Monday, April 14, 2014

The Question... Director Jon Lachlin Stewart on Beckett

The Outsider
by Estelle Rosen

Jon Lachlan Stewart is a director, playwright, and performer born in Edmonton, Alberta. He trained as an actor at Studio 58 in Vancouver. Mr Stewart's work explores contemporary and current themes through the creation of new plays that incorporate the use of dance and physical theatre. Currently, his primary focus is on the creation of works that can unite French and English artistic communities across Canada. Directing credits include Keeping Peace (Surreal SoReal Theatre / Azimuth), Guernica (Hidden Harlequin, best director Sterling nomination), as well as being artistic director of his company Surreal SoReal Theatre (2004-present) and various projects while studying at the National Theatre School. Playwriting credits include Little Room (nominated for two Edmonton Sterling Awards) Big Shot (nominated for two Sterling Awards and two Calgary Betty Mitchell Awards), The Gooble Portrait (Théâtre la Seizième; five Vancouver Jessie Awards), Dog (nominated for six Sterling Awards, including Best New Play, and winner of the Best Independent Production Award), and Edith Rex (current commission with Shadow Theatre). Acting credits include The Goat, or Who is Sylvia (Citadel Theatre), The Palace Grand (understudy, Electric Company), The Play About the Baby (Theatre Network), Whale Riding Weather (Zee Zee), Ecran Fumee, Flocons Pour Alicia (Théâtre la Seizième), Des fraises en janvier (LuniTheatre), and the Blue Light (Keyano), as well as many Surreal SoReal productions. 

CHARPO: I understand directing Before Her Time, three plays by Samuel Beckett, marks the end of your training in the National Theatre School  Directors program.  Why did you choose to direct three Beckett plays?

LACHLAN-STEWART: I’m an outsider coming in.

An Albertan in Montreal.

A Francophile trying to make a life in the mixed theatre community of this beautiful city. (cont'd)

(photo by Maxime Côté)
LACHLAN-STEWART: (cont'd) An Irish-Scottish-Canadian-French…ish…artist finishing his time at the Ecole National de Theatre’s directing program with a production of three short solos by Samuel Beckett.

In a city where I don’t speak the primary language with a booming cinema community and fantastic theatre venues such as Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Espace Go, Centaur Theatre, and…well, Youtube and Netflix at our fingertips…why go see a play at all, let alone the writings of a man who’s highly depressing tagline he’s come to be known for is “nothing to be done?”

Well for one, because I have an obsessive fascination with Beckett and can’t help myself…

And two: because Beckett still manages to boil theatre down to its rawest bone, its most simple and potent form.

I learned a great lesson after attending Claude Poissant’s mise-en-scène of Guillaume Corbeil’s excellent piece “Cinq Visages Pour Camille Brunelle”, the Espace Go gem that tackles social media as a form of contemporary existence. The writing hits it right on the head: today, many of us live our lives through how we project the image of ourselves, and not through who we are in truth. 

I believe we are hungry for definitions, hungry for the reason and logic of things. We want to understand who and what people are around us, so that we can label them, pocket them, carry them around with us…perfectly certain and perfectly secure.

Beckett’s writing, put quite simply, allows for no reason, certainty, or logic, and I feel this is far more truthful than the truths we pretend to know. His stories are of a woman asking a voice which is her own to rock herself into death, a mouth alone in the black of the theatre, screaming words she cannot understand, sifting through her own thoughts after 70 years of silence, hoping for meaning where there is none.

Beckett takes a world of story and a life of personal suffering and sickness to which he was party, and boils it down to what I can only describe as a lack of words. Silence is the natural state for Beckett, because for the suffering he saw and felt (having lived through both the first and second world war, including taking part in the French resistance), he believed that an attempt to describe the world in words would inevitably fall short.

But don’t let Beckett’s life through the wars and his deep attachment to suffering, death and sickness get you down…somehow, he’s also known for his humour. This was a skinny, sneering Irishman known as a boy for his pranks, known as a youth for his habits of drinking and terrorizing about the campus, known as a young writer for his lewdness. Behind the coal-like words of Beckett’s text lies a kind of wink to the audience, a kind of Vaudevillesque performance of the end, for our entertainment.

Where does my life fit in Beckett’s world?

I have, as Beckett had, gone through constant up-and-down bouts of mental instability, depression, loneliness, medication, therapy, the works. I rarely talk about this in a public way, but I feel there’s many who go through the same thing, and part of Beckett’s core is expressing his experience with being an outsider in this way. The women of “Before Her Time” have all been numbed by the shock of a recent tragedy, and that tragedy might just be their inability to connect with 'regular people.' Anyone out there who might know the feelings of loneliness, and I think that’s all of us, will find something in Beckett’s deep but somehow playful playlets.

We are in a busy world, and although our war is over, or maybe war is only in pause, there are other tensions, words, business, which only makes to cloud what we really have in us. 

We wake up every day and spot an image or a story online, finding the two minutes with our morning coffee to comment whatever we want, stamping meaning and projecting our opinions for our communities to see, tapping a quite “j’aime” onto the face of the internet. 

But there is no putting labels on Beckett. An attempt to define will only leave us wandering further. There is no putting reason or imagery onto the meaning of how we live today, and Beckett’s work remains, for me, the purest form of writing, piercing through all unnecessary action, boiling us down to our most uncomfortable, wordless, unseen-by-all existence.

In a world of too many words and too many stories, in front of us online in masses day to day, I leave you with the words of the man himself, stating: “I have as little to write as to say, or can write as little as say the immensity. As though the brain were full of milk that the least act of interest heats thinking to the boil. Then you can do nothing with it, only snatch away the pan in a hurry.”

April 22 - 26

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