The Wedding in the Constructivist and Surrealistic Style, Milan 1986
Civica scuola d’arte drammatica, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, 25 June – 23 July
Tadeusz Kantor agreed to become a teacher in what he called the Theatrical Primary School. He taught a group of twelve actors who had completed the third year of their studies. The course started with explaining the objectives and the programme of this strange school, which was organized for a month only and where an artist was the professor. If I touch certain artistic phenomena, then only through my experience. It is not going to be theoretical knowledge that you could write down, this is going to be your practical work . The theory was soon applied on the stage. When preparing short studies the students learned the basic rules of abstraction. According to the artist it was constructivism that originated the contemporary theatre. A construction – an acting machine was prepared on the stage. After a few days, when the contact with the teacher was established, the actors prepared an outline of their own performance. The wedding ceremony was the topic. They dressed up in the school props room. They presented their short production. Tadeusz Kantor was watching with great interest. However, it turned out that they still did not understand the basic rules of constructivism.
Therefore he suggested that they should assume that it was the time of the Revolution of 1917 and everything the theatre had achieved before was annihilated. What he intended was a revision in accordance with the rules of constructivism. The result of the discussion ought to be a constructivist performance. The first remarks made by the artist concerned the space that was to constitute the setting. “The Wedding” was to take place in a cathedral. There was only the acting machine on the stage. The actors disregarded its presence – they did not make use of it. Their behaviour was naturalistic. The wedding ceremony was presented from the religious and family perspective. The action had nothing to do with construction and the actors’ behaviour ought to correspond to the scenery. The characters inhabit the construction. It determines their behaviour and their choices. The members of the family who participate in the ceremony should play the roles of the people who arranged the construction: of the manual workers, the carpenters, the locksmiths and the bricklayers. They ought to learn the activities performed by those people and introduce these activities into the ritual. The reality of the wedding ceremony has to be undermined by the activities connected with the building process. The priest ought to be the foreman on this building site, he should speak through the foreman. The construction is to be contrasted with the content of the play (“The Wedding”). The participants in the naturalistic situation of the wedding are going to handle the construction. Thus, bearing in mind every detail of the plot created by the students, the original plot was immersed in the reality of constructivism. What Kantor wanted to teach his students was not only how to act, but also how to create a performance in accordance with the rules proposed by constructivists. He was correcting the naturalistic performance prepared by the young people with his usual thoroughness and fidelity to his masters. This was a very spectacular lesson in the Theatrical Primary School.
from: Halczak, Anna. Ostatnie cricotages Tadeusza Kantora [The last cricotages of Tadeusz Kantor]; Didaskalia. December 2000.
In their production the actors entered the stage through the back door leading to the garden. Now they are going to emerge from the audience or they are going to be present on the stage from the very beginning as the ones who operate the construction-machine. The costumes found by the students in the school props room are not suitable for use considering the epoch in which the play is set. The costume should be as simple as possible: black clothes, tricot, a tracksuit with a characteristic detail such as a hat or a tiara for the Bishop. On the stage the actors can prepare for the performance, they can put on make-up or change. Illusion is to be eliminated all the time. It cannot be done until the end. Art would not exist then. Illusion will reappear, and all the operators of the machine are going to destroy it. This destruction will be more of a performance than the presentation of the events. The wedding as described by the students is to take place in a cathedral. The actors have to build it on the stage. The Bishop dispensing the sacrament is going to be the main worker. Let us simplify it: we will build the cross only, Tadeusz Kantor decides. Thus, having justified his interventions with the need for building the awareness of the means used by constructivism, he is slowly transforming the wedding ceremony into a pretext for the reconstruction of the basic elements constituting the contemporary theatre. Further changes concerned the acting itself. When observing the actors on the stage, Tadeusz Kantor would draw and explain the necessity for using movement in order to endow every element of the stage (e.g. the incline) with life. But the movement down the incline (the stairs in the cathedral) has to be rhythmical, distinct; the actor’s posture depends on the other actors and on the place he is in. the actor must adjust his performance to the objective form (here: the construction), he must endow the object with life. Sloping positions of the body are optimal in the theatre: the entire body is to be involved in acting. The actor should always take the other actors into consideration. His legs should always be bent, for he can change his posture quickly then. He ought to face the audience all the time. He should walk with long strides – twice as long as his usual step. Every activity must have a purpose. The movement must be simplified if it is to define something. After every sequence the actors should stop for a moment, as if they did not know what to do next. In order to weaken the illusion even more, the performance will begin with a rehearsal of the wedding. As the wedding is to take place in a cathedral, it has to be built. In front of the audience. The Bishop and the Altar Boy surrounded by the spectators build the cross and carry it onto the stage. The tragic, the comic, the touching – all this is created in the moment of surprise. Surprise, in turn, is caused by a situation resulting from activities which do not allow the spectator to envisage it. For instance, the building of the cross is treated as an activity reduced to the building process as such, that is as mundane and unexciting. But thanks to it the cross and the cathedral begin to exist. When the spectators realize this, they are moved. The impression is intensified by the solemn music – an important element of the construction of the performance. And the wedding itself, in which the stole has been replaced by a piece of cord used to tie the bridal pair together so tight that they cannot breathe, is frequently interrupted with a message from the loudspeaker – a fragment of one of the constructivist manifestos – After the revolution appeared constructivism, which destroyed the shiny transposition of illusion . This piece of information reminds us of the epoch we live in. The speed is visible if it increases or decreases. The scene of walling up the newly married couple has been suggested by the students to replace the wedding night. Instead of a catastrophic ending (the wedding ended with the young couple’s death) – a farcical one. The pace at which the wall is built is carefully planned. Initially it is done with a lot of energy, then slower and slower until everybody is so tired as to fall asleep. Comic elements were used by constructivists in order to strengthen the final catastrophic effect. The performance abounds in comic effects because of the actors’ creativity, which was difficult to control and which the teacher finally decided not to restrict. The costume and movement are more important than words. The dialogues were written at the end.
