Our first project for second year has been a wonderful journey of four weeks from observation to performance. An absolute luxury to fully focus in on one thing... The assignment was an 'inchieste' - an intense observation of something in life... the subject matter was left wide open for each group to decide on, so long as it was observable... and not for example 'the meaning of life...' The observation includes rhythm, form, dynamic, architecture, text, colour, sound, sentiment, images and so on... The idea behind the observation is so that one does not start from an ideology - meaning from what you think you know about the chosen subject - but rather to slowly discover it as it is, as truthfully as possible, and only then transpose it for the stage. The group I was in chose aging / old age as the subject... And really, I think this has been one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life.
We started very slowly... sitting in a corner cafe watching a lone old man in a faded red coat and a battered cap, sitting on his fold out chair outside his second hand book shop looking up and down the road, hardly moving, talking to the people who passed by or sometimes just to himself. A fixed point for the life teaming, swirling, hurtling past him. Within a few days we entered into another world. A side of Florence where no tourists go. Down winding cobbled Florence streets in through secret doors into an otherwise hidden world where people mostly over 70 line dance, gamble, rock n roll, play cards, sing and star in amateur theatrical reproductions of The Odyssey... which had Helena and I literally bent over crying with laughter until our stomaches ached. Naturally the whole performance was in Italian and I understood nothing and, of course, understood everything... The leading man, playing Odyssey, could not remember even one of his lines... the monster cyclops constantly forgot all his actions his entrances and exits... the fortune teller kept whacking her forehead to light up her 'crystal ball' which was one of those light-up bouncy balls kids love... the main woman, playing Penelope, delivered all her dialogue in the most fantastically melodramatic displays of theatrical performance I have ever seen. I thought I was going to die laughing. The singing mermaids in full wigs and tie on wooden tails... The show and tell dance moves. The chorus of directors on and off stage who kept shouting out when ever someone forgot something. Honestly. I just loved it. It was nothing short of wonderful. It was like we were let into a secret world behind the grey stone walls of Florence. If one is going to live to ripe old age, then the Italians are doing something right... staring as the leading man in The Odyssey... or still being lead in dramatic dance... seams like a fun way to enjoy the time.
We also visited an old age home... an impressive historical building with immensely high pressed ceilings, a massive crystal chandelier, an intricate marble floor... It was beautiful and tragic at the same time. They sat around like broken rocks, their once strong bodies bent with time and weathered by their past stormy lives... Finally giving in to gravity. Just sitting. Waiting. A tissue. A tightly clutched hand bag. A string of pearls. A neatly buttoned up cardigan. A cup of tea. A piece of cake. A quietly watering eye. A shaking hand. A song from their youth sang with no need of an audience.
There was one woman in particular in the library room who just sat there, every now and then she opened her eyes and asked for a mint... to which the others would laugh and tease her, as apparently she always asks for a mint. It was very moving... the bullying... the waiting. Why not just give her a mint.
The highlight of the old age home came just as we were planning to leave... an Italian performer arrived to deliver one of the songs from Dante's Divine Comedy. As soon as everyone finally settled down he began his wonderfully dramatic recital... people fidgeted... coughed... walked through the performance space... blew their noses... whispered...
'Which song is it?'
'I don't know, but definitely we are in Hell.'
A wonderful piece of dialogue that also made it into our final show.
The thing about observing like this all day for two full weeks... including the weekends and a number of evenings... was that what we were observing, as well as things we didn't even know we were consciously observing became insidious. Little things we saw began to creep in slowly and manifest in our individual performances as well as in the themes of the piece as a whole... the immense joy we surprisingly experience almost everywhere we went... the care in each and every gesture... the time it takes to perform simple tasks... the loss of choice... the solitude... a vital mind with a body that is giving up... this thing that old people carry their whole history with them, in the folds of the skin, in their gestures, in their gaze... and of course, ultimately the waiting for the end to arrive.
When we finally came to transpose all this for the stage, what was really great, and very important, was that we did not have a piece of parody, mockery or melodrama that in some way could have belittled the experience we'd had observing. We ended up with eight scenes and a through-line of the soul of old people that somehow connected them together. A poetry that was evocative rather than explicative. Ultimately bringing the audience right into the piece with this knowledge that one day we will all be there. Waiting for the end.
'Non si sa quando, non si sa dove, non si sa come... ma arrivera, e quando diciammo, benvenuta ti stavamo aspettando.'
'We don't know when, where or how, but it will arrive, and when it does we will say welcome, we have been waiting.'
|A snap shot of the final scene... Vika, Lucy, Tara, Me, Helena, Alenka and Peter|
Below are some photo's that I took whilst walking around Florence during our observation weeks... I will never look at old people in the same way. I feel I have been changed for ever. Like I have somehow in someway experienced the old person that I may become.
Such is life... one day you get old.