Photo: Aksel Pépin
It was during lockdown, or le confinement as they call it in France. A post appeared on Facebook about a Beckett symposium in Norway, on a peninsula somewhere south of Oslo. 3 days to explore the themes Time, Dreams, and Memory in Beckett’s work, and more specifically in his play Ohio Impromptu. Practioners from a wide variety of fields were welcome. I clicked on Apply .
It’s early August. The group sit around and read through the play for the first time. And also the last time. It’s not about the narrative. It’s about what runs through the play. Tall trees shelter us from the sun. It’s hot in Norway ! We are on an isolated ‘farm’, self-run by pony-tailed sisters. Everything is designed to respect the environment. Water is a precious commodity and you are expected to treat your surroundings, the natural surroundings, with care and common sense. Memories of supermarket queues for toilet paper and disposable masks in the gutter fade and l relax.
The wind moves through the trees- -or does it really? I can’t seem to conjure a single memory without hearing the sound of the wind in the trees. In fact trees played a major part in our work. They were our silent partners. Best supporting role goes to the trees. We sat on them, hugged them, picked at them, mimicked them, snapped their dead twigs, paid them hommage and listened to them. But above all they listened to us and seemed to nod and smile. They’ve heard it all before.
We jump right in. We share our dreams. 14 people and nearly as many nationalities. I don’t what l’d expected but l had’nt expected to feel so safe. Safe to tease out minute patterns of thought and association. To physicalise them. Reading then listening. More listening than doing. It was nice to give words a rest for awhile and to listen. The better you listen the better you do. Improvisation. Don’t think. Listen. Then the odd time do something. Does’nt have to be spectacular. There’s enough going on around us. In fact there’s a lot going on around us ( enter 700 yr old tree). It’s finding that bridge, from the microscopic to the universal. Empathy. We dissolve into the grass to be born again as a flower. There’s a lot going on in the grass. I find it hard to drag myself away. We lie on our backs and look at the stars, run through long grass on a nightime walk. It feels amazing. When was the last time l ran through long grass. It throws up a lot. Running in moonlight. What happens when you just stop, and listen..The world really is a stage. Everything moves and talks back at you. Everything is breathing. How to capture that light in a theatre and the sense of danger and freedom. What has this got to do with Beckett? Everything.
We go for long walks to the sea. A lot happens on the walks and the buses. Good chats. The sea is so beautiful. Beautiful memory.
We start honing it down. Three groups. Disperse to converse. Kyuja finds her rock.
We pare it down again. Two groups. The four hosts were in my group. Four directors in the room ! I decide to listen. We quicly agreed it had something to do with being as one, breathing together, the rythm of that to gain until it exploded, to break away as individuals, do our own thing, then discover the other, then find a way back to the others. Become one again. Repeat.
We went off to find a stage. That day probably combined some of the favorite things in my life : Beckett, huge rocks, the sea, fellow artists, and being able to have fun in combining them Brave and funny and not without meaning. A rare treat.
Those fews days ( felt like weeks) reaffirmed how great it is to trust, and listen, and how enjoyable everything becomes when you don’t judge yourself, or others.
I think Mr Beckett was also smiling and nodding at us. He might have heard it all before but he’s never seen it on a rock.
I must admit before diving in ( not literally David), l thought Jesus, am l too old for this ? Just give me a script and let me do some karaoke theatre. But no. It will be stored away in the Very Special Gig compartment.
Oh and sharing the end of a box of wine on the ferry back to reality is up there with the BFMOVSG = Best Fun Memories On Very Special Gigs.
Thank you all so much and well done us.
By Clara Simpson, September 2020