Friday, September 29, 2006

The Living Theatre to open a new theatre with an “American” classic


I am not free. There is a structure in my mind that imprisons me. This structure is the world. I obey certain laws. I could be punished. I cannot act upon my sexual desires. I cannot find the resources I need to create my art. I cannot stop war. I cannot live without money.

I said these structures are in my mind. Yet prisons, walls, police, money systems, borders, taboos, are all structures of society. But my mind is, our minds are, society.

Iraq: a ruthless dictator holds the social fabric together. A warring machine, a political fiction, neo-cons, the military industrial complex, call it what you will, invades and does away with the dictator and now there is another structure, equally ruthless that does and does not hold the fabric together.

Thailand: a military coup believes that it is its manifest destiny to bring about democracy.

The United Nations: Bosnia yes; Rwanda no. Sometimes structures act, sometimes not. And today in the Sudan?

How is this decided?

Graffiti on the wall: “Who rules?”

Julian Beck, in 1964 asks: is it easier to observe life in the street or in the theatre?

Sitting in the restaurant I see a petty bust: a white cop handcuffing a young black male. They play their roles perfectly. They are BOTH embarrassed, awkward in their recitations. I am the anonymous public. Impotent. It is cruel.

It is more than a physical tempest, it is a spiritual concussion that is signified in the general trembling of their limbs and their rolling eyes.

In 1964 The Living Theatre stages The Brig (by Kenneth H. Brown) based on the experience of Marines in the Marine’s brig. Not a play about the Abu Ghraib prison …or Guantànamo but about Marines abusing Marines. The idea was to make the audience feel the cruelty of brute authority and drive home in them the desire to dissolve that same authority.

"Devastating." —Howard Taubman, The New York Times

"Grim, relentless, supercharged." —The New Yorker "

“Unforgettable." —Variety

"A drill, a fist in the guts, a hangover, a nightmare." —The Sunday Telegraph (London)

"Shocking." —New York Post

"An act of conscience, decency, and moral revolt." —The New Republic

"Shattering." — Daily Express (London)

"Blistering, slashing, relentless." —Associated Press

"A nightmare ballet." —Life

"Horrifying, inescapable, and brilliant." —Daily Mail (London)

"An experience that must leave its mark on the American theatre." —Gordon Rogoff, Plays and Players

Calls were made for congressional investigations. The Living Theatre was closed. It was historical. Where is theatre like this today?

"What we learned in The Brig 42 years ago is so much clearer today." Steve Ben Israel, actor who performed The Brig more than 100 times.

Harvey Keitel, when he went to audition for the play, having just left the Marines, said he had had enough of that already.

"Reading the minutiae of description with which Kenneth Brown prefaces his play, I already felt that beauty and that terror in the rigor of the detail." Taken from Directing The Brig (quoted here and below) by Judith Malina, director of The Brig. She tells me it is the best thing she has ever written on theatre. I think she is right.

In the rehearsals Judith applied the rules and regulations of behavior for Marines as prescribed in The Guidebook for Marines, their manual on how to dress, obey, kill, die...and over and over to obey…especially in dying.

Again Steve Ben: "every actor who played The Brig learned it all there in that one play, because that play was for real."

Judith Malina:

My first reading of The Brig was a physical experience of the sense of total restriction. The restriction of the author to the barest facts, like the restrictions on the lives of the prisoners, immediately communicated the immobility of the structure. But what can be done within these strict limits? There is no alternate movement, no choice as to what shall be played upstage or downstage. No clue to the range of possible dramatic action. This is the key. The immobility of the structure.

"Just as we knew where our fellow prisoner was standing and what he was doing without looking at him, so we came to know how he was feeling, if he was in pain, or if he was happy because he was clicked in. It was like telepathy. But it wasn't that. It was community." (Judith quoting an actor describing what came to be known from the actors as The Trip.)

The price of the chaos under which we suffer. The price of the rigid law which gives us a slave's ease. When the audience can know violence in the clear light of the kinship of our physical empathy, it will go out of the theatre and turn such evil into such good as transformed the Furies into the Kindly Ones.


I don’t know how to get free. I look to the greats to steer me: the Charlie Parker’s, The Janis Joplin’s, the dead and living poets, the eternal rebels. I don’t believe that any social system can ever free me. Perhaps even in an actualized utopist community I might still have to follow rules, limit myself, find a measure of what I can, and cannot get away with. Are we so doomed? I do know that freedom will never be found in The New York Times, on the Internet, by voting, from capitalism, in having things, or even from simple being.

