Theatre and film, converging

Many people think film and theatre are two parallel forms of art, and that you can’t exceed in both. It’s either one or the other: “it’s truer in film, no, in theater, because it happens on the spot, you don’t have multiple doubles at mood”. I wonder why – from my point of view, the two can co-exist and should not be treated as two competing forms of expression.

More than that, I’ve seen them converging. In 2018, I went with my family to a show as part of the Romanian International Theatre Festival. I admit, that evening I wanted to do anything but go to the theatre. “Miss Iulia” directed by Katie Mitchell. I didn’t know who Iulia was, nor anything about this director. I can see a projection screen located above a very realistic scenery and about 5 cameras. This was neither theatre, as I knew it, nor film. But what was it?

The live music of a cello accompanied the performance, and the sounds were crafted on the spot, by a sound specialist who carefully watched the actors’ actions. We were part of Christine’s world. The images on the big screen were changing in real time; we were watching the story from a close perspective. Mitchell’s ambitions and desires are born through live cinema, a hybrid between theater and film.

The choice of live cinema involves a huge amount of work behind it, not only the time invested or the generous budget, but also the responsibility and importance of each member involved in these types of production. Dedication, respect, patience underpin the outstanding performances, the technique, rigour and scenic-filmic truth. Although the production team is filming and there are moments when you can see the actor  changing her identity from one character to another, their acting is deep, comprehensive, true, it happens “here, now”. Combining the technical and the artistic imperceptibly is reflective of the director’s mastery. The performances flow exceptionally and are a pleasure to watch.

Mitchell manages to juggle with vast artistic tools: sound, image, light, to highlight the struggle of the female characters. In an interview, she talks about her ambition of being able to bring to light the feminine energy in the fairest and most intimate way possible. She is cultivating a theatrical game based on the Stanislavskian method, which she had the opportunity to learn from her master Lev Dodin. I read Strindberg that night and was very surprised to see that the main character in Mitchell’s performance was a rather episodic character in the author’s play.

But I’m glad I can answer more clearly now, after reading a few things about this play. At the beginning of the journey, Mitchell noticed that most of the plays work according to a certain recipe: a story guided and led by a man, him representing the centre from which the scenes emerge; the play consists of the sum of his experiences: “A male character placed in a story overcomes certain obstacles and at the end is happy or sad.”. She noticed the tendency of the audience to follow a narrative thread through the lens of a male character. For Mitchell this classical canon was unsatisfactory, so she set out in search of a way in which she could express herself as a woman and a man. What she was looking for was a different way to tell the story, which would highlight other identities, perceptions, and experiences. 

Her idea was filming: through the lens of the cameras, the audience could observe the woman’s perspective. The filming equipment is used to capture small gestures, micro expressions, set details relevant throughout the story, things and moments that are almost impossible to notice from your seat. The performances and films are realistic, due to the technical part being very well set up. For example, for the “The Forbidden Zone” part, the simulation of a moving subway was performed through the mastery of lighting, the play of the actors imitating the movement of the body in the moving vehicle and the impeccable sound design. 

Another interesting aspect that you can observe in real time is how films are being made. Mitchell intentionally chooses to keep the simultaneity of the filming process and does not try to hide anything. On the contrary, she wants to present this process as a form of artistic expression.

Katie Mitchell proves that film and theatre are not two forms of art that are diametrically opposed, but that they can work extraordinarily well together, complementing each other and creating a truly fascinating dynamic.

Image by: Stefano Stacchini via Unsplash

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