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Getting Past The Curtain

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Living With Samuel Beckett:

An Anti Essay

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GETTING PAST THE CURTAIN

 

MAY 2016

 

1

 

I lost my footing, I started swaying, almost spinning, staring woozily upwards, searching for a glimmer of light, even for a trace of sun amongst the cold indifferent ceiling, perceiving the ground as moving, all as moving, thus the curtain too, swaying with me from side to side and in that moment, perhaps rising, for I swear that it’s feet kissed the air with mine, we finally in harmony, ready for you, in fact now waiting for you (oh in that moment, how everything changed, how everything went into reverse - how the mighty had fallen!) – my field of vision had altered, was altering, I was right, but not as I thought, for I was soon left: I passed out on the hard ground and lay slumped before the curtain for what may have been ten hours, but what could also have been ten days. Alas, while I may have been unsure before, of who I was, of who I was with, of where this was going, the situation has now deteriorated to such an extent that even I am no longer finding all this funny.

 

In this time I lived live like a simple fool, a beggar with no one to beg from, to or for, sprawled out on the dusty floor, further now than ever from the curtain (or at least a dozen or so steps back), squinting around the room, fearing again for my eyes, for my nose, for my breathing, blood, all the old phobias returning, floating towards me out of the desolate shadows of this backstage. I would close my eyes and try not say or even think anything for a good long while.

 

And then came this period of slow growing and humble confidence, scared of it’s own possibility.

 

2

 

I still believe the curtain will be raised, but whether I will personally get to see it or even have a say in the matter is something else entirely, which in a way, defeats the purpose, yet still, no matter, it’s still something.

 

I know that this now may rightfully be conceived as ‘wrong’ (made plain for all to see by my fall), but I’m actually engaging in dialogue once more with my old foe, friend, lover, ward (does anyone know what it actually is?  - Don’t say furniture, don’t say furniture!), but I won’t lose my footing like last time. I shall lie down and continue matters horizontal. Nevertheless, there are some positives (I can’t quite pull off that charm anymore, that unavoidable energy I once had, being slumped on the floor): because I’m physically static, so to speak, in a way it means that my thoughts, imagination, (and the same applies to you), whatever we call it - well, this…imagination shall leave this body and mind far behind, and go to places we know not, nor wish to know of either – this is a long shot, but this place may yet be past the curtain, and if not exactly past It, then perhaps…but we know not of what we speak; we have no choice but to see if it works – the big risk is that if doesn’t, it may be too late; there may be no going back, and we’ll say our goodbyes to each other once and for all, or not even get a chance to do that, for it’s a different ball game in that world - for example, in the first section, while I was admittedly standing up, my mind was preoccupied on my body in relation to my Self, the pair preoccupied on themselves as a unified Thing, a Flicked coin spinning Around in the air, until The said coin finally dropped; despite the spoken of Catastrophe of the fall, Prior to this, things were More Or Less In Control; I larked about, but all in good jest, (Did this larking about contribute to the fall? I presume it probably did, but perhaps the fall came about of it’s own accord), but yes, one’s thoughts when moving are more streamlined – not necessarily stronger or more intelligent (for the majority, despite their impressive speed, lightly bounce off whatever walls have been put in place as resistance), but there’s a certain litheness to them, these thoughts when mobile, a certain daring –  where the hell am I, and what on earth am I talking about? That’s the last time I play the thinker.

 

3

 

I’m getting nostalgic already! And what also makes me laugh, or rather smile, or indeed cry (I’ve lost that arrogance – you can see that – and truth be told, I miss it), is this development of sympathy for me; the poor old thing on the floor, defeated and hopeless, bereft of ideas and perhaps finally aware of his complete and utter failure - it’s almost enough to make you forget my age!

And yet, at the same time, I’m starting to feel more like me now – but then again perhaps this is all a dreary act that I’ll soon get bored with; I’ll bounce back on my feet and cheekily muck about with the curtain, may even lift it once and for all myself (ah glimpses of how I once was; it makes me sad now). It’s funny; we miss him now, don’t we, the man I was before, the boy I was before – what fond memories we’ll all share, eh? Wasn’t he so young back then, so earnest, so nervous, so clever! So handsome even. For I have aged. My career ended before it began – that we can both agree on.

 

4

 

All right, I’ll let you listen to it. Here are tapes highlights of what I was like before, in dress rehearsal mode for the performance – this was back when I was a performer preparing for my performance, and yet, if I’m brutally honest with myself, even back then, I was always better as a pre-performer, rather than as an actual performer.

 

5

 

So, just to clarify things, for better or for worse, I probably won’t be conducting anything quite like my first dalliance before Her Majesty for the remainder of whatever this is. I may have one last stab in the dark at It (the curtain, not the queen), get the old box of tricks out, throw a few jabs, but I don’t really have the legs for it anymore. But listen to me! Don’t I sound like a dying old swan! Perhaps I should explain that just because I won’t be moving, it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up, and I may in fact move again later, if I feel fit and recover, however spectacular that would be (and I’ll admit, I am over-emphasising my potential return to mobility). Yet I must get past it: I realise now that the most important thing is getting past the curtain, not to be overwhelmed, dwarfed, slighted, mistook or even forgotten by it – the whole point was that I wouldn’t be invisible before Her this time – before Her I would at least introduce myself and say something, rather than just languish in my usual cloak of anonymous silence, and yet this now seems all too inevitable: I must get past it, that is all.

