I am a theater director, and my research is prompted by my obsession with August Strindberg’s Ett drömspel (A Dream Play). Here I will discuss Earthbound, an original adaptation of Ett drömspel that I am currently working on, one in which I employ digital technologies to provide a new solution to Strindberg’s own vision for the play as evidenced in his stage directions. Earthbound is a “hyperserial,” which is to say it merges an episodic video structure with the Internet as a venue. I am a director, not a scholar, and what I have to say mainly concerns process and structure (though towards the end I will also discuss outcomes). So in order to talk about Ett drömspel and Earthbound, I need to back up and talk about dreams and experiments and the relationship between the two.
I am what you might call an experimental theater director—though experimental is one of those unfortunate words that is more confusing than revealing, but that theater is stuck with. Much of what passes as experimental theater today is actually quite conventional, in that it is not really experimental at all but would have been cutting-edge say seventy years ago. There is now a generalized idea of what experimental work is supposed to look like, an idea that hearkens back to the heyday of twentieth century modernism. This is regrettable since it tends to close off the search for what is genuinely experimental in theater. Russian-American director and actor Michael Chekov, a disciple of Konstantin Stanislavski, promoted a concern for something he called “The Theater of the Future,” which never arrives; it’s something we continually strive for. The people from whom I draw great inspiration are the likes of directors [End Page 413] Anne Bogart, especially her Viewpoints technique; Scandinavia-based Eugenio Barba’s laboratory approach and interest in theater anthropology; the Wooster Group’s continuous exploration of ensemble acting potential; and Robert Wilson’s mixed-media creative reappropriation tableau-approach, evident not least in his 1998 production of Ett drömspel at Stockholm City Theater. These people are not afraid to make something that might not look like theater as we’ve come to expect it. I believe Strindberg belongs in this category.
As long as audiences believe they know what they are going to see when they enter the theater—as they do now—we are in a bad state. The moment that people become unsure about this and feel that they can’t anticipate what they are going to see, then experimental theater is alive and well. In this particular project, I am trying to create this uncertainty in the audience by redefining the relationship between the spoken text of the actors and the images to which they are anchored, both psychically (as actors) and in terms of the environment in which they find themselves and to which they must respond.
A dream: I am sitting on a tall stool facing a wall. The stool is on the mezzanine level of a large open space overlooking the playing area of a theater dedicated to the production of experimental theater. I am in the process of staging a new work here, and a lighting instrument has just been hung to illuminate me as I sit on the stool with the idea of incorporating my presence as the director into the actual performance. It is late and the actors are tired. My wife encourages me to let them go, confident that she can do all the work that still needs to be done without us—I too have been dismissed. And now I am outside looking down on the building from an elevated location across the street. The world of the dream is dark, but I can see the actors as a group making their way to a vampire-themed party they have been invited to by Cornel West, the prominent African-American author and activist. I hurry to catch up so I can ask them to wait for me because of one last errand I need to attend to in the theater. These little errands are the make-and-break...