Circle Mirror Transformation
Mise en Scène & Scenography
Cécile Van Snick
A coproduction from l’Atelier Théâtre Jean Vilar, le Théâtre de Liège and le Théâtre Le Public in partnership with ELAPSE.
With the participation of the Centre des Arts scéniques.
It's summer in a small village in Vermont. For six weeks two men and three women, aged from 16 to 60, participate in an acting workshop. This workshop will change their lives.
Little by little the audience is absorbed into the experimental play of the theatrical and social games they witness. They begin to participate by projection and soon enough become aware of change as it happens, across the minute unconscious progressions that these games provoke. By the end they realize that they have been transformed by the 2 hours' experience just as much as the 5 characters have been by their six weeks.
"In an age of ruddy Goliaths it is very useful to read about delicate Davids. [...] All this pathetic dimness, all this lovely weakness [...] is worth treasuring in the glare of those strong, self-sufficient worlds that are promised us by the worshippers of totalitarian states." – Nabokov on Tchekhov
“I am very interested in cruelty and suffering. But you could say I'm interested in gently looking at cruelty." – Annie Baker
In our production a dance mat becomes a petri dish where we examine closely the beauty of human weakness. Annie Baker's plays perform a micro-ethnography of daily behaviour and communication where every modulation in intensity and timing contains a world of emotion and meaning. In Circle Mirror Transformation she chooses the idea playground to develop her grammar: a situation where ordinary social communication appears as awkward, complexed, euphemistic and gauche, whilst the artificial, formal theatrical games pierce the evasiveness of the everyday with an incisive, disarming and poetic acuity. It's a context worthy of the playwright who defines the 'sad comic character of the everyday' in terms reminiscent of her preferred author, Tchekhov.
The acting workshop is a sub-set of this very contemporary phenomenon: the personal development course. There is no better place to explore the irony of unsatisfaction or the gap between personal ambition and reality. This is the terrain of Beckett too, and more recent forebears like Woody Alllen. Baker's comic melancholy is close to their's, generating emotion from the sort of ephemeral epiphanies that are so powerful in Beckett and from cumulative effects of an amazing emotional web, as in Tchekhov. Our ordinary heroes withstand an assault on their comfort zones and become pioneers of inner experience. In the pathos and humour of their encounters with the friction between social and theatrical play, we glimpse some delicious paradoxes: social being requires self-consciousness, but self-consciouness complicates the communication on which social being also depends. Nevertheless, Baker is an optimist, and this is indeed a comedy. There is transformation. This is important for the mise en scène. Change, Baker seems to be saying, is imperceptible. It is a secondary effect of passing time is only noticed after the fact. Her miniaturist and discreet style invites us into uncomfortable proximity with her characters. Then she leaves us there, without didactism or edifying moral conclusion to console us: no Final Laugh, no spectacular Tragic dénouement. Just an unspoken, shared sense of our humanness as temporal beings.
“The director, Nick Millett, is also an acting coach. This just adds depth to the mise en abyme at work here [...] Inhabited by silences, hesitations and doubts, Annie Baker’s play has cruel comedy and steely efficiency. The fine performances, cast and directed with sensitivity, dare to treat emotion not as an end, but as a human and dangerous matter, a strange object of identification. Their performance depends on the delicate equilibrium between emotion and laughter to unsettle us. A delicious paradox.”
– La Libre Belgique
“Profoundly humane – not to be missed!”
– L’Avenir Belge
“The delicate and precise directing by Nick Millett foregrounds the unforgettable performances from the five exceptional actors of this palpitating experience which permanently oscillates between comedy and tragedy. You leave overcome by this moment of théâtre-vérité, this piece of a rare depth that is so eloquent about the human condition. Five stars.”
– Froggy’s Delight
February 2017: Théâtre de Liège
February & March 2017: Atelier-Théâtre Jean Vilar, Louvain-la-Neuve
August 2017: Royal Festival of Spa
January 2018: Théâtre le Public, Brussels