Essays & interviews

In The Field of Players

Kim van de Werff – Mar 2004

IFFR-Power:Play, Friendly Fire at TENT., performance project by Jeanne van Heeswijk and Marten Winters.

For a minute I feared I would have to leave my safe anti-limelight mode, when I was asked during the past international filmfestival Rotterdam by the editor in chief of the Daily Tiger (my employer at the time) to participate in a casting session marking the start of a performance project together with my colleague / friend Nicole.
There were parts to be cast, and we had to join battle. I was determined to act only as an observer, without participating. Equipped with a notepad I’d report on Nicole bringing the house down in ‘In the Field of Players’, a project initiated by the artists Jeanne van Heeswijk and Marten Winters and part of the festival section called Power Play. A title, it turned out, the initiators hadn’t just taken figuratively, but also very literally. The purpose of the casting sessions was to recruit specific groups of participants for the different days of performance who would under the guidance of a female threesome dressed in brightly-coloured patent leather play a game which can best be characterised as non-spectacular, being an euphemism of course for just dead boring. But that’s running ahead of things.

I had to give up part of my sovereignty, as it turned out a mere notepad didn’t offer proper protection against anything that smells of a theatrical manifestation. Only cast participants were allowed to set foot on the playground, so I was placed in the ‘public’ group, while Nicole was allowed to hold the hierarchically substantially higher position of ‘whisperer’. What we were up against, a few days later in TENT., was painstakingly kept from us, causing the participants to be clearly subjected to a tense feeling of uncertainty on the day of the performance. Everyone was individually brought by one of the three hostesses to a place in a gym-like space, where lines, dotted lines, circles and crosses formed a peculiar pattern on the floor. The order was to stay put and await new instructions, which as yet all present dutifully obeyed, until the entrance door closed and it slowly emerged that the game had already started. A barely dressed round-miss crossed the room following an obsessive-compulsive pattern, while a security guard followed another path, a pool attendant monitored the number of entrants from his high chair and a rope-skipping man produced a monotonous banging. Elsewhere, it subsequently became clear, an old man was playing twister with a young girl, while in the middle of the space well-dressed, over-40 males were engaged in a remarkable macho fight with each other, chiefly using their elbows. Forty-plus men of high cultural position, was their official profile. A powerplay therefore, in a most literal sense. But of such awkwardness I was tempted to interpret it as a kind of Seventies’ anti-establishment statement. Yet the prima facie simplism turned out to be part of a subtle complex only manifesting itself in course of time.

As I‘ve already stated the event was staggeringly boring: aside from the above-mentioned acts physically so terrifying little occurred, I was overcome by an acute longing to end the tedium which very soon took control of me.
The patent leather ladies were walking around without expression, in places relocating some people like pawns to sideline anyone who dared to leave his place without permission. As I was on a mission and didn’t want to miss out on the outcome, I obediently stayed put, attaining a near zombie-like state of subjection. And there in a mental and therefore entirely individual space the actual performance took place. By being transposed in a physically agonising, uncertain position, it became necessary to reflect upon what I had submitted myself to, where the boundaries of the power lay that I had allowed to be imposed on me and how I could regain control over my own position. Exactly by this toying around with clichés (the round-miss, the use of one’s elbows, the sturdy security guard, the expectations regarding a game where tension and climax seem to be indispensable, all the clichés regarding power) the performance went beyond being an obscure experiment to acquire, for me at least, the meaning of a confronting, even disordering experience.

Kim vd Werff

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