Friday, December 28, 2007

Questions to Richard Foreman

Production Intern Liz Peterson interviews Richard Foreman

Liz Peterson: I’ve heard you talk about the absurdity of the theatrical space and the notion of an audience sitting politely for a determined period of time, focusing on one event and I wanted to ask you what it was about that absurdity that for you was different from the absurdity of taking in a work of art or being present at a religious ceremony.

Richard Foreman: I probably used the word absurdity casually, I’m not particularly in favor of religious ceremonies either (laughs), but you know, probably it’s a product of my low attention span, but I do increasingly think that the whole notion of assembling people, of focusing, even of reading... I have great philosophical questions as to whether... you know the human mind is so constructed that if you put an object in front of it, it automatically cramps upon that object, if it’s a hand, a cloth, it grasps it, it holds it to study it. And I do tend to think that the spiritually better position is to discover how to release that cramp, so the mind is open and wide and relaxed, a little bit like an animal who’s just sitting in a field and is alert to the whole field, until the dangerous sound comes from the corner and it cramps on that.
There are various people who I read when I was young who talk about that being the big problem of the west, this continual focusing of attention that should better maintain a wide field of vision. I can also relate it to the one mystical experience I had that I spoke about to people here, when my whole head expanded into an eight inch in diameter transparent globe and everything outside and inside was there and co-present and how great that felt. And in my art I’ve always been interested in trying to create an overall feel rather than having you focus in and follow a narrative or follow a character’s moves from right to left, of course I can’t succeed, but that’s the aim and that relates to destroying this feeling that you’re sitting, nailed to your chair and cramping on the things that are seizing your attention.

LP: Now, I also heard you say once, and I might have misunderstood what you were saying at the time but I heard you say that your plays are never as boring as you morally feel they should be...

RF: Not exactly boring, but I do see how, I mean I’ve been in the theatre since I was 9 years old. I’m corrupted, you know, you have people sitting out there and you don’t want them to fidget, even though you know that most of them should if you were doing something really good because they wouldn’t be interested in really high art. So I don’t necessarily mean boring, but the refusal of all these goodies and all these items that are going to make the attention cramp on them because that’s the secret drive, which I can’t quite achieve. Yeah, I’m torn by those two alternatives; either making something so vast and rich that is like, you know, totally involving in that sense or making something that doesn’t move and so it’s up to you how you relate to it. There are certainly artists who do that more rigorously than I do. I think it’s pretty hard to do in the theatre... and if you say that somebody like Beckett did it to a certain extent, I have to admit that I’m bored with Beckett. So there I am torn in many directions at once, and can’t decide.

LP: What has kept you working in the theatre form for so many years?

RF: Oh, I don’t know. Because it’s what I did, and I didn’t know what else to do, and the main reason I think, because I know that when left to myself, when I’m not coming to work at the theatre everyday, I’m sort of a hermit, and I think that’s bad for me and it makes me atrophy. And I think I need to be forced to interact with other people and although I resist it, for my health (laughs), I have to do it.

LP: The way that the video that you use incorporates into your plays, what is the function that you see it has within your work?

RF: Well, this is probably the last play that I’m going to do with video because I think the video interests me so much that I just want to work within the video. But I don’t know, it started out I think that I wanted to disrupt my performances and find a way to introduce a foreign element that was indeed more placid, more passive, I was trying to have effect. Probably with the video in this play it’s getting too flashy in a way. In comparison to most films it wouldn’t be considered flashy, but quite static and slow. But the function arises as I work with it. I gave myself a problematic element that I would introduce in the plays to make them harder to do, sort of like introducing a grain of sand into an oyster, the oyster figures out how to spin a pearl around that. Well I introduced these movies at the back of my plays and try to figure out how can I arrange the play so there’s the proper total dual-like finished product of the play mixing with film.

LP: How do you think that affects the relationship that you build with the actors?

RF: I believe that in a life setting also, but certainly in art, you should not have preconceived goals. You should give yourself some materials and then see how you can put them together and find out what they want to say by being put together.

LP: Do you feel like video almost replaces theatre for you?

