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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

The River of Uncertainty

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Theatre's ephemeral texts into reality ...

Edward de Bono coined the phrase "Water Logic". How we think and make judgements is too often based on being right or wrong. De Bono speaks of this kind of logic as "rock logic". It contains the truth as an object that is fixed. Water Logic, however, sees judgements been made according to how the concept or focus fits and flows within given circumstances. It leads to different outcomes than those achieved by simply seeking what is right or wrong. So while de Bono never seemed to be a fan of art or theatre, for that matter, his Water Logic is a very apt description of what is essentially taking place within a theatre event.

And so to a river of uncertainty; the water logic of theatre's ephemeral texts into reality!

The Act and the Context

In developing theatre as a worthwhile and valuable part of our social and personal existence, we need to consider presentation as part of a larger picture. Using the river metaphor, theatre is a river of ideas, crafts, expectations, torrents, movement, resolutions, conflicts, tensions, cultures and ... whatever! However, like all rivers, it needs bracing and boundaries that shape its very fit and flow; forming from somewhere and resolving somewhere else.

Writing articles like this have a purpose in lending weight to the contexts and shaping of theatre practice and experience. But also, so does the historical tides that pull at different paces and energies. The terrain through which theatre flows is often constructed by circumstances that give rise to the selection of content and the form for its expansion and communication.

In my DTC production of "The Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare, we designed it to feature the central character of Kate as battling a kind of glass ceiling literally built into the set. This fitted perfectly with the text. However, in Shakespeare's time there was no such thing or metaphor. The text, like a river, flowed easily within the boundaries of twenty-first century cultural contexts. It actually made sense and still had relevance for today.

The emergence of realism, surrealism, expressionism, naturalism, absurdism, epic theatre, symbolism, physical theatre and influences from Asian, Middle Easter, Native American and various forms of Indigenous dance and dramas had roots in discoveries and dissatisfaction with the current dominant modes of expression; or, were each finding appropriate forms to give meaning to cultural experiences of the time. No particular form or style simply was invented from no where. Each grew as either a reaction or as the only way to share meaning as defined in a particular social and/or cultural environment. Each form then flows in ways that morph either into developments of the various forms or into other forms or variants.

The Conservative Alternative View

Alternatively, it can be argued that any theatre expression needs to be true to its original development and presentation in a fundamental way. Any deviation from this could be seen as seriously problematic. "Play Shakespeare as written" goes the cry of conservative adherents to this view. Shakespeare's work is seen as "rock" solid and is in no need of "improving". The text, plots, characterisations, accents, designs and reference points need to be as close to the original as possible in order to have validity and due homage to the original.

As seen in my example above, to present the play strictly as it might have been presented in the sixteenth century would have museum value as providing a window into the past. However as theatre it would be deadly unless it inadvertently actually amended meanings to fit with audience understanding. Thus, is it really possible to present a play in an imaginary "as written" context?

I suggest this conservative and alternative view of play presentation is really conceptually lazy and is, at best, an amateur approach. Live theatre is nothing if not a relationship between the form, the acting presentation and audience. So the river metaphor stands.


Anyone presenting theatre should not be afraid to work on the flow and fit as in Water Logic. Paddle down the river and be aware of all the contours and rapids as you go. The navigation into a successful production will depend on it. Playing a seemingly safe production, moving the actors around and not bumping into the furniture, is really not an option. Nor is it an option to try emulating what some previous great production and great performers did. Theatre has no hard and fast truth that needs to be dragged out of the closet and put on to the stage. Rather it requires the surmising of vague and unformed intuitions and the willingness to find the flow and become aware of the contours.

Joe Woodward

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