Upcoming in 2015


Washington Square, adapted from Henry James's novel


The Michael Chekhov School begins in Hudson, NY

Past Productions


You Want to Live in It, documentary film (watch it HERE)


Uncle Ethan Ripley (revival) by Hamlin Garland

Eugene's Ghosts - The Film, adapted from E. O'Neill

Washington Square by Henry James

Antigone by Jean Anouilh
Three Conversations & The Son, 2 plays by Peter James Haworth

Chekhovek by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Melania Levitsky

Tennessee Williams Centennial Celebration

Painting Churches by Tina Howe

In Association with Walking the dog Theater

Eugene's Ghosts/ Long Day's Journey Into Night by E. O'Neill

I might be Edgar Allan Poe by Dawson Nichols

Hamlet by W.Shakespeare

In Collboration with WTD & Shakespeare Alive

Mary & Elizabeth by Fern Sloan and Jessica Cerullo

The Actors’ Ensemble 4th Annual Summer Theatre Festival
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again by Michel Tremblay

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
The Actors’ Ensemble 3rd Annual Summer Theatre Festival
Bartleby - A Story of Wall Street, by L. Lane

Filumena by Eduardo de Filippo
The Actors’ Ensemble Second Annual Summer Festival
Painting Churches by Tina Howe

I have never been here, Original Production
The Actors’ Ensemble First Annual Summer Festival
Uncle Ethan Ripley by Hamlin Garland

Kaspar Hauser, Original Production
birger!, co-production with WerkBühne Berlin
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco

Mein geliebtes Du ( As Long As I Live),

co-production with WerkBühneBerlin
Haiku by Kate Snodgras
Memoir by John Murrell

Smile at the Foot of the Ladder by Henry Miller

The Path of Return by Thich Nhat Hanh
Metamorphosis by Ovid

Trojan Women by Euripides

The Hour Glass by William Yeats

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

The Blind by Maetterlinck

Spoon River by Edgar Lee Masters

Human Comedy by William Saroyan

Mrs. Ripley’s Trip by Hamlin Garland
The Raven – American Indian tale
Three Sillies – English fairy tale
Treasure Trove – Russian fairy tale

Nobodaddy by Archibald MacLeish

Gas by Georg Kaiser

Thornton Wilder 3 minute plays


Reviews and Reflections


A Director’s note: I HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE… - By Ragnar Freidank Read more

Voices from darkness, I HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE - By David Mackler Read more

The here of TAE's "I have never been here" - By David Anderson Read more

Waiting For Godot - By David Grybowski Read more

WAITING FOR GODOT By David Anderson Read more


By Julie Brodeur

At the beginning of February, in an Old Dutch revival church in Mellenville, New York, six actors and an author commenced a three-week period of research, not really knowing what they would be doing or how they would be working. The task was an exploration and investigation into the soul state of an enigmatic individual who appeared in Europe almost two centuries ago. This was the beginning of a long preparation for the creation of a fall theatrical production, a collaboration among actors, speech artists, a director, a writer, musicians, and a composer, based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser’s life.

A strange figure appeared in the city of Nuremberg, Germany in 1828. The youth was in a state of shock, he walked awkwardly, leaving tracks of blood. He did not understand language and clumsily repeated one sentence that, as soon became evident, meant nothing to him. Any food other than bread and water was repugnant to him. The simplest phenomena and basic elements of daily life seemed completely foreign to him. Yes, he could have come from another planet. He quickly became the greatest attraction in the city. People of all ranks streamed in to see the new creature, to marvel at his strange state, his child-like wonder, curiosity and thirst for knowledge, or to experiment and poke fun at him.

After a short time, general observation and thorough medical examinations deduced that this boy had not walked since very early childhood, that he had been kept where sound and the light of day could not enter, away from society and any human contact.

