Gathered In Confidence: Review

Gathered in Confidence is a documentary Drama produced as an Advanced Production Project by level 400 drama students at The University Of Otago's Theatre Studies Department. The play ends it's too short run today, so few of you will be able to see it, which is a shame, as it is one of the most compelling pieces of drama I've seen in a long while.

The production of the piece was complex. Twenty two Dunedin people, representing a wide mix of age, gender, ethnicity and social background were videotaped as they answered the questions, What frightens you? and What comforts you? The people were interviewed in their home or work environments or in some other congenial location. The resulting 22 hours of footage was then edited into a 50 minute script which the actors performed using, as far as they could reproduce them, the words, intonation and body language of the original subjects. Staging was minimal: a layered set was used, with seats placed on differing levels and the actors, who each acted 2 or 3 of the subjects, denoted their characters and the characters' location by sparse but effective use of clothing and props. The play took place in darkness with each actor spotlit as they spoke. Each actor used an MP3 player and earbuds to listen to the soundtrack of the original interview as they performed their part. Great lengths were taken to protect the privacy of each of the participants, and they were, without exception, treated with dignity.

The performers were not typecast as to age and gender, so there was some initial incongruity, as for example, a young man acted the voice and mannerisms of an elderly woman, and a young Pakeha woman spoke as a very testosterone fuelled young Maori man. Incongruity didn't last long however as over the course of an hour each of the characters became convincingly and movingly real. Some of it was delightfully funny, some loaded with pathos. I was intrigued at how much the characters had exposed themselves in the course of their interviews, and how touchingly, vulnerably human they all seemed as the play concluded. The editing had been done very intelligently and the play felt very well paced. A loose thematic thread connected the segments and gave a strong sense of narrative. The use of music was particularly effective. Two songs were sung in the course of the play to good effect and the opening and closing music was a quite haunting piano improvisation on one of the songs, composed and performed by Corrie Huxtable, one of the actors.

In discussion after the play, it was asked why bother to act this at all? Why not let the original subjects just say their thing? Why not just watch the original edited videotape. I think that it is the incongruity I mentioned above which answers this. The acting was, without exception, flawless and the characters each shone through; but given the gap between the character and the person portraying him/her, we in the audience were each required to make the usual suspension of belief and enter the world created by the drama. We were always aware that we were watching people playing parts; and this raised , for me, a philosophical point: for just as the actors were playing parts, using words and gestures supplied from elsewhere, so too were the characters they played. Each, like all of us, was playing a part, responding to circumstances generally not of their making, and using words, ideas and perceptions which had been given them by their environment. The play thus passed the one criterion of all true art: it spoke a truth. It was this truth telling, artfully and skillfully handled which made Gathered In Confidence such satisfying drama.


Katherine said…
Sounds wonderful. I wish I could get the chance to experience it too.
Tillerman said…
It certainly sounds as if the play deserved an extended season. I would have liked to have seen it and I am sure that this particular play did indeed speak a truth to the audience.

Nevertheless this statement of yours is an interesting -

"The play thus passed the one criterion of all true art: it spoke a truth."

I am not sure what you exactly mean here. Are you drawing an equivalence between “art” and truth? - Or “true art” and truth -which raises again Pilates hoary old question of “what is truth”
what truth? whose truth? who decides this truth?
VenDr said…
Truth is Beauty, Beauty, Truth says Keats and although this is what I mean it doesn't make the meaning any clearer.

Truth = what is.

In our attempts to live with what is and make it comprehensible to our limited consciousness, we overlay what is with a whole strata of falsehood - our approximate guesses as to what the world consists of, our habitual ways of perceiving and interpreting, all that stuff. True art cuts through this layer of falsehood and shows us what is.

I think there are two qualities that are inherent in true art. One is that sense of truth - which we perceive as a sense of obviousness and familiarity; of homecoming - Of course! I have always known this! It all makes sense! The second is durability. Because it speaks the truth, the truth it speaks will be perceived across cultures and over a long period of time. So, after 400 years we can still hear what Hamlet has to tell us, and we can translate it into every major language.

Our entertainments, including certain recent films which we won't, out of politeness mention, don't tell the truth, but merely draw from and contribute to the layer of falsehood. These entertainments rarely travel between cultures and never last more than a few years. So your great grandchildren will certainly read A.S Byatt and maybe Harry Potter, perhaps watch Star Wars, probably listen to the Beatles; they won't be watching the Wombles or reading Danielle Steele.
Tillerman said…
You are I guess defining what makes a ‘classic’ i.e. its universality of application / relevance and its endurance over time. I have no argument at all about any of that.
The universal truths of Hamlet etc - as you say, have universal application and relevance to past, present and future lives.

What is considered great art or ‘true art’ doesn’t always seem to be immediately obvious to everyone – even to so called cultured, intellectual people, or even other working artists. e.g. Modigliani and Van Gogh never sold anything in their lifetime, nor was anyone particularly interested in their works. Often art (true art) is prophetic, a talisman of future things or a direct challenge to the established order – in that sense the ‘home coming’ as you say, is sometimes a future awakening.
VenDr said…
This business of posthumous fame doesn't happen as often as mythology makes out. A few painters, very rarely a poet - my favourite G M Hopkins for eg -, never a musician.I guess it's theoretically possible for a photographer, but probably never a film maker - but the medium is too young for us to know yet. And even then the obscurity is not complete. Van Gogh did only ever sell one painting, but he was recognised and appreciated by other painters: Gauguin, Pissaro and Monet, for example. Modigliani seemed to be surrounded by people - his many mistresses, poets, his early teacher - who recognised what he was trying to do, and he seems to have made a point - almost an artistic statement - of his bohemian painter lifestyle and his social separation. Whew! Talk about your candles in the wind!

Art is a piece of communication. Like all communication it only exists if there is both a sender and a receiver - if no-one "hears" the speaking is not a piece of communication, no matter how much truth might be in it. If no one receives, it is just vocalisation, of no more value than a belch. The aim of the artist is not to express but to be heard. Being heard requires mastery of your medium. It also requires awareness of your listeners, which is where many would be artists fail - and where Van Gogh only just missed failure by a whisker.

With painting, because the medium is so permanent it is possible for the sender and the receiver to be in different cultures or live in different ages. But to have kept on, Modigliani and Van Gogh must have had someone in their life time who got it.