Trusting to Act

When rehearsing her play Stockholm, which is about the relationship of two people who are very much in love with each other but very destructive of one another, an anthropologist was observing how it was made, Lavery recalls. The anthropologist noticed that there are certain things that theatre people do to make the place safe.

Because we are making something that does not exist, Lavery explains, we have to trust one another. We are making characters that do not exist, we are making places that don’t exist with just lighting and people and chairs and props. To be able to surprise one self as well as others, we have to trust each other, Lavery argues.

To create trust among the group of people that is involved in the rehearsal process, the anthropologist noticed that firstly theatre people share a lot of stories, share jokes and immediately make like a functioning family because they know they will be very close for the eight weeks of the rehearsal process. “Immediately it starts right from coffee onwards. People try to find common people they know, films, things that they’ve seen and jokes. If you can joke with each other, you make a room where you feel comfortable and safe. Jokes are often the valve where you can let off steam.” Lavery explains.

The second thing the anthropologist noticed is that theatre people agree that to all have equal status, while maintaining a clear division of labor. The director runs the room, makes sure the actors are challenged and safe at the same time. As a writer Lavery have the power to change the script etc. But in discussions, all have an equal say as to what they think should be done. In such discussions different truth’s come together.

Thirdly the anthropologist noticed that what is made is constantly tested by asking whether it is real or not. In theatre one is convinced something is real, when there is something unexpected in there. Lavery explains: “For example I was watching one scene where the girl was talking about her attic room and her voice was doing one thing, but because it was a physical theatre, she was doing something with her hand as well. I was watching it with the anthropologist and suddenly said “she broke bits of her body when she was a baby”. And I hadn’t thought of that and I’m sure the actor didn’t know, but that’s what I saw. And that was somehow proof to me that we were making something that we could believe was real.”

Last, it is important to realize that this trust only has to function for a limited amount of time, Lavery argues. Theatre people pretend they like to experiment and play forever, but actually the eight weeks or ten weeks is always good. “ You have to launch your trust into the eight or ten week group. And even if you’re in a stinker, everybody collaborates in a fiction that it’s going to be OK. And they keep it going until the last night party, when they will say “it was absolute crap, wasn’t it?” But you don’t say it before, because otherwise, the kind of the ball you’re trying to, you know, the reality you’re trying to keep going, can’t work.”