Academic journal article TheatreForum

Number Eleven Theatre's the Prague Visitor: A Journey into a Canadian Company's Creative Process

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Number Eleven Theatre's the Prague Visitor: A Journey into a Canadian Company's Creative Process

Article excerpt

In Eugenio Barba's The Secret Art of the Performer, Fernandino Taviani asks the following question: "Do those who make a performance think of it as a machine or as a plant?" (259). In the case of result-oriented approaches, Taviani notes that the performance is considered to be a machine that works properly only "if it corresponds exactly to the original plan and if each part functions correctly and at the right time" (259). He then contrasts this machine-like performance with one that unfolds as would a growing plant, and remarks that "the processes which form a plant are not merely the assembling of its vital parts," so that "the final form a plant takes never corresponds to a plan, it is the result-imaginable but unforeseeable-of an organic process" (259). In the case of Barba's particular approach, Taviani concludes that "the problem, then, is the process of work, not the planning of the way it will end" (261). Given that the Canadian company Number Eleven Theatre belongs to what may be termed the North American Barba diaspora, it is precisely the question of creative process that I will address in this case study of the making of The Prague Visitor, a production that premiered in Toronto on 13 March 2003.

The main characteristic of Number Eleven Theatre is the company's commitment to the process-oriented conception of performance described by Taviani. Consequently, it would be pointless to treat The Prague Visitor as a machine and to strive to establish how its various parts function together to create meaning. Indeed, the spectator's freedom to view this piece through the prism of a multifarious network of personal associations is so pivotal to the company's approach that there are necessarily as many interpretations of The Prague Visitor as there are audience members at any given performance. Furthermore, given the collaborative nature of the work process that led to the creation of this piece, it is important when analyzing it to go beyond the level of possible interpretations and to investigate the complex ways in which the process informs the performance. In contrast with more conventional ways of creating theatre, the actors and the director that participate in this process may be considered "co-authors:" on the one hand, the actors work on the creation of a precise physical score based on personal research, while on the other hand, the director organizes, edits, and orchestrates these actions into an overall structure that constitutes the montage. Co-authorship also includes the audience to the extent that it actively participates in the construction of signification.

Although Number Eleven Theatre is a relatively new company, its conception of performance will be familiar to those audiences in Canada, the United States, and Europe who have seen productions by Primus Theatre, Theatre Labyrinth (recently renamed Wishhounds: see TF #23), the North American Cultural Laboratory, and the New World Performance Laboratory. What these Canadian and American groups all have in common is their emphasis on a type of physical and vocal training inherited from Barba's and Grotowski's respective investigations of the actor's process. These companies are mostly concerned with producing actor-based experimental pieces that do not rely on the director's interpretation of a specific dramatic text. Members of the Grotowski and Barba diasporas choose to make a long-term commitment to "the work," as they often put it, that is to say, a commitment to a specific approach to training, rehearsal, and performance. Working within the same group year after year is necessarily very different from pursuing an acting career in commercial theatre or the entertainment industry at large. The most demanding and challenging aspect of process-oriented work may be its collaborative dimension yet, when successful, such artistic collaboration can be immensely rewarding for all participants, as the routes taken by each lead to unexpected outcomes within an imaginary world echoing multiple voices and, in the case of The Prague Visitor, multiple languages, since English, Hebrew, German, and Czech make up the textual montage. …

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