Emma Geliot's picture

 

The Exception and the Rule

We sent Ric Bower to test out his thespian credentials as part of Mirza and Butler's exploration of the political power of theatre.

As part of their Artes Mundi 6 presentation Karen Mirza and Brad Butler invited some good upstanding Cardiff art-folk to stage Bertolt Brecht s The Exception and the Rule, one of his short Learning Plays. Mirza and Butler employed techniques from the Theatre of the Oppressedthe vehicle of Brazilian theatre practitioner and political activist Augusto Boal. The ten eager guinea pigs, or players as we would be known, met in an upper room at Chapter to share six intense workshop sessions culminating in a one off performance at the Temple of Peace in Cathays, Cardiff.

The Exception and the Rule Performance

We are about to tell you the story of a journey. An exploiter and two of the exploited are the travellers. Examine carefully the behaviour of these people. Find it surprising though not unusual. Inexplicable though normal, incomprehensible though it is the rule Bertolt Brecht, extract from The Exception and the Rule After the first few hours of running around blindfold, howling, barking and contorting my inflexible frame in response to a myriad of complex stimuli, the awkwardness that arises from unfamiliarity dissolved between us. It was a Toronto Blessing met at full tilt, there was simply no room for self-consciousness.

The Exception and the Rule - Performance Shot

Any expectations we might have brought with us were best left at the door; this was easy for me, as it happened, I had never before done anything that even approached acting. I did try for a job once; some people might have described my interview performance as acting- it involved jelly-babies -but that was it, the sum total of my experience. I didn't get the job.

The Exception and the Rule  - Ric waiting to perform

Each of the theatrical crutches we might have hoped to lean on were carefully removed; first the idea of a stage, which was not in front of but in amongst the audience, was removed. Then the idea of audience itself was taken away, they were no longer straightforward spectators at all but spect-actors; with just a clap they could involve themselves in proceedings as the oprimado/oprimada, The Hero. Karen and Brad were veteran moulders of what has to be the most dangerously fluid form of forum theatre ever devised, but we always had the sense that we were in safe hands.

The Exception and the Rule- Performance shot

Brecht's script was, just a means to end, a spindly structure from which to hang Boal's range of playful activities, a springboard to energise our verbal improvisations, our body sculpting, our mirroring and our multiple manifestations of Brecht's characters. Where the characters were thin we built them up with back stories, when they were cruel we felt the pain they caused and inhabited the sadness of their victims. The audience were invited to become part of the workshop, a hard won, robustly egalitarian space.

The Exception and the Rule - Performance shot

We were drawn into a scenario witnessed by one of the players a few nights earlier on a bus. The mis en scene, involved a transwoman, her friend, some young chavs and a lot of alcohol. As one might have expected, the narrative was not an uplifting one; it did not reinforce faith in the innate goodness of human nature. The scenario was replayed repeatedly allowing the hive mind, the egalitarian whole, to seek alternative outcomes that, hopefully, would not lead to unnecessary humiliation or bloodshed. The responses that emerged were both refreshingly spontaneous and genuinely provocative.

The Exception and the Rule - Performance Shot

It was the unenviable responsibility of The Joker, assumed by Butler, to weave together the disparate elements of the experience, to maintain balance as we hovered constantly between creative spontaneity and total chaos. At times I felt frustrated that we had, in my mindperformed certain vignettes more adeptly, or more poignantly behind closed doors; Butler would consistently steer us away from these zones of safety, indeed from any comforting certainties. To judge this piece as a production would be a mistake, it would be missing the point. It was a process of public metamorphosis, a journey of transformation. The friendships that were formed over the six days will be lasting ones.

The players included:Chris Beaumont, Ric Bower, Brad Butler, Angela Colderick, James Ellis, Vivian C Ezugha, Melissa Hinkin, Tabitha Sue Fry, Jemma Llewellyn, Karen Mirza, Kelly Price, Claire Prosser.

All Photographs:The Exception and the Rule, performance at Artes Mundi 6 in collaboration with The Museum of non Participation, photography: Warren Orchard

www.mirza-butler.net

www.artesmundi.org