For those who love gold, a trip to Dubai’s Old Gold Souq is a dream. A person may or may not know what she will be looking for; a ring, a necklace or perhaps a bracelet. But once in the labyrinth-like streets of the semi-covered bazaar, this person won’t take too long to get a bit dizzy from all the glittery gold surrounding her in the hundreds and hundreds of shops and stalls. Before she knows it, she can hardly differentiate a ring from a bracelet, or an emerald from a sapphire. She will need time to digest all the things that she had seen, sleep over it, come back another day, scientifically filter the images before her and then choose the right jewel.
Similar to this was my interest in studying the module about theatre directors. I did not quite know exactly what to expect, although I imagined that I would be covering at least Appia, Stanislavski and Brecht (the ring, the necklace and the bracelet). Along the studies, however, I was pretty surprised with the number of renowned directors who helped shape theatre’s history through their innovative productions’ style. Duke of Meininger, Brahm, Antoine, Craig, Meyerhold, Piscator and so many others! What a layman doesn’t know – I thought, faced with so much information…
But it is precisely the amount of information and the variety of techniques that made me feel at first a bit lost and overwhelmed, like in the streets of the Gold Souq. Then, bit by bit I started digesting the information, trying to make sense out of it, despite sometimes telling myself that once in a while a theorist might have exaggerated here and there in order to sound more scholarly or in order to fill up pages of commissioned academic books/essays for things that not always require so much philosophy and theory but just human understanding.
By the end of this module, thanks to the time I took to sleep over many aspects of the history of the theatre director, I now recognize a ring from a bracelet, and an emerald from a sapphire. I understand why those particular directors were chosen to be discussed in the units by understanding why they were game-changers.
Today I can say that I also see with clarity why it is impossible to say that Antoine was better than Irving, or that Brecht’s style is better than Stanislavski’s. Time defined what was needed in theatre and the directors who stood out and made history understood that they had an urge not only to try out new things, be adventurous, but also to make theatre revolution in a time when a revolution was overdue.
Nowadays every theatre practitioner will be in debt to the great names of the past for their ingenious innovations, however I ask myself where is the theatre revolution of the early twenty-first century? Haven’t we seen it all? Hopping from one production to the next in Edinburgh Fringe Festival, or in any other city big enough to offer program variety one will notice that there are so many styles from so many epochs in different venues or even mixed all together that apart from the heavy use of technology, it is hard to detect what is really ground-breaking, straight-out-of-the-oven fresh. Ok, Katie Mitchell is making movies on stage while the audience doesn’t know what action to follow with some many things going on at the same time – and that is new – but I have mostly the feeling that our time now could be called as Patch-Work Theatre because one will pick a staging technique from one director, then a bit from another and either choose one from the other, or like I mentioned before, mix it up.
With so many techniques to follow, a director will have a hard time by analysing which technique to choose to suit that play better, but s/he will also have to give thoughts of whether the audience of that specific location would perhaps not prefer something more traditional, or indeed more daring. When all the ways lead to gold, here the mounted production, an educated director will need to step back and look at the paths with a cold and sharp eye before choosing it blindly from so many options impulsively. With a set of pre-requisites, be them from the producer or from the environment per se, a director must know what to look for despite the sea of glittery temptations, just like a woman buying everything that she can put her hands on in the bazaar just to realize later that she is broke.
I can’t recall where I heard it first, but once some renowned living theatre director said something like this: “To be a good theatre director you should know extremely well about your business, really be an authority, or know nothing at all”. The latter option intrigued me for a long time, but I believe to have solved the riddle: When you know nothing about theatre you can be truly creative, fresh and even naïve and still approach a production with originality not having anybody to quote from. Maybe the director will be making colossal mistakes and/or repeating many successful things tried in the past by other directors without knowing about it, but with some luck something extraordinary could happen for the fact that this director sees the production with such virgin eyes. Why can’t the light come from a glass floor instead of from the railing track, or why can’t the audience make the show themselves faced with some topic, about themselves really, when looking at their own images from the mirrors placed on stage and – turning thus actors into audiences and vice-versa? Possibilities are endless for the virgin, who might be in a very good position of making many right choices by instinct and not by intellect. It is like going to the Gold Souq with specific amount of money and a dream of purchasing a jewel. She will enter a shop, ask the salesman what she can get for her money and choose the piece according to her primal instinct. ‘Yes! This is what I like!’ She will not feel doubtful and walk around the Souq looking for other options.
As for the educated director, if s/he has the capability of filtering information and of knowing what ingredients to pick to make that specific dish, well, then I guess that together with some experimental lust side by side with discipline and a sharp eye, marvellous results can materialize. It is like going to the Souq for a second or third time after some profound reflection, having weighted the pros and cons, she will know which jewel has the better value for money and will outlive fashion trends.
Having briefly talked about the virgin and the expert, where is the middle person? Well, she should be buying indigenous ornaments (cheap yet interesting) in a street fair in Peru instead of jewels in Dubai, just like be staging short plays in alternative venues until she feels strong enough to try to play the game for real, because at least if she makes a mistake, she will be able to stand up again, but in the spotlight of life it would be better to wait for the right moment, when she has money and/or knowledge, not to mention courage, to look people in the eye and tell them what her choices are.
Confidence is what sells, not doubt. The person can still be open for suggestions but know what she wants to achieve:
‘I want to buy a ruby ring with yellow gold band’.
‘Ok, what shape should the stone be and what is your budget?’
‘My budget is X and I have no specific shape in mind. Show me what you got and then I will decide. But listen! Don’t show me emerald, sapphire or diamond rings. I want a ruby ring with yellow gold band. Got it? I’ve seen too much of a good thing, all colours of stones imaginable, but now I know what suits my purpose best…’
Luciana B. Veit