Since the start of the year I’ve been on attachment at the National Theatre Studio, taking some time out to think about my practice in theatre and trying to get my assumptions shaken and my habituations disturbed by people who are smarter than me. The most unexpected turn in this incredibly valuable process has been a complete reframing of my anxiety and discomfort around scripts. Often I’ve worked without scripts, except as a record of what’s already happened in the making of a piece — for all sorts of reasons, the model of writing a script in advance which is then handed on to a director, a bunch of actors, a creative team to “interpret” really bothers me. But an early intervention in this reflective process made me wonder if, when I turned my back (mostly) on scripted work a few years ago, I could instead have asked myself a more liberating question. If I don’t like how scripts are and what they do, what else might they be instead? What other models could we turn to, to make a different kind of script that could allay all those political / ethical / aesthetic / methodological concerns by which I’ve been constrained?
I’ve just spent the last week of my attachment working with some of the actors currently resident at the National on this constellation of questions, and in particular, looking at a bunch of possible examples from other areas of artistic practice. It’s really instructive to note the incredibly rudimentary technology of the play-script/text (great at indicating words to be spoken, but tending from lousy downwards at anything else) when compared with some of what’s happened in poetry, music and visual art over the past fifty or more years.
Below is a selection of some of the ’scores’ (a loose word, but serviceable in the circumstances) that we’ve worked with this week. Some of these are intended as works to be performed, one way or another, and some are not; none of them are intended to be realized as theatre pieces, but we found that many of them could successfully be ’staged’ (especially given more time than we had). A whole bunch of other questions about authorship, interpretation and fidelity immediately open up, but that’s fine. There will be other weeks, other attachments.
Asking “what else could scripts look like?” is not specifically or necessarily about breaking conventions or destroying theatre as we now know it, but simply about enlarging currently meagre resources — not only for the writer, but for everyone involved in theatre practice. To ask what else a script can be is of course to ask what more theatre can do, what more can be done with it: and how we describe our ideas in sharing them, how we notate our work, radically changes what we are able to imagine it’s possible for our work to do.
How would you perform these scores?
Michael Basinski, from The Germ of Creativity (2003)
Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘Carbon Dating System Versus Scratchproof Tape’ (1982)
Cathy Berberian, from Stripsody (1966)
Cornelius Cardew, ‘Schooltime Special’ (1968)
Cornelius Cardew, from Treatise (1963-67)
Bob Cobbing & Jeremy Adler, from Notes from the Correspondence (1980)
Ken Friedman, ‘Center Piece’ (2003)
David Miller, Untitled (Visual Sonnets)
Franz Mon, ‘Kandidat der Kanalisation’ (1997)
Jeff Nuttall, from Pieces of Poetry (1966)
Maggie O’Sullivan, from murmur (tasks of mourning) (2004)
Cy Twombly, ‘Apollo and the Artist’ (1975)
and three by me:
from Blurt Studies (2009)
‘gospel’ from Wonderful Christmastime (2009)
from ‘handprint/mouth configuration schematic (ON THE FLY)’ (collaboration with Jonny Liron, 2009)