ANTIVIRAL NOTES IN DEFENSE OF THE PEDAGOGY OF THE POETIC BODY.
There is no such a thing as Virtual Physical Theatre. As much as there is no such a thing as Virtual Gardening. Or Digital Hiking. There is performance on-line. There is coaching on zoom. There is pedagogic supervision. There is facilitation of creative processes. There are conversations on the work, review of exercises and theories. There can be practice with the creative potential of the medium. There are plenty of options. Can we teach and learn online? Certainly we can. The question is what.
We can practice a live embodied art online as long as we are aware that it is a surrogate of the real experience. As long as we frame it as such.
During this pandemic pandaemonium, in the impossibility of live events, we have gathered online to keep the flame burning. I have done it too and I am having some great experiences with former students or practitioners with whom we have ALREADY experienced the work and the play in its live form. We already have a common poetic body and space to practice in, and we already have an embodied experience of each other. So we know where the work comes from and where it will end: in a live and embodied shared poetic space and time.
Can I teach that poetic space and time to new students online?
Can I teach the profound collective ecstasy of the theatrical event online?
Can I hold the space for the alchemy of the co-creation between the player and the audience?
Can I facilitate the unfolding of clowns, characters and bouffons with the full support of the embodied emotional energy of the class and of myself?
Can I give feedback on the stupendous variety of embodied events that appear at the threshold between the person and the mask, between the mask and the space, between the space and the audience, and eventually between us all and the Goddesses and Gods of theater?
My answer is No.
That is why I am not doing online training in physical theater with new students. It would be a professional cheat on my side. I would be teaching a surrogate to a beautiful art. In doing this I would disrespect, diminish and eventually damage the individual and collective poetic field. And myself in it.
The virtual cannot replace the authentic.
We can do online training in online performing. I think this is a whole new genre there, to be explored and developed. Certainly great work is emerging. But I am not interested. It’s not my medium. As much as I don’t do video or cinema – I love good videos and movies. Those are wonderful arts but not my practice, nor my skill. I do movement based theater, also known as physical theater. It is the best technology I know to explore the world as it is and as it could be. And to communicate it.
I love my practice and I love teaching it. Now I miss it tremendously.
In these times of absence I am cultivating the longing-craving-dreaming-starving-burning desire for the return of the bodies with bodies. Now it’s winter, and there is snow on our fields. Spring will come. It might take long. The empty space is where the poetic potential prepares the next gestures and the emergence of the forms of the new stories.
Theater has survived far worse scenarios than this.
The Venice plague of 1575 killed 50,000 people, which at the time was a third of the population of the city. You make the comparison with our Covid numbers.
Formally, Commedia dell’Arte appeared in Padova in 1545, and was in full bloom by the end of that century. The contagion was just a pause in the unfolding of this stupendous art. A stand-by, a call of movement.
The Plague was a returning event in the following century and Venice Carnival created a new character, il Medico della Peste (The Plague Doctor) to acknowledge it. The costume was based on the outfit doctors were using to protect themselves from the contagion: ankle length black robes, white gloves and a large beaked mask with small glass eye holes. Inspired by the strong aesthetic of the newcomer to the mask family, many of the Venice Carnival Masks got an upgrade and grew longer noses.
Illness, symptoms and the fear of dying are recurrent themes in the comic lazzi of Commedia dell’Arte.
Will we dare to face The Covid with the wild humor of our ancestors?
Will we improvise the Lazzo of Arlecchino sanitizing his hands?
Will we create a new type to play with our collective experience of this new plague?
Shall we name him Covidello? This will be a tribute to one of the most ancient servants in Commedia, Coviello, whose origins are in the ancient Latin fertility rituals. He will be our new version of the Fool who, as long as keeps playing, cannot die.Will we write the Adventures of Covidello in the City of the Virus?
Will we perform it in our streets or on zoom? It’s our choice, and this choice will define the world we will want to live, love, work, play, laugh and die in.
Padova, Italy, May 31st, 2020