from: Halczak, Anna. Ostatnie cricotages Tadeusza Kantora [The last cricotages of Tadeusz Kantor]; Didaskalia. December 2000.
In the second part if the performance the actors change their make-up and the scenery. They look different now – they are old people. This is still in accordance with the rules of constructivism. The light is dim now. One of the functions of the theatre is to explore mysteries – we discover the mysteries of family life. The world that is presented is one created by imagination. The epoch changes as well. Surrealism is another important stage in the development of the art of the twentieth century. We learn about the fortunes of married couples related in retrospect. Grey-haired family members emerge one by one from a tomb, slowly, with a bell tolling in the background. There is no measuring tape (which was an important prop in the first part). There is no clock on the stage, either, as time is now indefinite. There is only a stooping Chronicler on the stage. He can remember things better than the others, because his memory is supported by the book in which he used to relate events. What is left are only certain traces in the memory. Barely remembered facts. Time has obscured the past. Now we are going to retrieve all the elements of the subconscious, of hallucinations and dreams, Tadeusz Kantor suggested. Distant memories are brought to mind. The dialogues are incoherent. According to surrealists the art that they create is a kind of language – a story about that separate world. After a few lectures, which frequently took the form of story-telling, the artist together with his students decided on what was going to happen next to the young couple. This is how the second part was written.
In a different world, after death, the time of utter loneliness and isolation comes. Isolation is to bring amnesia. The relatives do not recognize each other. Mother passes by her son and disregards him. Still, as they used to live together before, the facts which they are trying to recollect establish a temporal link between them. The Chronicler helps them to verify facts, but the truth is actually of no interest to anyone. Wandering around the cemetery, they are quarrelling about colours first – the argument belong to the sphere of dreams. They forgot not only their own past, but also the sentence structures. Their utterances take the form of an obsessively repeated mumble. The dialogues are automatic. They can only remember what an argument is – the typical gestures, intonation, the repetition of words. The Chronicles makes an attempt at translating the dream: the family’s behaviour, the memorized bits and pieces – into the language of the audience. He assists the spectators to link the disconnected utterances, because he has it all written down in his book. We find out why the Bridegroom came to the wedding on crutches – he was wounded during the war. But now he no longer remembers what happened then – he is a soldier at one time, and later on he is a whole army of soldiers. The Bride’s sister has never stopped jumping through a hoop – her development was arrested at some point. The question whether the Bishop was a bishop or a madman walking through the town in a red hat – remains unanswered. The Bridegroom’s mother was crying not only because the imperfect construction of the chair that she was trying to sit on was failing all the time – she mourned her son, who was killed during the war. In the other life she was a washerwoman. Now the only thing she remembers is how to wash. In the tub which is placed on the stage she is washing… a flag. When everybody has left the tomb, when finally something happens – the corpse appears (as a result of the scene of the battle in which the Bridegroom died), when the funeral is over (the hero’s body has been thrust into the tomb), a pretext for feasting can be found. The tomb is transformed into a table. Instead of a threnody the actors sing a military song. The family members throw spaghetti on one another so as to vent their anger caused by their inability to communicate. The argument is interrupted by the appearance of the young couple and the silence that follows. The naked Bride contemplates the figures on the stage. She decides not to return to this world. She takes her husband into the tomb. The other characters are so exhausted that they faint one by one. Only the soldier is still marching in time with the rhythmical music.
Although the first part ends with the Chronicler’s words: they lived happily together all their lives long – in the second part it turns out that the well-constructed whole opens new paths to our imagination. The future of the couple proves to be different.
The work at Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatrical Primary School was finished with the staging of the play “The Wedding in the Constructivist and Surrealistic Style” for the general public. It is documented in “Lekcje mediolańskie” (The Milan Lessons).
From: Halczak, Anna. Ostatnie cricotages Tadeusza Kantora [The last cricotages of Tadeusz Kantor]; Didaskalia. December 2000.
Translated by: Monika Markiewicz