I'm this particular guy who has to go through these particular paces. It's not so much that I'm putting forward my personality, but because of the various actions I have to do, I'm presenting my personality in how I field those actions. That is the acting in it. I'm a guy given a character, a performing persona, and I'm going through these little structures and how I field them is how I live in this piece.
Task and vision, vision in the form of a task.
(John Ashbery, “Years of Indiscretion”)
A discussion of Willem Dafoe is inevitably a discussion of the Wooster Group, the performance collective of which he is a member and which has been the most important formative influence on his approach to acting/performing. Dafoe draws a distinction between these activities; his hesitation to make it categorical reflects the Group's multi-tracked, polysemic production style. The essential structural principle of its work is juxtaposition, often of extremely dissimilar elements (e.g., a reading of Our Town and a comedy routine in blackface in Routes 1 & 9). The performers refer to and practice a variety of performance modes and styles in each piece, ranging from realistic acting to task-based collage (Point Judith), from work on familiar texts to recreations of the Group's own processes and experiences. The Group's current (at time of writing) production, LSD ( … Just the High Points …), is, amongst other things, a performance compendium which includes all of the interests just mentioned and restates images and concerns explored in previous pieces.
The baseline of the Group's work is a set of performance personae adopted by its members, roughly comparable to the “lines” in a Renaissance theatre troupe. These personae, while not fixed, recur from piece to piece and reflect to some extent the personalities and interactions of the collective's members.