Julian Beck: "No one is free until all of us are free."

For this same reason the Dali Lamas reincarnate in order to be the very last to leave this torture garden. This is the fallacy and limitation of psychoanalysis, of new ageism: those pompous assholes.

And Artaud said that there must still be new experiences, new levels of being yet to discover:

The human face
is an empty power, a
field of death.
... after countless thousands of years
that the human face has spoken
and breathed
one still has the impression
that it hasn't even begun to
say what it is and what it knows.

If in The Brig, in the empty, automaton faces of the prisoners, in the sadistic smiles and violence of the guards, in the complete and horrific silence of the audience, we can examine under the light of art and science this shop of horrors in which we live, if we can risk abandoning our perception of what we believe we are, of what we might become, then perhaps we might take a step together into the real: no fiction.

We need to learn how to feel again.

We are doing The Brig once more. We are risking everything. See you on Clinton Street (New York City) in April.

Gary Brackett

To read the complete Directing The Brig by Judith Malina go to:
Directing The Brig

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Directing The Brig by Judith Malina

The dramatic and psychological situations have passed here into the very sign language of the combat, which is a function of the mystic athletic play of bodies and the undulatory use of the stage, whose enormous spiral reveals itself in one perspective after another.
The warriors enter the mental forest rocking with fear,-overwhelmed by a great shudder. It is more than a physical tempest, it is a spiritual concussion that is signified in the general trembling of their limbs and their rolling eyes. The sonorous pulsation of their bristling heads is at times excruciating and the music sways behind them and at the same time sustains an unimaginable space into which real pebbles finally roll.

Antonin Artaud
This quotation and the other references to Artaud are from The Theatre and Its Double by Antonin Artaud, translated by M. C. Richards, published by Grove Press.

The precision of the description of this structure is the key to The Brig.
The Immovable Structure is the villain. Whether that structure calls itself a prison or a school or a factory or a family or a government or The World As It Is. That structure asks each man what he can do for it, not what it can do for him, and for those who do not do for it, there is the pain of death or imprisonment, or social degradation, or the loss of animal rights.
The men placed inside the structure are intended to become part of this structure, and the beauty and terror of The Brig is seeing how it succeeds and how it fails in incorporating those whom it has imprisoned into its own corporeal being.
Reading the minutiae of description with which Kenneth Brown prefaces his play, I already felt that beauty and that terror in the rigor of the detail. A long time ago Kenneth Brown found himself in such a room and he noted with precision the proportions of the wire enclosure, the turnkey's desk, the Warden's post, and the white lines on the deck.
And as he stood there for thirty days at attention with his eyes in The Guidebook for Marines, he realized that what was happening to him was significant. Here in the darkness under the bright overhead light there lay exposed the open wound of violence.
Though the social structure begins by framing the noblest laws and the loftiest ordinances that "the great of the earth" have devised, in the end it comes to this: breach that lofty law and they take you to a prison cell and shut your human body off from human warmth. Ultimately the law is enforced by the unfeeling guard punching his fellow man hard in the belly.
And Kenneth Brown saw it and he experienced it and he wrote it down when he got out of it.
Reading the disembodied commands of The Brig, the numbered shouts that evoke the machine but remain transcendentally human outcries, I heard clearly in my ears the familiar metal scraping prison sounds and the stamp of the booted foot on concrete. These sounds will haunt me forever as they will haunt all of us who have been prisoners. The month that I spent in the Women's House of Detention was not only instructive, but it enables me to count myself as always among the prisoners. I needed to loosen my subjective response.
Four masterworks came to my mind after reading Brown's play. The work of three great men of the modern theatre, a Russian, a Frenchman, and a German, the fourth of collective and ancient authorship; all served as instruction on how to proceed.


