INTERVIEW BETWEEN DAVID CHIKHLADZE, A CURRENT INTERN, AND RICHARD FOREMAN
David Chikhladze: In your stage productions, the spectator can clearly feel the presence of old world theater - lights and mis-en-scene cues, sounds of actors' steps and props, music emphasizing or enhancing emotions, narration, even recreation of a cozy sense of theatergoer's experience. Is it that the avant-garde theater simply cannot be completely disconnected from Stanislavsky or Brecht, or is it your personal tool to add an academic contrast to the very contemporary nature of your theater world--and in this way to keep it always alive and distinguished from some other plain contemporaries? Or maybe it is just a sentiment of your remote background, which brings a hidden dimension to your abstract and conceptual aesthetics--a dimension of lyricism?
Richard Foreman: It’s a very relevant question because my whole life has been a struggle between gravitating intellectually to the most advanced, austere 20th century art, yet knowing that deep inside me there is a romantic self who finds it difficult to separate from the high modernist tradition and even the romantic tradition. Back in the later 60’s when minimalist art came into America I remember feeling “Oh at last I understand. At last there are artists who I feel close to.” And I thought of myself as a minimalist and it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t in fact really a minimalist.
DC: How was that expressed in the theater world?
RF: It wasn’t. It wasn’t. I thought I was going to express it. And indeed my early plays were much more minimalist. Now I used non-actors and I used none of the big theatrical effects I use now. They were much more minimalist. And I am sure there are people who think that is the best stuff I ever did. In a funny way I do and every year I think I am going to go back to that, but then it just bores me after a while and I need more old fashioned gratification. Now most of that art that my art makes reference to is stuff that bores me very quickly, but just ravishing snippets of it give me a thrill. And that is what I think I build my work out of, just snippets of all kinds of things that within the narrative structures in which they originally occurred I have no use for. But I feel very torn about it. This play when we started rehearsing it was much quieter, had much less effects and I thought wow I’m going to do it, this is going to be like that. Then after weeks of rehearsal I just find myself having a need to put in more and more fancy stuff that I am ambivalent about. And just two days ago I was saying to Shannon [Sindelar] “Ugh god you know I have given up, I think the theater is vulgar after all and has to be vulgar. And I know that somebody like Beckett makes a very austere theater, but I don’t like sitting there watching Beckett. Even though aesthetically and intellectually I approve and I think that is what should be done.
DC: I tried once, it was 60 minutes…
RF: Yeah. Well, that’s my continual thought. I am continually torn between wanting the circusy aspect of the theater and wanting to identify with much more stringent minimalist art, it’s in film also that I approve but I sort of get bored after a while. But I think it is that pull in both of those directions, that struggle that is at the center of my work really.
DC: So it looks like the spectacle always wants to get to some narration…
RF: It’s not narration that I get pulled to. It’s just circus. It’s just the richness of manipulative music, sound, light and so forth.
DC. Let me shift to another question…I have a strange expectation that as we move towards the opening of your production you will relieve the actors from their mouth bandages, which you had put on them sometime a month ago. Why did you want to hide their faces? Not to allow them to disturb you by talking during the working process?
RF: I end up very often putting a lot of stuff on the actors to sort of mask them. From the very beginning people accused me of tending to turn my actors into übermarionettes and I denied it completely because I was interested in the idiosyncratic natures of individual people. But as the years go by I think maybe I am sort of interested in that. Especially now that I am using the film, it’s a matter of wanting to keep the focus enough in the film, the real people in a way are in the film and I just am bothered by some aspect of the actors’ presence. I am not sure what. Partially it’s because people in the theater here are so close to the actors, that’s why there has always been string, plastic walls between the actors and audience. It’s a matter of aesthetic distance. And just as there are various techniques for creating aesthetic distance formally in all the arts, it’s almost as if I want to create an aesthetic distance between the audience and the performer, for whom they usually have empathy. I want to get in the way of that.
DC: Unconscious, your theme word for Mr. Sleepy, should suggest emotion vs. rationale of consciousness. But the show's tools are of intellectual and very conceptual language. Is this a set of self-reflective problematics where you look for solutions, or is this where your artistic motivation comes from?
RF: Well, I’m trying to chart the twitches that I think are essentially mental sparks that are the way the unconscious operates. I don’t think of the unconscious as being particularly related to emotional reality. I think of the unconscious in a Freudian or Lacanian sense, as being a particular method by which the mind operates behind our back, and that’s not necessarily emotional. Now after it operates you can have emotional reactions to some of the configurations that are produced in it, but the actual production of the materials that is performed by the unconscious is a matter of structure, as I see it, as a matter of structure…
DC: Kind of symbols...
RF: Symbols less than a kind of structural reprocessing, always recycling of material, in unexpected ways. So it is a mental activity basically.
DC: So you say it excludes the emotional side?
RF: Yes. Yes. Now I think that there are plenty of emotions in my theater, but they are things that result from this rather dry cerebral operation of the mind, both consciously and unconsciously.
DC: Is humor or sexuality a part of it...
RF: Oh but that just surfaces automatically all the time. Yeah, I think usually my plays--this play maybe is less funny than some--but I think of myself as close to Moliere, much more than Shakespeare. And I think that humor and sexuality are the bedrock of the theater. Humor to me means, laughing at how stupid everything is. I am stupid, everybody I see is stupid; [laughs] that’s funny.
DC: Do you dedicate every play to Kate Manheim, as a protector spirit of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater?
RF: Oh, well, I used to dedicate some plays to her, now just…I don’t anymore. I guess I should. Well Kate made my theater what it is in a sense because when I was starting out and doing very minimalist plays that bored everybody out of their skull, Kate came into the plays as a performer and Kate had no patience with that and kept pushing me to do more sexy, funny, lively things and that changed my life, because I started doing plays that started getting a lot more attention. And I approve. And as I’m going back, I think I’m going back now each year when I start a play, but I can’t go back. So these plays certainly are created in an arena that is my consciousness colliding with the reality of Kate.
DC: Is this play, in regards to the video screens and the plot, corresponding to the previous play, Zomboid (judging also by their related titles)? Do you consider these as a cycle? Is this new production ending the cycle? What will you work on next?
RF: I don’t know. I’m trying to decide. I’m really trying to decide. Because in the back of my mind I wonder if I really don’t want to just use this film that I have, this material that I am filming all around the world, as film, and whether I am cheating myself by doing something more radical by setting it within a play that pulls the more minimalist film back into the surface of the theater. So next year, I can’t decide, I haven’t decided yet, whether the material from Germany which is what I think I want to work on, should be used in a performance which would be the third in this series--and I have specific ideas for how I would do it--or if I should say “You know Richard, be courageous. You really want to make film, make it as a film and in your theater go back to some kind of play that doesn’t use the film.” So I haven’t decided yet, but I’m really struggling with that problem now.