Andrew Manley (Colorado College)
Performing Beckett: Site Specific Explorations and Adventures
After a long career in the United Kingdom as an actor and Artistic Director of Regional Repertory Theatres I came to the US nearly five years ago to head the graduate acting program at Ohio University (later moving to Colorado College) - the escape from the tyranny of the box office, which allowed me only one Beckett production, Happy Days, enabled me to embark on several explorations of performing Beckett - a practical and perhaps non-academic approach using my skills as an actor and director.
In the ongoing debate on how to stage Beckett the possibility of moving his work away from conventional theatre spaces has been largely overlooked. Over the past 5 years I have mounted/directed student productions of his work in a wide and varied range everyday spaces - streets, parks, regular rooms - exploring and experimenting with the plays themselves and their interpretive relationship to the particular public space they might be in - car park, alleyway, busy street, outside a bar (called 'Luckys'!), a long wall, library entrance, an attic room, in front of a diner, a stairway, a lake, a hallway, a sandpit and many more. Sometimes the variable has even included the weather! At the same time it has been a journey of discovering audience reaction in such public and perhaps unexpected places - the reaction of the audience that knows it is happening in advance and the audience for whom it is a complete surprise.
These explorations exposed questions (the more we did the more the questions kept coming) and it is these that I would seek to address in my paper in addition to giving an account of the productions: Does Beckett need a stage? Or a theatre? Is there a greater richness to the plays in everyday surroundings? Does simply moving the plays to the unexpected places mean we view them differently? And more vividly? And does it make them more accessible? Does a multiplicity of venues help or hinder? How does the venue determine the interpretation? Or the actors'performance? How do audiences respond to a Beckett play when they see it without warning?
Most importantly I would like to combine the paper with a presentation of some Beckett work in the public spaces of Tallahassee. I would expect to do this predominantly with students from Colorado College and the work would be devised during the fall in response to particular spaces in the city after I visit in the summer - and then presented in conjunction, and perhaps even simultaneously, with my paper.
Very briefly, explorations so far have included:
1) A production of WAITING FOR GODOT with a student cast of 42. The whole play was broken into small scenes and each scene allotted to 2-4 students. The play was then performed at night in the central streets of Athens, Ohio. The audience was provided with a map and was able to journey round and see the whole play if they wished as each scene was performed in an endless loop for two hours. In addition to the overall exploration of setting and fragmentation, every 'scene' had a radically different interpretive approach.
2) A production of several of the short plays in a State park. Again the audience journeyed to see the plays, this time along the sandy beach of the lake in the park and again at night. The starting point was FOOTFALLS with the performers actually in the lake, and included, amongst other plays, ROUGH FOR RADIO 1 (performed in a passing canoe out on the lake) and ROCKABY with the performer on a small jetty across the other side of the lake.
3) A production of a series of the shorter plays each in a small room of an enormously large attic of an old college building. Each play was performed in an endless loop for 2 hours and the audience was able to journey where they liked seeing as little or as much of each play as they liked. In addition to the plays there were a number of installations making reference to Beckett's work.