I am in Belgium working with Reckless Sleepers on a remaking of their 1998 performance – Schrodinger’s Box. Based on the findings of the scientist Erwin Schrodinger who speculated that a cat in a box can be both alive and dead at the same time, the piece is an experiment in space and time. It is an observation room, a proscenium arch construction that sits inside a theatre space, where five performers try to articulate, observe, record and recall thought experiments, rules, mathematical structures and complicated ideas that govern physics.
There are interesting tensions in reenacting a performance from the past. We are ghosting the performers who played the roles we play now. Everyone except Mole Wetherell, the artistic director, is new to the piece. There are four of us working on the reenactment with Mole – Leen De Wilde, Leentje Van de Cruys, Kevin Egan and myself. We are basing our performances on a video of the original shot over ten years ago that never quite achieves a total view of the action, or occasionally cuts from one sequence to another and loses seconds of real-time that we have to imagine. We are also basing our reenactment on memories. Mole’s memories of devising the original. Our memories of seeing the performance live. Two of us saw the original version when we were still students. And now we have our memory of watching the video. We are mapping our actions onto the box mediated through five memories of different proximity.
There is a sense that sometimes we are reenacting a movement without knowing where the original movement came from. Trying to assimilate a gesture or word without having undergone the same process as the original performers when they arrived at the material. We encounter rules whose creation we were not privy to. The other day Mole explained that a sequence at a table where two performers manipulate two other performers – making them drink, fall to the table as if drunk and move around the box while still seated – derived from a set of rules around contacts the company developed for an earlier work. He said ‘We move them because they cannot move themselves around the box. We make them drink because we want them to drink. This is is alcohol. We are alcohol.’
Now we understand the origin of the rules we are able to follow them directly, rather than emulate someone else following them. Kevin and I work on a sequence called Hammer Back Look. He has a hammer. I have a book. As performers we are trying to maintain two contacts in the space. I pick up the book. One. He picks up the hammer. Two. I touch the wall of the box. Three. He drops the hammer etc. At one point, working to the memory of the video, I tell Kevin he should approach me with the hammer. He says ‘I can’t. You’re still touching the table.’ I take my hands off the table and he runs at me wielding the hammer. Now when we do this, we know why we are doing it rather than just trying to do it as the original performers did. Now we are learning the rules.
Last weekend we worked in Axis Arts Centre in Crewe without assembling the box, becoming aware of our relationships as performers and how we interact with each other. We walked through the performance, scene by scene, ghosting our actions onto the same plane rather than climbing through hatches in the walls and falling through the roof of the box. Three dimensions of choreography were condensed into two dimensions for rehearsal. We imagined the walls and had to stop ourselves at the edges, imagining the space we have to work with now. At one point, Kevin and I were sitting on the floor waiting for our cues as if we were on top of the box. Leentje came into the box, as she does at the beginning of the piece, and asked ‘Why are you in the box?’ We looked at her, for a moment not knowing why we were there, and I replied ‘Why are you on the roof?’ Now we have the box, we are questioning every movement, every gesture, every word until we know it belongs in the box, and therefore, can belong to us.