We are two weeks into rehearsing Ulster American and I find myself altered. Being in a world of a play eight hours a day is starting to really change how I see things. How I talk. I get like this working on a play, its ideas and its language will take more and more hold of me the more time I spend with it. For instance, David Ireland's play has an almost unrelenting rhythm to it, it is filled with swear words and is an examination of language, so I find myself talking quicker than I normally would, swearing more than I should and analysing what other people say just like we've analysed what the characters say more than anyone would feel was appropriate in everyday conversation. The first time that we went through the script we focused on understanding it, the second time we started playing around with it and this third time, starting this third week, is about making decisions regarding those rhythms, those intentions and those moments of play. Finding the shape of things. But it's still all about the words. The things the characters say and the way they say it. And those words are colouring my worldview.
For example, the characters say "Okay" a lot. But it means a different thing each time someone says it. Okay is one of those slippery words that can mean yes, can mean no, can mean alright, can mean hang on now let me process this, can mean let me see if I have understood you correctly, can mean great, can mean not great, can mean I want to stop this conversation, can mean I have stopped listening, can mean anything. It can be seen as consent when it isn't meant like consent. It embodies Derrida's ideas of slippage perfectly, that we can't discern a "truth" in words because meaning evades us. There's a million ways to say something and there's a million ways of taking what has been said and coming to a conclusion of its meaning. And we make a lot of decisions in split seconds with our understanding of things, we decide upon intent and more importantly, we get it wrong just as much as we get it right.
If you don't believe me try having an argument over text.
Words, words, words, WORDS.
Some words have more weight than others. They carry actions within them, history, they stir feeling. We know them when we see them, because they hit us hard. They slap us across the face, leave us gobsmacked. We treat them differently and we are aware when they leave our mouths. We know the power of them. These will be different for each of us. There's the thing we just won't say and the thing we just can't stand to hear. They may be very different.
I say again, try having an argument (in real life or over text). See how quickly it becomes about language rather than actions.
Ulster American is at heart about language and rehearsing it to a backdrop of riots in Northern Ireland and Trump's baby blimp in the sky and Brexit chaos has got me thinking of the power of words versus the power of action. To the point of being weary of sending a text or writing this blog. Because speaking is action. And we say the wrong thing more easily than we do the wrong thing. Or we assume someone has said the wrong thing, in a way we wouldn't assume someone's done the wrong thing. But the right thing, said at the right time, can change everything. The same goes for the wrong thing. It all depends on what is said, and how that is interpreted. Were we really listening to what was being said or did we hear what we wanted to? Do we mean what we say and say what we mean? And do we get away with saying things we would never do? What's okay?
Insights from being an FST bursary assistant director to Zinnie Harris on A Number by Caryl Churchill at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and being a JMK assistant director to Gareth Nicholls on Ulster American by David Ireland at the Traverse Theatre.