“Kaspar’s soul was brought into an animal-like state of sleep during which he was comparable to a dead man. He slept through his youth, and he was unaware of it passing him by. The gap, ripped into his life by the crime committed against him, can never be filled. The time he did not live can never be brought back. However long he may live, he will forever be a man without a childhood and youth.

The crime committed against Kaspar is the greatest criminal encroachment on a man’s most holy, most inherent property; on the freedom and destiny of his soul.”
Anselm von Feuerbach, President of the Court of Appeal of Ansbach

The mayor of Nuremberg made a public announcement telling of the crime that had been committed and making a plea for any information leading to the criminals. Kaspar’s story touched everyone; his fame spread like wildfire throughout Europe, and people began to call him “the Child of Europe”.
Many were taken by him: “While I quietly observed him, I came to the conclusion that he is anything but a simpleton or a savage. … During the first days of his stay with me he behaved as a little child and in all respects showed greatest innocence and purity.” Andreas Hiltl, prison guard
They taught him to speak and to write, which he learned astonishingly fast, and he hungrily began to learn the ways of the world. He had no sense for dogma and accepted no concepts that he could not understand, such as God or the growth of plants. Though his knowledge of the world was non-existent, he had an exceptionally strong moral sense. Experiments were taken up exploring the incredible sensitivity of each of his senses that in some instances were so fine that he almost seemed to possess magic powers. Slowly, he began to have faint memories of a far-off childhood and detailed dreams of palace rooms and halls. A highly regarded court prosecutor began an investigation of Kaspar’s past which soon revealed the implication of strong powers with highly hidden motives, but further inquiries remained fruitless.

Kaspar made it known that he was now writing his memoir, a very naïve undertaking for someone who had been in the world only two years. Then, an attempt was made on the youth’s life in broad daylight. It became clear that he had unknown, powerful enemies. A mysterious, benevolent English lord suddenly appeared in Kaspar’s life, showering him with gifts and praises, and, within six months, took over Kaspar’s guardianship.

Kaspar was brought to Ansbach, a small, provincial town, away from his loved ones. Dramatic changes took place in his life situation and, consequently, in him. His education was given into the hands of a very strict, principled man, insensitive to Kaspar’s unique, childlike disposition. Construed rumors were spread that he was a fraud, he was surrounded by foes who made his life miserable, and his only comfort was the kind village priest, Heinrich Fuhrmann.
On a stormy December day, under mysterious circumstances, he was stabbed by an unknown hand and died three days later, with the innocent words: “Why should I hate or be angry? No one has done me any harm.” He became a legend in Germany, an almost mythical figure, not because of any achievement or deed, but because of his being, his untainted yet deeply human soul, and because of what he suffered.

In over a century and a half, his story has been told from innumerable points of view, and there is an endless amount of material that has been written with different interpretations and theories. Rudolf Steiner has spoken of his spiritual significance; others hold the theory that he was an abducted prince from the Royal House of Baden and have researched the motives for his keeper and his killers. He appears in romanticized tales as a fraud or as a hero, and a recent DNA test set out to prove that he was not of royal descent… Though all these elements are intriguing, they do not explain the incredible interest that so many have taken in Kaspar Hauser’s fate. What is it that still touches and impresses one to this day?

“Whether he came from a palace or a shack was all the same to me. What led me to care for him in the beginning was simply my own heart, the feeling of compassion and the heavenly appearance of an angelically beautiful, angelically pure soul”
Georg Friedrich Daumer, his guardian

