What is theatre capable of? Simon Stone at TEDxSydney


Simon Stone: Hi. My name is Simon Stone and this is a bare stage. Theatre director Peter Brook opened his seminal book, The Empty Space, with this statement, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space while someone else is watching him and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” There, you all just engaged in an act of theatre. [laughter] Emptiness is an unnatural, but common state for a theatre. Before the theatre makers come to transform it with design, movement, and language the stage is bare. Before an audience arrives in the auditorium it’s just an empty set of chairs waiting to be sat in. These two spaces face each other without humans to make sense of them yet. There’s a sadness to an empty theatre, to its not yet being. But there’s also an exhilarating sense of potential, a sense that anything at all could unfold in this space. That’s what I want to look at today, the genesis of a moment of theatre, the first principles of the art form, what theatre is capable of. So, you’re all watching an empty stage. This is what happens when someone walks onto it. This is the actor up close. This is him facing the back corner. This is him lying face down in the middle of the stage. This is him speaking. This is him telling us what he had for breakfast. Unnamed Actor: [his speech is muffled] Two poached eggs and a slice of toast. [laughter] This is him telling us what he had for breakfast with his face turned to us. Unnamed Actor: Two poached eggs and a slice of toast. This is him standing up. This is what it looks like when only half the stage is lit. [laughter] This is what it looks like when only a quarter of the stage is lit. This is what the stage looks like when only the person on it is lit. When only his face is lit. [laughter] When only his lips are lit. [laughter] This is what his lips look like when he tells us what he had for breakfast. Unnamed Actor: Two poached eggs and a slice of toast. [laughter] This is the actor lit only from one side. This is the actor lit from the other side. This is the actor lit in a different colour. This is him lit in one colour and the stage in another. This is the actor in darkness. [laughter] This is him in darkness telling us what he had for breakfast. [laughter] Unnamed Actor: Two poached eggs and a slice of toast and some crispy bacon. [laughter] This is a light coming from the wings. This is the actor walking towards it. This is a newly bare stage. This is the high-pitched noise that’s been on since the beginning of the talk turning off. [laughter] This is a different actor walking across the stage. This is two people passing each other on a stage. This is them passing each other on a stage making brief eye contact, smiling, then one of them looking back over their shoulder as they walk away. [laughter] This is them passing each other, making eye contact, smiling, both looking over their shoulders, looking away, stopping, looking back, smiling again, and one of them speaking. Ewan: Anita? Simon: And the other replying. Anita: Ewan? Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Oh my God. Wow! Ewan: I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: I had no idea. Anita: Yeah, sorry. I meant to get in touch. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. This is the same conversation with her holding another man’s hand. [laughter] Ewan: Anita? Anita: Ewan? Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Oh my God. Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Wow. [laughter] Ewan: I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: I had no idea. Anita: Yeah, sorry. I meant to get in touch. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. This is what happens if he’s with a group of friends. [laughter] Ewan: Anita? Anita: Ewan? Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Oh my God. Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Wow. Ewan: I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: I had no idea. Anita: Yeah, sorry. I meant to get in touch. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. And this is what happens if the same conversation happens in a crowded place. [laughter] This is also what 63 people look like on a stage. [laughter] [same conversation happens but is barely audible] [laughter] OK. So this is what happens if we raise the volume of their conversation. Anita: Oh my God. Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Wow. Ewan: I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: I had no idea. Anita: Yeah, sorry. I meant to get in touch. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. [crowd of 63 talking in background] This is what the whole scene sounds like with a romantic underscore. [music begins] Ewan: Anita? Anita: Ewan! [music ends] Or with an avant garde soundscape. [buzzy feedback noises] Anita: Yeah, sorry. I meant to get in touch. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. Simon: Or if it’s set at a party. [dance music blasts] Ewan: Anita. [raised voice] Anita: My gosh. Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Oh my God. Ewan: Yeah. I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. Yeah. Sorry, I meant to get in touch. And this… [dance music ends] …is what happens if the whole scene takes place with a crowd watching a talk, someone delivering a talk. Speaker: So it engages conversation with these people and mango has got an innate attraction to kids. I’m not sure if it’s the screams and high-pitched talk, but she’s fascinated by them. It could be the fact that the local school kids have a blue and yellow uniform. [laughter] Speaker: So she might think they’re little fluffy macaws. But whatever it is… [speaker’s voice becomes background to conversation between Ewan and Anita] Ewan: Anita? Anita: Ewan? Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Oh my God. Ewan: Yeah. Anita: Wow. Ewan: I didn’t know you were in town. Anita: I got back last year. Ewan: I had no idea. Anita: Yeah, sorry. I mean to get in touch. Ewan: No, it’s good to see you. [speech ends with applause] Anita: Yeah. [applause] Anita: What have you been doing? Ewan: [inaudible 0:08:45] [crowd discussions] Anita: Oh. OK. Thanks. Anita: Maybe we could have a coffee some time? Ewan: Yeah. Yeah. No, that would be great. All right, there you go. Anita: OK. Thanks. Ewan: All right. [sound of a kiss] Ewan: It’s good to see you. Anita: Yeah. Ewan: All right. See you. Anita: OK. Bye. This is a woman smiling. This is a blackout. [laughter and applause]

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