Want to watch a great play I didn’t write, right now? Check out this fabulous video of kids performing the totemic avant-garde piece “Offending The Audience” by Peter Handke.
I’ve loved this play since studying it in college, me and a friend in the-world’s-most-intense-theater-seminar. It was just the two of us (young, good haircuts, a little too cool for school) and the famous Carl Weber (old, bald, German and brilliant, Bertolt Brecht’s assistant director and right-hand man at the Berliner Ensemble), sitting on the couch in the famous Carl Weber’s office Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
We read and talked about sometimes as many as four or five plays every week. Carl would ask, “Does this play hold up? Does it matter to you, now, fifty years after it was written?” and sometimes we would agree with each other and sometimes we wouldn’t, but I would answer truthfully because I could tell he wasn’t asking to be polite, he was asking because he wanted to know. “What didn’t you like, was it boring, did it make sense?” No background reading– no biographical sketches or historical overviews– if he thought we needed to know something about a play’s context to understand why it was written, he’d tell us about that after we’d responded to the work as art. There were no tests, no “exercises,” nothing that could come between us and the plays.
Beckett, Pinter, Ed Bullins, Weber’s own translation of Heiner Müller. Mrożek’s “Tango!” Actual artistic literacy about at least a few things. Massively influential. (Also the only A+ I’ve ever received in my life, for anything, ever.)
One of my favorite things was this super-confrontational but weirdly gentle play, sometimes called an anti-play. “Offending the Audience.” We watched some of the black-and-white video of an early (maybe the first?) production in the 1960s, where a handful of scrappy actors in t-shirts with Beatles haircuts spoke from a bare stage, addressing conservative tux-and-bowtie-clad theatergoers who were literally shocked into dropping their monocles.
“You chuckleheads.” “Try not to shift in your seat.” “You had certain expectations.” “You stared.” “The distance between you and us is infinite.” “We played but we did not play with you.” “You began promisingly.” “You turtledoves.” “You beacons in the dark.”
This is an awesome play, and I am so happy to share this new-ish great video of it that I just found– the kids’ frankness onstage makes for a really cool way to do it. “Offending The Audience” is about forty minutes long, make a cup of tea and check it out. I just watched it, and I’ll probably watch it again tomorrow.
I think about this play a lot; if you know or like my work (especially “How to Love”) you will probably see some connections.
Carl basically always asked his directing students the same question after they watched a scene study in class: not “What did you think?” or “What did it mean?,” but “What did you see?” I still like that question. Perhaps he asked it because there’s no wrong answer– “I saw a blue shirt,” “I saw the end of the world.” Or, perhaps he asked it because at 81 he was tired of hearing smartypants academic bullshit analysis, but still wanted to know more about what it’s like to experience art? Anyway, I’d love to know what you saw watching “Offending The Audience“… you turtledoves, you beacons in the dark!