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Violence in Theatre

Call me old-fashioned, call me small-minded and prudish, but I absolutely cannot tolerate violence in the theatre.

Real violence, not stage combat.
The kind of violence that makes you fear for the safety of the actors and sometimes yourself.
The kind of violence that is so far from staged or choreographed it looks as if the actors don’t even know what will happen next.

I can’t stand it. There is nothing that makes me tune out as fast as an actor putting themselves or their scene partner in danger.

I just don’t understand the impulse. Why on earth do you feel the need for it? What is it you can get through putting real people in real danger that you can’t get through choreographed violence? And don’t give me this “it’s real!!” crap because I’m not buying it. You got into the theatre, not mixed martial arts. This whole thing is about the artifice. If that isn’t cutting it for you, find yourself a different medium. I’m tired of the “I need it to be real!” argument. It’s selfish and frankly I don’t think it’s acting, it’s just living. That’s not what we signed up to do.

When we read or see Family Stories: Belgrade by Biljana Srbljanovic, it is important that the actors are adults because the audience needs to be able to trust that the actors aren’t harming themselves, the other actors, or the audience. It is imperative that we don’t give brain space away to worrying about the bodies on stage, and instead we can focus on the story. Now, you probably can’t always trust adult actors either but the point remains- the people who are playing these roles need to be trusted.

Every time we enter a theatre, we enter into an unspoken contract with the cast and crew that says that we trust them. Realistically, we are putting our lives in their hands for a few minutes at a time. Anything is possible in the theatre, and that’s why we keep coming back. But to abuse that promise, to break that contract without warning, to me is the ultimate betrayal of an audience. And the moment you cross that first line, you’ve lost me for good.

How can you expect me to trust you and your cast when one of your actors is slipping all over the floor because the liquid you spilled isn’t controlled and neither is your actor? How can you expect me to trust you when object come hurtling at the audience without any kind of heads up? How can you expect me to trust you when your actors are hurting themselves left and right because of what seems to be an apparent lack of planning on the part of the creative team? I don’t buy the whole “living in the moment” thing when it comes to people getting hurt. Real lives are at stake here, and I tend to value those more than any kind of “real” acting you might be getting at. If you need to be held at knifepoint to produce something that looks like fear, frankly I’m not interested.

Don’t hurt your actors for the sake of achieving true-to-life acting. Don’t hurt your audience because…. who cares why just don’t hurt your audience! And making us feel like we’re under threat of being hurt is the same as hurting us. Don’t drop objects from a height when your audience isn’t a safe distance away from the falling (and uncontrollable) object. Don’t make us feel unsafe, because that is not the contract we entered into when we arrived here. If there are going to be potential dangers, there has to be some sort of prior understanding reached. Even roads have signs that warn of the danger of falling rocks and that’s nature, which doesn’t have the luxury of weeks of rehearsal time and prior decision making.

If your actors or your audience is put in the position of potential real danger in the midst of your production, I don’t trust you. Actors are trained to make the unreal look real. I have never understood why some people don’t think this applies to violence too. Step up, people. If your audience is afraid of you, soon you won’t have any audience.

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