 

But of course, what with the Fall, my options are limited at the moment; perhaps that was why I was silent for so long, for those forgotten hours where all was dark, even in such sterile lighting. I felt like I had been washed up on some abandoned island, with my face resting against the sand, salt water occasionally plaguing my sinuses and momentarily waking me, only to send me back into a dark sleep of shrieking dreams.

 

Gradually I woke up once and for all (for to sleep on such a hard and somewhat uncompromising wooden floor is by no means easy), and began to think things through: it was here that I realised that perhaps all was not lost after all, hence our continued dialogue with one another – I’m talking to the pair of you, though this time, I don’t mind if you’re not here, I really don’t – and I mean this with the upmost sincerity and politeness, which considering our time together thus far, I understand if you don’t quite fully trust yet.

 

But I am achieving nothing with all this talk. Let me explain to you what exactly happened.

 

Yes, I began to look around (forgive my use of the past tense, but I know no other way to convey this special moment of clarity concerning this performance, for you see, truth be told, this ‘looking around’ was all only minutes ago, yet where we are now because of this ‘looking around’ could almost be considered to be a completely different era), and this time really engage with my surroundings.

 

 

6

 

 

And what did I find, then?

 

Firstly, I shook my head with shame, with self-loathing; I realised that I hadn’t even told you where I was, what my surroundings were, so to speak. I had ranted, ranted, and, how can I say this, ranted about a curtain, and made a couple of illusions to a ‘stage’, and yet, in these very moments, in which you were presumably all wanting me to clarify the situation, the setting (where I was, or am, to put it bluntly), I drifted off, almost indifferently (my pride couldn’t accept that I was simply in a seemingly abandoned theatre house), and so, we found ourselves in Vegas, New Zeland, New York, Germany, Berlin, in stations, chemists, clubs, graveyards, fields of melancholy – and I drank throughout, across the globe admittedly, suffered allergies, sexual dalliances, narcotic experiments, and last, but not the least, I successfully avoided being framed in the murder of my flatmate’s fiancé; alas, I was everywhere apart from in the here and now, the present – the one thing we both are supposed to have in common.

 

So confined to the floor of the backstage, ten or so metres away from the curtain, I crawled, ever so slowly, towards one side of the backstage’s wall to rest up against it, for I had become physically exhausted, despite my inertia – this would be my left, and your right, or as I crawled, from my right, to your left - until, while only meters away from my fall, I no longer knew where I was.

 

I understand that it is all still very confusing: we have a curtain -granted, and we also have a backstage – with a left and a right wall; there is presumably much more, but first of all, if I were you, immediately I would want to know how big this backstage is, for the fact that it has it’s own walls confuses even me (for is it not true that the simplest elements of our surroundings, when uttered aloud, do nothing but confuse and entrap us? You don’t agree actually? Very well then, I’m not sure I agree either in all honesty). The problem is, I can only be so accurate from my viewpoint, and I do regret disregarding the whole place during my more physically prominent section, where I had the liberty to roam about and really get to know the place, for truth to be told, the backstage (from where I’m lying, I would estimate it being roughly twenty by ten metres) leads on to another door that says quite simply ‘Staff Only’. There is a non-smoking sign and a few intelligible graffiti markings on the door’s centre, and the door itself is fairly modern in appearance. As to whether it is locked or not, I can only say that I honestly don’t know: it did not concern me before - drunken whale rides with ‘Rufus’ did, a character I had no business introducing at such an opportune moment – but my, how it concerns me now! For someone walking through and interrupting all this would jeopardise everything: now it would be nothing if not embarrassing; during the actual performance, the curtain raised high up to the ceiling and then pulled down magnanimously behind me, only for him or for her to peek his or her nose in and sabotage all possible suspension of disbelief…well, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all! An innovative stage direction – someone, presumably a janitor, innocently interrupting and ruining the performance – how avant-garde! I hope you’re taking notes, Mr Boyle?

 

7

 

