First Night / And the thousandth night ... / Instructions for forgetting

First Night
24.25/05 > 20:30
Théâtre 140
EN - 120’

And on the Thousandth Night...
19/05 > 23:00 – 05:00
de bottelarij

Instructions for Forgetting
15.16/05 > 20:30
EN - 90’

Forced Entertainment, the most amazing company in Britain, is returning with a fragmented collection of three productions. First Night is a nightmarish moment created for eight actors; Instructions for Forgetting is a one-man documentary comprising videos and letters sent by friends, colleagues and acquaintances of the group's writer, Tim Etchells; And on the Thousandth Night... is the longest bedtime story ever told, an improvisation beginning at 11 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m. To set your mind at rest, we could tell you that there is one theme linking these projects. But what if we were telling a lie? With its exceptional collection of personalities, Forced does not reassure. It does better than that, it amazes!

First Night

Performers : Robin Arthur, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O’Connor, John Rowley, K. Michael Weaver

Direction : Tim Etchells

Text : Tim Etchells & de compagnie/la compagnie/the company

Design : Richard Lowdon

Light design : Nigel Edwards

Soundtrack : Found Sources

Press : Chris Lord (Karpus Projects)

Photographie : Hugo Glendinning

Print design : Jennie Smith

Coproduction : Rotterdamse Schouwburg, SpielArt Festival München, Festival Theaterformen (Hannover), Wiener Festwochen

Thanks to : Annemie Vanackere, Tilmann Broszat, Veronika Kaup-Hasler, Marie Zimmerman & David Tushingham, Sue Marshall, Chris Wilson, The Vintage Fashion Company, le conseil d’administration de Forced Entertainment (Deborah Chadbourn, Nicky Childs, Martin Harvey, Carol Maund & Simon Shibli)

Presentation : Théâtre 140, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

And on the Thousandth Night…

Performers : Robin Arthur, Tim Etchells, Tamzin Griffin, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O'Connor

Design & lighting design: Richard Lowdon

Commissioned by : Festival Ayloul, Beirut

Presentation : KVS/ De bottelarij / KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Instructions for Forgetting

Text : Tim Etchells

Developed and created by : Tim Etchells, Richard Lowdon, Hugo Glendinning

Performers : Tim Etchells, Johnny Goodwin

Design & lighting design : Richard Lowdon

Commissioned by : Wiener Festwochen 2001

Presentation : Kaaitheater, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

With the support of British Council

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If I have one image of Forced Entertainment, it is of drunken children gleefully raiding the dressing-up box, discovering that toy guns fire real bullets, their faces smeared with lipstick and glycerine tears as they realise the party is over but the performance has to go on.

Lyn Gardner inThe Guardian

Forced Entertainment is no stranger to the Festival. In 2000 this group from Britain presented Scar Stories, a story compiled from anecdotes about scars collected during interviews on the streets of Brussels. The company then presentedQuizoola!, a six-hour quiz that, according to what was happening or the actors’ mood, turned into a cross-examination or an intimate conversation. This year, Tim Etchells and Meg Stuart are putting on three productions we like to think of as representative of their work. They move from a solo to a group performance, from a production with a fixed structure to an improvised piece. Forced likes playing with boundaries separating fiction from real events, just like Tim Etchells’ stories that oscillate between horror, beauty and reality. His texts sketch out the lines of the company’s darkly humorous and moving world, which the actors, play by play, colour with their own acting, as provocative as it is fragile.

First Night reveals eight actors in a show where each act seems fated to end in insults, where a welcoming smile turns into a grimace of terror. It is an evening that promises to be funny but in a strange way. And what would happen if there were no longer anything holding back the actors, not even the fourth imaginary wall separating them from the audience?

To create Instructions for Forgetting, Tim Etchells got his friends to join in, asking them to send him all kinds of true stories and videos. Etchells combines conversations, cassettes, family videos, letters and TV news and forges a link between personal history and the broader histories called culture or politics. The result is an amazing and comic solo piece that plays between story, essay, video and private conversation.

