Laughs. Dances. Bring them ‘together’ again.

*

Fictionalise the audience. Address them (1) as if they were other audiences and (2) as if they were other fictional persons.

In other works by the company the audience are assumed to be those present at a strip-club or at a children's performance, or at an economic think-tank. They are addressed as lovers, murderers, potential bank raid collaborators , and a very long lost friend.

Real time, once established, is distorted, overlaid, confused, and then re-invoked.

*

‘Oh. You've been a good audience. A very good audience. Let me know where you're working tomorrow night. I'll come and watch you.’
(The Entertainer, John Osborne.)

*

Each project for us is an attempt to find a new and appropriate solution to the situation of standing up and trying to speak before a crowd of people whom one does not know and cannot trust. For First Night the atmosphere of a strange, strained and comical vaudeville is summoned.

Tim Etchells
Sheffield 2001

 

Read the programme note by Annemie Vanackere  of Rotterdamse Schouwburg here.


Oh shame, where is thy blush?

They say "the first cut is the deepest" and that, for me, was Some Confusions in the Law about Love, seen some ten years ago in Arts Centre STUC in Leuven (B). And confusion there was, both amongst the members of the audience and the Flemish theatre critics, one critic at the time going so far as to proclaim that by showing this piece STUC had lost completely its artistic credibility. Together with Mark Deputter, who programmed the piece, I found myself part of the small minority that experienced this 'confusion' as totally refreshing and liberating.

What struck me in this first encounter with the work of Forced Entertainment was the exquisite mix of entrancing language, atmospheric music and 'physical' acting - a physicality which seemed to put at risk their own bodies - to present stories without plots, full of contemporary rituals, litanies and loves lost and found, and lost again.

The work of Forced Entertainment has changed over the years. They've experimented with film, CD-ROM, and recently with performances of 24 hours in length, but perhaps more importantly (and certainly more radically), they've continued to develop a sort of foreign language within their own theatrical language. Exaggerated, banal and comical, the company's work proposes themes which they return to (and uncover) again and again, strategies which they repeat, rework and modify.

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze believes one of the great motifs in art and thought is a certain 'shame in being human'.*  For Deleuze, as for Forced Entertainment, this shame is not just (or perhaps not at all) a great or grand one; more the daily shame of 'plaatsvervangende schaamte', a Dutch expression for the surrogate shame you feel for other people's failures and stupidities, more the blush of embarrassment, the shame of missed targets, incompetences and compromises. His belief is that art with its exaggerations of and resistance to the everyday frees our life from this prison of shame, that art is active in 'ripping life forth', that art is not abstract but rather life's liberation.

In the preview of First Night I saw in London (March 2001) I was excited by the 'new foreign language' the company was developing for 'a big show', as they played with the set of audience expectations that comes with this. I saw the same (beautiful) people on stage, with admittedly more mature faces and bodies (less risky actions), but much more gutsy in their exploration of a single idea, less frightened to be silly and funny as they shamelessly expose our 'shame in being human', so that more than ever their art confronts and reconciles us with this. 'The last cut' should always be the deepest.

Annemie Vanackere
Rotterdam 2001

* In L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, avec Claire Parnet, 'R as in Resistance'

 

Read the essay Not Part of the Bargain: Notes on First Night by Forced Entertainment’s Artistic Director Tim Etchells here.


Not Part of the Bargain

Notes on First Night

An Essay by Tim Etchells


You can take it as a crude inventory of the various (and contradictory) concerns and strategies we have used and are using when approaching the public. But remember, none of the above, alone or together, can guarantee a single thing concerning a ‘healthy’ relation between a performance and its audience (whatever that means) at this particular point in time, in the very particular and largely unfortunate set of circumstances that we have the confidence to call now.

Each project for us remains an attempt to find a new and appropriate solution to the situation of standing up and trying to speak before a crowd of gathered persons whom one does not know and whom one cannot trust*. (* That’s what’s become of the polis.)

*

“Look. I know a thing or two about the clientele. They’re a bunch of liars and wrigglers. Put the frighteners on them… give em a bit of stick. That‘s the way to make them jump. They love it.” (Performance, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1972)

*

Be with the audience in real time. Be ‘a group of people who are doing a job in front of another group of people’. Think about task, about ‘work’ (labour), about the strange yet simple situation of being paid by others so that they can watch you do things. Construct an onstage presence that is ‘human-scale’, everyday.

There is a generosity in this. A kind of openness.

I saw Roy Faudre (Wooster Group, No Theatre) talk in the LIFT festival in London. He said a beautiful thing.

The live actor is the one who says “Look, I am a person in front of you. You can look at me from the top of my head to the tips of my feet”.

*

Fictionalise the audience. Address them (1) as if they were other audiences and (2) as if they were other fictional persons.

The audience are assumed to be those present at a strip-club, or at a children’s performance, or at an economic think-tank. They are addressed as lovers, murderers, potential collaborators in a bank raid, a very long lost friend. Real time, once established, is distorted, overlaid, confused, and then re-invoked.

*

Build the audience. Draw them in. Mass them. Make them feel at home. Make them part of ‘it’. Make them part of the crowd. Call them ‘human beings’. Give them the taste of laughing together.

(I think we know enough now about these kind of crowds - of people acting ‘together as one’ - to be very suspicious of them.)

*

Split the audience. Make a problem of them. Disrupt the comfort and anonymity of the darkness. Make them feel the differences present in the room and outside of it (class, gender, age, race, power, culture). Give them the taste of laughing alone. The feel of a body that laughs in public and then, embarrassed,  has to pull it back.

*

A comedian (Billy Connolly) on some TV chat show. Chatting. Joking.  Running anecdotes. A formula Q&A mixed with fragments of ‘routines’. ‘You know..’ he says, and raises eyebrows, drawing laughs. ‘You know..you know..’ becoming thoughtful. ‘I hate hecklers..’

