Festival d'Avignon - report

New York theatre keeps audience hanging on the telephone

Festival d'Avignon

A musical version of a life told in telephone conversations - transcribed word for word – has been one of the revelations at the Avignon Theatre Festival.  


Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška, co-directors of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, insist that daily life has the same artistic value as dramatic events.

The first two episodes of Life and Times, lasting five and half hours altogether, relate the childhood and puberty of a character named Anne. Ultimately, the cycle will have 10 episodes. There is no need to see them consecutively. Each can stand alone as a performance.

Dossier: Festival d'Avignon 2011

Anne is an American Jane Sixpack, growing up in the suburbs. Although her story is based on the life of a real person, a member of the group (Kristin Worrall), the directors chose it specifically for its lack of drama. Anne’s life is the same as the lives of most people.

The music/stage/dance biography explores this ordinary life in every banal detail, from first diaper, friend, kiss and grade to puberty’s first pain and rebellion.

Worrall related her life story in a series of 10 telephone conversations. Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška transcribed it word for word, without any corrections. ‘Like’ is a leitmotif and every anecdote is peppered with ‘ums’, ‘huhs’ and ‘you knows’.

“We’re trying to redefine what a live performance is….We wanted to get away from the written text as the basis for a theatre project,” explained Pavol Liška.

“Were interested in the way people actually construct their stories,” added Kelly Copper. “Frequently, we don’t finish our sentences. The closer we get to saying something really meaningful, the more words fall apart, the more things go unsaid.”

The actors/singers are relentlessly cheerful and smiling as they coax you into a state of hypnosis, receptive to their hours-long saga. They don’t skip a beat even when interacting with the audience (“by the way what time is it?”). Pavol Liscka is originally from Central Europe, which helps explain the Soviet inspiration and precision of the choreography.

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma – the name is from a Kafka novel but the company is from New York – stands out for being funny at a festival that seems to want to ban humour (only one comedy was staged). And their idea of theatre seems subversively democratic for an event where experimental dance and performance art stand on a pedestal.


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