‘First Night’ Programme Note by Tim Etchells
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.