He says that comedians create the audience as a single being, a mass-become-one and that a heckler destroys this creation, bringing each man back to his own seat, to his own edges, distinctions, self-consciousness. A comedian works to mass those people, bind them, enchant, mystify and glue them. And then the heckler breaks his work and the comic has to pull and build and bind them all together again. It’s a hard fucking life.

The way he tells this thought of course it is also a joke, a mechanism for building a crowd. His eyes go wild.  His hands make huge gestures. When he’s building the audience the hands are gathering invisible leaves, pulling imaginary sand to a pile and when a heckler shouts in the story, those hands sketch the leaves blown away, the sand dispersed, the audience dashing back from pile to periphery, scattering and ducking and scuttling like crabs.

The way he tells it the-audience-as-single-being is the ultimate goal of his art, of any art, but in this particular instance at least I find myself thinking that the heckler has the intellectual edge.

(Let’s get the ghost of Brecht to go round Connolly’s house and slap some fucking sense into him.)

*

Give them gifts. Pleasures. Laughs. Dances. Bring them ‘together’ again.

*

“Oh. You’ve been a good audience. A very good audience. Let me know where you’re working tomorrow night. I’ll come and watch you.”
(The Entertainer, John Osborne.)

First Night, Sheffield, 30.03.01. A part of the ‘show’ we come to call fortune telling, in which the performers in blindfolds are making lame predictions, cod-uncanny, mock-mediumship, one-liner snatches from the other side.

"Someone here.. someone here has lost something… a key perhaps.. or a parent.."

"I am getting a number… 89.."

"Somewhere in the back row I get the impression of an overwhelming depression and self-loathing.."

This is all very jolly. But as time passes the blindfolds come off and the game (as ever) grows serious. (Because, as we like to say, all games pull to their edges, to the breaking point, to the danger zone). And by the end Sue is left alone on-stage and the temperature has decidedly dropped. She is pointing to the front row.

"Cancer" she says. And pauses. Looks to the person in the next seat.

"Car crash". Pauses. Looks to the person in the next seat"

"Pneumonia". Pause. Next one.

"Septicaemia" And on. And so on. And on.

"Heart failure"

"Complications arising from a minor operation"

"DIY accident"

"Rabies"

"Old age"

She works her way slowly along the rows. Naming deaths. Naming and shaming. Naming causes of death.

There is no mass to hide in here. Each person, more or less, is addressed individually. Unavoidably and steadily located. Locked onto. And softly, virtually, textually, killed. All the smiling and laughing and buffoonery that fills the rest of the piece at this early stage won’t clear the air of this chill.

I look to the faces of those watching who are awaiting their ‘turn’. Tangible sense of the impropriety of what we are doing. As if: look mate, we come to be addressed as a mass, as anonymous, all this picking out of individuals is too much, not part of the bargain.

"Oh", says one guy in the bar afterwards to his friend, glumly, only partly joking, "I was liver damage – you were motorbike crash".

*

Use direct address, eye contact and silence from the stage to the public. Give them silence.  Give them time.

In silence and with eye contact from the stage to the public give a chance to measure the moment. Let this moment be empty. Let it be full. Let it be nervous. Funny. Confident. Problematic. Let the moment be nothing. Everything. Let it be all the possibilities of the moment.

*

Deep in the heart of First Night is a brutal and basic confusion called the smile. Ludicrous. Strained. And under it pain.

In rehearsals they smile. They smile fixed. They smile big. They smile 50s game-show hosts, delirious happy, fake-tan, Miss World craziness. They smile Everything is Going to be Great..  They smile This IS Great. They smile it and they smile it and they smile it and in the first rehearsals I have them stand in a line and smile at me for hours like this, in awe somewhat at the terrible nervous, twitching, awful scene. I can’t think of anything for them to do and I don’t like it when they speak. I just want to see them smile.

*

But you know the smiles look like denial.

In rehearsal before me the performers are cracking on a minute by minute basis. I can see each muscle twitch and eyestrain, each sweat bead and flickering of doubt. I can see it when the corners of the mouth start to shiver and shake. I can see it when they have to swallow the saliva that builds up in their rigid mouths. I can see these beaming grinning facades (called faces) as they, literally, decay. Like great public buildings going rotten with smog and pollution and time and age, only here viewed speeded on time lapse. The face is a front that cannot be maintained.

The smiles are ludicrous. Strained. And under it painful. The smiles are a form of violence. Straightjackets. Masks that say yes but mean no. Smiles that publish a desire to please, and at the same time, protest the thraldom of the performers locked into the mass-of-an-audience.  They are a poisoned welcome. They are the happy greeting that yells: MURDERERS.

*

Jerome tells us (in a bar in Vienna) that with The Show Must Go On he wanted to make a work that was not stronger than the public. A piece that would sit with them but not dominate them. A beautiful beautiful thought. An incredible generosity. But accepting a gift of this kind may not be easy for those raised in other times, in other frames of the relation between artist and public.

In Paris at Théâtre de la Ville there are stage invasions. Interventions. Slow hand claps. J says he got the message: if you do not dominate this audience they will try to kill you.

*

Give space. Be confident. Take time.

Don’t lose heart. There is an audience that does not want old kinds of dramatic bullshit.

*

To us all that is not a part of the bargain is all that is interesting.

© Tim Etchells. 2001


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First Night Text

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"Ladies and Gentlemen. While you're with us tonight, we'd like to ask you to try to forget about the outside world completely. Try not to think about...

 

 
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First Night DVD

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"Ladies and Gentlemen. While you're with us tonight, we'd like to ask you to try to forget about the outside world completely. Try not to think about...

 

 



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