RF: Oh sure, for me, well I mean, it doesn’t replace it, but it’s a step into something somewhat different. I’ve always said, I mean it’s true that I’ve always disliked the theatre, at least for the last thirty years, and I work in the theatre in order to work out other certain problems that are for me of a more philosophical, spiritual nature. That’s what concerns me, not making a good play. Now obviously you have your ego, so you want to make a good play to the extent that people like it, that you get good reviews, but that is less important to me now finally. I mean I suffered from being vain and being anxious about wanting to be a success and wanting to be accepted, but then you reach a certain point, you know, everybody feels they’re not accepted sufficiently, or appreciated. I think I have overcome that more than I ever have in the past, maybe not completely and I just want to be in an arena that I build for myself where I can work on certain problems and I resent, and I have for a number of years now, having to open these plays and subject myself to audiences, critics, what have you, and that’s not part of a real life, you know (laughs) it seems to me, it’s something we do.

LP: One last question: have you ever considered becoming a free mason?

RF: No! I considered when I was younger, I mean considered isn’t the right word, but I did at different times feel slightly guilty about making art instead of finding my guru, and following my guru and theoretically becoming an enlightened person, not that too many people who follow gurus become enlightened. But masonry was never one of the disciplines I tried, I was interested rather in a variety of much more serious stuff.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Blogging from Potatoland

I am a former Foreman stage manager and was involved with five of Richard's shows from 1995 to 2000 (I’ve Got the Shakes, The Universe, Permanent Brain Damage, Benita Canova and Paradise Hotel, a.k.a. Hotel Fuck). Since then I have been back to see Richard’s shows every year but I have not been to a rehearsal since I left the role of stage manager. I accepted the invitation to blog a rehearsal. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant I brought my computer to jot down some of the events, quips and controlled chaos as it unfolded.
I arrived in Potatoland just after lunch and apparently just after a run through and so the afternoon session started off with notes. As the actors, technicians and interns gathered I asked Richard how the play was going and got his usual “Oh I don’t know”. I look around and see the tiredness in everyone’s faces as they are in their last weeks of rehearsal. Richard reads through the notes, taken by an intern, first in a confused voice and then realizing what the notes mean. He addresses Eduardo, the video op, in a tone familiar, a combination of frustration and impatience. This note is followed by confusion from Eduardo, and now Brendan, the stage manager, joins in to comprehend what Richard is insistently referring to. The video screen shows a frozen tableau with question marks running across the bottom of it.

“Red words, big…you don’t see the red letters enough…” Richard says, and the interns resetting the props on the stage now catch my eye. Brendan calls out “ the newspaper goes one higher guys”, referring to the fish wrapped in the fringed white cloth wrapped in the newspaper and set on the shelf in the curio cabinet. Then we’re pulled back to Richard saying, “…so as there is no confusion…” and then “the world that rivals the real world” Richard's voice intones, but this is now a recording of Richard’s voice that I hear. As the interns again cross the stage with white wooden swords and set them in their place the swirl of disjointed notes and cues and corrections continues--some things never change.

”We changed it, we changed it to…” Brendan says to Richard.
“I heard it because you were not going to use it, ” he says.
“Let’s try making the truth, single”, Richard says.
The actors have now taken their places on the stage, three women in eveningwear and a man in a suit. The man wears a bright blue dust mask. In Potatoland, or any other of Richard’s realities, this mask is ambiguous--is it a prop or a costume piece or is it merely what it is, a mask over the nose and mouth of a sick actor? Richard turns and addresses me.
“Now, Ken, that blue mask is not part of that gentleman’s costume. “Oh I know”, I said. “I noticed that as soon as I arrived,” and I recounted the story of when I was sick during a pick up rehearsal before a tour and Richard made me wear a similar mask so as not to infect the other company members. “But the eye patch he’s wearing is part of his costume”, he says without missing a beat and then returns to the notes.
“Cut the mental experiment,” Richard says.
“Which one”, says Brendan
“How many mental experiments are there”, Richard asks.
“There’s the one where… when Joel grabs the fish.” Brendan replies.
“Yes, where Joel grabs the fish” Richard says knowingly.
Richard addresses Sarah, one of the actors.
”Did you take the cloth off before you played the piano?”
“Yes”, Sarah replies.
“DON’T, he implores. “You’re much more talented than that and you can play the piano through a cloth. Okay, let’s run this."

Ken's recent fascination has been the stars and their roots in Greek mythology. He is currently investigating how to recreate the constellations in physical form.