Kaspar reminds us of the highest human virtues, of the soul’s capacity for love, truthfulness and compassion, and, in the utmost simplicity, of the greatness of what the human being can be. His openness and purity awaken recognition of oneself, of a universally shared human experience.
In the de-humanizing trends of our times, there is a deeply rooted thirst and attraction to innocence and purity, especially in America, which is a world leader in the evolution of our technological age. This era has long since left behind the importance and significance of cultivating social and cultural nourishment for the soul. There is a certain laming starvation of the soul through which its potential remains undeveloped, and which manifests in the country’s love for simpletons, fools, and heroes that show their weaknesses and imperfections. In Kaspar one recognizes the qualities of soul that are so lacking in our world and lie dormant in each human being.
We wish to tell the STORY of Kaspar Hauser to those many who have never heard it, without a point of view, leaving the audience free to read in the journey of events what they wish. The beginning point in our endeavor to develop this theater piece is simply to enter the life of Kaspar Hauser as it is historically recorded in the numerous documents written by those who knew him. We explore his experience of the world, and the world’s direct response to him by living into moments of his life. We have discovered distinct qualities, moods, and characteristics inherent to Kaspar that reappear throughout our approach to the piece.

Our way of working is to enter into the creative process with an innocent openness to discovery, which reflects Kaspar’s disposition. Our explorations do not begin with an image of what we should find out, with a preconceived idea of what we will discover, or with a fixed point of view, but rather, with the actor inwardly facing the unknown. We start with the actor as a human being, investigating through imagination, perception and empathy. By these means, we follow Kaspar‘s reality, expand on a theme of his life and create situations that he experienced, using theater as a sort of laboratory for the human soul. In one situation, we lived into the reality of his cell, a place without light, sound or any human contact…a womb. Though at first thought this may seem ghastly, depressing, we all found ourselves in a peaceful, secure and very safe place. Then, a second actor playing the man that taught him to write and to walk was sent in, to create a dramatic situation for the actor playing Kaspar. Every actor was astonished to realize that they had felt no threat, no trace of fear or apprehension in such an overwhelming situation but rather, through taking in the experience through our perception as Kaspar, there arose moments of surprise, amazement, wonder, and awe.

The primary task in the process of exploration is to stay open to the unexpected, to listen to the discoveries, and remain with the questions. As a result, the actor is very often surprised at what comes to him, making the reality of these situations always a discovery. The content that arises is often much richer than if the actor improvises for the purpose of maintaining interest or entertaining an audience. This comes at a later date when it is appropriate. This is a luxury not often found in professional theater circles. In this way, we enter a process in which we work together, as an ensemble, each member adding to and enriching the creation of the piece.
This approach to the story, we hope will bring out the special qualities of Kaspar that have always awakened such interest and compassion, and render them into a unique theatrical, musical event.
Since its founding in 1985, The Actors’ Ensemble has striven to develop and explore theater pieces out of the actors’ artistic process and the formation of ensemble. It was founded in New York City by a group of professional actors, grounded in the ideals of Rudolf Steiner, and inspired by the acting techniques of Michael Chekhov, the creative speech indications of Steiner, and the movement approach of Fritz von Bothmer. The Kaspar Hauser project, a collaboration of artists from different fields, is a new step for the ensemble. After the work in February, a second research period will take place in the summer, the collaboration and creation of the production will begin in the fall.

In this way, we will live through this whole year with Kaspar Hauser, studying his life and the circumstances of his peculiar destiny, looking to penetrate the meaning and depth of this soul’s suffering and his capacity for love, truthfulness and compassion.

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A Director’s note:


A theatre piece about people’s experiences in a concentration camp?

There are times of joy and there are times of suffering. Human history is also a history of attacks, wars, atrocities and cruelty that man committed against man, faith against faith, race against race. Obviously this is still continuing into our times. - Why would one attempt to create a theatre event dealing with this matter, why would one want to go to those places in ones imagination through the means of “art”?

When digging in the dark and suffocating corners of our world’s history one finds stories
- stories of people who lived or died facing the annihilation of everything that is human; stories telling us also that in moments some people have transcended their desperate and hopeless surroundings. A faint light becomes visible, a light of a special nature that does not bear the characteristics of outer success and victory, but seems to have given those lost souls the strength to bear the unbearable.

This production is the attempt to look for that very light. We are looking for it by means of the theatre. We are looking in sound, music, movement, words, in gesture, feeling and relationship.

