The chair vessel in the rough sea of household objects

Franco Lorenzoni

Boys and girls have a lot to teach us in this period of lockdown because they can “go crazy” over objects and spaces much more so than us grown-ups.

Theatre – perhaps the most ancient game – is said to be the child of ancient rites. In our time, I believe it comes alive again with every new generation because boys and girls are never proper to live where they happen to be, where they fall and end up. Children must always adapt. No boy or girl chooses his/her parents, home, city, and I believe not even the planet where his/her life has flowered.I believe that theatre developed from this long and difficult process of adaptation. It comes from our never fully adapting to the places where we find ourselves, and from the physical necessity to fantasize other places.In this fantasizing, which involves the whole body including tongue, fingers, liver and eyes, lies the most ancient root of our creation of other worlds. A primary, creative, potentially unlimited source, which makes its first appearance when we are very young and which we spend the whole of our lives searching for, because it is a deep and essential source.  A source often tied up with slight or great suffering, because not being fit for a place or a relationship causes suffering, discomfort but obviously also joy and satisfaction when one agrees with others, understands and is understood.
There is another more intimate aspect, often secret, which is worth taking into careful consideration at this time when we are forced to stay at home: children go crazy over things, finding in them what others don’t see, as in the best surrealist tradition.
Let’s consider the phrase “go crazy” without letting it scare us.
The lyre is the plough and delirium (going crazy) is abandoning the given furrow, moving away from the right path, deviating, exalting, feeling and showing frenetic enthusiasm. Up to this point, the dictionary can give us definitions, which do not leave out serious suffering of the psyche.
But what we observe in the way children play, as already mentioned, is the ability to go crazy with objects and in space, endowing them seemingly inappropriate meaning and value.
To allow space to these objects that find their soul because they are loved, one little thing we can do is forbid ourselves to prohibit anything and so break the “keep in order” taboo. In this way, we go along with the child’s need to continually move things, accepting the evidence that every household object is movable. Therefore, we must accept that sheets can be taken off beds, tables and chairs can be turned upside down.
Here are at least three options.
There can be a solitary theatre where a sheet hung between a stool and the sofa, becomes a tent, sail or banner and an adventure begins that concerns only the one who carries it out.
A drama with an audience comes to life when the actress or the actor asks for attention, and it is exactly that attention that makes the pretense come to life. We might call this the theatre of danger or even of cruelty, because in this situation the children are challenging the adult’s inattentiveness.
Lastly, there is a participatory theatre, which follows a glorious tradition from last century. It tries to involve sisters, brothers, parents or other passing animals in its game, and those who do not get involved are lost. Perhaps more difficult, this one, but not less interesting.
However, the crucial issue, which concerns all three forms of home theatrics, is in the amount of faith that the young performer needs to possess in order to believe the unbelievable. Even more so, to make the unbelievable that he or she has perceived, come to life and be taken seriously primarily by the creator him/herself.
Yoshi Oida, an extraordinary Japanese actor who worked for many years with Peter Brook, claimed that it is possible to teach facial expression, posture and body language to an actor who wants to indicate and show the moon inside a closed, dark space, but only as far as the tip of his finger. From the tip of his finger to the moon, he claimed, it’s the responsibility of the actor and that is something that can’t be taught.
What happens with children? What can and what can’t be taught?
What can and what can’t be learned from them?
It is a very delicate matter and I am more and more convinced that the game of theatre, whether it takes place at home or among friends, in order to come to life, must embrace the idea that reality is suspended, and travel through uncertainty. Just as when we grown-ups become readers or narrators of fairy tales, an implicit agreement must be made, which is that we must dare to totally believe in what is happening. The girl or boy playing does not need to agree to this pact, because when he/she gives life to an object or a character, he/she doesn’t have our superficial will that separates the living from the non-living, true from false, since they are naturally masters of suspending belief, which is a necessary quality for every art.
It is here that the most delicate and subtle requirement which children’s theatre poses to us grown-ups comes into play. That is to give all the trust necessary to strengthen an imagination capable of creating living, moving fantasies, without invading their space, without trying to dictate rules or say what they should do. There is no prompter’s corner in children’s theatre and no spotlights to turn on. We must only pay attention to the pieces of wood from the old table so they can fall without harm.
Eduardo De Filippo, in his formidable drama lessons at Rome University, one day declared that actors no longer knew how to walk on the stage. Either they enter and nobody notices, or they arrive so pretentiously as though to say “Here I am” and then… nobody cares. Instead, when a good actor comes on stage, everybody must notice and feel he/she is coming from very far away.
The younger the children are, the further they come from. From very far away.  However, for us to meet them on that long journey we must accept we also have to depart, even if it is raining.
James Cook sailed for thousands of miles in areas of the world at that time still mostly unexplored. He distinguished himself for his ability to combine his dauntless courage in seafaring with an extraordinary talent in drawing maps. This allowed him to discover, rediscover and explore unknown and dangerous lands, describing them excellently in every single detail, a quality that made him famous. The crystal clarity of his nautical maps appears to lie in his overcoming the challenge of drawing these maps in a scale never accomplished previously. This detail is not of minor importance because one of the sources of children’s imagination is precisely the art of perfectly combining telescopes and microscopes, maps and territory. They have learnt their lessons from Alice and Gulliver.
In the house where the souvenirs from his journeys are kept, only a chair built from what was left of his last ship remains.
Every object has a history, a memory and children know that every chair hides Captain Cook’s ship. This is why it is worth making every effort and armoring oneself with silence, care and attention to allow them to set off peacefully and to choose the form of theatre that pleases them most, avoiding any filming because that play, like every dance and every true theatrical piece, only lives in the present.


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