By Heart - FTA Field Notes

Part of Field Notes from the Festivals, a series of posts, rough and not very edited of my experiences in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto from theFestival Transamerique, OFFTA, Magnetic North Theatre Festival and Luminato. Subscribe VIA EMAIL or RSS

By Heart

RATING: One invites ten and the potential for eternity no matter the behaviour of bastards.

Remaining shows:
MAY 30, 9:00 PM
MAY 31, 7:00 PM
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Watching work in a language I don't understand means quotes should be taken with salt and there is much I didn't understand.

But the task of By Heart is so clear and simple, many of the dynamics outside of language-as-meaning, that mostly my feeling is of understanding.

There are 10 empty, individual chairs in a line on the white floor. An affable charming man sits on the 11th chair - more a stool - in the centre. There are crates of book. The man is reading a book and looking up at us from time to time. There is no doubt that we are in the same room.

Later, when a rumble from above is heard, Tiego Rodrigues stops for a moment and there is an assumption that sound is an effect for us.

"You can hear that?" "Yes" "Ok good. It's not part of the show"

The shared project that is part of the show starts simply enough - charming and non-threatening, Tiego asks 10 people to join him on stage and fill the seats. The show will not start until all the chairs are covered.

"I too am allergic to interactive theatre"

This takes so little time I worry that the 10 want too much to be on stage - a form of death to interactive theatre. My fear turns out to be my issue - not theirs.

These ten will first be a reflection of us as the storytelling begins.

Tiego is a lover of books and the power of books and they are, in ways, the subject of the performance.

But the spoken and remembered language - the capacity for books to be eaten and their words to continue.

The oral tradition for the postdramatic set. ("Did you mean 'post-traumatic'" asks google. Maybe I did.)

The ten guests are asked to hold books that, opened, have character names inscribed ("George Steiner" "Boris Pasternak" "Ray Bradbury" "William Shakespeare" etc...) They are the visual aids and the appropriate dissonance that allow Tiego to simply talk to us and still satisfy the wandering eye and dynamics of group shows.

French is not his first language either - he speaks slower, in a relationship with having learned a text "by heart" in foreign language. I wonder if it helps him be more rational or generous on stage. His intentionality helps my insufficient Nova Scotia public school French hold on to a few more words.

In his stories, there is a journey that involves his grandmother and finding books, there is World War II drama and there is Shakespeare (English => Russian => Portuguese => French.) I am missing many details.

There is Sonnet 30 by Shakespeare and there is the main event of the show: "ingesting" text.

sonnet 30

Teigo is the teacher and conductor of a poetry choir of 10. First verses are learned together, latter lines broken up. Between there are more stories. Biographic and literary.

Sonnet 30 since it was used by Pasternak as an act of resistance to Stalin.

"What you carry with you the bastards can't touch."

There is a space for politics.

Program Quote
From the program.

The performance of memorizing is the grace and question of the night. Tiego is a open presence, a teacher able to be available to the student and aware of the audience.

It is a beautiful but not un-troubling act.

The memorization - by heart - is through rhythm and rote, not by necessarily understanding the meaning. A friend who speaks French tells me she doubts all the participants (a few of whom are ¿high school? students) understand all the words they are saying since it is the formal French not spoken as much.

There is also a moment I fear that the work might expose a cruelty and incompetence in the audience. A young woman on stage is having a hard time learning her line. She is obviously nervous. I can see every laugh at a slip or scornful tut-tut from audience land on her mind and body and derail her efforts "to get it right".

I am reminded of a story Anne Bogart tells about Ariane Mnouchkine. From my memory, since I can't remember which book, interview or workshop I know the story from.

there is a piece being tried out in front of a large workshop of students. Whatever is going on onstage isn't going so well - there is a lack of attention in the watchers and the delicate work is faltering. Bogart describes Mnouchkine turning to the audience and telling them "This will only work if everyone in the room wants it to work" The audiences attention will produce the show they watch. [See below for update]

I want to turn around and tell this story to the women chatting, disdaining and tut-tut-ing behind me. I am filled with generation rage and the work feels about to tip into humiliation and oppressive behaviour. Taigo solves the moment by walking with the young woman off stage and working with her, away from our eyes, for a couple minutes. Following this close work, they return and she nails it. But I am left with anxiety and a broken complicity with my fellow audience members.

My friends on the other side of the room report a very different experience of that moment - that the energy they felt around them was supportive and generous. Which reminds me of this:


Later, as show is moving toward conclusion and the dramaturgically inevitable full recitation of the sonnet by the 10 guests I can see the young woman working over her line to herself over and over.

Watching this dynamic of desire, pressure and vulnerability is remarkable, a subject of the evening and handled with skill and generosity by Rodrigues. And walks close to all the traps that surround

Modes of productions

Any time I am at a show, I cannot help but think also on the modes and means of production - how did these shows get made? Why is this the one I get to see now.

By Heart hacks the austerity of the international / national touring model. Sick of one person shows, and unable or uninterested in bringing 11 people across the ocean, By Heart is an elegant intervention.

The imaginative rigour is, in part:

How to make an interesting work in the current, deeply boring, scarcity driven, conditions of production and dissemination.

I feel mixed about the success of these attempts.

Do these kinds of successes prove that "it can be done" and therefore the death of imagination through poverty that my generation of makers have suffered isn't so bad after all? Because it is that bad after all.

My returning question: Can we play the conditions and change the conditions at the same time?

I return to Festival Central. Impermanent drawing with light that also is a dance.


Tiago Rodrigues (b. 1977) - Mundo Perfeito

"O Mundo Perfeito has been fighting the forces of evil since 2003, the year when it was born in a kitchen of a two bedroom suburban apartment in Amadora. The company’s name translates the irony of a critic way of regarding the present and the idealism of an optimistic behaviour towards the future. It is also a name that makes people smile, for whatever reason." - > website

"Founded in 2003, his company Mundo Perfeito incarnates a critical, stubborn optimism. This small theatre vehicle flies in the face of limited means and creates ambitious projects." - FTA Program

I feel solidarity with this.

I feel envy and hope that an artist of my generation with these questions is running the national theatre.

Steiner on memory and language in Real Presences (source):

To learn by heart is to afford the text or music an indwelling clarity and life-force. Ben Jonson’s term, “ingestion”, is precisely right. What we know by heart becomes an agency in our consciousness, a ‘pace-maker’ in the growth and vital complication of our identity.

Under censorship and persecution, much of the finest in modern Russian poetry was passed from mouth to mouth and recited inwardly. The indispensable reserves of protest, of authentic record, of irony, in Akhmatova, in Mandelstam and in Pasternak, have been preserved and mutely published in the editions of personal memory.

Anne Bogart, And Then, You Act. p 55.

Anne Bogart

Produced By Teatro Nacional Dona Maria Ii (Lisbon)
After An Original Creation By Mundo Perfeito
Created And Performed By Tiago Rodrigues
Written By Tiago Rodrigues
With Excerpts And Quotes By Ray Bradbury + Joseph Brodsky + George Steiner + William Shakespeare
Props And Costume Design Magda Bizarro
Production Manager Magda Bizarro
Executive Producer Rita Mendes
Technical Support Amarílis Felizes

Coproduction Maria Matos Teatro Municipal (Lisbonne) + O Espaço Do Tempo (Montemor-O-Novo) Presented In Association With Hyatt Regency Montréal + Festival International De La Littérature (Fil) + Cinquième Salle + Carrefour International De Théâtre (Québec)

Premiered At Teatro Maria Matos, Lisbon, On November 20, 2013