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Theatre Journal 56.2 (2004) 284-287
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This summer in Berlin, the performance company Plan b presented a pair of durational performances that challenge the performers and their audiences to experience long tasks based on minimal rules and at the same time emanate a surprisingly gentle humor and warmth. Out of seemingly restrictive circumstances, Plan b has a knack for creating work that is openhearted; comic in a simple, unaffected way; and oddly generous to its audiences.
Plan b Performance is comprised of two people: Sophia New and Dan Belasco Rogers. Originally from England, they have been residing for the past year and a half in Berlin, and they have begun to establish a body of work here that ranges across and between installations, videos, and durational performances. This June, the company has been working at Podewil, one of Berlin's main progressive venues for live and media art. For two summer festivals at the space, Plan b presented two separate pieces: first, How do you keep talking even when you've said everything you thought possible?, which played 18-19 June as part of the annual Reich und Berühmt Festival; and second, Bed Full of Songs, which played 28 June as part of the Sommerfest.
How do you keep talking had two basic conditions: the piece was to be four hours long, and the performers were to play two characters based on figures from a British television test card. Each night of performance was otherwise unscripted. The chosen test card occupies a place of unusual historical familiarity and even nostalgia for many Britons. First broadcast in 1967, it eventually played [End Page 284] on screen for over 70,000 hours, or as Plan b's production notes put it, "more than any other television programme" in British television history. On the left of the card a young, pre-pubescent girl smiles at the camera, holding a piece of chalk in her right hand, her back slightly turned so that her body faces a blackboard in the background where a perpetually unfinished game of tic-tac-toe is underway. To the right sits a clown doll on a box, its gaze slightly lost, directed down from the camera. Plan b recreates this image simply, somewhat accurately, but not in an overly punctilious way. The clown figure, played by Belasco Rogers, is of course larger than a doll. He wears a box that comes up to his midriff and a dreadful yellow wig made out of a dyed mop that, when he turns his head around, reveals the bald scalp behind—the banal reality hidden from the television audience.
Click for larger view
| Figure 1 |
Sophia New and Dan Belasco Rogers in Bed Full of Songs at Podewil Zentrum für
Aktuelle Künste, Berlin. Photo: Rebecca Groves.
As the performance began, period television test-card music quickly popped in, and the performers took this as their cue to strike the poses of the two figures from the test card. Even posing, however, the figures would whisper to each other such phrases as "I can hear you breathing" and "Don't do that, the audience might see." The convention of the music cue-in and fade-out was then repeated at random intervals throughout the performance. In effect, we understand that when the characters are not holding their poses, they have to wait around live in the studio, in some strange television limbo, waiting for their moment in front of the camera: the couple from Godot caught in the claustrophobic space of No Exit after the age of Warhol.
The night I was at the show, I saw the first hour and the last hour and fifteen minutes. The performance took place...