So this theatre evening is not really about the camps at all.
It is about the question: Is there light? - or better: can we see the light?
And as with every question there is the possibility that the answer is Yes or No.

(Ragnar Freidank)

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Voices from darkness

I Have Never Been Here

By the members of the Actors' Ensemble
Directed by Ragnar Freidank
The Actors' Ensemble
Sanford Meisner Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

In the utter darkness, ghostly sounds and shapes surrounded the audience - the actors moved through the aisles and were seen only vaguely, engendering a feeling of dread and fear. This was the introduction to I Have Never Been Here, a theatre piece assembled by The Actor's Ensemble out of historical documents and stories of people in prison camps, concentration camps, labor camps. Their recreation of the horrific experience was only partially successful though, in spite of the research and creative performing that made up the performance.

Possibly in an effort to give the experience a global meaning, there was no specific setting for any of the 14 scenes (some complete with sub-scenes) dealing with the degradation, hunger, panic, and despair of life in the camps. But because there was nothing specific about the scenes, it all tended to blend together. Again, that was likely the point, that human degradation is universal and it reduces evil to an unimaginable banality. But theatrically, much was missing - a sense of where and whom. If the experience of Auschwitz and a prison are to be shown as similar, they need to be grounded in their differences as well. Without indication of which scene was set where, who these people were, and how they got where they are, some narrative interest was lost. Much of the performance was in pantomime and movement, which also kept the subject at a distance from the audience's emotions.

Still, there was some strong stuff here. Playing games takes on a whole new aura when the kids are ill-clothed and hungry. The experience of a piece of food and how it is (or is not) shared becomes a test of character and humanity. Death is everywhere, although the use of prop masks became another impediment to emotional involvement. The main focus of the set was black-and-white alternating fields painted on a backdrop, which absorbed and reflected the color and brightness of the excellent lighting design (lighting/sets Edgar Weinstock). Throwing the actors into shadows or garishly brightening them worked in tandem with the way sound was used throughout. This use of sound -- voices, tappings, knockings -- was director Ragnar Friedank's finest achievement in the piece -- it often made for more meaning than the actors. Three women making a kind of music on found items, weaving voices and sounds and thereby rediscovering a bit of their own humanity, was a high point; an older man telling a story in a Chinese-sounding gibberish became touching, but as with most of the piece, the lack of specificity made it disappointing. Were they in Borneo in WWII? A prison ship? Siberia? (Nah, not cold enough. But still . . ..)

The costumes were a dull-colored collection of mismatched pajamas and other random clothes, which again was emblematic, but non-specific. There were several striking tableaux, each of which caught something of the randomness and shock of death, as well as its inevitability. The ensemble of actors, all fine movers and emoters, were Benedicta Bertau, Melania Levitsky, Laurie Portocarrero, Ted Pugh, Fern Sloan, Susan Willerman, and Glen Williamson. They were not individually identified by part, which also fit in with the theme of the piece.

Copyright 2002 David Mackler

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The here of The Actors' Ensemble's "I have never been here"

Observations on a performance

By David Anderson

"I have never been here", the latest production of The Actors' Ensemble, is an unusual kind of success, in so far as the art of theater is ever about success. Ultimately, its success may rest in the ability to raise the question about what succeeds in theater. Longevity, popularity and entertainment value have become the accepted proofs of success, but clearly "I have never been here" aims for something else.
Do plays in themselves ever truly "succeed"? Perhaps only moments can. Moments, maybe lasting the length of a performance, in which actors and audience find themselves simultaneously committed and spontaneously engaged with a potential beyond themselves, an exalted life poetic, an illuminating of the space between.

