Get thee to a Rodeo

By Kevin DeVlaming

Tim Crouch is the Prince of Denmark. He is also the founder of England-based theatre company News From Nowhere, a hypnotist in his critically acclaimed play An Oak Tree, and a glass of water, if he says so.

“News From Nowhere is more of a nom de guerre,” says Crouch. “It’s a name that enables me to work within the umbrella of a company.”

After spending twenty years acting around the UK and in New York, Crouch founded News From Nowhere as a means to facilitate his transition to playwright. His works since then have garnered much attention across Europe and North America, largely due to the unique way he molds his performances into largely philosophical experiments about the nature of projection and the power of suggestion.

Crouch will be in Calgary as a featured artist in this year’s High Performance Rodeo, performing his two-person play An Oak Tree alongside a different guest actor each night, who will appear courtesy of local experimental theatre company THEATREboom.

“There was a work of art called An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin,” says Crouch of the play’s namesake. “It was just a glass of water. Next to the glass is a text by the artist in which he explains how he has transformed the properties of the glass of water into those of a fully-grown Oak tree. This, for me, was a manifesto for theatre.”

An Oak Tree is about a stage hypnotist (Crouch) who accidentally strikes and kills a young girl with his car, and subsequently loses his power of persuasion. The second actor plays the father of the victim, who has taken to believing the Oak tree near where his daughter died is actually his lost girl. The play starts as the father volunteers for the hypnotist’s act.

The twist to the piece is that the actor playing the father isn’t allowed a glimpse at the script until shortly before the play begins, and so Crouch, as the hypnotist, projects the role of the father onto the guest actor, whose gender, age, race, etc., are arbitrary to each performance.

“We do mete it out before the show,” says Crouch of the actors playing the father. “I talk to them about inviting them to bring their actor’s instinct on stage. I talk about how we will tell a story together, and my invitation to them is to climb inside the fictional given circumstance of that story, and work with me on it.”

Crouch maintains that the play is improvisational, but only within the boundaries of a script. Every word spoken by his characters is scripted, but the direction that they take each performance is entirely variable.

“It would be false to say that every production of Hamlet is the same because the words are the same,” says Crouch. “Inevitably, it is different. This show is designed to celebrate that difference.”

Whatever the difference between performances, Crouch argues that one tenet remains the same: the actor playing the father is the father because Crouch says so. The audience members, as well as the guest actors themselves, are subject to Crouch’s projection.

“It’s just as if I say I’m Hamlet,” says Crouch. “Then that’s what I become. To the audience, I am not a symbol of Hamlet; I am Hamlet. It’s a quality that theatre has where we don’t have to concern ourselves with reality–and that’s what my work is trying to explore.”


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