Boundaries of contemporary performance

Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, Forced Entertainment has spent the last three decades pushing the boundaries of contemporary performance. Founded in 1984 by six recently graduated artists, the theatrical group have created numerous productions that have continued to play with language, staging, costume, lighting, humour, narrative sound and the very nature of a performance piece. Artistic Director Tim Etchells is also a solo artist and has seen his work exhibited internationally. This year he is officially Artist of the City of Lisbon. He speaks to Aesthetica about upcoming performance, The Notebook, and his ability to sustain a theatre company for 30 years.

A: Forced Entertainment has been running for 30 years now, within that time there must have been numerous other theatre companies open and close, what is it about your organisation that has made you so successful?
TE: I think we were lucky, in a way. We were friends who met at University. We made various things together whilst studying and from that experience we had the intuition that there was a dynamic conversation, that there were projects we could make together, questions that we could approach. That intuition proved to be correct – that was lucky! We could just as easily have been wrong. I guess the other thing that’s important is that we have taken risks. We’ve allowed ourselves to change the ground of the work – taking projects into different areas, aesthetics and concerns. That’s meant that what the work is, and who we are has changed – we’ve challenged ourselves as well as our audiences.

A: When working on a new production, how do you develop new ideas and keep the momentum of the company going?
TE: Mostly, I’d say, we make things by spending a lot of time in the same room together; by doing things in that room. This requires time and a group of people prepared to be there. Working collaboratively for us means just that everyone inputs and that no single vision holds sway. We all listen, adapt, compromise and mix them with ideas from other people. We start from an idea (and practise) of collective work; the performance we are going to make will be made by everybody. Everybody will have ideas for text, themes, images, music, costume, set and structure. On a daily basis everyone’s ideas will be met, challenged and reinvented by those of everyone else. The performers are a part of this process and so too is anyone with a title of some other kind, be it writer, director, set-designer or composer.