imomus (imomus) wrote,

If theatre is the world in microcosm, what's tabletop theatre?

From Nose To Mouth, the film Hisae acted in last year, is now available in its entirety in the new SpecialTen DVD magazine. You can see a clip of it on their site. The clip also shows Silvia Mercuriali as an ice skater, and last night Hisae and I met with Silvia in Kreuzberg to experience Etiquette, a miniaturised theatre piece (running as part of HAU's experimental Cut and Paste series) she's put together with artistic partner Anton Hampton (they call themselves Rotozaza).

Basically, "Etiquette" is tabletop theatre: an experiment in which two people, sitting at a table in the theatre cafe, slip on headphones for thirty minutes and follow a series of instructions and dialogue lines fed to them. There is no audience, apart from yourselves and the people glancing over from other tables in the cafe. The props are some little figures, some white blu-tak, a blackboard "stage", a tiny LED torch, a pipette you fill with water to make it rain on the palm of your partner's hand (which becomes a hilly landscape at one point), a notepad and pen, and a stamp.

The story coming over the phones (via a Dolby DVD containing two interlocking sets of stereo instructions) didn't make much sense to me -- there were snatches of Ibsen's "A Doll's House", some excerpts from cop show Colombo, a dialogue in a cafe between a philosopher and a prostitute, some instructions relating to a woman leaving her husband, some flirtation, and something to do with blood in a bathroom. There was no room for improvisation on the part of the performers, and reading your lines -- or hearing your partner's lines -- was difficult with the headphones on and background noise (including music) in the cafe.

Some interesting questions came out of the conversation we had with Silvia after performing the play. She got us in free, but what's the financial etiquette here? Normally the performers have to pay to do this play. Shouldn't they both pay (as the audience) and get paid (as the performers)? Shouldn't they give ten euros as they arrive, then get ten euros as they leave?

We thought about art pieces that work by some of the same principles -- Yoko Ono's "Instructions for Paintings" (early 1960s), for instance, which allows amateurs to make paintings she merely specifies, or recent Relational Aesthetics stuff like Tino Sehgal's piece at the ICA, where he got children to guide adults around the building. Rotozaza's next piece takes place in Japan, at a festival of art in cars. They'll drive two members of the audience (who'll gradually discover they've been "kidnapped") in a car around the Shikoku island of Kochi.

What was interesting about "Etiquette" was how it reproduced the basic theatre experience in miniature. You were suddenly not just an unprepared (and amateur) actor repeating lines, but someone defining spaces on the blackboard stage, lighting props (I threw a lovely spot onto the blu-tak at one point, I was quite proud of the way I lit it) and moving tiny figures around. It resembled child's play, a doll's house or puppet theatre. It also reminded you of one of theatre's great strengths -- the way it can set up and play out the consequences of a series of etiquettes which differ from those operating in the everyday world, and whose arbitrariness contains the suggestion that all etiquettes are arbitrary. If the world is a kind of theatre, and the theatre is a kind of world in microcosm, the malleability of etiquettes in theatre has big implications for the malleability of the world itself. We could pinch the world into new shapes as easily as we pinch and stretch a blob of blu-tak. If theatre is the world in microcosm, tabletop theatre is theatre in microcosm; it contains both theatre and world, shrunk down to fingertip scale.

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