It’s autumn. Beautiful autumn. And whilst cutting back some brambles in my garden, I found a serene space between two larches and a dwarf cedar of lebanon, dwarfed because it has been overgrown by the larches. Behind me stood a brand new elder which looks like its branches had spurted from the dry stone wall, and beside it ,a small stone cairn. Moving between the trees, I found myself moving into what felt like a private chapel of green. It was a beautiful definite form, which had not existed in quite this way before, with a strong, particular atmosphere. It had had a form before, before the trees had grown so much, but it was different, less harmonious. If our life is about constant movement and growth this transformation was about the movement between one form and the next.
‘All art aspires to the condition of music.’ I have this quote from Walter Pater on the signature of my email address. I had never read this quote until I saw it in On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov. One of the most defining things about music, especially most classical music, is its feeling of form. It is not the only thing which leaves me with a deep feeling of satisfaction and joy when I listen to classical music, but the feeling of form which Chekhov ( and many others,) considered so important, is definitely a large component in my emotional response. Having a form is not of course necessarily having a realistic narrative but it is the connection of themes and motifs which progress on some kind of path and take us to some kind of conclusion.
‘What is the point of a play which doesn’t have a beginning middle and end,’ said a feisty participant at one of my classes the other day. She had challenged some self satisfied successful professional performer of a play she had seen. She had heard him say that form was not valued any more and plays did not need it. This idea that form is irrelevant is not new, ( even though people say it as if it was invented in the last ten years). It was a big tenet of much experimental theatre in the 60s and 70s.
I would ask the question, what is the point of being formless? As soon as you create formlessness you are creating a form – a formless form if you like. I am chuckling at the thought…. A formless form is a form with no power. This does not mean you cannot be open-ended in a piece of theatre or film, but you are open-ended for a reason. You are choosing to leave the story at that point. But being formless for the sake of it is like being in the wilderness, lost and aimless, self indulgent, and arrogant. Is this what art is, to move us into a desolate space, for no purpose whatsoever? With a lack of form, no one comes to any conclusions, or even hints at them. That would be proselytising. It strikes me as sad that the artist is not permitted to have an opinion.
Those of us who are old enough might remember when pop songs faded and dribbled into the background leaving the sad looking young musicians on Top of the Pops looking as if someone had stolen their voices, like electric toys. There was no ending, just a slow meaningless fade.
As I move to work with my Ensemble and Devising students on Form next week, I look forward to helping the students to awaken this feeling of form, a thing of beauty and great theatrical power, as surely as the space created by the trees in my garden. It gives audience and artist a sense of fulfilment which assists our understanding of the world and our place in it. Form need not be cosy, like a Disney fairy tale. It can be brutal and real as often as it can be positive and delightful .