"I have never been here" breathed with that potential. And its success lived in moments, moving in and out of dramatic dialogue with itself and, by virtue of the audience's attend-dance, with us. Yet the spell of its success, its pulse and breath, like an unexpected encounter with a stranger in the night, lingers. The way it lingers shows the unusual nature of the experience.
The piece speaks a spatial and corporeal poetic, employing but a few words, and those more for expressionistic effect than content. The sparseness and preciousness with the presence of the Word left this and other audience members careful and, in a certain sense, speechless in returning to the world of verbal communication. Displaced in the unfamiliar landscape of the performance, its language of bodies, gestures, and movement, I did not know what to think or feel when the houselights went up, and for that I was grateful. I found myself occupying a thoughtless place where impressions could enter unfiltered.
Eventually it reminded me of the experience of reading a good poem; the way a poem tunes into the more secret rhythms of the soul, slowing us down to hear the subtle motions of another dimension and yet confounding our intellectual ear long enough to make a deeper sense of things. The performances (I saw the production twice) brought me to the place I enjoy after a good poem: the heightened senses, the patient gaze upon things, the slower pace, the acceptance of time and circumstance. Without telling us the story of concentration camp life, or stirring us with its emotional charge, the performers created an experience of soul within such a situation.

The performance is probably more comparable to some modern music. It requires activity on the part of the audience. If the audience is unwilling to enter the new language of the piece, not much will happen, as the piece does not command attention but rather invites it. Yet an active audience may reach an undiscovered country and thereby bring the sailing vessel of this piece to berth at the home it seeks. For truly, though the readiness of the actors determines the energy that enters the structured improvisations that are the make up of the piece, the listening attention of the audience will draw the life out of that energy. Stem cells are an isolated hoax: life is still co-created. Whatever this piece is saying, this "saying" lives between the silent tongue and the sensual ear, both sides poised on the edge of knowing and wonderfully lost in the Unknown. Every moment exposes a new and unpredictable potential for something to happen, performers and audience relating as the left and right hands straddling the heart between them.

The ability of the actors helped us in this cooperative, and single actors sometimes became the axis for a moment's turning: Ted Pugh's brilliant "Marionen" monologue in hungering gibberish, which we understood without our understanding; Benedicta Bertau's transcendent dance that lifted us off the branch of tension we were holding; Melania Levitsky's "Here-I-am" singing tones, a non-music from a depth rarely heard; Fern Sloan's haunting laugh at receiving her tuna-tin portion of soup; Laurie Portocarrero's intimate and desperate adoration of a piece of food she secured for a secret eating; Susan Willerman's act of sweeping, making a religion out of the communion of dust; and Glen Williamson's "No!", his improvised response to seeing a portion of precious soup poured over the floor in hysterical abandon, heard only on my second night and the only word to sound out its common meaning, echoing out over the piece as a solitary chord of language.

Another measure of success is speaking well and being heard. On this mark the collaborative and complete commitment that the actors bring to the performance unite them in voice, but at the same time leave us free for the hearing, and open the possibility for an understanding beyond their intention and what we want to hear. This piece does not satisfy; it percolates. We awaken to the subtlest shift in energy, and the slightest movement in the space becomes huge and significant. Our lost everyday unseen gestures find their power and meaning within this dramatic context. The words and sounds resounded a soul language free of any impressionistic soul covering; a dialogue between bare light and stark darkness. As director Ragnar Freidank's program introduction confides, they were looking for the faint light that an oppressing darkness makes visible. He writes that the production is about the question: "Can we see the light? And as with every question there is the possibility that the answer is Yes or No." In this performance, as in life, the answer changes from moment to moment, but our awakened interest in seeing the light keeps us going.

It seems paradoxical to describe the play's success in terms of what emerges between players and audience because the light it seeks to discover is the naked light that rises alone and unwitnessed from circumstances that would seem to make its luminescence impossible; a light that apparently does not depend upon another presence. But it is in these moments when the light is most private and most quiet that a greater "audience" can be felt. The place of most aloneness then becomes the place of truest communion. This performance gives the audience the perspective of a witness privy to a light that only our highest principle remembers.

