Synthesis Theatre

By Alliya Sophia Bouyis

All you need to make theatre is a performer, a space, and an audience, right? But when was the last time you watched a piece of theatre that surprised you, showed you the unexpected, or even shocked you? Modern theatre artists are distorting the conventions of what theatre can be. An element of hybrid is forming in theatre. Synthesis Theatre explores Theatre Artists who are mashing up quirky, unusual, and even taboo ideas, together, with the art of theatre and performance.

One Theatre and Movement artist who is distorting conventions of theatre in an exciting way is Ken Nakajima, who recently premiered his theatre piece, ‘LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT’, during the national lockdown. He adapted what was originally to be performed on stage, for the screen. Nakajima’s creation explores through the body how we suffer from boredom and discomfort. It delves into how the eternity of time and being frozen in its passing, is a disorientating and uncomfortable experience.

LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT Ken Nakajima, YouTube

This piece, that is a fusion of theatre and film, was primarily inspired by Bruno Munari’s photographic essay, “Seeking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair”, the famous Greek Myth of Tantalus, and the essence of physicality and stoicism present in Buster Keaton’s films.

LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT Ken Nakajima

How do you create the illusion of discomfort in isolation? Nakajima filmed LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT in a confined space, in his home, with a single camera, echoing a sense of containment. He drew from the simplicity and minimalism of both performance in theatre and film to create this piece of synthesis theatre.

LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT Ken Nakajima

LA NOIA: DISCOMFORT transformed from theatre for stage to a synthesis of both film and theatre, through this beautifully melancholic and haunting short film. It blends the realms of theatre and film to bring forth something that has never been seen before. Nakajima is amongst a generation of fresh new theatre artists paving the way, showing others how they can use hybrid to adapt in foreign circumstances.

It is completely impossible to discuss hybrid in theatre without discussing physical theatre company, DV8. They famously merge together the mediums of dance and theatre. Dance is used as a form of storytelling in their work. One of their most famous productions ‘Can We Talk About this?’ is a fascinating exploration of freedom of speech and multiculturalism. DV8 used real-life stories and interviews of individuals and politicians to investigate the topic.

DV8 Can We Talk About This? photograph by Bladsurb, Flickr [CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0]

This production uses a mixture of dance, movement and theatre to open up people’s conversations as well as encourage them to ask questions about issues in society.

Now, if you want to hear of a production that does the unusual and the unexpected, you must know about Edward Miskie’s ‘Cancer, Musical Theatre and Other Chronic Illnesses.’.

This show does exactly as the title suggests. It is a fascinating mash-up of comedy and terminal illness. Miskie uses a comical commentary and his own experience battling cancer to chat about everything C-word related from bad healthcare, ‘botched chemo’ and second opinions, to looking great, looking awful, sex and break-ups. Using a hybrid of musical theatre and comedy to open up the conversation around cancer is inspiring. It gives the real people behind the battles the complexity and freedom to tell their story how they want to, not always opting for the ‘sad’ route.

Another production that brings musical theatre and illness together is Dear Evan Hansen. This musical explores how social anxiety can manifest in a teenager in high school. Playing with what is at the heart of musical theatre: song and dance, to tell an individual’s story and experience of social anxiety. It melds together the happy and energised essence of musical theatre, with the seriousness of how your school experience can shape your mental health.

Dear Evan Hansen, YouTube

World renowned Performance Artist, Marina Abramovic, consistently challenges what theatre and performance can be. She blends art and theatre together to create unique and poignant performances that represent what theatre and art is for her. Her most famous work, ‘Rhythm 0’, explores physicality of the body, endurance, pain and the staging of authentic live action. She declared: ‘I am the object’. As she stood next to a long table with a white tablecloth over it, audience members were invited to use any of the 72 objects that were laid out, on her. The performance went on for 6 hours. The objects varied from a pocketknife and gun, to a rose and a feather. This piece was revolutionary for the art of theatre.

Abramovic’s reflection of this work illustrates how deeply connected she is to it. How far would you go for your art? Well, Abramovic risks it all. She puts her life and body into her creations, transporting audiences to unique, unknown and unpredictable territory: “The experience I drew from this work was that in your own performances you can go very far, but if you leave decisions to the public, you can be killed.”. Does it get more shocking than putting your life on the line? Abramovic breaks the boundaries of what can be performed on stage, blending the stillness and presence of art with the narrative and platform of theatre.

If you enjoyed reading Synthesis Theatre you might also enjoy reading Music Metamorphosis Here.

Find out more about Ken Nakajima’s upcoming work Here. To find out more about DV8 and to watch some of their performances click Here. To find out more about Edward Miskie click Here. To experience Marina Abramovic click Here.

DV8 Can We Talk About This? photograph by Bladsurb, Flickr [CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0] was accessed Here.