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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

So Why Am I Crying?

The Guardian: Lindsay Kemp: 'His life on stage was his most intense reality' | Lindsay Kemp | The Guardian

Paul's house was haunted. Jerry and Andrea slept in the bed and I slept on the floor. But during the night, Andrea woke up with a start as she felt hands around her neck trying to strangle her. I noticed the curtains flowing like in the moving "The Haunting". Paul had warned us his Neutral Bay house was haunted. But we were young and took such thoughts with a healthy scepticism. My brother was staying in a different room with his then fiance, Mary, whose back was playing up after the ten hour drive from Brisbane. Next morning Paul asked if we noticed anything strange during the night. Well ... Later that day we met up at the Glebe New Arts Theatre (Cinema) in Glebe to see a mysterious show that Paul had insisted we should drive down to Sydney and see. This moment was to be the turning point in my life.

Theatre as a life changer

It was November 1975. I had been teaching in a one-teacher school in south west Queensland. The world of Glebe Point Road and The New Arts Theatre (or Cinema) was a universe away from that little school. And stepping past half naked guys banging drums and walls in the foyer covered by naive yet violent crayon drawings made me imagine some asylum thing going on for real. What the fuck were you leading us to Paul? I was genuinely terrified!

The theatre auditorium was lit by ultraviolet lights and the stage had billowing smoke being pumped on to it as loud sounds filled the packed theatre. Then it started. I couldn't believe how loud the music was and how extreme the sexual images were as the masturbation extravaganza began. I was shaking. The brutality of the physical suggestions soon merged into a grotesque beauty I have rarely seen or experienced on a stage. The magic of transformation then merged with my studies and thoughts on the social constructions of reality studied at Uni. I felt the transforming power of a theatre than made no attempt to placate my very straight understanding of society, existence and reality. And I knew this is where I wanted to be ... I felt I needed to challenge my own stereotypes of vision.

Lindsay Kemp

It was Lindsay Kemp's production of "Flowers" based on the Jean Genet novel "Our Lady of the Flowers" that changed everything for me. I could never go back to teaching in a Primary School or even exist as a teacher following some defined curriculum. I swore I would never teach in a school again. Mind you, I did teach in a school for much of 1976.

In the following year, I was at a party with my brother, John. At this party, another old school colleague, Sean Mee, told me of a job at La Boite Theatre that might interest me. And life went on from there ... I got the job and started at the theatre in January 1977.

It took years of working in theatre and then later teaching Drama in a Secondary College to really grasp what Kemp actually did and what emanated from him. The only person I knew of on the historical influential stage that had anything of his power and style was Kazuo Ohno, one of the founders of Butoh. While I have no idea as to whether Kemp ever had any knowledge of Ohno's work, the simplicity and intensity of movement was evident in the work of both. Yet both artists emerged from totally different social, cultural and artistic settings while both were inspired to create from the life and work of Jean Genet.

I was fortunate enough to work with a Butoh teacher in the 1980s and I began to place into context some of the experience I had of Kemp. This combined with workshops on Meyerhold run by Stephen Champion and other teachers working in similar vein, including from Don Asker of Human Veins Dance Theatre, some patterns in theatre processes began to emerge.

There was one Lindsay Kemp exercise that I adapted and still use today at the start of new projects and new semesters of classes. I believe it opens up so many doors to processes from participants who simply needed to let go. My students would recognize it as the "Silly Face / Silly sound" exercise!

My interest in Artaud, Butoh, Meyerhold and a number of various more esoteric exercises and techniques trace their genesis to that one experience of Lindsay Kemp's "Flowers". Peter Brooke's work gave me a paradoxical structure or framework through which to identify experience and potential experience within theatre; while all the while, Brecht was whistling in the backstage.

So why am I crying?

That week-end at Paul's place and the visit to Glebe Point Road had such unexpected ramifications. The ghost that played around the bedrooms of that night has been replaced by many ghosts since. Lindsay Kemp's death only became known to me because Paul contacted me out of the ether on Saturday. Paul was the bass player in our band from the 1960s. And we talked about that event from November 1975. It prompted me to do a search on Lindsay Kemp; only to discover he died at the age of 80 three years ago.

How many theatrical experiences might people have that link with their own social and family situations? A theatre event isn't just a night out! It is an invitation to dance with ghosts and the sometimes terrifying worlds that are beyond our limited experiences. Whether it is for a "Flowers" or a "Caucasian Chalk Circle" by Brecht, the event has potential to resonate in ways that cannot be foreseen.

So my "crying" is a metaphor. I'm not shedding sentimental tears. Rather my body is literally shaking from the immense power unleashed by the uncertainty of a stirred up psyche. Perhaps we forget or refuse to acknowledge theatre as the secular equivalent of the wicca, the religious sacrifice, the transformational ritual that has power to touch and affect the real world! The crying is for standing in trepidation of where this recognition leaves me now.

Joe Woodward

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