Notes on Mouth Piece 2 – A letter to Nata and Sam

A public letter to Nata and Sam, Afghani twin brothers who grew up in Iran and who since 2015 have lived in Germany.
In 2019 they saw
Mund-Stück (Mouth Piece) at Theater Rampe in Stuttart, a show I made and performed with Rita Pauls which involved a curious approach to learning / absorbing German and Germany, via a week of random hitch hiking. In fact, barely speaking more than some German phrases we’d learnt to carry it out, the concept Rita and I stuck to was to ask drivers the same question – “What In Your Opinion Needs to be Said?” – and request to record whatever reactions or anwers they gave while driving, in order then to learn it by heart over about 6 months. In the performance we revoice a patchwork 45min edit of these responses, verbatim and together in sync – having also learnt and practiced the hesitations, breaths, thinking time, mistakes etc.
In an after-show talk we mentioned that we’d be interested to some day commission two other artists – with different motivations to assimilate into a given culture / language – to go through the same journey / process, and create their own performance. Nata later approached us and said he’d be up for it… Last weekend at Ballhaus Ost in Berlin
we performed both versions. I wrote to them on their birthday 2 days later, and with their consent now share these thoughts here.

___

Dear Nata, and Sam

First of all – happy birthday. I hope you’re still enjoying the good feeling of having done something truly fabulous on Saturday.

It was so special for Rita and I to be in the audience for the 6pm showing of your version of Mund-Stück, and then to swap places so you could then watch us in ours, at 9pm. The evening really felt like a celebration, for all four of us, and for both audiences.

After we finished, you came to us with sparkling eyes and told us how much you loved watching it. I remember thinking this must be how it is for people who practice a certain sport and then watch others doing it, live or on TV… just watching, but with that special body/mind knowledge of what it means to physically do it: a deep sense of what is at stake, of the risks, of the work or training that goes into achieving certain movements or that particular state requiring both alertness and calm. It was the same for us watching you. So great to feel that the four of us could share this awareness of what lies behind the performances we gave.

And then you said something that has been coming back to me, since then. You said, ‘…and your version is so much better than ours!’

Don’t worry – I know what you meant. I know it was your way of telling us that you could see and appreciate the work we’ve done, and I thank you for that. I’m sure you’d agree that there are many reasons why it makes no sense to ‘rate’ the two versions next to each other – and as I think through those reasons now, I’m starting to understand better what made your performance so very precious and unique. Yes, ok, our version is longer, it involves more voices, more switching between different characters. It’s more ‘sophisticated’, you could say.

But being sophisticated or perfect was never really part of the plan behind creating Mund-Stück. The question of virtuosity is something Rita and I have been grappling with since the start. For example, despite some similarities our aims are very different from Joris Lacoste’s with his project ‘Encyclopedie de Parole’, whose actors re-speak other people’s words verbatim with astonishing perfection. I don’t remember any mistakes there; the vulnerability on stage wasn’t real but represented (for example Emmanuel Lafon’s extraordinary rendering of a mentally unstable person in the Paris Metro which left me in tears, and still hasn’t left me). The situation of performing in Mund-Stück is never an entirely stable one. We’re forever teetering on the edge of language and expression; there’s always the risk of falling out of sync, of one or other tongue not quite getting into the right position between teeth or lips, of saying something wrong and producing some other meaning we’re unaware of, of memory failing. We’re all four of us somehow tresspassing on-stage – mad dilletant imposters with no business selling tickets for something that might collapse so easily.

When we worked together in Stuttgart, I remember telling you how Rita and I realised at a certain point that we wanted the audience’s focus to be shifting constantly between three different ‘poles’ while watching us perform:
– 1. The meaning of the text we are speaking (which, if or when what we say is understandable, should take care of itself)
– 2. Everything about the job we are doing, the ‘task’
– 3. Who we are as people and the relationship between the two of us.

