Words: David Greig
Religion affects the way cultures think long after they have become secular. If you want to do something about it, says playwright DAVID GREIG, you better get daydreaming.
NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES
IT'S HUMAN NATURE TO BE CURIOUS, it‘s writer‘s luck to be able to indulge that curiosity in the name of ‘research‘. Suspect Culture‘s shows always begin with some intriguing fragment from science or history which we just want to find out more about. The desire to find out more. on impulse. is the first stage of the process of creating anything new. I‘ve never seen Scottish playwrights spend an evening more happily together than when they‘re gathered round a trivia machine or competing in a pub quiz. Alcohol and randomly collected information being their two favourite pursuits.
Scientists call the investigating something with no clear purpose in mind ‘Blue Skies Research‘. Which is a surprisingly appealing name. You could also call it daydreaming. Whatever you call it. it‘s increasingly squeezed out of our daily lives. Everything has to have a point. learning must have outcomes. we must account for our time. It‘s considered dangerously strange behaviour to explore something for no other reason than it is interesting.
Suspect Culture set up the Strange Behaviour events as a response to our own desire to find out more about things that interested us. and to share the journey with anyone else who wanted to come along. The idea behind the events is simple: we bring together people from the world of theatre and experts from another knowledge and invite them to spend a day talking to each other. finding connections. provoking thought and sharing information. The first event was in l998 when we explored 'Theatre And The Sciences Of The Mind‘. The next event is ‘Theatre And The Divine‘.
The events are staged for a lay
audience and consist of a mixture of
short talks called ‘provocations‘. panel discussions. workshops and audience- led questioning. concluding in the evening with informal talk in the bar. Highlights of the last event included the whole audience. moved and
delighted. as psychologist Professor
Colwyn Trevarthen talked us through
the complex character motivations of a one-year-old child playing with its mother on a research video. This inspired the director Katie Mitchell to lead a workshop in the afternoon based on 'I‘revarthen‘s idea that when two people communicate there are in fact four characters present (you. me. my idea of you. your idea of me). Although it had never been part of Suspect Culture‘s plan. it inevitably happened that the ideas raised at Strange Behaviour l filtered into and inﬂuenced our next show. Muinstrmm. in which two characters were played by four actors.
Strange Behaviour II will explore connections between theatre and the divine. Theatre has always been entwined with religious expression. The roots of the form are in the ritual dances performed to celebrate harvest in early Mediterranean societies. ()n the other hand. theatre‘s reliance on mischief. taboo breaking and chaos has always had a blasphemous edge to it. Both these strands can be seen today. The ritual theatres of the Far East are still intimately connected with religious expression. and recently in Glasgow. Edwin Morgan‘s play Al). was picketed by Christian protestors who objected to its portrayal of Christ.
There is another level. however. to the connection between theatre and the divine which is inherent in the creative act itself. The most rational playwright. if pushed. will reveal that the difference between a blank page and a stream of writing is something like the
arrival of 'the muse‘. They‘ll talk of
feeling ‘possessed‘ by the characters. It‘s certainly the case with me. I have little or no memory of the actual writing of a play. I can remember the frustration of getting it wrong. and I can remember the feeling of finishing. btit in between there is a blank; it‘s either divine inspiration. or it‘s the devil‘s work.
Something similar happens with actors. Whenever they talk about the process of acting. of being on stage and the performance taking off. they search for words to describe rationally what‘s happening to them. Perhaps because
Even the agnostic Samuel Beckett formed his work around the idea of God, in the nega- tive. 'He doesn't exist — the bastard.’
there are no rational words for it. Perhaps because performing is partly a spiritual process.
Religion is also polities. it's the backbone of identity. In Scotland we‘re confronted with this more often than we may like. Theatre reflects that politics. Nicola McCartney‘s recent play Heritage for example. explored the Catholic and Protestant identities as they reformed themselves in Canada after emigration. Religion forms the base of the way cultures think long after they have become secular. An encounter with .\'oh Theatre. or Kathakali. is all it takes to remind tts how .ludaeo-Christian thinking has formed the assumptions of ottr own Western theatre tradition. liven that most agnostic. most pessimistic of playwrights. Samuel Beckett. formed his work around the idea of (iod. in the negative. ‘He doesn‘t exist the bastard.‘
The event is being hosted by the Tron Theatre (itself a former church building. with its stained glass windows still intact). The line-up for the event is still being finalised but speakers will include lidwin Morgan talking about his experience with .11).. Professor David Jasper frotn (ilasgow University Theology Department: playwrights .lohn Clifford. Nicola McCartney and Biyi Bandele and practical workshops from Mole Wetherell of Reckless Sleepers and Suspect Culture‘s own (iraham liatough.
However intriguing the list of contributors. if Strange Behaviour succeeds it will be because of the audience. the ideas that they bring. the questions they ask and the directions they lead us. So. if you‘re not going to church on Sunday It) December. then Suspect Culture would like to invite you to come along. and participate in some divinely Strange Behaviour.
Strange Behaviour, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Sun 10 Dec, 10.30am—6pm, £17.50 (£11.50) (includes lunch and coffee). For info and tickets: Suspect Culture, 0141 248 8052 or e-mail: email@example.com
30 HOV—14 Dec 2000 THE UST 23