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Persona, 2013

tibaldus in association with kunstencentrum De Werf (Brugge)

What we require is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking.
- John Cage (lecture on nothing)

Persona, 2013 is a play about identity and about an identity under attack. The piece is loosely inspired on the film by Ingmar Bergman, but in staging it hasn’t much to do with it anymore.
This piece, in which abstraction and the anecdotal are going hand in hand, is played fascinatingly by Eva Binon.


Letter to our audience

Dear audience,

For those who want, before the play or afterwards, pieces of our thinking on PERSONA, 2013.

We wanted to work with Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA, not because we saw the film, but because we read the script. The script we used was one of the first versions he wrote, and in its form it looks more like a literary work than movie script. Bergman wrote the text in 1965, when he was in the hospital. Bergman said that Persona saved his life. Probably he meant ‘his life as an artist’. The crisis of the main characters probably relates to Bergmans own crisis. The dramatic action of the movie is located on the area of the filmmaker. And that’s why this film is probably about film itself. About cinema, but also about language and about how language relates to reality.

In a pre-study we did on PERSONA in 2011 we found it really hard to speak on stage. Because it was difficult to relate ourselves to the existing conventions about speaking on a stage. Finally we did make the choice to work with language and speaking, because it is something substantially human, and in the text of Bergman we saw the problematic character thematized.
Bergman’s story has already been told. We didn’t want to make a theatre adaption of his film. We didn’t want to create a contemporary version of the text, or actualise the script by adding some anachronisms here and there.

The text is the pretence to think and to play. The conflicts, problems that are treated in Bergman’s script, seemed very interesting, and that’s why we wanted to work with it.

Reading on Wikipedia we found: “A young nurse, Alma (portrayed by Bibi Andersson), is summoned by the head doctor and charged with the care of stage actress Elisabet Vogler (portrayed by Liv Ullmann), who has, despite the lack of any diagnosed impairment, become mute. The hospital administrator (portrayed by Margaretha Krook) offers her own seaside cottage as a place for Alma to nurse Elisabet back to health. (…) Alma is constantly talking to Elisabet but she refuses to answer. At the end Elisabet tells her secret.” We didn’t want to show and tell the audience this melodramatic interpretation of Persona.

What we wanted to do was work with the idea of ‘identity’ and with ‘an identity under attack’. To work with the comforting character of staying silent, but also its inherent mechanism for exclusion. We read all these themes in Bergman’s Persona.

The silence of Bergman’s character, the actress Elisabet Vogler is form of resistance. In her desire for authenticity she doesn’t want to use words any longer. Words that are used for roles, words that dissemble. In refusing language Elisabet Vogler, excludes herself out of society. This act can be seen as a kind of rebellion, a kind of terrorism even.

The actress and her nurse Alma have contact with each other. There is touch, interaction, body language and warmth. Elisabet doesn’t speak, but there is communication between these two women. In our version the character is more consequent. He doesn’t act at all. He never gets an identity or story. The complete muteness of our silence character is more cruel than Elisabeth Vogler.

For us, the switching of characters in Bergman’s PERSONA is about transformation by means of language. Language in its broadest meaning: every form in which reality is speaking to us. That is what makes reality readable, or should we say, interpretable. Language as food we consume and that we use to form ourselves. You are what you eat. Language as building stone of our identity. A fragile construction of stories, anecdotes, impressions. We stage the construction: Eva Binon. She’s an actress and a character, just the same as Elisabet Vogler, the main character of Bergman’s PERSONA.

While we were creating PERSONA, 2013 certain texts of Beckett were helping us to find a form. Also in Becket there is often no interpretation of place and time. There is a protagonist who doesn’t have a name and is immobile. The characters’ motivation to keep on speaking is the same motivation to continue to exist. There is a presence of events from the past in a stilled moment today.

In our building up of the play we used following epitaph:
“Non fui, Fui, Non sum, Non socro.”
"I wasn’t, I was, I am not, it doesn’t matter."


Hans, Timeau and Simon

P.s.

“I’m all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their sealing, no sky for their dispersing, coming together to say, fleeing one another to say, that I am they, all of them, those that merge, those that par, those that never meet, and nothing else, yes, something else, that I’m something quite different, a quite different thing, a wordless thing in an empty place.”
- Nameless, Beckett

credits

by Eva Binon, Timeau De Keyser, Simon De Winne, Hans Mortelmans

technician Simon Neels

photography, film and design Pieter Dumoulin

production Kunstencentrum De Werf en Tibaldus

With the support of de Vlaamse Overheid, Stad Brugge, de provincie West Vlaanderen