More on storytelling.

This is a long removed continuation of the conversation with Holger. But takes no account of the comments section which looks really good, but editing this post is more procrastination than I can afford.

For the other ways I deal with theses questions:
- Please join us at Koerner Hall any time (come and go) between 1:30 and 4am on Nuit Blanche for Small Wooden Shoe Reads Difficult Plays and Sings Simple Songs. We'll be reading Gertrude Stein plays.
- Antigone Dead People tickets are now on sale. Click here to buy

I became an interesting tackling dummy.

I don’t know that many, looking at my body of work (with Small Wooden Shoe, Public Recordings and Dancemakers) would find an ongoing defence of narrative - though it’s true, I often like people narrating things. I like to watch and listen to people reading things. I like radio, podcasts, audiobooks - and I like it on stage - live and in process. This is not a global position on “What Theatre Is” – it is a preference. And I hope that with the correct application and approach, this preference can do something for me and for the other people who see the work.

But I find myself defending and promoting a kind of “story telling” - in large part because when I hear: “‘storytelling’ is reductive” - my reaction is about power. That it is a patronizing and “palace” response - dismissing the folk and the clear - privileging the refined (paid for) and exclusionary.

I used to champion the self proclaimed elitism of Howard Barker - and there is much in his writing I still respond to.

But in terms of cranky old Brits, John McGrath has taken over. This is, in some ways, a return. I think I might be happier if I could go back to Barker. Or if not happy, at least self-satisfied. There is something so cozy and reassuring in his writing. The way it soothes us that we, Theatre Artists, are so special - so much smarter and more right than everyone else. In a world where theatre is largely irrelevant this is nice to hear in my head:

“It is the world’s fault. It went wrong - if only we could return it too…[?]” Ignoring that unanswered question, it continues, “The thing that others do, ‘storytelling’ - we don’t do that. We do something holy, something transcendent and nobler. We are above storytelling”

I’m not. I like stories.[1]

I use common language and conversational tones for a reason - I will take their vague-ness and possible critical mis-interpretation over the simultaneous irrelevance-producing and status-confirming of jargon and the overly specific.

Emerging from post WWII European culture - with fascism and Soviet rule as clear examples, it is no wonder that Barker et al (with the continental philosophic backing of Barthes, Derrida, Lacan etc…) looked for art that could separate the individual and break up feelings of “togetherness.” Togetherness and sharing are the domains of the worst kinds of people - Party Members and Marketers. Socialists and Accountants clamour for the full house of laughing people.[link] Real Artists work to make sure each individual understands their solitary psychosis (Bond) or Catastrophe (Barker.) Brecht is replaced by Müller. Clowns are permitted - as long as there aren’t belly laughs. All these angry privileged dudes defending the well educated against the mindless mob.

I’m being reductive and a bit mean. Bitter in the way that only an ex-disciple can be. And I still carry the torch.

But in the end, I have no interest in arguing the nature of dramatic literature.

I am not satisfied with either relational aesthetics or commercial musicals. I understand that the vagueness, repetition and locality of populist strategies have (and continue to have) devastating outcomes for people, environments and movements that I treasure and care for.

But I want to fight against alienation and anomie, no matter where it comes from. I don’t want a togetherness that is without laughter, singing, sex, dancing, kindness and quiet moments.

And that’s the story I want to tell - because it is the story I want to live.

  1. “I like stories, I just don’t like plots” - Harmony Korine in a talk in Torotonto a bunch of years back. ↩