Jan-Tage Kühling, Thats against the rules!
„It is funny, isn`t it?“ –
„No, sad, very sad indeed… “
A. – as A much too long introduction.
This is something a somehow naive, but in my opinion very wise good friend of mine told me once about his experience with theatre:
Hmm, a strage thing you experience in theatre, is that actually real people are involved. People being on stage, there only for that you can look at them, pretending in most cases to be someone that you know they are definetly not. This will then be what „acting“ refers to…funny thing, this acting…whould it also work, if you as the audience was not present there, would those people just stay there, every evening in order just to pretend to be someone else, although also they know they are not all those nice figures, that can be found in those dramas you have read already?
And then there is this word „play“, which somehow sometimes is associated with theatre, with those „actors“, with what they are doing up there, with what they are saying, with their movements and so on.
Why, I ask, is this called a play? And where ist the playfull part in it, where is the fun, where is the possibility to really play, to do some things you like, with some people you like, maybe to find new friends („Hey, do you want to play with me?“)
I am actually not having much fun sitting there, this is not very funny, although the seats are pretty cosy, but it would be rather sleeping then, not playing – and besides, those people sitting to the right and left of me, they don`t look like they very having a good time here, they remind me of my old math-teacher, who really was the opposite of a playfull character.
Ah, maybe those people up there, on the stage are having real fun, maybe they are „playing“ up there, but they seem to do, what they are told to, they know already how it all will end, and besides, why should they need me?
Or maybe they really don`t need me at all, and they indeed are meeting here every evening, and are just playing and don`t care, if there is somebody looking at them, or not, I don`t know… (I just remember: although theatre actors don`t earn much money, and the money they earn is usually not coming from the ticket fees, actors with no spectators often tend to loose their jobs, then their homes, and have then to do publicity for mobile-phones, dressed as funny animals or work as waiters in bars., which they, in most of the cases, don`t really like. So, I conclude: somehow they do need me.)
Maybe – I then think – if those people up there are actually just acting, because I am here, so that they don`t have to loose their jobs, but instead earn a bit of money, so they can buy nice theatre-props and hats and fancy cloths to wear on the street, and actually nobody is having real fun here, nobody is „playing“, I could just start to play for myself, during this hour and a half I have left. Hmm, but I don`t want to disturb anybody, especially not my math-teacher, he already looks very angry, so I just have to play in a way, that nobody notices, that I am playing. I`ve got it! I can just play, that I have to sit here and look very serious untill everybody else starts to clap, and then I can play, that I am actually like them, like those other people here, and when I will clap the actors will appear again on stage, make a bow, look finally very happy, leave, come back again, make a bow, and so on… as long as I want to clap! I think that is funny…“
So, here now his report ends, I don`t remember clearly what happened next, I think he got so excited at the end of his speech, that he just ran away in search for the next theatre around.
I was alone now and somehow irritated about what my friend told me…
So far, theatre was for me something quite serious , a cultural event, which you appreciate the best after the show, sitting in the theatre-bar, sipping good red wine, and delecting yourself at your wits and the terrible way, the actors were playing…
…„Playing“ again…why actually is it called a „play“? – This question got me, and suddendly I realized, that my good, old naive friend, sitting somewhere in an audience whilst carfully paying attention not to disturb anyone, not to miss the point where to clap and pretending – playing for himself – that he has to stay there untill everyone else leaves, that he is a „good audience“, was having a lot more fun than I ever had during my theatre-visits. Not that he was doing anything else then I usually do – at the contrary, I would assume, that he is sitting, clapping, and reacting in the very same way that I am (yes, he really is doing a good job) – it is just that I am not „playing“ to be part of the audience…no, I am the audience! and thus I have to, I am obliged to sit, clap, look polite and interested, I have actually no right to do other things! Hmm, this is not funny, I think… no, very sad, indeed.
Słubice, Plac Bohaterów – 5th of June 2008, 21:45h:
The theatregroup „Strefa Ciszy“ is performing „Learning to fly“:
A big circular area is made out by this sort of orange tape that is often used at construction sites, to make it clear, that you are not allowed to go beyond, because it could become dangerous. In the middle of the circle stand a wooden construction, very clearly reminding a watchtower, with two different floors. On the second floor one can perceive a man dressed in black uniform, operating differnt types of technical equipment, which also includes a kind of spot-, or searchlight, which is at some point directed at the audience standing outside of the marked-out area.