His tormented specter appeared. I said to him: "Alas, you called your whole life a 'search for a style,' pursuing that search through honor and disgrace. Now, at last, I have found the play in which the actor is biologically and mechanically enmeshed inside the construction of wires and white lines."
He was rehearsing the Death of Tintagal when the Revolution burst forth and poured him into the street to do battle on the stages of the Revolution. He set up troupes that brought the political theatre to the railroad stations, the factories, the barricades, to the fronts of the Revolution. And afterward, installed in his state-subsidized theatre, he went on with his search. He came to believe that only complex technical structures overpowering the actor could express the real scenery of his times.
The Constructivist demands a setting which is the action. Therefore, Meyerhold began to regulate the actor's movements until his actors complained that they were being treated like puppets. In a public attack his theatre was dubbed "hostile to the people."
He tried puppets and failed. When he spoke of his theory of bio-mechanics as "the organization and geometrization of movement, based on deep study of the human body," he knew that something psychophysical was at stake; that the way back to the sensibilities of the spectator must be through referring again to the human body standing there trapped before him, The actor is not disembodied of his soul, but is full with it and controls it to fill out the dramatic and metaphysical construction.
In The Brig each actor feels his total creativity when the external form of his action is so inhibited and his single repeated phrase is so limiting that his whole discarnate soul quivers in his face and body and the performances become filled with invention and full of mystery. Each actor has his mystery and his trip.
The Brig is a Constructivist play. The construction of the set dictates and directs the action by the power of its vectors and its centers of gravity. It was designed by the architects of ancient military prisons, Masonic craftsmen of dungeons and towers. From these fearsome structures the utility of minimal construction and maximum security is in direct descent.
Kenneth Brown vividly recollected the actuality as adapted by the U.S. Marines at the foot of Mount Fuji in 1957. Only Beck's ingenious sense of proportion was needed to create a Constructivist stage.
In The Brig, Vsevolod Emilyevich, without damaging the actor's powers, but rather bearing them up, the structure enforces that rhythmic discipline of the actor's body, which you called "bio-mechanics."


To Artaud, my madman muse, never absent from my dreams, I speak in a private language. He it was who demanded of the actor the great athletic feats: the meaningless gestures broken off into dances of pain and insanity; who cried out in his crazy-house cell for a theatre so violent that no man who experienced it would ever stomach violence again. He said: "I defy any spectator to whom such violent scenes will have transferred their blood—the violence of blood having been placed at the service of the violence of the thought—I defy that spectator to give himself up, once outside the theatre, to ideas of war, riot, and blatant murder."
Artaud asks for a theatre in which the actors are victims burned at the stake "signaling through the flames"; in which "physical obsession of muscles quivering with affectivity, is equivalent, as in the play of breaths, to unleashing this affectivity in full force, giving it a mute but profound range of extraordinary violence"; in which "The overlapping of images and movements will culminate, through the collusion of objects, silences, shouts, and rhythms, or in a genuinely physical language with signs, not words, as its root."
O Antonin fierce and demanding, in The Brig I have seen the actor tax his body to that abstract athletic splendor where he looms on the precarious edge of the abyss of soullessness.


But Piscator was my teacher, so I must apply stricter rules to meet his standards. Besides, he is no historical dream figure. Even now in the Divided City he works in the old Berliner Volksbiihne to create a theatre as potent politically as that which, across the bloodstained wall, is the great monument to his old friend and colleague, Bertolt Brecht.
Where Artaud cries out for Madness, Piscator advocates Reason, Clarity, and Communication. He said once in class, "We have gone back to what we can see, because although we know that other things exist, that which we can see is organizable."

Brecht writes of Piscator:

His experiments caused, above all, complete chaos in the theatre. If the stage was transformed into a machine shop, then the auditorium was transformed into an assembly hall. For Piscator the theatre was a parliament, the public a legislative body. To this parliament was presented in plastic terms important, decision-demanding, public affairs. In place of an address by a member of parliament concerning certain untenable social conditions, there appeared an artistic reproduction of the situation. Piscator's theatre wanted to wrest from the spectators a practical resolve to take an active hold on life.

My dear Mr. Piscator: once in a class you described the totally effective revolutionary play. My class notes tell me you called it Die Stimme von Portugal. You described how the performer sang the last phrases of a rousing chorus on freedom and how the people went singing out of the theatre and freed their native land from the oppressor. I have not yet found a play that can move the spectator to such commitment. But I have found a play so valid that when it was closed by the state because the theatre could not meet its financial obligations, the actors, the author, the stage hands, the box-office workers, the stage manager, the house manager, and the technicians were joined by some members of the audience in volunteering to be arrested on the stage with us rather than leave without protesting that this play should not continue to speak.
In our indictment we are charged with shouting from the windows, "Storm the barricades!"