Alas, there is a door, for ‘Staff Only’, and so; perhaps we are not as alone as was once first thought. ‘It is I and only I who stand before the curtain’ – on the contrary, there are probably others in this building somewhere, waiting for their moment behind it respectively, which would no doubt be a lot different to what we are dealing with now, but thankfully, this is not, at present, our primary concern. For this is a building by the way: this is a great old building, with ‘the greatest stage the world has ever seen’ – or at least that’s how it once billed, where people gathered from all over the world and sat in what was known as the Theatre House; it was here that rowing monarchs, or opposing political rulers, would temporarily suspend all arguments and problems, and lose themselves in the imaginary madness of whatever was occurring on stage that day; it was in this very building where presidents made illicit and forbidden promises to famous showgirls, where a heavy-weight champion once proposed onstage, during a performance, to a world famous ballet dancer, only to be booed by both the performers and the entire audience for his disrespect (and for her to throw the full contents of a White Russian in his face upon returning to his seat, which of course made front pages news all over the world – and did no harm for The Theatre House’s infamy); where ordinary citizens sat with ‘stars’ and were they themselves invited for a drink next door to the Ol’ Duck (unfortunately long closed down, but as much a part of the institution and ‘experience’ as the Theatre House and with just as many tall tales, which will duly be told another time); where the new and young artists on the block would be invited in, and flirt with the Parisian Dames, or consort (in most cases, half-satirically, half out of insatiable interest) with elegant and enticing members of the European Aristocracy, and forget or lose interest in whatever artistic plans they supposedly had, succumbing themselves to failed liaisons and barbaric levels of depravity; where great sea captains and military leaders could once be seen momentarily escaping the distractions of war, for there have always been wars for as long as The Theatre House has stood, wars going back centuries, back to the times of Empire, where it was said that Napoleon himself once sat through a then, very much panned, but now much heralded performance of Othello; it was here that Lenin and Trotsky were said to have first met one another (and a greater rumour was that it was here also that Karl Marx, during a musical, had his first great moment of revelation concerning his politic studies).

I could continue, though it would take me hours, and I’m sure you get the idea: The Theatre House was the leading place for art in the western world. Alas, this building (The Theatre House, though no one calls it that anymore), was a melting pot for all peoples; during a performance they would sit in dead-silence below the archaic high ceilings, from which outmoded chandeliers dangled, or at least so I have heard. To this day they say the walls are still wrinkled from all the smoke, tears, blood and even laughter witnessed throughout the years, faded and damaged beyond belief, and yet these walls simultaneously have a renowned and celebrated aesthetic element about them, with bits of plaster literally, or shall I say literarily falling every now and then on to the paint stained floorboards (this constant maintenance of bohemian decorum can solely by attributed to Commodus, the owner, of whom I will later inform you on). Mysterious and cryptic Victorian portraits hang limply on the walls (yet the backstage’s walls are notoriously barren, which I can vouch for by the way), and light piano music can often be heard (I know not if it comes from this very Theatre House, or merely from nextdoor).

 

 

8

 

 

Yet, what a can of worms I’ve decided to open! For now, you are presumably wondering: how have you not seen the majority of The Theatre House (the stage and the audience area), if you are supposedly backstage? This query I fully understand and will of course oblige you with, though I fear I may confuse you further or at the very least, you will not believe my explanation.

 

First of all, when one enters the Theatre House (which anyone is permitted to do; during the House’s decline, around the late 1970’s, this notion of acceptance was tackily coined, ‘Lets perform together’ in garish casino style lights by the front gates, which probably put off more performers and viewers alike than encouraged them), one can only do so by going through the main entrance and into the Reception  area – there is only one way into the Theatre House – even for staff, the owners and various people involved in the project, long having been very strict about this element of security (though what with it’s evident decline, I personally don’t see why they need go to such bother).

I speak of ‘decline’, but perhaps I am exaggerating: I only mean that is has declined (and greatly) compared to what it once was, for as you have probably guessed, there are no longer Napoleons or scientific inventors in attendance (the seat where Einstein once sat through a Flamenco performance is now merely a tourist distraction, ingeniously called, Einstein’s Seat), nor are the local clientele anything to be proud of, for quite simply, they no longer exist, what with the extortionate signing on fees and notoriously long waiting lists (all relatively new editions to the ‘Theatre House Experience’). No, instead, the audience (and I can only go by the reports I have read), mainly consist of city slickers, well-off country folk in need of a night out in London (forgive me, but yes! We have been in London all this time!), and the occasional mid-level celebrity (just to keep the Press happy). But these are harsh criticisms, taken from a disgruntled journalist (whose name, fortunately escapes me – and don’t worry, it’s not me!  - I know what you’re like!), and if the Theatre House’s audience is being criticised (quite an absurd and elitist notion, in my opinion, even if the audience and critics themselves often are of the elite), this can only mean one thing: that the performances are of unparalleled quality, and while I am yet to see one here (for as you know, I’m only here to perform, and after my experience in the Reception Area and my route through the corridors to backstage, there’s no way I’m plunging any further into the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the administration of the Theatre House, just to gain the privilege of becoming a one time audience member), it is common knowledge that the quality of art exhibited here, through performance, through film, through music, through literature, through exhibition itself, is well and truly of the highest order. That’s all I shall say of it: talking of art and other artists bores me (in fact, there’s nothing I hate more, and so consequently, there’s very little else I do), so feel free to research more about The Theatre House if you so please.

 

I’m getting cynical again and losing my new found level of poise. But don’t worry, I’m not going down the old road again.

 

I fear that I’ve over emphasised the ‘fallen glory’ aspect to The Theatre House: perhaps I am being bitter: after all, it had been supposedly arranged that I perform here. Ah, but now I have to explain how I was invited here, don’t I?

Can you not understand, that on a metaphysical and literary level, it is impossible for me to do this? In doing so, I cease to exist…