Around the watchtower, but still inside the circle, one sees about twenty steel beds, filling thus the whole area, marked clearly with big yellow signs with numbers written on them.
Four other people appear, also dressed in black uniform. In their hand they hold boards with the same numbers on them as found on the beds. They start distributing them, giving them randomly to people from the audience, which are then directed to the correspondent bed inside the circle. Women are seated in one half of the circle, men on the other. Two, sometimes three people on one bed, having now small conversation, but mostly just being irritated about what is happening around them, what will happen to them and why specially they are on this beds now.
One of the mens in uniform appears, he looks very serious now, he is going from bed to bed, not directly asking, but more commanding the people to sit upright, not to stick out any arms or legs from the bed, and to be quiet. The tool of command he is using is a stick, most similar to the ones policemen are wearing. The beds now are „closed“ with chaines, so that every group of people on the beds is somehow in his or her own „cell“.
The meaning of this sourrounding now somehow becomes clearer, there is not much room for associations left:
The men in uniform appear to be prison guards, the people on the beds those who are imprisoned. The scenery even somehow has a slight ressemblance to images seen from concentration camps: the specific type of steel bed, the black uniform of the guards, the way they now start the „health inspection“ of the prisoners, going from one to another, combing through the hair as if to look for insects (fleas), walking around (now in white full-body suits, as used by people working with chemicals) with water-spraying pumps on their backs, spraying the people, as if to decontaminate them.
What now follows can be described maybe as daily-life in prison – the men in uniform are giving the people on the beds potato-chips, with the order to eat them, heart-shaped balloons, with the order to blow them up, from time to time executing a person with a soap-bubble gun, beating the inmates with pillows or just walking around with the police-stick beating it against the steel frame of the beds. The uniformed men look aggresive and conscious of their power, they have over the prisoners – when they speak, they are shouting their orders.
At some point, the men on the one side, the women on the other are asked to stand in a straight line, are then directed throught the tape, marking the circle, through the audience standing around it, and are ordered now to run staying in order around the circle, over and over again.
Suddendly though – something happens and people from both lines, men and women are running into the circle towards the watchtower, finally climbing into it.
The uniformed men – the actors – gather around them and start to applaud. The performance ends.
Goal! Goal! Gooooaaal!
Well, did „Learning to fly“ end the way it was supposed to?
One cannot say.
In any case, the interaction of the prisoners at this point of the performance did end it, the prisoners did it so deliberatly, without being forced to do it, either by the audience from the outside, or from the guards, the actors themselves. Still, for me, who was at that time a prisoner but not part of the group entering the watchtower, as well as for the audience around and even those „revolting“, the immense curiosity and the question about the ending of the performance stayed: „Was this really the ending?“ – If so, why did the actors clap? If not, have we – the revolting group – destroyed the performance?
In any way of answering the question, in this feeling evoqued at the audience, a dimension appeared, primarily not obvious, not visible while sitting on the beds, eating potato-chips, or being in a pillow-fight with one of the guards:
The feeling of responsibility. The feeling of having done something, which in some way or another contributed on a decisive level to the structure of the spectacle (we can call it „play“ soon). If you answer the above posed question with „Yes“, it was the final ending, and it was intended to be so, then the prison-audience really deserved its applause, because it somehow did something „good“, found a way to act, to perform an action, which at the end turned out to be appreciated and even rewarded by the actors with their applause.
If, on the contrary, you answer the question with „No“, that was an interference from the side of the audience (from the prisoners actually, but who – you can state – still belonged to the audience) , which did not contribute at all to the spectacle, but rather destroyed it, shortened it (maybe it would have gone on the whole night, who can tell?) and thus withheld us from having still a great time tonight, and like this actually, stole something from us, destroyed something which really belonged to us, namely our fun – then for sure the prisoners deserve such accusations and should be tortured by a deep feeling of guilt and shame for destroying a beautiful piece of art. The applause from the actors was in that way pure irony, „thanking for the nice evening they had together“.
