Stonewashed theatre

This is the title of an essay I wrote as my contribution to the collection "Alle Tiders Teater" honouring the sixtieth birthday of the Danish dramaturg, Christian Ludwigsen. (Husets Forlag; 1990; ISBN: 87-7483-240-9). It makes the case for re-empowering the actor as the source of style.

It starts like this:

Many contemporary actors, and even directors themselves, are quite unaware that the profession of the stage director has only existed for a hundred and fifty years or so. That is a very short time in the long history of theatre, really just an experiment. It is time to recognize that, in many ways, it is a failed experiment. Too much has been sacrificed to the gods of efficiency and authenticity. The modern, manufactured, director's theatre is cursed with an emptiness of style.

I remember my first pair of blue jeans. They were stiff and crunchy and mysteriously blue like a bottle of milk of magnesia. They screamed their newness and begged to be abused. Only a long relationship with a pair of teenage legs would make them comfortable. And that was what it was all about. Flesh would make history and denim would record it! Every leap, every stride, every slide on a subway bench. Turnstiles, brambles, motorcycle seats. The keys, the wallets, the knees. The ever curious pelvis. Sometimes the jeans came off more than once in a day. Eventually it was all there, written in the faded fabric. The achievement was clear. More than comfort, the jeans had acquired style!

Alas, things are different now. You can go into a shop and buy a pair of jeans already broken in. The manufacturers call them "stone washed jeans." Very fashionable. Faded in the wrong places though, without regard for activity or anatomy. A parody of the real thing. False rags. An insult to the poor. They tell no stories. Empty jeans, no matter who's wearing them. No style, no style at all. But it's an old problem, and especially in our profession. Western theatre has been making the same mistake for over a hundred years. We've been selling the public Stone Washed Theatre.

Yes, the modern theatre has lost all understanding of style. It has tried to replace the real thing with an imitation, and that recent invention, the director, has been engaged to oversee the whole deception. The situation looks bleak. But, as I will explain, it is still possible to return to the source.

The complete essay can be downloaded here: Stonewashed Theatre

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Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010