I salute this performance in freeing us (for the duration of its moment) from our drive to be entertained and for opening up unfamiliar levels of communication and new possibilities for sharing an evening and a room with a group of performers. The piece is a brave experiment in what an audience is able to meet without the benefit of a narrative or storyline, and it is effective precisely because its episodic nature gives the audience momentary glimpses into a netherworld beyond the currents of time and progression.
However, on my first seeing, the pervasive presence of this netherworld made me long for more moments of dramatic contrast, for a stronger context for the world we had entered. This was provided by masked, stick-bearing figures (camp guards) who were powerful not only through the position they found themselves in, empowered from without, but also in the inner reckoning they faced and made dynamically visible in that position.

The second performance I saw was a different one. The ensemble had found the tension I missed the day before, and every moment, so dependent on incalculable improvisational circumstances, resolved itself differently, yet never lost the aura of the whole. As I began noticing the outcomes change in the episodes, my excitement within each vignette or stanza grew, as I could share in the performers' venture into the Unknown and watch the forces that determine an outcome.

What makes this performance work as an ensemble piece is that its objective lives beyond the ensemble and its text. More than a group of actors collaborating in the creation of a play or united in the telling of a story, both of which have a documented and tangible life outside of the ensemble, in this performance the actors turn themselves over to the will of other unscripted forces, making themselves available to potentials never before realized, and possibly to objectives that were lost with the millions who died in the concentration camps. Because of this wordless and respectful offering and the risk in facing this potential the performance does not leave its audience roused or moved in any familiar way. Instead, it seems to place us at a strange starting point, in an emptiness from which any being here begins, that truthful place we meet before the Word enters, where every sound and gesture counts. It quests with us what it means to be here. Like a prelude to life, "I have never been here" leaves us at a beginning of our own action.

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Waiting For Godot
By David Grybowski

The Adelaide Fringe Festival, Australia
The Promethean Theatre Until Sat 6 March 2004

You simply must see this production! The four young actors in this very funny and enchanting interpretation of Samuel Beckett's seminal play actively sought out the training they required over the past 5 or so years and found it with Michael Chekhov's protegés in upper New York.

From there, the company befriended German-born Ragnar Freidank who directed them in the initial season of this production in New York in late 2003. Freidank invited his keen students to explore the script according to their own motivations and to eschew previous context. In other words, he asked his ensemble to discover what was inauthentic in their approach and to instead interpret from honesty. Now the absurdity is taken as absurd and the words and action are delivered with real incredulity.

Seamus Maynard, Dale March, Pier Carthew and Daisy Noyes delivered the goods with a droll attack. Using precise but naturally delivered understated voice and blocking, accompanied by appropriately hilarious gesture and non-verbal expression, they transformed the play from the weirdness often presented by lesser companies to an experience of watching ourselves faced with Beckett's strange dilemmas in the grip of early dementia. The actors played the audience as easily as each other - even contextualising unexpected commotion in the stalls - in humanising their interpretation. Your night could be different as fresh views of the text are permitted daily. My two cents' worth is that a bit of modulation in vocal expression and emotion would help.

The back drop for the show comprised two excellently painted hanging canvases transporting us to an outback location in the style of Sidney Nolan or Arthur Boyd, although Californian set designer Edgar Weinstock probably knew not what his set might mean to us in the Antipodes.

'Waiting For Godot' is the original and the flagship of its genre, and if you enjoy the best of everything, you would be playing the fool to miss this production, even if you have seen it a hundred times before.

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Observations around a performance

By David Anderson

“Fear not the strangeness you feel.
The future must enter you long before it happens.”
--from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” is often brushed off as “not for everyone”, as if it were something for the theater elite or the diehard absurdists, yet it remains a popularly performed, if not attended, play. I have heard some hefty rejections lobbed at it over the years, mostly based on the idea of spending a whole evening in the theater waiting for someone who never arrives. But if the unbroken attention of a seven year old in the audience can be a qualifying testament to the merits of a production, absurd or “straight”, then The Actors’ Ensemble production, which performed mid-December, can be deemed a performance for everyone.