In And on the Thousandth Night, actors from Forced Entertainment, dressed as Kings and Queens, tell a never-ending story that brings in tales, biblical stories, jokes, urban legends, private stories, love stories, stories about sex, children’s stories… Deadly boring, hysterical, vulgar and tender, this performance seeks the living relationship between a story and an audience, a story and those telling it.


Please read the introductions in any order your like.

(1)These are very different projects

These are very different projects and each of them, in any case, is not quite the thing it might first appear to be.

First Night is a theatre spectacle, bright and gaudy, but at the same time disastrous, harsh and minimal.

Instructions for Forgetting is a documentary, a picture of the world, but drawn through the arbitrary frame of the video-tapes and letters kindly sent me to me by friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

And on the Thousandth Night… is the longest bedtime story ever told. It is a late night improvised story-in-a-story-in-a-story-in-a-story which somehow tries to tell all the stories ever written, spoken, remembered or fantasised, with the strange proviso that not one of these stories is ever allowed to end.

I could tell you a lie: that these projects are all linked by a common theme and approach. Or I could tell you another lie: that there is no link between the projects at all.

Or I could try to tell the truth.

(2)Give space. Be confident. Take time.

You can take this introduction as a crude inventory of the various (and contradictory) concerns and strategies we have used and are using when approaching the public. You can take it as a set of incomplete instructions. But remember, none of what follows, alone or together, can guarantee a single thing concerning a ‘healthy’ relation between a performance and its audience (whatever that means) at this particular point in time, in the very particular and largely unfortunate set of circumstances that we have the confidence to call now.

I could tell you something true: each project for us remains an attempt to find a new and appropriate solution to the situation of standing up and trying to speak before a crowd of gathered persons whom one does not know and whom one cannot trust*.

(* That’s what’s become of the polis.)


Look. I know a thing or two about the clientele. They’re a bunch of liars and wrigglers. Put the frighteners on them… give em a bit of stick. That‘s the way to make them jump. They love it. (Performance, a movie by Donald Cammel and Nicolas Roeg, 1972)


Be with the audience in real time. Be ‘a group of people who are doing a job in front of another group of people’. Think about task, about ‘work’ (labour), about the strange yet simple situation of being paid by others so that they can watch you do things. Construct an onstage presence that is ‘human-scale’, everyday.

There is a generosity in this. A kind of openness.

I saw Roy Faudre (Wooster Group, No Theatre) talk in the LIFT festival in London. He said a beautiful thing.

“The live actor is the one who says: ‘Look I am a person in front of you. You can look at me from the top of my head to the tips of my feet.’”


Fictionalise the audience. Address them (1) as if they were other audiences and (2) as if they were other fictional persons.

The audience are assumed to be those present at a strip-club or at a children’s performance, or at an economic think-tank. They are addressed as lovers, murderers, potential collaborators in a bank raid, a very long lost friend. Real time, once established, is distorted, overlaid, confused, and then re-invoked.


Build the audience. Draw them in. Mass them. Make them feel at home. Make them part of ‘it’. Make them part of the crowd. Call them ‘human beings’. Give them the taste of laughing together.

(I think we know enough now about these kind of crowds - of people acting ‘together as one’ - to be very suspicious of them.)


Split the audience. Make a problem of them. Disrupt the comfort and anonymity of the darkness. Disrupt that cosy feeling that ‘we are all the same’.

In a beautiful letter he wrote me for the project Instructions for Forgetting the Beirut visual artist and architect Tony Shakar said “There are other stories I could tell you, Tim, true stories, but they would be war stories and I do not like telling war stories to people who were not here during the war. You would not understand them and besides, they are mine”.

Of course his refusal, his reminder to me of a gap – in experience and the capacity to understand – was the best gift, the best reminder he could have given me, for the piece and indeed for myself.

Make the audience feel the differences present in the room and those outside of it (class, gender, age, race, power, culture.). Give them the taste of sitting and laughing alone. The feel of a body that laughs in public and then, embarrassed, has to pull it back.

