My encounters: Group Works #9

The festival program ends with a classic from 2000. And on the Thousandth Night… by Forced Entertainment. When talking about group works, Forced Entertainment is certainly crucial to mention. As Tim Etchells points out in the text Collective Periphery printed in the program, “This shift seemed important to us [winning the Ibsen Prize as a collective red.], acknowledging as it does an alternative pathway and history through contemporary theatre, underscoring a mode of practice that exists in parallel to the more traditional modes and economies of single authorship, auteur direction, stage design and rehearsal. Forced Entertainment – with its long history of collective creation, ownership, decision making and planning – stands in counterpoint to these economies, articulating in practice not only another ethics, but also another temporality in which the creative work has always been bound up with the emerging shape, responsibilities and relations of human lives”. Forced Entertainment is spot on as an example of a group that has developed a distinct performative language and their And on the Thousandth Night… is as a prime example of their distinct performative language.

At the front stage seven people are sitting in a row. Each on a chair and each with a homemade paper crown on their head. Behind them is a table and a big red stage carpet that covers the back wall. For the next six hours we are going to be entertained by these kings and queens who tell us stories starting with the words “Once upon a time….”. In a Forced Entertainment piece, it is not necessarily the improvised stories that is the most fascinating aspect of the performance, but the group dynamics that catalyses them.

As in the museum, it is possible for the audience to leave and enter as they like, but since And on the Thousandth Night… is structured around improvisation, the performance does not follow a predictable dramatic curve.This means that the audience never knows if the show is going to peak while they are taking a break. They have to take the chance. This risk of the audience missing out is in accordance with the trademark of Forced Entertainment who operates in the field of risks and failures. In their performances the group members challenge and exhaust each other, taking chances and failing as they go along.

Since the performance And on the Thousandth Night… is 16 years old, what was new in 2000 is now common knowledge in the world of post-dramatic theatre. It is, however, still relevant to revisit the classic performance style of Forced Entertainment, just as the Ibsen Prize pay tribute to their influence and style both aesthetically and methodologically.

In a festival setting like Works at Work with its’ focus on group works, I wanted to know more in depth about Forced Entertainment’s working habits outside the black box. Not just as an overall retrospective tale about their working method as presented in Tim Etchells’ sympathetic writing, but as a dialogue with the audience about working conditions for artists. Due to their longstanding experience, Forced Entertainment could have contributed with a lot of knowledge and inspiration to some of the points mentioned in the curatorial program text. Once again during the festival I wished for a space outside the black box where a dialogical togetherness between the artists and the audience could have existed.

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