Taking Time

von Tim Etchells

22. Juni 2015. Working with Forced Entertainment in the early '90s we were preparing for a theatre performance with the title "Emanuelle Enchanted". As was often the case for us then, the piece was made from more-or-less discrete sections, each involving text and action, governed and guided by a particular rule-system or structure. Based in games, explorations, and an inventive energetic playing-through of limits, the sprawling improvisations the work grew from were flowing and endlessly generative, appearing to resist both the time demands of theatre and the shaping hand of direction, even as the form we were tied to (a theatre performance) was a frame of more-or-less inbuilt demands and expectations.

Continuous flow and social space

It's no surprise, looking back at least, that one section of the rehearsal work for the project, whilst forming a significant part of the completed theatre show, also took a different, less channelled life as the group's first durational performance "12am Awake & Looking Down". For that work – 12 hours long in its original 1993 version – the material could flow, morph and stretch as long as it liked, taking its own time, unconstrained by more theatrical expectations and pressures.

Complete Works 560 Tim Etchells A salt and pepper pot for the king and queen. A ruler for the prince. A spoon for the servant. Lighter fluid for the Innkeeper. A water bottle for the messenger… © Tim Etchells

That the work took its own time in that first durational performance we made was a break-through that had big ramifications, not least of which was the decision to encourage audiences to come and go as they please during the presentation. This liberation, largely eschewing the drama of starts and ends in favour of continuous flow, allowed audience members to take their own time in relation to the work, opening a social space alongside the performance as people came and went, chatting in the bar about what they had seen, comparing notes, going back in to see more and so on.

Increasing porousness

Live streaming the Forced Entertainment durational works to the Internet – which we began to do in 2008 with a 6-hour "Speak Bitterness" from PACT Zollverein in Essen and followed it with versions of "12am", "24 Hour Quizoola!" and "And on the Thousandth Night..." in different European contexts in 2013 and 14 – has occasioned an interesting expansion of this parallel social track, increasing the sense of porousness already present in the works created decades and more before.

Indeed, in some ways at least, we've begun to feel that the long works have only found their true and proper moment now, in the layering of Twitter conversation and screen grabbing, and in the multiplication of simultaneous contexts, from live presentation to dispersal via computer and device screens in people's living rooms and bedrooms, and even (via mobiles) to their cars, gardens, bus journeys and taxi rides. The work has travelled – running in parallel with social space and everyday routines and activities, negotiating both the dynamics of split attention and the conversational chorus of social media.

Re-telling Shakespeare

"Complete Works" forms a new chapter of our engagement with this context, and takes a different route than the one developed in our live streaming of the durational performances. In the project we somewhat dodge the Shakespearean bullet by not so much doing the plays as recounting them, using domestic objects on a table top as mute stand-ins for the characters. A kind of lo-fi and somewhat reluctant puppetry, the work leans heavily on the intimacy of the small auditorium and the webcam, drawing us into something halfway between the how-to space of Internet tutorials, to-camera cookery, computer-maintenance and maker demonstrations, and the 'wooden O' that Shakespeare invokes in his "Henry V", as the blank arena for the audience's collective imagination.

Complete Works I 560 Tim EtchellsForced Entertainment is re-telling Shakespeare's play, using very ordinary domestic objects
© Tim Etchells

Rather than a long, single chunk of continuous time (6, 12 or 24 hours), "Complete Works" positions 36 performances, each around 40 minutes long, across the timeline of the entire "Foreign Affairs" festival, staging four episodes per night one after the other, played out in a marathon re-telling of the plots of all of Shakespeare's dramas.

The project develops as a hybrid of condensation and dispersal or expansion as summaries of Shakespeare's plays reduce their duration by at least two-thirds, rendering poetic language as pragmatic vernacular and plot as table-top schematic, each episode meanwhile taking its place in an arcing larger structure – drama after drama after drama by way of domestic objects and narrative – spread out over 9 evenings, and more-or-less 36 hours of performance. We hope that you'll join us for some of the ride.


Tim Etchells image credit Goncalo F SantosTim Etchells is an artist and a writer based in the UK whose work shifts between performance, visual art and fiction. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts, notably as the leader of the world-renowned Sheffield-based performance group Forced Entertainment and is currently Professor of Performance at Lancaster University.



Livestream auf nachtkritik.de

In Kooperation mit den Berliner Festspielen wird nachtkritik.de während des Festivals Foreign Affairs, vom 25. Juni bis 4. Juli, einen Livestream zu dem Shakespeare-Miniaturen-Marathon "Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare" ausstrahlen: 36 Shakespeare-Dramen, in neun Tagen – pro Drama ein*e Performer*in, ein Tisch und 40 Minuten.

Hier können Sie ab dem 25. Juni den Livestream verfolgen. / Follow the live stream.

Alle Termine und Startzeiten. / Listings of all plays and dates here.

Alles zur Diskussion um Livestreaming von Theateraufführungen.



A behind-the-scenes look at "Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare" with commentary from Tim Etchells and performers Richard Lowdon and Terry O'Connor.


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