Give them gifts. Pleasures. Laughs. Dances. Bring them ‘together’ again.


Oh. You’ve been a good audience. A very good audience. Let me know where you’re working tomorrow night. I’ll come and watch you. (The Entertainer, a theatre play and movie, by John Osborne)


Use direct address, a voice not more than ordinary and eye contact.

Make some silence from the stage to the public. Give them silence. Give them time.

In silence and with eye contact from the stage to the public give a chance to measure the moment. Let this moment be empty. Let it be full. Let it be nervous. Funny. Confident. Problematic. Let the moment be nothing. Everything. Let it be all the possibilities of the moment.

Do you remember what it is to happily share silence with friends?

Jerome (Bel) tells us (in a bar in Vienna) that with The Show Must Go On he wanted to make a work that was not stronger than the public. A piece that would sit with them but not dominate them. A beautiful thought. An incredible generosity. But accepting a gift of this kind may not be easy for those raised in other times, in other frames of the relation between artist and public.

In Paris at Theatre de la Ville there are stage invasions, interventions, slow hand claps. J says he got the message: “If you do not dominate this audience they will try to kill you.”


Say “Look I am a person in front of you. You can look at me from the top of my head to the tips of my feet”.

Give space. Be confident. Take time.

Don’t lose heart. There is an audience that does not want old kinds of dramatic bullshit.

(3) Attempts to Describe what Forced Entertainment will be Doing, or will be Trying to Do, both in (and in a few cases out of) their performances in KunstenFESTIVALdesArts, Brussels during the period of May 2002

Being intimate and humane. But not letting go of anger.

Being funny. But not letting go of bleakness.

Picking at the wounded mess of ‘politics’ whilst trying not to let go of politics.

Trying to find a space inside theatre, or in any other medium, where a meaningful encounter between strangers can take place.

Using liveness, improvisation, the electrical energy of ‘what happens NOW’.

Trying to be naked, defenceless but at the same time knowing that nakedness is always a construction.

Using material that has been tightly rehearsed in reference to a script.

Asking questions about the nature of spectatorship. The politics of voyeurism. The ethics of watching. Including teasing, attacking and splitting the audience as well as, last but not least, having fun with the audience.


Trying to tell every story that was ever told, every story that ever happened, every story that was ever and could ever be invented.

Creating space for other people to think in. Creating space in which they can ask and answer their own questions. Creating space that is free and uncomfortable, a space that is burdened both by the challenge that it throws down and the weight of its responsibility.

Attacking language and at the same time celebrating it.

Making good jokes out of bad jokes.

Trying to describe the process of thinking. Trying to describe, in nine minutes 38 seconds all of the thoughts that go through a human brain in the same time period. Creating intimacy.

Wondering what it is that draws people to the act of sitting in the dark and watching other people do things.

Being cheeky.

Making lists – of Hollywood stars in degrading situations, of things one should not think about, of stories, of scenes on video, of different kinds of goodbyes that happened between people in the world.

Thinking about the word documentary and what it might mean for us now. Making a documentary about the world by asking friends to send true stories and home movie videotapes.

Trying to get around, through, under or in some other way beyond what theatre is supposed to be. Trying to get past theatre by destroying theatre, by accepting it, by being smaller than it, by ignoring it, by railing at it, by writing love letters. And all the time knowing that theatre is precisely that which seeks to go beyond itself in this way.

Staying alive in a city that is full of unpleasant memories.

Getting drunk.

Telling filthy dirty and scandalous probably untrue stories about American movie actors and actresses.

Presenting a work that courts, privileges and celebrates failure, struggle, incompetence, disaster and fiasco.










Tim Etchells, 2001

Some parts of this essay were included in an another form in an earlier text by Tim Etchells called Not Part of the Bargain, published in Etcetera by SpielArt Festival, Munich in 2001. Tim Etchells is artistic director of Forced Entertainment. He has recently published The Dream Dictionary (for the Modern Dreamer), Duck Editions 2001.

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