I Didn’t Applaud, Was That Right?

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I am so tired at the moment. I am so tired of being angry, of feeling each stupid, ill-thought-out, privileged and destructive decision of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition hit me like a punch to the stomach. Have you ever been punched in the stomach? I haven’t, I spoke to someone who has though, and I think it’s an adequate metaphor.

I went to see Tim Crouch’s The Author, today. I had tried to avoid reading details about it, all that I knew was that it was an interactive-ish play with two lines of audience facing one another, and that it was about writing, and accountability. I also knew people had walked out, fainted, thrown things in reaction to it.

And I was apprehensive. I was apprehensive about doing it wrong, it wasn’t clear how much of it was a script, and how much of it wanted audience input. I knew that it asked for some, but had also read one of the performers bemoaning ‘wrong’ interruptions.

I was also angry. And tired. Which I normally am these days. And I knew that if someone stood up and tried to imply that I did not hold myself accountable to the world, to all that people do to other people, that I did anything other than spend every second I am not (and also some that I am) trying to earn a living or make art; protesting, writing, coding and shouting about the wrong in the world, I would react with violence. Like the image of the Millbank protester kicking the window. I would speak out of turn, and shatter their words.

“I looked at the performers on the stage and I saw that they had imagined me, badly”*

I sat down. The door closed. And as @danrebellato said, it was cleverer than that. It asked you to lean towards it, but it didn’t exploit.

It described some shocking things. But not with the aim To Shock, rather with the aim To Show. Shocking if you have never forced yourself to look, certainly. But it also talked about what looking means.

Here’s something about me: I have never, and will never purposefully watch a youtube video or recording of someone dying. I won’t even watch people breaking bones, or hitting a hard bail whilst skateboarding. Might not sound unusual to some of you, but for most people my age it I am an anomaly. It’s not that I don’t admit the horror or the pain, but rather that I won’t abuse someone’s embodied life by cheapening their death or injury with disembodied mimesis.

This person is not a symbol of the Iran riots, this woman is called Neda, and she is dying, bleeding to death, struggling to breathe, suffocating. She’s not 500,000 google hits.

I struggled with the wikileaks release of the Iraq shooting video for a similar reason. Should I face this video, as something I, as a member of my society, am complicit in? Am I actually just shielding myself from facing the reality of my place in the system – both complicit but (more of a hurt to me) essentially powerless? After all, in a democracy we all have units of power, but we lend them, one by one, up through the system, where they are traded, some handed to lawmakers, others to decision makers, perhaps redistributed to the armed forces… But if I do watch this film of people dying, what am I facing? Their deaths? The people killing them? My accountability? Or some pixels representing those things, never exhausted?

People are wrong if they have described this play as ‘interactive’. It isn’t, you can’t affect the outcomes. But that’s not to say that’s a bad thing. This play was about something that is sometimes the result of interaction, but here was found elsewhere; through embodiment. The Author illuminated the bodies which in a conventional play are erased by darkness, or by becoming a part of a mass. The Author addressed you. Called people by their names, and when it did use darkness, you and the performers were all in the same light-less-ness.

The actors used their acting voices. You were clear about who you had traded your power to, and though they lent it back to you through the occasional question, you were always clear, I thought, about where you stood.

I have never nearly died. I have been hurt, though. Had serious injuries. I am scared at the moment – after seeing how easy it was to simply slip and snap the end of my radius off this Summer – I am scared of hurting myself. I see it play in front of me with every pothole I cycle over and patch of wet leaves that I step across. I am scared of injuring myself again, but probably more of the moment of being faced by my own fragility, my own pain, my bodily mortality.

Someone on Twitter described The Author as beautiful. But I wouldn’t say that, I would call it exquisite, in the same way as heartbreak is.

I have had that happen. It remember it felt like I couldn’t breathe. It hurt to fall asleep with my thoughts and it hurt to wake up and remember who I was. My body shook, lost all sense of time and hunger, and I didn’t recognise it. Because really, for the first time, I saw it. I saw my mind – I saw the metaphysical – connect with my body, and affect me in such a way that I stood in a shower and cried and cried and couldn’t leave, because needed the water to wash over me and render me and my tears invisible.

I didn’t applaud after it finished. It didn’t seem right. Not the right way to react to it. Not appropriate. In the same way I wouldn’t applaud at a funeral. Was that wrong? Was that not the right thing to do? Was that right?

*paraphrasing, I couldn’t afford the script.

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5 Responses to “I Didn’t Applaud, Was That Right?”

  1. linda nicklin November 16, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    To be hurt, broken, have your powerlessness rubbed in your face and still wake up and heal or fight back or plod on is the essence of our humanity. My mother who was dying of cancer said she loved the moment between sleep and waking where she felt healthy and then she remembered and faced the day. I sometimes think I live for the lack of dying. Sometimes that living is so beautiful it bursts instead of breaking my heart.

  2. Federay November 17, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    I am so glad after all your twitter-trepidation that you got so much from it, however, as you say, painful the sensation of witnessing.
    Beautifully put.

  3. Yamabuki Zhou November 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    I have died in my dreams
    Once three times
    In the same dream

    I have seen
    My mother die

    I have seen
    My father dead

    I have found
    My wife dead

    Yet your words
    Bring me back
    To a foreign country
    Where a child
    I never knew
    Died in my arms

    Why did this child
    Die in my arms
    Why not in the arms
    Of his parents

    Why was his death
    Imprinted on me
    In a way that
    I’ll never forget


  4. Jonny Liron November 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Hey Hannah, I think this is a great post, really exciting to see a thinker who starts from the position of complicity, the only place to start from I think.

    I’ll keep checking in, really good account of the play too.



  1. Hannah Nicklin » 2011: A Year in Art (Mine and Other People’s) - December 31, 2010

    […] – Hide and Seek’s adventures in and around the National. And then to Birmingham for The Author, which resulted in my FIRST PROPER QUOTE IN THE GUARDIAN. It made my parents forgive me for getting […]

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