Theatre/Glitch – Alan Fielden with JAMS (work in progress)

by Diana Damian Martin


‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’, says Joan Didion in The White Album, carving out the tumultuous affective and political landscapes of the late sixties in the US. What Didion captures is less how stories blur life into projected experience, than how they collapse into our lives in fragments which we try to line up. We’re no longer in the kinds of micro-revolutions of the sixties, which sustained university and factory occupations and Nixon and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but in a post-internet age- what Hito Steyerl refers to as an expansive set of offline networks that multiply exponentially, in which sounds, images and data transition from screen to other types of matter.


Stories have become pixelated; or maybe, stories have turned into clouds, into data storage or maybe, stories are now only collective, in as much as they return to the bodies that are attempting to author them.


JAMS think about stories, not as a diagnostic of contemporaneity, but as a kind of taking of temperature. Stories and theatre and the glitches of nowness. Theatre as a place where stories can fracture across time, at scales that rapidly collapse into each other. Theatre as a place where you can feel the breaking of a large iceberg in the Wedell Sea, consider the threat of nuclear war, and confront digital distractions, all as narrative possibilities. Glitches of lived experience, or its fabric, hard to say. Because really, this is a performance where Alan, Sophie, Malachy and Jemima spend some time with us, staging variations and repetitions that collapse form into content; we laugh about what isn’t happening, recalling something that might or could have happened, and in our avoidance of this staged confusion, we miss what is unfolding in parallel.


Of course, theatre is not very good at glitches; and any glitch in theatre is usually ascribed to a poetics of failure, where the glitch appears in the deliberate attempt to break it.  JAMS are, however glitching theatre; they’re also glitching stories, the way they make histories gather in data clouds and weave our memories into collective, political acts that narrate other histories- what’s our own, in this mess, and what does theatre offer to the large number of journeys we hold within. Where does remembering take place, exactly?


Four bodies on stage are attempting to reconstruct an event; the event is a story about a messenger, a witness, a king, and an indefinite ‘people’ that weave in and out. Four bodies on stage are waiting. Four bodies on stage are enacting an event that is both unfolding in front of us, and precedes us. The event is plural: it is neither contained by the recurring narrative moments (the messenger moves us through it all), nor by the repetitions, the narrative units that blur one thing into another. This is a rehearsal, this is an event, this is a play within a performance. It is also none of those things. It is a kind of atmosphere of crisis that plays out in intimate domesticities – personal to political, actual and manufactured. It is variants of familiarity that shape intimate anxieties, it is crises on a planetary scale. A poetics of anticipation that collapses into theatre, and theatre that constantly collapses onto itself. Like Forced Entertainment put through a shredder, or a Bausch choreography in the form of a script.


How many were there? Did the sound happen when the messenger was offstage? What do you remember? The messenger had been running for days. How many were there? How did they react? At what point did this come in? And the king?


The story is, really a conceit – it never takes shape, nor is it allowed to unfold or reveal. It is a variation of a story in and of itself, but one with a far more political interest: to off-balance borders, of sorts. The performance makes itself known, and its presence is felt most in the odd specificities of what it stages: the rehearsal that refuses to become an event, or the recounting that refuses to reject theatre. At one point, a photoshoot takes place where Alan, with a black mask over his head, is shot with a toy gun. That takes place again, later. It is an eerie specificity- is it trafficked YouTube footage, or maybe something else. There’s variants of meaning looped around several narrative strands, compositional  but formal too. Theatre as doppleganger. The story as stain.


This is a performance about the theatre of now, and about how now exists within the theatre. This is a performance of variations of the political, that wraps itself around a journey of the messenger to a king, but also around a rehearsal room, but also around stasis. Amongst bananas and drums and fireworks that don’t quite cut the spectacle mark except they do, so comfortably, amongst fire blankets and the occasional, lone tune of a piano, some stories escape us; they form around us, they entangle into others of planetary scale, of historical proportions, of surprising specificity.

This text is a commissioned response to a work in progress by Alan Fielden with JAMS (Jemima Yong, Alan Fielden, Malachy Orozco, Sophie Grodin), winners of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2018. The work in progress took place at the Barbican Pit on 17th November 2017. 



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