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Moises Kaufman: The Copulation of Form and Content

From: Theatre Topics
Volume 15, Number 1, March 2005
pp. 51-67 | 10.1353/tt.2005.0004

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Theatre Topics 15.1 (2005) 51-67

The Copulation of Form and Content

Rich Brown

Theory and practice should fuck, and their children should be the plays. The result should be the plays.
—Moisés Kaufman

Moisés Kaufman's explorations over the past ten years have led to his Tectonic Theater Project's current mission to produce innovative works that explore theatrical language and forms and to foster, through their art, a dialogue with their audiences on social, political, and human issues. Tectonic's creation of new work centers around the "copulation of form and content" (11 Nov. 2002). Kaufman explains:

I think the most important thing for Tectonic is this binary focus that we have. Whenever we do a play, we have two interests in mind: form and content. This is something that happens not only in our theoretical meanderings but in our work. Whenever we're in rehearsal, we deal with both of those issues and pose questions about both. We do exercises that explore subject matter, and we do exercises that explore form. [. . .] The way we think about it in Tectonic is that we want form and content to copulate. We want the offspring of that copulation to be the play. We think about it in binary because we like to devote time to each one individually. And that is a theoretical as well as a pragmatic way of working.
(11 Nov. 2002)

To foster this copulation, Kaufman has developed a technique for creating theatre called Moment Work. In Tectonic workshops in which new work is formed, each artist who signs on for a project becomes what Kaufman calls a "performance writer," meaning she uses all the tools of the stage to generate individual theatrical Moments. Similar to homework assignments, the Moments are individually formulated outside of the workshop, and then presented to the other ensemble members; this is when collaboration begins. Kaufman defines Moment Work in the introduction to The Laramie Project as, "A method to create and analyze theatre from a structuralist (or Tectonic) perspective. . . . A Moment does not mean a change of locale or an entrance or exit of actors or characters. It is simply a unit of theatrical time that is then juxtaposed with other units to convey meaning" (xiv). A Moment can be as simple as a single gesture or breath or as complex as an entire scene complete with multiple characters, scenic pieces, lights, props, and sound. Most importantly, Moment Work is a tool for collaboratively discovering new theatrical forms while using all the languages of the theatre in equal interplay. In this article I investigate the particular devising methods used by Kaufman and Tectonic, and through tracing Kaufman's key influences, examine the origins of his "Tectonic techniques" for creating new work.

Tectonic Theater Project was founded in November 1991 by Kaufman and Managing Director Jeffrey LaHoste as a laboratory in which structural and theoretical questions of the theatre could be posed—"Tectonic" means "relating to the art and science of structure." The company's main objective is to "explore new theatrical vocabularies and theatrical languages that use the full potential of the stage" (Tectonic Theater Project home page). Today, Tectonic begins each new project by conducting workshops—exploring existing texts or investigating new works through rigorous experimentation and collaboration over months, even years. Kaufman believes the rehearsal space is a place for collaborative questioning and exploration that may or may not lead to the creation of a new piece. He states,"This is what we do in rehearsal. We learn as we go. We get into a room, pose some questions, and we ask the theatre to help us discuss it" (9 Dec. 2002).

This way of working is directly connected to Kaufman's first artistic home with the Thespis Theatre Company in his native Venezuela, where he acted under the direction of Fernando Ivosky, whose influence on Kaufman cannot be overstated. Ivosky was influenced by the same ground-breaking artists Kaufman had seen and admired as a teenager at the International Theatre Festival in Caracas. At this yearly festival, he witnessed Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory Theatre's Acropolis, Peter Brook's company's Ubu Roi, and...



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