Recent Experiences

Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg / De Bottelarij

22/05 > 19:00
23.24/05 > 18:30 & 21:30
25/05 > 15:00 & 18:00
English - 60’

Jacob Wren and Nadia Ross – of Canadian company STO Union – are inviting you to their table; not to eat, but to listen to snippets of what is going on in people’s lives on the fringes of the century’s major events. Spread over four generations, these family stories are delivered in the simplest way, with soft voices, looks, smiles and dance. The six actors move from one role to the next, delighted to leave one to become another. They do not seek to incarnate their characters, but simply lend them their voices. Recent Experiences is an epic about ordinary people trying to escape the daily grind. It is a creation that exceeds and transcends the stories within it and brings to life a rare theatrical experience.

Written & directed by : Nadia Ross & Jacob Wren

Performance : Andrew Moodie, Tracy Wright, Andrea Davis, Charles Officer, Ingrid Veninger, Nadia Ross

Stage scenery & set design : Paul Mezei

Lighting design : Steve Lucas

Technical director : Beth Brown

Touring agent : Menno Plukker

Production assistant : Sarah Rogers

STO Union associate artist : George Acheson

STO Union consultant : Gerry Giuliani

Production : STO Union, Candid Stammer Theatre

Supported by : Canada Council for the Arts/Le Conseil des Arts du Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/Ministère des Affaires étrangères et du Commerce International, Ambassade du Canada

Presentation : KVS/de bottelarij, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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Nadia:

“When we were working on Recent Experiences, we were talking a lot about ‘happiness’ and ‘wonder’. I had, at that time, an interest in looking at that mighty force that propels much of our culture; namely, the push to satisfy narcissistic desire and how ‘wonder’ seems to get ruined in the process. These days, I'm interested in how that desire is dressed up and made to look ‘virtuous’. I can't get out of my head the image of President Bush wearing a white cowboy hat on the lawn of the White House. For some reason, that image is always accompanied by something you said to me about your visit to the Twin Towers in New York after they came down. I asked you what it was like and you said that it was the smell that struck you the most. I have an idea of what that smell must have been like: a kind of unimaginable decay. These days, when I see images that are meant to represent a kind of virtue, like the white cowboy hat (and I myself have a wide selection of such hats to choose from), all I think about is that smell. It's not a painful experience... It's interesting. I'm not looking for any kind of salvation. Whether it be in a new ‘avant garde’ or in a new ‘theatrical experience’. The only virtuous act that I think is worthwhile is to choose to live a kind of anonymous life. To be there. You are just being there, and that's nice.

Jacob:

“The idea of wonder came from the bookMr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler and at the time I had this idea that people today think they know everything already: they are utterly confident in the inherent truth of all the tenets of modernist scientific certainty, and nothing one could do could really shake those beliefs. At the same time, I thought it would be nice to try and create some sense of possibility, a fissure in the veil of certainty through which a little bit of wonder might accidentally creep through. Because what do we really know? The history of humanity has been the history of certainties falling away to make way for new suppositions which in time become certainties only to fall away again. This is what we call knowledge and it is connected mainly to consensus in that when enough people can be convinced that something is true, for a little while it can be considered true. And this is why it is interesting to try and think not in weeks or months but in hundreds of years or even thousands. Because if the things we think of as being fact now will no longer be fact in a hundred years then perhaps anything is possible. And this opens up, once again, the possibility for wonder.”

Nadia:

“I've always liked Susan Sontag's line : ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to survive.’ As if the need to put events in a kind of sequence is critical to our well-being. To look in the ‘cabinet of wonders’ is to have one's mind become confused and, usually, this is accompanied by fear and awe. If the terror can be accepted, then the wonder sets in. This process can be very subtle. It's important to distinguish between our culture's attempt to mimic the pleasurable aspects of wonder, like overloading our senses or continually attempting to show us something ‘new’, and the authentic experience of wonder which can come when simply being present to what is here right now. For example, if we were to look at a human being, just look without trying to understand or decide what exactly is going on... It's wonderful and terrifying. As for the play, I feel that that's what we try to do, but it's subtle. The narrative compresses one hundred years into an hour, and, for me, time gives way to an expression of universal emotion. This somehow opens me up to really looking at what's there, as it won't be there for much longer. But how about you? Do you feel wonder?”

Jacob:

“I can’t say I feel a whole lot of wonder these days. Just finished reading an article on Jean-Luc Godard where the author concluded by describing Godard as ‘bereft and inconsolable’. There is also that description of E.M. Cioran that I have always loved so much which describes him as a ‘connoisseur of despair’. These are generally the kinds of positions I most relate to. It is difficult for me to say where this sense of defeatism and personal failure emanates from. It may relate mainly to the artistic and social limitations of theatre, or to the ascendancy of corporate capitalism and the language of advertising. Perhaps it is simply some sort of grandiose echo from the shortcomings of my personality; my inability to gain any sort of control over the most basic aspects of daily living. Over and over again I am drawn both to works of art and to people who share this sense of futility, but for some strange reason, Recent Experiences contains a much more hopeful and optimistic tone. It seems we did this on purpose, that we were bored with despair and ennui and searching for alternatives, such as the return to narrative. I am so interested in the idea of time and have been for so long and yet I don’t really feel that I’ve come to any conclusions about it. Along those lines, I’ll quote American visual artist Paul Thek: ‘I sometimes think that there is nothing but time, that what you see and what you feel is what time looks like at that moment.’”

Nadia:

For the most part, any real contact with time produces a type of vague despair, as if something is missing in one's life. I think that's natural and there is a reason for it. Time seems to be the product of perceiving the process of life, a progressive inclusion of the unknown into the known, although to believe that I can ‘know’ the full scope of this inclusion is a delusion. All I can learn from this process is the meaning of inclusiveness. Our 'return to narrative', for me, is more of a surrender, letting IT unfold as IT will. It wasn't a defeat, it was more of a stepping back and accepting my small role in the scheme of things. When I do that I am going against a prevalent ideology in our culture, one that is reflected in slogans like: ‘never surrender’ or ‘no fear’ or ‘just do it’. This ideology can be repressive and merciless. There is no softness in it. Although we've written a text, I feel we tried not to ‘control’ it, in terms of hammering it into a form which suits narrative conventions. We tried to be soft with it, to be tender. I had a really hard time surrendering to narrative, as I've always desired to control the sequence of all things. In the futility of that attempt, I had a tantrum and chose chaotic despair as an artistic alternative. When I got over it, I saw that there is a story, it might just not be the story I thought I'd be living. A kind of madness sets in with the loss of control over story. But it's not intolerable, and I get more absorbed into time the more I accept that loss.”

Jacob:

“Much of my work has been a kind of defence of amorphousness. It’s way of saying, ‘when we enter into history we often do harm, when we take a strong position its often just a way of trying to control the behaviour of others’, and ‘ what if we try something else?’. This gentleness is not always so gentle. There are ‘gentle’ ways of doing harm: incompetence; sitting back and doing nothing while in the face of atrocities; saying nothing when something demands to be said. Nonetheless, in my search for some sort of ethical way of being in the world, I have generally leaned towards various manifestations of passivity. The stories that emerged were the stories that got told.”

Nadia:

“This is no small feat. It may appear extremely subtle, and too simple to change the world, but I've found, that if one stays with it long enough, the stories fall away and something more essential emerges.”

Nadia Ross & Jacob Wren, January 2002

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