(To be honest: the actors did not applaude in that way, they really were happy with the reaction of the prisoners, later they even admitted, that they were emotionally touched by it –
but still it is a possibility to think about, and since everybody later was reflecting about the issue of an maybe destroyed spectacle, it is quite an important one, too.)
In either way, through this kind of ending, as mentioned before, a feeling of responsibility became perceivable.
This feeling of responibility for one actions now, cannot go without the possibility of (free) choice, since one cannot feel guilty or (really) proud about something, if you did not choose beforehand, if you did not make any decision priorily, for which now you can be hold responible. Desicions on the other hand, are at the simplest level, always decisions for, or against something. Either you decide to get of your bed, or you don`t decide and stay. Either you decide to stay or you don`t decide and just stand up out of reflex or because somebody told you and you just reacted.
What is important here, is the border between the „yes“ and the „no“, which has to be perceivable, so that you can act in this way or another. The border present to some extend always a specific framework, or finally a set of rules which one can obey or revolt against.
Somewhere now, concluding, at some point of the spectacle those „rules“ became in a way or another „visible“, „perceivable“ for the prison-audience, which led finally to their decision to say „yes“ to revolution (or to say „no“ to further running around…).
Now, coming back to the reaction of the actors, applauding the „acting audience“ for having „succeeded“ in conquering the watchtower, is becomes clear that the applause is reward for not only the successful applications of a certain set of rules, which allowed them to „win“ in conquering the fortress, but before also for gaining the ability to perceive those rules, making the appliance thus possible.
„Learning to fly“ becomes now a game, can be regarded now as a „play“, not because it is theatre and we are used to speak about theatrespectacles or performances as „plays“, but because it makes certain, for this „play“ specific rules – finally also a specific goal – visible.
The prisoners are now the winners, which have now the right to be celebrated, but in the first plays participants of the game.
…What to say?
– When this „revolutionary act“ happened can be stated more or less clearely, can`t it?
– Yes, it was during the time when the people were running around the circle.
– No, before.
– When exactly?
– I don`t know…somewhere in between…
– But why didn`t they do anything at that time already?
– It was against the rule…
– But how did they know, when the right time came?
– They somehow felt it…
– But then it could have been any moment!
The uncertainty stays. Since we still don`t know for sure how this „play“ should really end, since the actors also did not give explicit clues in regard to the audience, since the „rules“ were nowhere written down really, stating: „You can start your revolt first when you are outside of the circle“, one cannot exactly say, when all this started, more likely you could ask the question why the transformation between passive audience-member-sitting-on-bed and active revolutionary-audience evolved, what means did the actors use, to „stimulate“ the audience in taking another part in the play?
A: -Well, it started all when the people were seated on those beds, because with that the audience became actor necessarily, since they were „on stage“ now.
B: -Breaking the division between the actors and the spectators, in order to break the difference between representation and performace, to create a „community“ on stage, I see…
But this is old, I have seen it a thousand times, and I was myself sitting on stage already and still I was no actor, still I did not want to do anything, I just wanted to „spectate“…
A: – But they let you… they probably did not expect anything from you, you just were the same person as before, still part of the audience, you were just seated somewhere else.
B: – And what is the difference to „Learning to fly“ then?
A: – I don`t know, but at the moment I was hit with this pillow on my head, somehow I got emotionally involved, aggresive in a way, I just could not stand the way those guys were harrasing us…
B: – But they were only acting!
A: – Still, I just did not feel right about this… and then, when we were running around the circles, there was nobody there to watch us, so we could run for the tower…
B: – You are saying that this was real for you?
A: – the beating with the pillow was real, although it was only a pillow…I don`t want anybody to hit me with anything, not even when I´m at a performance…. 
„Popsuj-zabawa to ktoś całkiem inny niż fałszywy gracz.”
