postcards from berlin #10 // belgrade edition [the only bad reaction]
BIBLE, THE FIRST ATTEMPT (r. lorenci) @ BITEF
ok so it’s not really fair to ask a show to follow up on MOUNT OLYMPUS. but this was just about the worst option. this lorenci guy is apparently a bit of a star in the balkan theatre world and he made this piece with the slovenian national theatre. strong title, and i was ok with spending a few days in belgrade watching durational theatre about [G-/g-]od(ess/es), and generally curious what they make down there, so i figured i'd check it out.
there is nothing worse in a theatre than sitting there watching a piece that has absolutely no impact on you—visceral, emotional, intellectual—nothing. it’s excruciating and upsetting and time seems to stretch and bend in lethargic curves. i was stuck in a box right beside the surtitles too so the nodding off was obvious.
i’ve spent a lot of time on this reaction lately. people have one bad experience at the theatre and swear off it forever. that doesn’t happen with music or movies or books. well, more often with books. i do know people who haven’t read a book since they finished university.
lately i’ve been thinking there’s something about the degree of engagement that theatre asks that makes it a vulnerable experience. you have to lean forward a bit, you can’t (shouldn’t) be checking your phone throughout, it’s harder to move away, there’s all these other people you might disturb, and you have to create the aesthetic reality partly by actively imagining based on prompts the piece offers. watching theatre is, as far as consuming media goes, incredibly active, even if you don’t get a terrifying performer sitting on your lap and participating at you.
reading a book and attending a concert also demand active engagement, but concerts have less behavioural rules and you can always wander away from a book whenever you want. movies tv and radio you can easily disengage from, and they do a lot of the work for you. a complete reality is represented to you and you don’t need to fill in any blanks. even the imaginative act of superimposing a press conference around an actor at a podium onstage requires our active attention. we’re working to interpret a reality.
maybe this is why when theatre lets us down it affects us more, it feels like a betrayal. we’ve leaned forward, we’ve come ready to meet it halfway, we’re curious and we made it in spite of the rain and then it turned out a bunch of slovenians are just reciting a bunch of bible texts that don’t seem to have any coherent arrangement not do any of the juxtapositions produce any meaning other than “whoa, people are real religious here” and also “yeah pretty much how i remember the old testament, like an abusive relationship: i’m going to make a bunch of bombastic and unreasonable demands of you that will ultimately prove that you don’t love me enough so i’m going burn your home and everyone you love.”
for more on the show click here.