The play is a risky sell to an audience. Will they go with it? Will it be funny, disturbing, poignant or frustrating? It would seem these potentials all exist. But director Ragnar Freidank has charted uncertain terrain before, notably in The Actors’ Ensemble production of “I have never been here”, which involved so much actor improvisation that scenes had different outcomes depending on which night you attended, and his craft takes a masterful step here in helping the actors to create an atmosphere of infinite possibility in every moment.

The audience catches on early, though perhaps not consciously, that the actors have placed themselves in a vulnerable position—in an improvising condition of availability for any impulse they choose to act upon, which keeps us all, actors and audience alike, on the verge of something happening and in a heightened state of readiness for whatever does. We soon realize that the only thing that will arrive or “happen”, since Godot never does, is our relationship to the moment.
The performance showed a remarkable lack of dependency on a certain reaction from the audience. There was no sure gag, touching moment, or guaranteed laugh. Laughs sometimes swept through the whole audience, but more often they were scattered or isolated, sometimes unexpected laughs, as individuals recognized something familiar to their own experience—a quality often observed in the performance of clowns who nakedly expose their inner lives to the audience and inwardly say “yes” to whatever turn their fate makes.

Every moment depended on the ability of the actors to remain open and true to whatever was going on with them at the moment, and their availability to this truth allowed us to go to that unknown place with them. This free responsibility or response-ability, however, was contained within the framework of Beckett’s text. This improvisational edge, which carries the risk of leading to self-occupied indulgence that leaves the audience outside the experience, manages to captivate us because it is innocent enough to engage the innocence of a seven year old and yet also give those of us with a bit more experience the possibility of recognizing our own nakedness and the place we long to find—namely, openness to the moment. Any playing to the audience for laughs, attention-seeking, or trying to achieve a certain effect would have broken the spell the performance cast. The performers—Pier Carthew, Dale March, Seamus Maynard, and Daisy Noyes, all graduates of Shakespeare Alive!—demonstrated the skillful restraint and sincere honesty to pull it off. They did not try to “make sense” of the lines. Their honesty with themselves allowed another kind of sense to emerge, which made the text universal because it was immediate. The performance is an improvisation that gives by being true to itself, not by having something to say.
Part of Beckett’s genius here rests in creating an experience of the limits of our language to reveal ourselves. We see in the characters the habits we have adopted to compensate for not saying what we mean. The four characters (Mr. Freidank cut the play for four actors and to about two hours) try to communicate with one another but more often resign themselves to idle talk or to bantering. A sense of displacement ensues and we become aware of the divide between our inner life and what we actually express.

This contagious mood of awareness for the inadequacy of language left many audience members already at the intermission feeling stripped of convention and forced to face the world and conversation on more original and honest terms. I stood in a group whose repeating silence was interrupted by sparse Beckett-like exchanges that made us all self-conscious.

Beckett awakens a realm of new possibility by showing the impossibility of the familiar one. He brings us to a mysterious and unconventional place of availability to our subtler impulses that reminds us how familiar it is to be true to ourselves and yet how far away it can often seem. Every character is about to say something that they mean but no one manages to. However, what they do mean hovers near them, just behind what they say, like Godot who is almost there and always about to arrive.
The lives of characters are often defined by the choices they make. This performance helps us to see that actors, and thereby characters, are presented with a new choice at every moment. Will she listen to her partner, look away, interrupt, smile, slap, or laugh at him? The performers were able to overcome a great temptation on the stage: trying to affect us. Their apparent obliviousness to any outcome was their charm. They could not rest in any moment of success because the next moment called upon further succeeding (or not).

The performers never release us from this state of burgeoning possibility. They impact us not by following a predetermined choice for the moment, but by freeing themselves from any limitation in it. So the actors and audience are discovering an impulse in the same moment. Those of us sitting there can wonder: were we a factor in Gogo slapping Didi on one night and not on another? This is an incredibly refreshing experience in the theater. Nothing is manufactured; in every instant it’s alive. We go with them, open and without expectations, ready for whatever will or won’t happen next.