As this „fictional dialog based on real facts“ (when asked why people reacted that way, some of them actually answered that it was „real“ and that they just could not stand it…) tried to show, the prison-audience in „Learning to fly“ was actually all the time not so sure about how or if to react at all to the in a way physical or psychological violent actions opposed upon them by the actor-guards. It seems that the actions itself, because of the physicality they gained, lost at some point their meening as „pure theatre actions“, as belonging to a sphere of „play“ and became for some prisoners, real life (not „real-real“, but a bit realer).
The framework made out before, the establishment of a perception of a specific set of rules defining a „play“ as a „play“ seems to have missed its purpose:
The beatings with the pillow are not any longer regarded as an invitation to become an active „player“ in this game, but are – rightfully or not – looked at as real-life beatings, the actors thus not as actors anymore, but as some people who really want to harm, embarras and humiliate me. Referring again to the quote from Huizinga, where he states that through the rules of a game, a „play-word“ is established, being different from the outer one (see footmark 1), we can now characterize this situation as to be a mixture of the two worlds, where the rules of the play are measured at the moral and social values of reality, thus creating a clash of those world through a slight „misunderstanding“, if you want to leave it like this.
With the confict reigning now above the play the set of play-rules breaks apart, the play as a „play“ breaks apart, and the situation of conquering the tower appears not in the light of a „winning team“, but, as thought of before, in the light of a quite unpleasend destruction of the spectacle, because this is what is still was. The revolutionary becomes the „popsuj-zabawa“, the one that destroys the game and with this „…rozbija zaczarowany świat, dlatego też jest tchórzem i zostaje wydalony.”
In the case of „Learning to fly“ I think you cannot really decide how to evaluate the developement of the play, and if the ending was a ending „in the play“ – maintaining the rules and thus the world of „play“ – or if it was an ending „outside“ of the play – having destroyed its own structure.
Both is clearly possible and I think, intended. In my opinion during the performance you have moments where the character of „play“ is made strongly visible, on the other hand the performance is in itself consistent of a structure and an imagery (the Nazi-athmosphere, the violence etc.), which does not mark rules for the play, but rather lets the rules between play and reality dissolve, changing the play into a „performance“ where firstly the transformation of „play“ into „reality“ and with that secondly the transformation between „audience“ and political being or personal being is achieved.
This could be a very good thing on the one hand, because you can say, that still nowadays the audience can be „shocked“, can respond in a political way and can have the courage to take responsibility – on the other hand, and this appears to be a problem in contemporary and not so contemporary perfoming arts, the mixture of worlds could end in that way that strangely the audience acts – as in real life – but acts in a way, under rules and laws that are derived from the world of play, thus not reacting because of moral or political issues, but because only in the „playworld“ they find a freedom granted them apparently by the actors to act unmoralily under the banner of a fictionality, or, the other way around, of the change of reality at this moment. For „Learning to fly“ it would mean that people not only conquer the watchtower and that the game ends there, but ends instead with the real killing of the „guards“, who would literary be no actors anymore, but prisonguards, soldiers, Nazis or violent policemen.
This situation luckily did not happen during the performance/play ( although you could ask: if the violence of the guards towards the prisoners was not ok for them, why didn`t they just leave? …even the conquering of the tower appears in that light a bit „too real“), but you can find it f.example at Maria Abramovics Rythm 0, performed in 1974, were she actually invited people to do anything with her what they wanted with the tools provided on the table were she was lying and later was herself shocked about the audience or rather the people participating, or during „Dionysos in `69“ by Richard Schecher (1968), were over the time the
invitation to participate in a „dionysian orgy“ turned out to attract perverts and had then to be canceled.
Performing arts in certain cases seem somehow to stand between two world – between the play and reality, between representation and, well, performance – and stands there, I think on unstable ground, since it never can be totally clear, which set of rules, values can be applied to the situation, if it is now art, or reality, or a reality+, meaning a reality enhanced by laws of art – in a globalized, „postmodern“ world, with unstable, postmodern values, even a far greater danger…
What this all now has to do with my good, old naiv friend, or was he mentioned without any purpose? I hope not, but let me explain:
If the basis of „play“ is always a consciousness – the „…prymat gry wobec świadomości grającego…“ – towards the character of the play, towards its difference to the real world but also towards its own rules, values and its own structure of authority, a real „play“ can also be established – and is already by my friend – during a classical theatreplay in a classical theatrebuilding, on real classical cosy theatreseats.