With your performance, the big difference to ours is of course in 2 and 3, and how they relate to each other. The ‘distance’ between who you are and the job you’re doing is just so much bigger than it is for Rita and I! (Even if it’s been 18 years since I last performed on stage, I’m a theatre artist and I’m comfortable in these buildings. I’ve become a performance ‘animal’, and Rita perhaps even more so, despite her being 18 years younger than me.) Without wanting to go into it too much, let’s say this clearly: you arrived in Germany 5 years ago with nothing. It’s hard for us, the privileged ones, to fully comprehend what you must have gone through, but we have an idea. And so the ‘job’ (2) that you’re doing on stage is infused with this awareness of who you are (3) – and the journey you’ve taken to get to the point of standing in front of us to do it!

This journey of yours includes not just the week-long trip when you recorded the voices, but also before that the moments of seeing our version the first time, meeting us, talking with us, building trust with us. I think trust is really the magic ingredient in this work. In our version, we put a lot of emphasis on the trust between Rita and I as friends, and the unique ‘reciprocal’ trust between us and the strangers who picked us up while hitch-hiking.

It strikes me that despite you choosing not to travel by hitch-hiking, the ‘trust’ element in your version is also very complex and deep. It’s grounded in that huge ‘leap of faith’ you made to get involved with us in the first place. It’s infused of course with the trust between all four of us and the amazing people at Theater Rampe who decided to support every step of your project – financially, practically, dramaturgically, emotionally. As with ours, the text you speak in your version is framed and driven by an ‘economy of trust’ between you and the people speaking to you (ie, a trust not to be taken for granted, a trust which easily comes and goes). Then later in the long process of learning the text, and turning it into a performance, the trust you had in us when we told you, it is possible, you can do it… just think of how many times you must been tempted to give up! As I say in our intro, ‘it seems kind of impossible…’ And finally, in the performance itself, there’s something like a call to the audience that they are being trusted to be good witnesses. It’s not a simple situation of sitting comfortably in the dark watching people whose job it is to give us a show. There’s vulnerability here and the level of risk and effort coming from the stage is way up in the red. I think this really is why we make live work, and what we hope for when we go to see it.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to think that all this happened, and that you made it to Berlin at last, both of you travelling away from home for the first time as professional artists! It seems clear that this is the start of something for you both – the ideas you shared with us for what you want to do next are so surprising and great. I look forward to it all, and thank you again for believing in this project and taking it as far as you did.

with love and respect

Ant

Interview in Riga about The Extra People

This is quite old, but a good interview about The Extra People, a piece which is no longer touring but instead rather morphing into our reality.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-uLWiLmjmA
The interview is from August 2017 when it played in Riga as part of the great Homo Novus festival.

See the last post for passwords and access to full documentation of that work. And info about it here.
http://www.anthampton.com/Extra_People.html

the sensitive evidence of the body. Reading Augé during lockdown

“Metro, boulot, dodo [subway, job, sleep]: only a somewhat lazy irony could contest this triad as a symbol of modern alienation. The constraints it reflects are those of all social life; one might even, continuing along this line of thought, note that the somewhat inverted negative of the sequence (no more work, no more subway, no more sleep) would be a better symbol for the difficulties of the time, by making free hours and insomnia a result of unemployment. Subway, job, sleep: the interesting thing is, to the contrary, to understand how the sense of individual life is born of the global constraints that apply to all social life. Except for a few cultural details and a few technological adjustments, every society has its subway, and imposes on each and every individual itineraries in which the person uniquely experiences how he or she relates to others. That the sense is born of alienation has long been shown by ethnology, among other disciplines, and this truth remains paradoxical only because a certain idea of the individual resists it, anchored in the sensitive evidence of the body, which, in turn and return, defines the limits and meaning of the social.”
– Marc Augé – In the Metro – 1986

Autoteatro – some documentation during Covid-19

During the Corona crisis i’ve been noticing some questions popping up from people in the performance and theatre arena trying to imagine or getting interested in new forms that might be more possible within the current and forseeable constraints we’re facing.

I’m working on a number of things that I hope will help this debate and will post them here and elsewhere when ready, but for now –

I’ve decided to share some passwords to videos of past work below, not because the work in their entirety offer any packaged-up solutions (they all require a presentation framework and people coming together to do them) but because i think there are some approaches and formal devices within them that might give rise to other ideas by people who are already heading in a certain direction.

