Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

A Theatre of Difference

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

A Theatre of Difference

Article excerpt

This is the text of the annual Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, delivered by Daniel Keene at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, on Sunday 19 November 2006. Rex Cramphorn was one of the key theatre practitioners to come out of the renaissance of Australian theatre in the 1960s and 1970s. His work ranged from the experimental to the classical, and was especially marked by his total commitment to the idea of artists working together, sharing and developing skills. Each year, a leading theatre practitioner is invited to deliver a lecture to celebrate Rex Cramphorn's memory.

I believed that my most important function was to establish an atmosphere in which the grace of creativity might fall on any member of the group, giving him or her the right to lead the work.

Rex Cramphorn

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares

Hebrews (13. 2)

We must not fall into the error ... of judging a people by the politicians who happen to be in power.

Walter Murdoch

Rex Cramphorn was someone I never knew. I never saw any of his work. That meeting simply didn't happen. I heard of him, of course, from actors who were inspired by working with him and from people who had seen his productions and couldn't forget them. But no, I wasn't there; and I'm certain that I'm the poorer for not having experienced his work. That's the thing about theatre: you have to experience it, you have to be there when it happens. Of course Rex Cramphorn's ideas, his vision of the theatre, still exist. But you won't necessarily find these things written down in books. You might be more likely to find them in the way an actor moves on stage, in the way in which an ensemble chooses to work together or in the attitude of a director towards a text. Cramphorn's work as a director continues, transmitted through the work of those he influenced. He is still there when it happens.

This is not unusual in the theatre. The living always share the stage with the dead, because the theatre is a place of both memory and presence. In the Kabuki theatre of Japan, an actor can be given the name of a famous predecessor. This is considered a great honour and is celebrated by a special performance, a shumei. In this way, Kabuki actors' names are handed down from generation to generation. The actor who takes on the name of an illustrious predecessor also takes on a responsibility; he is keeping alive the work ofthat predecessor, and his own work will be judged in the light of his predecessor's achievements.

Throughout the performance of a Kabuki play I attended last year in Tokyo, the audience collectively voiced its approval of an actor's work by shouting his name. This happened several times during the play, whenever the actor - playing the lead role in a traditional, well-known play - did something that demonstrated his skill, his command of the stage, his courage, his energy. The name they were shouting - Kanzaburo - had been recently given to the actor; he was Kanzaburo XVIIl. The name was generations old. Each time his name was shouted, a palpable thrill went through the audience. This joy, this excitement was generated not only by what was happening on stage, but by what had happened before, perhaps generations ago, when a previous Kanzaburo had graced the stage, delighting the audience. It was an extraordinary experience.

Here in Australia, we are a little more reticent in our expressions of approval of an actor's performance. But for me, every Sally Banner who appears on the stage with a clap of thunder carries with her the memories of all the Sallys that have stood in The Chapel Perilous before her. When Sonya promises Vanya that the two of them will one day find rest from their labours, she is speaking with and for the generations of Sonyas who have despaired and loved and hoped. She is a new Sonya, a different one, but she is the same.

It might seem that I am confusing the actor with the role she plays; they are of course different things. …

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