Here’s a little something I made earlier. Written initially in response to Stefan Golaszewski I’ve been sat on it for a while, but after seeing Kim Noble last week it got me thinking about it again and so it seemed a good time to dust it off and let it see the light of internet day…let me know what you think.
The old adage ‘write what you know’ has been prescribed haughtily to young writers for an eternity. But in spite of its inherent restrictions it makes sense that experience breeds understanding. For proof of this look no further than Stefan Golaszewski’s double bill at The Bush Theatre. Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved astutely voices a collective experience within the words of an individual. The second memory infused Stefan Golaszewski Is A Widower lacks this symbiosis; Golaszewski has clearly been in love, but he hasn’t been old yet and it shows.
I’d been a fan of Golaszewski since 2008 when his first piece hit the Edinburgh Festival with an aura of the ‘genuine article’ about it; it had been pegged as revealing autobiography. Write what you know had been gazumped by ‘write what you are’ and the excitement was palpable; as was the betrayal upon realizing that it had all been a big hum dinging lie. Golaszewski had made most of the detail up; it was a marketing ploy that we fell for hook line and sinker.
Why would they do this and why would I care so much upon realizing it wasn’t true? There is a frisson of excitement about truth in theatre because by its very nature it is a medium that demands a suspension of disbelief. In 2009 critics are still bowled over by Golaszewski’s ‘emotional integrity’; it would appear even as we are told it is fiction we still long to believe it as fact.
I don’t believe that Tim Fountain’s hit 2004 show Sex Addict (where each night the audience pick a random man for him to sleep with and then hear about his previous night’s exploits) would have been such a success if it hadn’t been true. If he had lied about his sexual adventures, we would have been less interested.
Since Spalding Gray dazzled audiences in 1980s New York with his minimalistic autobiographical monologues, our ‘selves’ have taken centre stage. But who exactly is the ‘self’? Artists such as Bobby Baker and Tim Miller use their own lives as the basis for their work; flickering between their ‘real’ and ‘performance’ selves with no overtly external indication. It is sometimes impossible to know what is true and what isn’t: will the real Bobby Baker please stand up?
Frantic Assembly’s early work also begged this question of the audience. Using their real names and speaking in such naturalistic dialogue that audiences thought their pieces were unscripted, it became increasingly hard to distinguish between performer and person, between character and actor.
In work such as this the most interesting moments come in the space between the truth and fiction, as the audience attempts to define what or rather who they are watching. But even as we accept the blurring of selves it cannot be denied that whilst writing what you know is good, the promise of exploring who you are is more titillating, and something that in theatre, we all fall for.