Most of my work is pretty hard to capture in documented form, but I think these ones come over kind of ok.

I’d be happy to hear any thoughts / responses / questions – you can get me on twitter @aantt or email
http://www.anthampton.com/contact.html

_________

THIS IS NOT MY VOICE SPEAKING – 2011 – with Britt Hatzius
For between 2 and 4 people at a time in a simple, large-ish room.
> https://vimeo.com/31684607
password – notmyvoice
info here >
http://www.anthampton.com/notmyvoice.html

GURUGURU – 2008 – with Sam Britton and Joji Koyama
https://vimeo.com/6615141
pw dicky
info here > http://www.anthampton.com/guruguru2.html
‘Without giving away too much, I can tell you that for 50 minutes, I sat on a named seat (‘Dickie’ to correspond with my name tag) in a non-confrontational group therapy style semi circle with the other four participants, facing a TV monitor, while we were each sporadically given instructions for what to do and say via headphones. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. As someone with a strong dislike for enforced participation and ‘organised fun’, this may seem to be quite a turn up for the books, but there could be a number of factors that contributed to this (…) The piece unfolds into exactly the kind of performance I enjoy, with quite ordinary people saying quite ordinary things in an increasingly un-ordinary situation, carefully engineered by the artists. And they successfully manage to construct a sense of temporary community without even being in the room – impressive!’
– from “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Dickie…” by Rachel Dobbs.

The Extra People – full video

Info here >
http://www.anthampton.com/Extra_People.html

https://vimeo.com/175827776
password is > extras

Here’s a few notes to clarify the video –

• All the sound is heard via by participating audience via in-ear headphones. The audio from the video is best listened to with headphones, to give a sense of the binaural effects (once in the space).

• The voice is a text-to-speech ‘tool’, a child’s voice, which exists here (‘Olivia’, in English/Australian) as a commercially available download for a computer – it cost me 15 euros. In the intro section (the ‘induction’) the voice talks about itself and touches on this. There is ‘no-one there’, no human intention behind the utterances – all this stuff that’s being ‘said’ has actually never really been spoken by anyone, only assembled algorithmically from many other recordings made with that child (which are then sliced up into different phonetic utterances). There’s something quite worrying about this tool that can be made to speak things which have absolutely nothing to do with being a child, that the voice is being literally instrumentalised. At the point of arrival, you type words (“describe your own voice in two words”) into a box and hear them spoken back to you by the same child voice immediately.

• The video shows the piece in Philadelphia – where we did runs of 6 hours, so about 180 people per night – and the situation there was interesting – a big old theatre right in the centre, with union laws meaning we couldn’t do things like move stuff from the back wall without the festival having to pay thousands of $ for a whole bunch of guys to come in and do it for us. So the paper backdrop on the back wall ended up being pretty ragged! In a way the falling-apart look goes well with the piece, but it’s not usually that messed up.

• The video at the end (59.11) no longer exists. Despite being fascinating and very disturbing, I found it stamped too much of an interpretive gloss onto the experience so I cut it.

CUE CHINA >
Some writing about it all on my site here

And here’s the full documentation
https://vimeo.com/45472319
password is jia

Looking for admin / manager / producer

dear friends and colleagues,

I’m looking for someone to take on the role of admin / manager / producer of my work. This role is quite particular due to the nature of what I do

(which often varies in nature!)… a brief outline below, and a longer one available for anyone interested. Contact info@anthampton.com 

hope to hear from you

Ant

_________________________________________________

Artist producer / manager (part-time/ freelance basis) for Ant Hampton

see http://www.anthampton.com 

What’s required – 

A person in charge of production and administration for my work

• Main tasks: negotiation of fees and other financial conditions, tour and gig organisation (travel, accommodation, transport,…); budgeting and organisation of new productions and new language versions of performances; invoicing, following up on payments; keeping track of income and costs; preparatory work for German tax declaration (income and VAT)

• Other tasks: support activities for performance production and distribution (e.g. following up on venues’ expression of interest); set preparation; support with other administrative aspects (e.g. KSK). Distribution work (trying to find me gigs) is not required. 

