Created by the company after Goat Island
In 2013 it was a great pleasure to work with VCA’s graduating company of actors and production students from all disciplines to stage this show.
In 2001 I saw Goat Island’s Earthquake in the UK before and after 9/11. It made a big impact on me and my collaborators at the time when we were co-founding our first company Reader. I remember a post-show discussion where the Earthquake’s relation to the World Trade Centre attacks came up. The company had created Earthquake over two years, working with a sense of surviving impending disaster and, of course, could not have predicted world events. (The show is punctuated by the line “What would happen if you had not come home last night?” and the question, “Are you afraid?”) In the immediate aftermath of such a shocking disaster audiences could not help but read Earthquake in light of 9/11. Yet, the show is not reducible to this single catastrophe.
The company here at VCA and I have spent a long time discussing the nature of calamity, the natural disasters and wars that shape our lives, expectations and dreams. From events that cause migration, to invasion and colonization, to the wars we wage against the world to live with our own version of freedom, to rebellion, to the battle in our bodies, struggling with language and skirmishing cells. We have discovered our own meanings in Earthquake, and have tried to keep the show open enough for you to find yours.
Earthquake is a challenging show to work on, demanding huge physical, vocal and emotional commitment from the actors and extraordinary ingenuity from the designers and their departments. It is a work of great precision where almost every breath has been considered and discussed. This is the precision and clarity that Goat Island demanded of their work. They also had a spare, uncluttered aesthetic with minimal production elements. I have not attempted to recreate a Goat Island ‘look’ in this context, opting instead to allow the designers to create their own responses to the show.
I hope that our Earthquake renews discussion about the incredible legacy of Goat Island, both their body of works and their innovative creative methodologies. Also, I hope that our Earthquake allows you to appreciate the skill and artistry of our graduating acting and production students who have worked tirelessly on this extraordinary project.
The company often worked on shows over two-to-three years, living with the material as part of their daily lives, allowing it grow in depth and complexity over long periods of time. They created from the inside, from the floor and the body. Lin Hixson the director would start a process by offering a set of directives that the performers could respond to however they liked. These performed responses provided new material for further responses from other performers. Thus, they worked in a process of involution that incorporated chance and the grit of daily lives, that resulted in refined, precise performances. They coined the term ‘creative responses’ for this process that they honed together. The term has entered the working vocabulary of many rehearsal rooms and training situations. This rehearsal process alone represents a major contribution to the development of theatre practice in the twentieth century. It is a powerful strategy for decentralising authorship away from one individual towards the collective ensemble. It emancipates the performer and also the emerging performance itself – the event that is unveiled by the work of all the collaborators through rehearsal, design and chance. Essentially it is a rigorous ‘open’ approach to making together that also includes room for multiple audience responses. It does not attempt to close down readings and possibilities of what an event might become, but rather seeks to allow the variety, diversity, strangeness and beauty of life to be held by the event of theatre.
Thus the Goat Island motto, or mantra, “We have discovered a performance by making it”, which we hung ten meters wide along one wall of our rehearsal room. We discovered our version of Earthquake over the six weeks of our rehearsals. However, we will also discover it again tonight, by making it with you.
At the time of the group’s dissolution Goat Island’s core members were Karen Christopher, Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson, Mark Jeffery, Bryan Saner and Litó Walkey. Visit Goat Island’s website: goatislandperformance.org
Goat Island published It’s an Earthquake in My Heart in 2005. They included the full description of the performance including what was said, stage directions and useful diagrams which elucidate the structure of the fragments of material. They also included a fascinating section titled ‘The Process’ which describes the methods by which the ensemble arrived at the final performance. In the Authors’ Guide the company state:
Please use the Authors’ Guide and The Process to attempt a re-creation of the performance itself, or to attempt a re-creation of aspects of the process. Either approach, we expect, will result in the creation of a new work, one which you may call your own.
Goat Island themselves ‘appropriated, imitated or copied’ material from many sources including poetry, video recordings of dances, instructional videos, old films and recreation of events observed in the world (car crashes for example). They did not see themselves as the originators of their work, more its shepherds.
While Goat Island generously offered Earthquake up to others, Robert Walton thought it essential to contact the former members of Goat Island to seek their endorsement for this first major response to the work by people outside of the original ensemble. All the original performers, Karen Christopher, Matthew Goulish, Mark Jeffrey and Bryan Saner in addition to director Lin Hixson and company manager CJ Mitchell have endorsed our Earthquake project at VCA. Additionally all the correspondents generously offered their time for questions from the cast and crew.
As Goat Island predicted, any fresh approach to Earthquake results in the creation of a new work. 12 performers (as opposed to the original 4) and a large design and production team mean that the work has taken on a more epic scale to serve the needs of the students involved. We have used all of the original text and incorporated the material structure of each section and preserved the running order. Essentially we have followed Goat Island’s maxim ‘work towards complexity’ by retaining the original structure but making it 3 times more complicated. We went back to the original sources Goat Island used as reference points including Señor Wences sketches, Pina Bausch films and the documentary How to Live in the German Democratic Republic. We also used recordings of the choreography from Goat Island’s film It’s Aching Like Birds to re-create some of the movement from part 2. We drew from new sources which we discovered during our process including:
- The poem Wichita Vortex Sutra by Allen Ginsberg (1966),
- The film adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet (1992),
- The film Contact based on the novel of the same name by Carl Sagan (1997),
- The spoken word performances The Salesman from ‘The Ugly One With The Jewels’ (1995) and Another Day in America from ‘Homeland’ (2010) by Laurie Anderson.
Photo Credits: Photos, Jeff Busby; Lighting, Benjamin Howlett; Set, Alexandra Hiller; Costume, Holly Patterson.