RICHARD FOREMAN INTERVIEWED BY STEPHEN MOSBLECH, INTERN, 11.2.06
STEPHEN MOSBLECH. Your unedited notebooks are available on the Ontological site, to be used by writers and directors to generate theater pieces of their own. These texts can be unrestrictedly cut. Also your more recent plays are archived on Ubuweb along with sound files from Now that Communism is Dead… and your film Strong Medicine. Is this an important project to have your plays available online for free?
RICHARD FOREMAN. I’ve always made the plays free to any group, unless it’s a big theater that can really afford to pay a royalty. That doesn’t happen very often—it’s happened once or twice, but other theaters, they’re just free to use them.
SM. How will the recent “theatrical scores” from Zomboid and Mr. Sleepy plug into this?
RF. I have no idea. It’s a problem and I don’t know if it will ever work. The only way I can see it working is with a lot of photographs, like a photograph on one page and then all these other individual aphoristic lines on the other page as a kind of collage. I haven’t given it that much thought because I felt probably these plays can’t be published. It could be published that way if some publisher had the money and wanted to do it. But just to publish the text, I would be perfectly happy if they would just publish the aphorisms, that’s fine. I mean, we do have scripts we use in rehearsal, so I guess that could be published but I’m not sure what people would make of it. You know the publishers insisted after my second book or something that I write in a lot of stage directions which I have mixed feelings about; in Unbalancing Acts it was the scripts without any stage directions as a kind of open field poem and in many ways I preferred that and I would be perfectly happy to publish these texts also, just with all the things that are said as kind of an open field poem. Just statement after statement, both onscreen and live and then people make of it what they will. But I don’t know if anyone would actually be interested in that.
SM. But in regard to the actual video itself, would you be open to other directors or theatrical conductors using the video either in its complete form or re-edited?
RF. I don’t see why not. It’s a little more problematic, I mean I’m not going to go into the business of making videos for people, so I don’t see exactly how it would work, but in principle I have no objection.
SM. We talked briefly, I think it was last week, about the fact that Bresson’s movie Au Hasard Balthazar, to an extent, conditioned the use of donkey props in Zomboid.
RF. Yeah. I wouldn’t say it conditioned it very much. It’s just obviously I was reminded that that was a great movie and it had donkeys in it. Other than that I’m not sure how much it conditioned it. When I began making theater Bresson was one of the people I thought about a lot of course, especially his use of actors.
SM. Are there any filmic precedents that, in any way, are seeding your use of the airplanes in Mr. Sleepy?
RF. No. I don’t think so. You mentioned Come and See, but I certainly wasn’t thinking of that. I have used the image before, in Egyptology; the play opens with Kate. Kate Manheim was playing the lead. She sort of tumbled on stage as if she had just been thrown out of an airplane that crashed. Other than that…I mean I have used airplanes before, in Maria Del Bosco there was an airplane the actors carried around, a little baby wrote on it and so forth, so you know it’s one of those archetypal images like so many others that I’ve used. But I can’t think of any other particular, specific big airplane things in a play before. The image relates a little to me, to something that I haven’t used but I was always very impressed with—you know there is the famous photograph of the big steam engine crashing through the Gare Montparnasse. There is a big picture of the steam engine falling out of the station and down into the street. I’ve always been interested in that image. Maybe that had something to do with it.
SM. My next question pertains somewhat concretely to the film-stage performance in Mr. Sleepy. In a way I’d say, it has to do with a unique moment in the current staging, where to my mind it seems that two separate tracks are “running parallel” for a molecular length of time. It happens approximately eight minutes into the film, where one actor is standing and two rows of actors are arranged behind her. All of a sudden the actors stand up and start to disperse, out of the frame of the camera. At this point we here a voice, in the film, calling them to “come back, come back, come back”. This is actually your voice. It is unique because it is the only example of your voice we hear in the film. Also it is the only instance when the onstage actors repeat a statement made by the actors on film. So it seemed to me as if at this moment, for this molecular space of time, there is an oozing perhaps across this “spark gap” that you refer to, as this sort of absent dimension, that there is something maybe temporarily resembling a completeness happening in the film-stage performance? I don’t know. It’s a very striking moment for me.
RF. Well, I am happy that you say that it’s striking; I see what you mean. You have to understand that when I am making things, I am not thinking intellectually about anything. I am just trying different things that seem to reverberate in some way that seems interesting. So I have no theory, I have no theoretical reason for that happening at that point. What can I say, I just wait to get ideas, wait to try different things matched against different other things; most of them are lousy which is why we rehearse so long and I keep changing things. Who knows, by the time this play opens that may or may not be there.
There’s not much I can say about it. I would say, but to return to the airplane of course, as the play sort of mentions, it is an image from a dream I had when I was a teenager of an airplane flying over me as I climbed up from a pit, and I saw people in the airplane staring at me and dotted lines came from their eyes into my eyes, so I think that’s why the airplane is here, and what its relationship to the unconscious is I don’t know, it’s that image of things breaking through the walls, as if something broke through from your unconscious. I suppose that’s why I am using the airplane and flight and any implications of that, but flight vis-à-vis the people getting up and leaving the screen and I say come back come back, somehow that has reverberations with this whole notion of things that might arise out of your unconscious but you can’t keep them because they vanish almost before they arise, or like a dream image that you can’t hold on to the next day so it’s like come back come back. Even making art is an attempt maybe to re-evoke those quick silver things that flitter through you but you can’t hold on to in normal life, so to make a work of art is to say come back come back to things that are escaping you all the time, that seem to be profound things on some level, but you can’t hold on to them.
SM. I wonder if this gesture of saying “come back” to this molecular field of impressions which you called art, if that isn’t an intrusion of a subject that then imprisons that field, these objects.
RF. Well you should be able to let go. I’m not saying it’s good to say come back, come back, maybe you should let everything pass through you and go, that’s certainly a spiritual position that basically I approve of. Most of my moments I don’t have the enlightenment to be able to let them just pass through me, and I want them to stay and I want to imprison them, and I don’t find that to be particularly noble or even desirable. But that’s part of the tension out of the contradictions and the human contradictions that I try to make my art—you are always saying come back, come back when you know you should let go. And indeed they don’t come back do they?
RF. The screen wipes.
SM. Yeah it cuts.
SM. It wipes, cuts.
RF. So you can start again but they don’t come back.