• Hours per week: 20-25 on average (flexibility required and offered)

• Skills: good planning skills and equal ability to respond and adapt to unexpected situations; good budgeting skills and ease at managing money; knowledge of German tax system and admin, precision, reliability; speaking different languages is a plus. 

What’s offered – 

• Adequate salary based on percentage (20% of artistic fee) that results in ca. 10.000 -12.000 Euros per year (gross / brutto); extra tasks if / when possible (e.g. set preparation) paid on top.

• Flexibility regarding when / where work is carried out. 

• Chance of working internationally even if travelling is not required; possibility to work autonomously and freedom in defining many aspects of the job and rethinking them, work with different artist through artistic collaboration

Blue Jeans

While I was at the urinals, you were over there straddling the Dyson Airblade™, blasting the soaked crotch of your wet jeans with compressed air. We’re in central Coventry’s basement public toilet together with a handful of other strangers, all of us bathed in an intense blue glow designed to disrupt a junkie’s progress by obscuring veins. Perhaps it was the light that pushed me to mistake you for someone beyond a stranger’s help. It wasn’t until the deafening white noise of the Airblade™ cut out, just as I was leaving, that i heard your broken voice responding to the toilet guardian approaching you – something about it all being a bit embarassing.

(Your voice remains with me and I wonder why I didn’t help you. I’m thinking maybe the picture of what I saw somehow obliterated the moment I was in, while I was in it. That my awareness of looking at a powerful / compelling image meant the actual moment itself was able to be displaced and vacated.
An invitation to myself, to swap compassion for irony; gratefully accepted.
So that I should no longer be there, but somewhere in the future instead, sharing the moment in conversations, or online.
Certainly not there for you.
Not there but here.
What can I do for you from here?
Not much. Too far away, too late to be useful. I can’t say that actually there’s no need to be embarassed. I can’t offer to go out and spend £3 on a pair of trousers from the Primark next door. I can’t simply make any fucking gesture at all of assistance, solidarity or tenderness and then just see how things go. All I can do is sit here in a bloodless online future, sharing regret and trying to forget about it, until an enthusastic algorithm pops up to remind me about it again three years later.)

Image

Mars hi-res

Image

A car crashed into the second story of a building in Santa Ana, California, this morning

Plastic in the Arts Isn’t Normal – First steps…

Friends and colleagues in the performance / touring world – please read and share this if you have a moment.

Following the logic, or the spirit, of not-doing-nothing-cos-you-can’t-solve-everything, I’ve decided to try and launch a “campaign of encouragement” with the aim of reducing the use of plastic in arts festivals (bottles, cutlery, packaging) and normalise the idea of avoiding its use.
Why? Because the global situation now is so obscene, and so critical (see link below for a start) that every time I’m at a festival and there are plastic plates for lunch or plastic water bottles at a conference (etc), I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of terrible dissonance or hypocrisy, and i guess i’m not alone. The arts are so often touted as ‘factories of possibilities’, coproducing and presenting work which tries to imagine alternatives, or at least exposing problems… and this one (unlike for example air travel) is not even that hard to solve.
We know this, because some festivals and organisations out there have already figured it out, so I wanted to start with pooling those positives, to be able to articulate solutions, not just lay down a challenge. Two questions –
a. do you know, or are you, an organisation who has an effective no-plastic policy, or is trying?
b. what are the steps taken which worked / didn’t work / continue to cause problems?
c. are there any existing campaigns that I could help with and which would render this unnecessary? (please say yes…)
I have a few ideas, but as a dilettante in the art of campaigning I’d welcome any suggestions for how to go about this with care and understanding as well as effectiveness
with thanks and hope,
Ant
ps. apologies to Jacques Rancière for the image

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change

Innumerable

The other day I was thinking about the terrible Beslan Massacre which happened on my birthday 1 Sep some years ago. And then, about how commemorations of catastrophe are usually measured in years (10 years since 9/11 etc). I wondered if matters of human pain or anguish wouldn’t be better considered in terms of hours, if not minutes and seconds. There’s a website where you can put in a date and get how many hours have passed – it turns out that Beslan happened 100 thousand hours ago, today. But now that I have this round number in front of me, I’m not sure what to do with it.