The work of The Guidebook for Marines

The great men, or so the historians call them, having lost the names of the men who invented the wheel and alphabet have spent their powers in the study of combat. Caesar, and the Pharaohs, and before them the tribal kings, and after them the Napoleons in their many uniforms and national characteristics have all given over the fruits of their genius to the battlefield. Strategy has come to be regarded as fit exercise for the best in human consciousness.
But before the battle, the soldier must be trained. Get them young. Get them while they are pliable to the process of conforming them to the soldierly shape.
Men studied how to train the young to kill before they trained them to build, or to write, or to work the land. Only singing and dancing came before that ancient skill. Before the worst, only the best was known. First the lute, then the spear. And after the singing, the arrows.
The line of learning can be traced, and, were I a scholar, I might trace how some writer in hieroglyphics first formulated the about face, or at what point in history the cadence count was developed out of the old war cries, and how the particular shininess of the uniform was discovered to heighten the will to kill.
I saw that what I confronted in this fearsome book was the compendium of a time-honored study. Nothing has been more carefully formulated than the manuals of war. When I read The Guidebook for Marines I said this book is one of the great books and set it beside the Holy Writ (which has much study of strategy in it) and The Zohar (which attributes even to the heavenly orders the terminology of the military discipline).
The Marine Corps manual represents the acme of the venerable line of study manuals designed to teach men to kill and function in the battle situation. The preparation of men for this ordeal, being so innately unnatural to human affection and so innately natural to the human animal, exploits the primitive animal consciousness. It perverts man's animal nature to obstruct the natural processes of love.
As we all live in a violent world, on land that has been wrested by violence from whatever its former inhabitants, the Lords of the World have had to answer in strict terms this human question: "How can we take a youth, sweet-smelling and clean-skinned, out of his girl's arms, and train him so that on command he will infallibly do what we ask, though he die for it?"
This is the gist of the answer given in the war manuals:
Teach him to walk in measured steps. Teach him to chant in strict meter. Make him afraid of another man whose insignia designates him as superior. Teach him to obey. Teach him to obey regardless of sense or animal safety. Teach him to say, "Yes, sir!" Teach him to reply by rote. Teach him to turn his corners squarely. Teach him not to consider the meaning of the act, but to act out the command. Teach him that heaven is the name of a place with guarded streets where uniformed men march keeping order.
The Marine Corps manual is one of the great books. It tells: "How to creep: your body is kept free of the ground with your weight resting on forearms and lower legs. Your rifle is cradled in your arms to keep the muzzle out of dirt. . . . How to crawl. . . ."
It says: "Get the blade into the enemy. ... Be ruthless, vicious, and fast in your attack. . . . The throat is the best target. The belly is good too ... go for his hands, face, or sides with a hacking, slashing blade and cut your way to that vital area. . . . You must kill, not simply defeat your opponent. . . ."
Another greatness of the Marine Corps manual is that it lays bare the most vulnerable places, where neither art, nor the Holy Teachings, nor the processes of evolution have proven therapy to the sick beast in us.
In rehearsing The Brig we decided to use The Guidebook as our text.

My first reading of The Brig was a physical experience of the sense of total restriction. The restriction of the author to the barest facts, like the restrictions on the lives of the prisoners, immediately communicated the immobility of the structure. But what can be done within these strict limits? There is no alternate movement, no choice as to what shall be played upstage or downstage. No clue to the range of possible dramatic action. This is the key. The immobility of the structure. "Read the script," cries Piscator again and again in rehearsals. "Read the script."

The sparseness of human activity is demonstrated by the prisoner's day. It is the minimal man, confined to needs. He rises, washes, cleans his quarters, urinates, eats, smokes, is searched, works, eats, is frisked, works or cleans his quarters thoroughly, eats, writes a letter, showers, shaves, and sleeps. Five also leaves the Brig, enters the Brig, flips out, marches, and has the living daylights beaten out of him. It isn't much. But where there is very little each action carries a greater burden of a man's suffering, as well as greater inklings of his smothered glory.
I understood this sparseness to be the "blind force" which "activates what it must activate" (i.e., the subservience of the man to the structure), which Artaud bids me explore when he says of the director:

The director, having become a kind of demiurge at the back of whose head is this idea of implacable purity and its consummation whatever the cost, if he truly wants to be a director, i.e., a man versed in the nature of matter and objects, must conduct in the physical domain an exploration of intense movement and precise emotional gesture, which is equivalent on the psychological level to the unchaining of certain blind forces which activate what they must activate and crush and burn on their way what they must crush and burn.

The question is, according to Artaud, where to begin the exploration of the movement and gesture equivalent to the psychological forces which activate The Brig?
For the answer I went to The Guidebook, which says, "Drill."

Drill inspires an individual to be a member of a team. The purposes of Drill are ... to teach discipline by instilling habits of precision and automatic response to orders ... to better morale.

