Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I like Elizabeth LeCompte

Wooster Group, Hamlet (2006). Photo Paula Court

Everything I come up with in my head, I put it on stage. But in 90% of the cases it doesn't work, precisely because it's in my head.

I think about what the audience will think. Every single moment. I want to be there, every evening, and observe what people do when they watch the play. If I feel them disengage or feel uncomfortable, it forces me to think about what I really want.

- Elizabeth LeCompte, artistic director of The Wooster Group, in an interview with the French review Mouvement (no.41, oct-dec. 2006). (my translation)

Do the above two quotes appear innocent to you? If they do, you probably don't have much contact with contemporary performance. These two sentences are sure to shock a lot of the avant-garde purists out there. The second sentence is simply a shocker: a seemingly avant-garde artist thinking about the audience? How dare she! She is supposed to be focused on art, on her experience, on the stage, on the essence, or on the periphery, but hers and hers only. The public should be the witness of something beautiful, not a criterium of artistic choice... Oh, how tremendously, absolutely silly. How pretentious, snobbish, irritating. How old and tired and, silly, just silly. And naive.
Notice LeCompte doesn't say the public's opinion decides. She doesn't say she changes everything if the public doesn't like it. But it makes her rethink. In her own words, "it forces" her. She doesn't feel there is really any choice. Is there? Certainly. You can turn your back to the ignorant multitudes and do your own thing your own way for your own self. You can have an inner voice that says this or that. You can be forever faithful to this voice. It's up to you. Or you can have a little modesty. And listen. And respond. Or not. But listen.
The first quote has to do with creativity on stage. LeCompte has no problem saying she has ideas first, then she comes into the rehearsal space and tries them (all!) out. Instead of doing it the traditional, "new" way, devising everything together in one pretty melting pot. Instead of making everything appear out of improvisation, as is expected from a performance group. And if that were not enough, she admits that yes, 90% of her ideas suck on stage. And she doesn't see any problem with that. And it works.
(at least I hope it does. if you want to confirm - go see The Wooster Group's Hamlet at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, Nov.4-10 at the Centre Pompidou.)

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