(This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

“Art is violent.  To be decisive is violent.”  – Anne Bogart, A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

“Ultimately, we hear things because we cannot see everything.” –  Slavoj ŽižekGaze and Voice as Love Objects

Violence is to act- to set into action, to force, to move.  Too often in our culture violence is a form of coercion, a physical exertion of force used to maim or harm.  In art, the violent act becomes a shifting paradigm- to create new forms, new models for making work.  The violent act is to make change on a molecular level.  In painting, the violent act is the first stroke upon the canvas.  In writing, the first words.  In ensemble theatre making, the violent act is stepping from training to staging.  The period of development never seems to be enough.  The dialogue can always be deeper, more intrusive of the material.  To perform trust is an act of violence against our physical space, our sphere of individuality.  This sphere can exist in a constant state of fluctuation, growing larger or smaller depending on external circumstances, cultural conditions or social context.  As civilians, this trust can be violently infringed upon.  The information we receive and how we receive it may influence our ability to trust by drastic measure.  Such can be seen time and time again by traumatic events and how they are reported.  Fight or flight sets in until we are informed we can feel safe again.

As theatre artists, we are asked to perform in a hierarchy of trust.  We trust the stage manager will inform us of the correct rehearsal time.  We trust the director will lead us down the most truthful path.  We trust our fellow actors will not betray us in the moment.  There is theatre that causes a visceral reaction, whether through content or form or a combination of both.  This type of theatre stops us.  We want it to spark dialogue.  So often in our daily lives we quickly move between points, tasks, engagements so at the end of the day we may resume our time as autonomous individuals.  To stop, to think, to reflect becomes a violent act, a cessation of movement.

I founded force/collision, an interdisciplinary performance ensemble based in Washington, D.C. so that we might have a lab for creating new work and exploring ways of working.  We come together on a regular basis to discuss, to move, to strengthen our vocabulary for making work.  Our long periods of project development can be both a blessing and a curse.  When the time comes to stage, it can seem disruptive.  Gathering the material and shaping it for presentation can be a daunting task.  One move may feel right while twenty others feel ill-fitting.  Having also worked in the regional theatre model with four weeks of rehearsal, there is something to be said about creating under the pressure of time.  I strive to trust initial impulses but it is easy to lose steam and get caught up in thinking and re-thinking over a period of time.  Structure is key.

Lately with force/collision, we are approaching our work broadly at first, developing the movement vocabulary, adding text and thinking dramaturgically after we have laid the foundation.  Mostly, we work with source material and non-linear texts that are characters themselves, the embodiment of a language to be written over the signs and symbols of the performer’s gestural vocabulary.  If the addition of text seems too sudden, too premature, we return to simply moving and responding.

In our current project “Trust me” we return to exploring the dance-theatre hybrid.  We are working from three texts by German playwright Falk Richter which explore Western ideology’s affect on the body and psyche, noting such events as the 2008 global financial crisis and Occupy movement.  Using these three texts, which were developed/performed in three separate productions with Richter’s collaborator Anouk van Dijk, dance/text was used as a conduit for the issue of “trust”- the who, why and how of trusting ourselves and each other.  As an exploration of navigating this complex system, we are creating a distinct score from these pieces so that we might examine the issue from an American perspective.  What motivates us to action?  What are our available resources and how do we use them?  Is the way in which we use these resources a reflection of our cultural identity?  How is this distinctly American?

The question of theatrical innovation in America and the development of new work radiates out from a place of mobility.  How do we move forward and with what tools?  Language is ever-present.  Under changing systems, meanings, symbols and our relationship to the functionality of language is mobile.  Plays become re-energized by evolving contexts.  To innovate is to become hyper-aware, to become more present.  Spoken language does not seem enough, so we must pay close attention to how we speak and with what intent.  The definition of innovation- to invent, to introduce something new- seems deceiving in theatre.  If we look at innovation as a means to re-shape, to re-investigate or to pose a new way of looking we may feel less overwhelmed.  “Necessity in the mother of invention”.  It is from our necessity to respond and create, as long as we remain openly aware, that innovation will present itself.


John Moletress is a director, educator and Founding Director of force/collision, an interdisciplinary performance ensemble based in Washington, D.C.

  • Grant

    This is very unclear.

    Do you not see how advocating violence as a necessity to art is exactly what fascist artist (futurists, for example) were pushing? I’m not willing to ascribe to this notion that art (and theater-making) is an inherently violent act. If violence exists in an art form, that violence reflects more about the culture (in my opinion) than it does about the innate qualities of said form. Stopping, thinking, reflecting are violent acts? Really? A cessation of movement? What in heaven’s name do you mean by that?

    Movement is constant, change is constant. Transformation can be read as violent, but to treat change as inherently violent seems like a dark aesthetic.

    In theater, we (non-explicitly) consent to a hierarchy of trust. As a visibly disabled actor, I’ve been repeatedly exploited by directors as the body whose character is supposed to die. I will not ascribe to this notion that I have to engage in violence to create art. Again, what exactly are you saying?

    I don’t want theater that sparks dialogue, I want theater that heals all involved in the experience. This is an ancient intention of theater and one that the modern world seems totally disconnected from.

    Why bring more violence into the world? Why use a form that perpetuates violence in this culture?

    “Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg allowed me to see a way to create art without enacting violence or retraumatizing those around me. Perhaps you might try to figure out how to reconcile your beliefs with the ideas he presents in this book.