And further it says:

Discipline is necessary to secure orderly action which alone can triumph over the seemingly impossible conditions of battle. . . . There is no sane person who is without fear, but with good discipline and high morale all can face danger.

Every situation has its own special problems and one of the problems particular to rehearsing The Brig at The Living Theatre was that atmosphere of permissiveness and informality which our working conditions have always favored. We are purposefully personal in the hope that the best work will generate within the greatest possible human warmth. We know that the price of discipline is the rigor of authority, the wages of order is submission. We know that the only real call to order is the needs of the work of art. Any other authority is usurped.
Now apply the strictest methods within the freest association. Reduce discipline to its lowest form (i.e., most harmless) as a spectacle to be observed as though it were rare. As though it were rare! Practice authority as though it were rare. At first I doubted that it would be possible for the company to make this unusual sacrifice and work in a manner opposed to the manner that has been developed as our social and artistic standard, that is, to formalize our relationship.
The formal relation is an immovable structure. Like all immovable structures it is the villain. We were going to set up villainy in a safe boundary as a biologist might use a Petri dish to grow a foul and noxious growth within a safe situation. We isolated it.
I prepare a play more by steeping myself in its mysteries than by preparing a set of specific stage directions. I try to keep the action fluid for the actor, I like to reserve space in which the actor can move after that point in rehearsals when he knows more about the role than I did when we began. Therefore, I do not like to preset.
I prepared a set of "Rehearsal Regulations" which followed the form of the "Brig Regulations" that circumscribe the prisoners' action in the Brig. These "Brig Regulations" invented by the U.S. Marines are so basic to the action that we decided at the very beginning to print them in each program so that the spectator has the basic stage directions of The Brig in his hands.
These rehearsal rules imposed no requirements on the actor that the ordinary customs of the theatre do not demand of him, such as promptness, proper dress, silence. In the same way, the "Brig Regulations" are only the rules of military discipline imposed with cruelly demanding perfectionism. The free and easy spirit among us had to be transformed by sacrifice of our intimacy (just for the time of rehearsal) to the cold, hard way of the world. The rehearsal breaks and later the intermissions, where we resumed our friendly natures, would become paradisiacal interludes of life in the cold Brig world. The "Rehearsal Discipline" was presented to the company on mimeographed sheets before the first rehearsal. We were assembled on the stage in our usual, informal manner. We had been smoking and talking in the dressing rooms and our spirits were high with the excitement of rehearsing a new work with a familiar and trusted company. I explained that these rules would not be put into effect if any one person in the company did not wish to submit to any part of them.
They were written in the crass, effective, blunt style of the Marine Corps Brig Regulations. Here they are:


Because of the nature of the play, in which we are enacting a rigid discipline and demonstrating the results of an authoritarian environment, rehearsals will require a more than usual strict discipline. All members of the cast and crew are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the rules of this discipline, and, upon acceptance of the discipline by the entire company, are considered to be in agreement that they will work under these conditions.

1. Rehearsal Time: Rehearsal Time will be called by the stage manager at the beginning of every rehearsal period and at the end of every break period. During Rehearsal Time, all rules are in effect; during Break Time, rules are suspended.
Break Time will be called by the stage manager, and will also be posted in advance—on the rehearsal board. In the event of a discrepancy between the posted time and the stage manager's call, the stage manager's call is to be the final word. At the start of each Rehearsal Time every actor is expected to be ready, in the auditorium, in proper clothing, or the call of places.

2. Rehearsal Discipline Rules
a. Actors will sign in before Rehearsal Time is called. Actors should arrive five minutes prior to called time, in the auditorium, to be ready for places when called.
b. During Rehearsal Time, actors who are not on stage will remain in the auditorium, ready to be called unless specifically dismissed by the stage manager.
c. During Rehearsal Time, there is to be no business or discussion other than that relating to the rehearsal.
d. No eating during Rehearsal Time.
e. Actors not required onstage may smoke in the first rows of the auditorium, where ash trays will be provided. No smoking in other parts of the auditorium. Backstage rules will be posted by the stage manager.

3. Break Time: During Break Time actors may leave the auditorium and the backstage area, but will not leave the building without informing the stage manager. (This rule not in effect during lunch and dinner breaks.) During breaks, actors are free to do whatever they please; all food, refuse, and personal belongings must be cleared away before Rehearsal Time is called.

