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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 4-7



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Death

Richard Foreman


I am now (November 2000) 63 years old. I will, relatively soon, be dead. If I'm lucky, I have twenty more years. Probably much less of course. If the funding for my theater dries up, and I can't continue to do plays, I will revert to my lethargic exhausted self, and die much sooner.

I have noticed that each time I go to the doctor with a momentary nervousness—prostate, blood pressure, stress test, etc.— and emerge with an OK result, for a day afterwards, I feel OK—more than OK—all I think deep down inside "I'm OK, I'll live forever!" So each successful test or examination is a trap inside deep illusion.

For many years, my theater has, secretly, been about death. Not so secretly. For most of my plays, the set is festooned with skulls or images of skulls. The theater is about death. Must be about death. Each night the actors repeat words they have memorized, gestures and movements they have been schooled in. This repetition—this is not life. This is death. The theater is a dead thing and must exploit that to the fullest— performance style must echo and evoke the dead nature of theater. The actors are dead, manipulated by me. Sometimes they stumble—then they are momentarily alive. Theater is dance of death.

I shine lights into the audience's eyes—so bright that the light makes the stage only semi-visible, through an excess of light. This beauty, this is death seen from the other side. Certain members of the audience inevitably shield their eyes against the light. They are the dead ones. They want to see "what's happening" behind the light. What's happening behind the light is death. The light itself is not death. In fact, it is the one thing in my theater that is not death. [End Page 4]

And of course, life itself is death except at those moments in which one says "No" to what life presents as the acceptable, normal procedure. Most of the time, I also am dead. I say yes to habit, yes to convention, yes to expected behavior. I am dead. In a few rare instances, I say "No" to all that in my (dead) art about death—and in those few moments, inside death, I am alive.

My stage is crisscrossed with strings. These strings say "NO" to normal perceptual organization. They interfere with the free and ordinary perception of the actor in space. Are they, therefore, also alive? I don't think so. They are another kind of "No" which is death, not life, because they confine and define boundaries. Except some of them are dotted black and white, and the eye trying to follow the actor behind the black and white string—the eye jumps, oscillates, and cannot quite focus. So perhaps those strings are alive.

1)

He spent his life creating plays that slowly coagulated into a world in which
the creation of plays
was impossible—
In which the impulse to create plays faced an impasse.

What have you done, Maestro?

I've backed myself into a corner.

How Maestro?

I've written myself into a dead end on purpose.

Why on purpose?

Shhhh.

(Pause)

Do you mean questions are not desirable?

Questions are to be listened to carefully, rather than answered.

(Pause)

Is writing the answer to a question?

A better question. Is writing the search for a question that can't be answered?

(Pause) [End Page 5]

Is writing—the play that finally cannot exist?
Make a proposition.
The play that exists is a fall into existence.
The fruit from the tree of knowledge—re-eaten.

Shhhh.

(Pause)

I understand, Maestro.
You find a way to begin posing a question,
But it never becomes a question,
And so, something—poised . . .
Hovers in space.

Shhhhhh.

Shhhh.

(On tape)
SHHHHH!

2)

There is a secret behind this curtain, ladies and gentlemen.
(Pause)
Goodbye.

(He goes through the curtain. Then the curtain is opened and we see him sitting there. Then the audience is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-1810
Print ISSN
1522-5321
Pages
pp. 4-7
Launched on MUSE
2003-03-11
Open Access
No
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