ITD at 21: The Imitating Game by Andrew Quick
I am currently watching seven performers rush about the stage attempting to recreate, shot for shot, scenes from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It’s a game of imitation, the task is relentless, unforgiving. Cameras moving swiftly across the playing space as each moment is captured while the original plays, like a kind of metronome, on an adjacent screen: over a thousand shots in all, in the space of just over an hour and a half. Of course, half the joy in this pursuit is when the performers fail or don’t quite make it in time, or have to make a compromise, creating a gap between the original and our playful attempt to bring it back to life once again. Watching all this unfold chaotically before me I am minded to think how much this game of imitation has always been at play in our work, how we have always placed performers in a relationship to the cinematic image where they are compelled to repeat exactly what is occurring on the screen.
This drive to was at the heart of Hotel Methuselah and Kellerman, as has previously been discussed in these pages and imitation definitely ghosted around The Zero Hour, Six Degrees Below the Horizon and A Farewell to Arms. It appeared in key moments in Heart of Darkness, actors compelled to repeat sections from Apocalypse Now and speeches from Patrice Lumumba and Franz Stangl.
Of course, all performance is built from imitation – either script or improvisation, whatever arrives out of the rehearsal process. I suppose we have always been drawn to the cinematic image as a source for our theatre and this goes right back to the beginning, to our first show, Einmal ist Kienmal. I think this arises from the fact that film has so dominated storytelling in our lifetime and it’s hard to think of any fictional activity that is not haunted by the screen.
I remember doing a TV interview with Anna Wilson-Hall who was performing in Hotel Methuselah for a breakfast programme on Bulgarian TV and the questioner asked her what it was like to act in an imitating the dog show. “It’s like painting by numbers”, she replied and I’m pretty sure the comparison was lost on the presenter. Of course, there’s a truth in Anna’s observation, but I always hope that within this task of imitation there’s room for play, for creativity, for those moments of presence that we all strive for in the theatre, when something becomes very believable, very true. I mean that’s why we are doing this, isn’t it? And why you might be in the room watching with us. For those instances where everything comes alive. So, I suppose, this last anniversary blog is to pay homage to all those imitators that have collaborated with us, to those who have been prepared to take the risk and bear the burden of this imitating game. A game that it looks like we aren’t prepared to give up on yet.