Playing the Negative: Theatre as “Not . . . But”

It’s a Brechtian thing, but as I was writing a story, I realized that I have a habit of noting when characters do not say or do something. If every decision we make is, in one sense at least, a negation of all the other possibilities we might have chosen, how do you represent this on stage? What happens in the mind and/or body of an actor if you attempt to tell the story of all those possibilities that are not pursued, choices not chosen? What kind of training is necessary? I was talking to one of the founding members of Everything Smaller yesterday–we were both doing our Coop shift–and I mentioned that a number of the characters in my plays need to be played by dancers, by people trained to fill negative space, to be able to move without moving, to be able to inhabit movement even when still. Something about a dancer’s training seems more suited to the embodiment of this “not . . . but” aspect to my characters. I think one of the reasons most theatre bores me is because I’m more interested in what was unsaid, unchosen, unfulfilled, than in what a character does or says or achieves.

Mmm, there’s something not quite complete in that assessment, but the outlines of what I’m trying to say are this:

the moment of drama, of conflict, is the moment a character forecloses upon the multitude of choices available to her. negative space is as, or sometimes more, interesting as objects/shapes in space. to show movement while being still is to show a true manifestation of desire. Butoh, more often than other art forms I am aware of, achieves the naked revelation of what is not. every choice represents the death of choice. i want to write and see plays that are aware of how this manifests through the human mind and body, what tensions it creates, how it shapes a person and how the ghosts of possibility haunt space.

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