In order not to restrict the „play“ to the actors on stage, but to expand its area onto the audience, one has to be conscious about the set of rules governing this sourrounding – which are institutional rules finally, traditional rules, concerning the history of theatre, the theatrebuilding, and theatreseats, the place where you can buy the tickets, the structure and nature of traditional plays and everything else inolved.
Once conscious about them, those rules don`t have to be suppresive, authoritative (you don`t have to conquer the stage…) but on the contrary present a specific frame which can provide a certain type, a certain nature of „play“.
In that way, traditional theatre does not loose its value, since it can be appreciated as something you can be involved in, it does not has to be openly „political“, because the consciousness of its frame, of its nature of second- or rather „other reality“ will never let it appear un-political, and can even attest responsibility towards the audience: namely by the fact that being consciously part of a „play“, does not break up, but creates or enhances the border to real life, allowing oneself thus to gain distance and – maybe – a bit of objectivity, both about oneself and about ones relation towards other borders, rules, frames, plays and structures in generall.
I don`t want to end this essay by saying, that I´m against modern performance arts or totally for classical theatre – I would more likely suscribe to the fraction, that thinks one of the most valuable things in theatre can be its charme, its beauty, its power to overwhelm, in no way necessarily with fantasy or fairy-tales, but through means that are not primarily political or programatic (also in regard to theatre itself, in the will to create „the new theatre“ for example) – it is mostly just to obvious and finally boring – but artistic, theatrical, so that it is not only worth for the audience to be present in regards that the actors can play for the audience, but also that theatre in that way really can become – as it was – a strong political medium finding its own language, presenting its „own being“, and showing its difference to other media, to other realities as well as also towards them, in perspective to them.
What I wanted to make clear in this essay is that in my opinion the mechanisms of rules that govern a simple child-play (as we have it maybe with my friend), are not very different from those that can be applied to a theatre-performance, and in some respect also to the rules of social-structure.
What now would be (for me) important, would be the question if those specific rules can be made conscious without being mixed with rules of another reality, another system, or if the only way to consciousness nowadays leads more and more to real private issues where the borders of „what goes“ and „what not“ shrink more and more to the borders of actual physicality – both on the sides of actors and audience, as representated in the cases of Abramovic and the beaten prisoners in „Learning to fly“.
The combination of two systems would finally lead, I my opinion, to a break down of both of them, both of the „play“ and the „real“, and only in the maintainance of an equilibrum between those two systems, those worlds, a real game can develop which keeps its „playfulness“ and is thus really a „ruch w tę i we w tę”, dynamics without goal, without seriousness, without a winner or looser, without destruction which could go on actually forever, always renewing itself through the engagement of the people playing.
(My friend and me actually agree in one point in total harmony, as if we were one : the applause, the moment where the actors make a bow and are, maybe for the first time really visibly happy, the moment where the first clear interaction happens between you and them, is often worth the whole bad theatreplay before … it is a good play in itself, this applause…and a very funny one, too.)
 As Johan Huizinga states this obvious truth about „play“:
„Każda zabawa i gra ma swoje własne reguły. Określają one to, co powinno obowiązywać w odrębie tymczasowego, wydzielonego przes nią świata.”in: „Homo Ludens. Zabawa Jako Zródło Kultury”; in: „Antropologia Widowisk; Warszawa, 2005; P.: 152
 We see that we can combine the question of the „when“ with the question of the „why“, which culminates finally in the question of „how?“
 Huizinga, P.: 153
 Huizinga, P.: 153. – Although the last part, that the „popsuj-zabawa“ is a coward, is not so important for this problem, it funnily also applies to our situation, where the revolting prisoners does not dare to stand the situation of this play anymore…
 “The experience I learned was that…if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.” … “I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Abramovi%C4%87, 18.June.2008, 02:03h
 Hans-Georg Gadamer; „Pojecie Gry“; in: „Antropologia Widowisk“; P.:176
 it is actually this character of tradition, of the well-known, that somehow hides the rules, make it difficult to be openly conscious about them.
 Gadamer, P.176