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Friday, October 18, 2013

Confessions of a #Violinist. By John von Daler

                Theater groups often live up to their reputation: bawdy, unmanageable, a threat to society, hilarious, naive, beautiful. The troop I worked with in the 1980's in Denmark lived up to these descriptions and even occasionally added some new twists on its own. I played the violin and composed for a farce that toured the country in a couple of small busses, just the way players had been traversing countrysides for at least a thousand years in Europe.

                We stayed in lodgings offered to us by our audiences, ate the food that was proffered us, sang and laughed and drank and, first and foremost, played our hearts out every evening.
                Our little play was called "Layercake Revue no. 1". While I played my violin, the lighting technician played on a clarinet, and a puppeteer played the guitar as mimes, singers, and comedians did wacky and beautiful things on the stage. We had written our own play while horsing around in an old theater in Copenhagen. Each of us had contributed some little something to add to the organized chaos. Mostly it was hysterical, even though a teddybear did go up in flames every night while I played my violin.
                When our tour finished everyone started talking about doing a follow-up. After all, a play called "Layercake Revue no. 1" certainly implies a sequel at some point.
                We met up the next fall to continue our success. New people had to be phased in as others had left for new projects. So we sat in the theater searching for that old, droll feeling. But our new players had other ideas. One was to quote from a Belgian play about a dying king. This was a macabre and somber affair. The lightness of the first revue evaporated and was replaced by a kind of avantgard tragedy, "Layercake Revue no. 2".
                We were not the kind of group that defies destiny. If the thespian gods wanted us to play a tragedy, then we would do it with all our energy. Someone brought out eight yards of red silk to make a cape for me as we built up our play around a throne on which a dying king sat,  a violinist/court jester at his feet. I was supposed to improvise while he slowly died over the course of one and a half hours.
                People in Copenhagen had heard about the first revue, so our play was pretty much sold out. Our audiences ate a good dinner, had some wine and then came to die laughing in the old theater. Only there was no laughing.
                Even I who was supposed to improvise got stymied. To me playing is a kind of declaration of love for life, and this play was pretty much going in the other direction. So I dutifully played some dirge-like passages and then sat staring at the audience while the king staggered towards his doom.
                Every night brought unique experiences. People left. They would sit down with broad smiles on their faces, their bellies full, their minds light and bubbly and within minutes we would have thrown them into the hell of this tormented king's thoughts - accompanied by almost complete silence.
                As I sat at the king's feet staring at the audience I would count the number of people who got up and left. Then I would sit and admire the remainder of the audience for its incredible ability to change stances and meet this new challenge with open minds. Once you got used to it, it was no bad play.
                One of the critics wrote that he thought the play was fine, but could not really understand why the violinist was so silent. I wish I could have answered him: a silent violin also expresses something. All of us who work with some kind of expression are trying to communicate the right thing at the right time. Here the words needed to be heard without accompaniment. I could have boiled that dying king in a sweet sauce, but then he - and I - would have been comic. And comedy was not what we were trying for, was it now?



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