A contemporary dance-theatre performance by Jakob Lohmann and Maria Susca
Start of creation October 2020
The time we are living in is dominated through social media, smartphones, the internet and in general by being connected 24/7. In our current present we are more connected than ever, yet we make the observation that we are continuously getting out of touch. The Corona Virus has added to this through closures of public spaces and other spaces and events of interhuman contact. While a lot of theaters went online, ‘Present’ wants to focus on the post corona time and to create and establish contact and exchange in a shared physical space, taking the audience into the focus.
The piece follows a 3-act-structure, based upon the various definitions of the word “Present”
Act1: Present, as in the period of time our society is living in
Act 2: Present, as in being here and now
Act 3: Present, as in a gift you make someone
Starting out as a critical reflection of our current world, the piece develops further into a celebration of the here and now. The audience is being invited to join the stage, while the stage starts to expand into the auditorium. Personal moments and experiences are created and shared together, causing the classical role definitions of actor and spectator to disappear. What is left is a room full of humans, connected with each other and in touch.
Rather than treating the audience as a collective, how can we treat them as individuals and create a strong self-perception and identity within them?
Jerzy Grotowski spoke in the 70s from post-theater and focused his work on creating happenings and events where the role of the classical audience seized to exist. His observations of the audience becoming actors themselves through hiding their self’s in daily life for the purpose of fitting in and economical success. He felt that this made the role of the actor on stage obsolete.
With the progress of technology and social media I personally feel that the trend he described has reached another high, resulting in an obscured self portrait of ourselves within society. I see in theater and art the possibility to give a counterpart to this trend. Not to abolish technological advancements but to create a heightened self-perception and awareness towards how we portrait ourselves and get in contact with our own emotions.
By going online, we enter a space of anonymity. A space where we are part of a bigger community or collective. Our individuality stands below this formation. We can either identify with the group or search a different one to identify with and become a part of. Inside of this structure we see the other people not as individuals but as part of the group that unites us. We are connected with each other through the group, yet we are not in touch with each other as humans.
Entering a theatre, watching a performance, follows the same structures as to go online. The audience forms a unit, a collective and swallows up the individual. The audience will clap, laugh and cry together. Even the person not enjoying the performance is not only going to leave but is also going to continue applauding together with the rest of it’s collective audience. Subgroups of friends may exist, strong enough to overpower the collective and leave the auditorium as a group, though is this only yet another collective and not the free expression of an individual.
As social animals the collective is giving us security and safety. A safety which can distance us from ourselves though. Only those who can make themselves vulnerable can be truly in touch with themselves and others. For many people this is the very reason to visit the theatre. To identify and feel empathy with the actor on stage showing him or herself vulnerable. A good performer manages to touch us this way. He/she stands exposed on stage while the audience is looking up from the auditorium, as an anonymous collective sitting in the dark of the room.
By creating a safe space, rather than a safe collective, space for the individual is created. There is no need to share deep emotions to be vulnerable. The simple act of being an individual and accepting yourself, as well as being seen as such is going to bring us in touch with ourselves and our personal needs. Taking this as a starting point it can be expanded over more people and in the end form a collective again. In contrast to before though, it won’t be an anonymous collective to give us safety but a public collective to give us strength.
Taking this experience as a gift, it can be taken outside the theatre halls and carried further.