Reviews often acknowledge the historical context of plays in order to understand their relevance or mediate the trajectory of the careers on show in a production, but productions of this integrity escape the confines of such schema and serve to reflect the Zeitgeist by pursuing a collective experience with an audience and thereby becoming a completely new artistic experience in its own right. We do not understand experiences such as our Godot evening in the context of history, but rather we understand history through its context. Being present to the moment incorporates the past while also, as Rilke’s words imply, strangely anticipating and informing us of the future.

We don’t escape. We possibly arrive. The performance respects the audience by not indulging our whims for humor or identifiable poignancy or our superficial need for self-confirmation, but by remaining true to itself, so that we might bear witness but not corrupt. We are fascinated because we might any moment arrive at the meaning of these absurd circumstances, and then we realize that by staying in that awkward experience, on the cusp of arrival at such meaning, is all the meaning we need. Being ready. The character Lucky takes us down this road in miniature during the brief and only moment he is allowed to speak—almost able to say what he means, trapped within his own phraseology, but what he is trying to say constantly eludes him.

This play reminds me how attractive it is to have meanings laid out for us, pointing out for us who or what is bad, good, evil, holy, comic or tragic, and yet how much more meaningful it can be to trust that an artistic experience works on in us in mysterious ways. We may never “get” such meaning, though it may be quietly getting us.

Maybe this is it, we wonder. This is life—seeking, questioning, waiting, uncertain, bearing the labors of consciousness. It suggests to us a need to accept these circumstances as the way things are, not carrying it as a burden but as the condition of life. Our moments are not the preliminaries for the main event—coming soon, always soon but never quite getting here—this is it, not the warm-up act but the real thing. We can often feel that we are preparing for some great and noble undertaking, something that will give an infinite sense of meaning to our lives. But what if this is the meaning—nothing more grand than this moment? Inevitably it is always only this. Why should other possibilities offer any more—because someone important will notice it, it might find broader appreciation, more money, more security? Am I not audience enough for this moment, we might ask ourselves? We can often feel our talents are unrecognized or untapped, that they are not serving widely or reaching far enough. But whom else do our efforts, our moments, need in order to be considered valuable? As if some amount of recognition or money would suddenly make it all worthwhile. Gogo and Didi wait for something outside themselves to make sense of what they are doing, to complete them, set them free, as if something given to them from without could ease the inner restlessness. They wait to be relieved of their condition of waiting, the condition of consciousness. How could they suddenly be free of consciousness? Why would they want to be? Nothing could come to them that would cure what ails them now. As an audience we understand their plight, so we know that there is no way out, and why Godot can never come.

As an actor one learns, sometimes painfully, to accept the process with creating a character or developing a play. Why can’t we allow the same patience, acceptance, and understanding with the process of our life’s character? Why should my artistic sensibilities be altered simply because it’s me? Why can’t I love this character and my work with him as much as any of Shakespeare’s, Chekhov’s, or Beckett’s characters?
This is what “Waiting for Godot” spells out to us—not that modern consciousness is expressed through some grand event that could happen any moment, but that in every moment we find the grand event of consciousness. We attend to it or we don’t. Being present to what is mundane, to what is merely ours, like Didi tying Gogo’s shoe—that is the great stage of our lives—not all the great things we do, but who we are in any given moment. In this performance the characters are constantly evolving, which was expressed not through anything we could outwardly see but through how they related to the moment, and the fact that no one had any more status than any other.

The ability of the actors to go toward the innocence and vulnerability of that place gave inspiration for our own pursuit of it. “Waiting for Godot” is much like waiting for a character to arrive, our stage character or our life character. He never really arrives, it seems, though we can wait a lifetime, but the process of waiting for him is always arriving.

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