Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Circle Jerk for Actors: The Curtain Call

What I feel like when I do a curtain call. 

Ladies and Gentlemen I hate curtain calls. They are inane, uncomfortable and purely exist for the vanity of the artist. 

It is often said that actors are vain in their need for approval. They make so little financially that they pay themselves with the glowing applause the spews forth at the end of a play. However this is not my experience. I hate them. I never enjoyed being seen in full costume while being 'out of character.' I hated being subjected to the cavalcade of percussive slaps that apparently tells you  you have done a good job on the stage. 

Sadly It has become common for the audience to applaud even if the show wasn’t good or the actor flubbed his way into an eternity of shit stained gobblety gook. This is similar to the patronizing tip given to a terrible server, because you know they get paid hardly enough to keep their stomach’s full of ramen noodles. One applauds the actor mainly to tip the actor. This is not a good thing. 

Applause should not be saved for the tail end of the play but should be sporadic through out. Only then the actor knows the audience’s thoughts on the play and the how she is doing.

Recently, I began work as an usher at that bastion of Tyrone Gutheriesque repertory performance; Soulpepper. The first play they had me corrale the aging cattle into is Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. This is serendipity because this is one of the plays that I know off by heart. It is only fitting that it begins my foray into the blue haired world of Toronto Rep. I was interested see how a Canadian company full of many talented and not so talented artists would tackle the decomposing symphony of nothing, that is this play. 

Well after having seen it five times....It’s adequate. 

Ham and Clov. Not at Soulpepper. These actors
are far too engaged. 
They follow the script. Nothing is out of the ordinary for a Beckettite. It lacks energy, yes, but what doesn’t in Toronto. Eric Petersen’s Nag is brilliant. Matamoros' Clov is less so. Joseph Ziegler’s Ham is practiced, boring and utterly uninteresting, but what Ziegler performance differs from this? (Maybe his Loman?) Vacratsis’ Nell is depressing and disjointed makes her wonderful. The show on the whole, mediocre, but one that follows the Beckettite code. Except of course for curtain call at the end. 

Yes, you heard me. There was a curtain call. The Star’s review said there wasn’t and perhaps not in the classic sense, meaning a wall of beaming actors parading across the playing space to bow at a painstakingly low speed, but there was a call.

At the end, the lights burst on to show a stage where the actors all stayed in their final positions. The only reason for this post show tableau is to relieve the audience of the confusion of when to clap and therefore leave. The moment evokes that scene in Amadeus where the kappelmeister accuses Wolfgang of being a poor composer because he does not write  two ‘bom boms’ at the end of his arias to tell the audience when to clap. My problem with this moment is not so much the inherent vanity of the act of the curtain call, but the fact that it negates the production itself. 

Beckett’s absurdism has been read into by many competent critics from across the spectrum, from psychology to astrophysics. All them share the goal of attempting to read pattern into the seemingly meaningless attributes of his plays. Yet, Beckett himself through the guise of his characters and indeed in later interviews about his works stresses that meaninglessness is the very point. It should begin, go on, then end as suddenly and pointlessly as it began.  Ham even states this clearly in countless soliloquies within Endgame

By the imposition of the ending curtain call, as simplistic as it is, the production proscribes rules on a chaotic entity. It gives meaning where none is meant. The production allows the audience to read into it and begin to think of this play in a chronological narrative form; which it is not as nothing happens. It is the separation between Absurdism and standard Existentialism. Existentialism holds that nothing is authentic while Absurdism goes much further and suggests that meaning is only construed by the individual. A curtain call gives a play this play a conclusion; showing the audience that this was a play and now you must clap.   Endgame should be allowed to just dissipate into nothingness. 

I must make it clear that I am not bashing this production. I am quite happy that Soulpepper even attempted to do this play for a crowd that really does not like something unless it nurses them along. I am pointing out the problem with presenting a play that does not fit a mould, in a mould. If a company cannot produce a play as intended, then why produce it? 

It was common place in the American Theatre of the 1860s and after to produce half productions or copy productions of plays. For instance you would get Othellos in the US that sang Coon Songs in amongst Shakespearean soliloquies to better entertain the Northern American audience. Here a Coon Song negates and down plays the status of Othello the commander and undermines the narrative. A curtain call does the same to Beckett. 

Is Daniel Brooks (the director) trying to read narrative where none exists? 

Sadly, no. I do not think Daniel Brooks is even thinking about the play in this decision. I think he is thinking about the accepted rules of a performance. In the Canadian Theatre mind, or at least the one that functions in this house,  a play must have a curtain call so the audience can wake up from their lolled slumber and clap. Therefore there must be one to round out the confusing dialogue driven ninety minutes of this play or the Canadian theatre gods (many of which live in the hallowed bricked walls of Soulpepper) will smite the theatre to ashes. This curtain call is a vanity nod to bloated actors on its stage. 

Actors should realize that the curtain call is worthless and not do them. Yet many don’t. Why? As I have been working in and learning about the field I have realized a terrifying trend. Actors are losing their passion for the work and merely doing the work for gratification from others. They are proving Freud right. For lack of a better word, they are doing it for possible ‘fame.’ Perhaps this is the real reason I find the act of the curtain call so reprehensible. It is the personification of vanity. Have we not learned anything from Bottom? Art for the sake of self gratification is not art but masterbation and is foolish.  

Actors, next time you stand out for a bow look at what you are doing. 

You are masterbating. 

No comments:

Post a Comment