THE BLACK BOX
Six strangers from six countries meet at the site of an accident. The accident has occurred as a result of the collision of time and identity. Like air-crash investigators, they must search through the “black box” to find out what has happened. Can they comprehend the sequence of events by studying the debris? What can they discover about themselves and each other? Are their memories reliable or is the present just a strange camera obscura that merges a difficult past with an uncertain future?
Black Box is composed of a series of vignettes that use historical record, personal memory, dreams, speculations and confabulations to imagine who we are and who we can be in this moment. It navigates and questions the individual experience of six people grappling with their private, social and national identities, and the coincidence of their presence at the same site. It is part-documentary and part-fantasy - exploring the idea that the “truth” about us is not an established fact but an enduring fiction.
Time affects all of us, both as individuals and as a society. It is what organizes our personal stories, the stories of our countries and those of our world. The notions of past, present and future will work as the backbone of our performance. We will use real historical features and events to create our own theatrical versions of past, present and future times.
This Project took shape at the Watermill Center, in the United States, an institution directed by the theater director Robert Wilson, in the Artist in Residency Program, during three weeks in February 2017.
In advance of the residency, each member has been assigned to bring one black box with the precise measures: 30cm x 30cm x 30cm. The contents of the box contained elements related to our personal history and each member’s country’s identity.
All the members of P.L.U.T.O. are involved in this project and all of them is working at the same time as playwriter, director and performer, without a traditional hierarchy.
A show it's being created and will be ready in the January of 2018. The performance will tour to all the 6 member’s native countries. The idea is to be immersed in different cultural environments and to exchange experiences with the different audiences and societies and changing the show along the time, making a dynamic process of this artistic creation.
During our time at Watermill, we experimented and worked on certain premises and propositions around the black box. It allowed for a three week concentrated exploration of the themes and proportions of this idea and culminated in a first presentation for the public as a work-in-progress.
Blackbox grew out of conversations and collaborations between the six artists of the theatre collective P.L.U.T.O., following their meeting at the Lincoln Center Directors Lab in 2015. The project began from a space of collective inquiry, seeking to share and study our immediate socio-political and cultural contexts. While the conceptual frameworks we have worked with are broad, we have specific questions that we began with:
Where or what is “the national” or “anti-national” within us?
Have our identities become compounds of stock labels, for eg. “He is a left-leaning, atheist, feminist, vegetarian”? What are the inconvenient labels - wealth and class, for example.
What is our own private manifesto? How did it come about?
What is the relationship between pride and embarrassment for our past, and hope and fear for our future?
Curiously, all of our six countries have gone through (or will be going through) the period of general elections between 2017-2019. The trajectory of this period in any country forces us to examine our questions within wider political frameworks. Personal memories and stories must be investigated in how they are embedded within a larger experience.
The unfamiliarity or distance from each other’s immediate contexts is a great facilitator for us in this process. It allows us to ask basic questions; it encourages us to express doubt about each other’s worlds as part of the process of understanding. We believe that the eventual performance will hold up a mirror to the audience in different cities and countries. Perhaps the questions will be different for them, but we hope that they will be provoked to think about the “accidents” rooted in their own experience.
THE WATERMILL CENTER'S RESIDENCY 2017
Black Box is a multilingual theatre production that uses surtitles and projected text as part of its form. The presence of these multiple languages allows us to find a textual polyphony. The performance seeks to find absurdity at the site of conflict, and to work with humour and satire as modes of commentary. The production is built with a minimalist and modular stage aesthetic that utilises personal sourced objects and recycled material. We use sound as an integral design element to challenge the visual chauvinism of theatre.
Watermill Center is a laboratory and residency space for artists, founded by the theatre director and visual artist Robert Wilson. It provides a unique environment for emerging and established artists and thinkers from across the world to gather and explore new ideas together.
Before the residency, each member of P.L.U.T.O. was assigned to bring one black box with the precise measurement: 30cm x 30cm x 30cm. The contents of the box contained elements (newspaper clippings, music and sound files, videos, curious objects, clothes, images) that related to our personal histories and the identity of each member’s country. We investigated these boxes, searching each object and artefact to try to understand what it could tell us about the member who brought it,and what binds it to them. We brought traces of our relationships with the worlds we inhabit, our national and local identities and how they merge with our memory and record of our own lives.
When an airplane crashes, we look for the black box to understand what might have happened. It is the object at the centre of the investigation. In that sense, each of our boxes becomes such an investigation into the “accident” of each member’s lives - a combination of chance and deliberate action, of historical process (both personal and national) and private, internal narratives. Our stories exist at the collision of these various movements.
During our time at Watermill, we experimented and worked on certain premises and propositions around the black box. It allowed for a three week concentrated exploration of the themes and proportions of this idea and culminated in a first presentation for the public as a work-in-progress. The question of language also presented itself as a delicate frame for us to play with. English is our common ground and allows us to communicate but our native languages are never far away and often contribute to enriching our theatrical engagement, creating material that can be humorous and absurd and full of complexity.
Each member of P.L.U.T.O. worked as playwright/dramaturg, director and performer, without any sort of traditional hierarchy of roles. Depending on the specific material we were working with, members of the collective shifted roles, allowing also for the interplay of perspective as opposed to a single authorial vision. This process of collaborative artistic creation allowed us to stimulate and challenge each other - to counter, clarify and cooperate, all actions crucial to any form of collective inquiry. As much of our material stems to the personal and contextual, we were able to function as curious outsiders to each other.
ILHABELA'S RESIDENCY 2018
We endeavour to develop Black Box as a project that plumbs both historical and personal memory. We continued to build on the foundations of our work at Watermill, during the residency in Ilhabela (Brazil) on January 2018. Using lines of inquiry and investigation that were initiated and explored at that first residency, we developed clearer frames and more solid narrative structures. Our focus was dramaturgy.
P.L.U.T.O. made one public reading / work-in-progress rehearsal at Casa Palco in São Paulo in February 2018.