4. Clothing: Costumes will be issued as soon as possible; rehearsals will be in costume. Prior to costume rehearsal, actors will rehearse in clothes as follows: a T-shirt or light sweater, dungarees or work pants, a jockstrap, boxer shorts or bathing trunks, belts, heavy shoes (preferably high-top for prisoners), a zipper jacket (zelon-type), and a cap. Actors who cannot supply these items themselves will be outfitted
by the stage manager. Make your application, for those items you cannot supply yourself, to the stage manager immediately. No extraneous jewelry or clothing will be worn during rehearsals or performance.

5. Formality: So that we may fully achieve the author's intent, the tone and atmosphere of Rehearsal Time will have to be more serious and formal than is usual. During Rehearsal Time, all actors and crew will maintain a respectful and serious attitude toward one another. There will be no joking tolerated during Rehearsal Time, especially in reference to the relationships of guards and prisoners.

6. Penalties for infraction of rules: The imposition of penalties is with the agreement, herewith, of the entire company. Penalties may be ordered by the director, the assistant director, the stage manager, the technical director. Penalties may be arbitrated, if the actor or crew member feels the penalty is unjust or uncalled for. Final decision rests with the producer. Penalties will all consist of work other than
one's assigned work on the play. Work will be performed at any time the company member is not required in the course of his regular duties, during the rehearsal period and for the run, at times agreeable to the actor and stage manager and
technical director, within a week.

7. Tentative list of penalties (to be finalized with company agreement at end of first week): Lateness: Double-time work for time lost. Absence: Single-time work for time lost. Lateness of more than four hours is considered absence. Misconduct: (Obstructive, uncooperative behavior, such as kidding around on stage, unnecessary talks, failure to follow direction)—15 minutes work for each breach of discipline.
Failure to pass clothing inspection: (The stage manager will make a uniform inspection at the beginning of each Rehearsal Period, and gig those whose clothing is not in accordance with instructions; actors are responsible for all details of uniforms, including buttons)—15 minutes work time for each gig.
Loss of clothing: 1 hour work time per one dollar of clothing cost.
Loss of hand-props: Same as above.

Additional penalties will be listed on the stage manager's backstage rules.
Additional rehearsal penalties will be posted if further discipline problems arise, but not without the agreement of the Company.

We talked for a long time about the gig system, and about the meaning of punishment. I feared the first ruffle of feelings. The actors agreed that a breach on their part would entail a penalty. No one dissented. To relieve the inevitable tensions we also instituted a five-minute break period which any actor could call at any time that he felt in need of freedom from the tensions and formality. Breaks were often called. They were never abused. We adjusted one clause in the fifth paragraph. Then the stage manager called rehearsal time.
Ash trays were set in the first two rows and the actors moved silently to their places for the first call. The silence was new to us. In it we felt the terrible loneliness of separation from one another. The lack of our usual laughter dismayed us. But we were thrilled by the silence and the formal tone and seeing our friends' faces so somber.
We used the techniques of evil as the innoculist uses the fatal virus. We absorbed it and we survived. We drilled. We exercised. We paid attention to accuracy. Ken Brown demonstrated for us how to slap the cap, how to make up the racks, how to swab, how to frisk and be frisked, in which hand to hold soap and toothbrush, the angle at which the manual is held; in fact, no detail was too insignificant for us to examine it for its physical appearance and its metaphysical equivalent.
This is what Artaud sought when he spoke of ritualizing objects.
There were some among us who remembered the Marine Corps from the inside and we questioned them for hours about the slightest aspect of that life that might prove useful. We sat around the dressing rooms long after rehearsal hours while Tom Lillard, who played the role of Prisoner Number Two, the figure of the author in The Brig, described to us the brig in which he served time, how it differed, how it was the same, how the soul got twisted and the body trained.
And as we worked in a new way we felt the hardness of the world outside, against which we had protected one another so long. We were like fleeing people who, even as they barricade themselves against the plague outside, meet the Red Death in their own fortified palace. But we knew that we were enacting him and the sting of his force was ritualistic fear. This power of ritual fear began to overwhelm the actors.
"If the blow does not hurt, why do I fear the white line?" Each one came to me to tell me of his own experience and they gathered together to talk each one of his terror of playing The Brig. The ordeal swept over us. We were all afraid. In the breaks we came closer and closer as we huddled together in small groups describing to each other the intricacies of this serious endeavor.
Moving with unaccustomed solemnity we learned to share the sense of the ordeal that the Marines felt at Fuji Brig, and that is everywhere felt in the schools of submission, in the fraternities of exclusion, in the clubs of the oppressors.
Drill was taught according to Marine Corps tactics. Chic Ciccarelli, who played the Brig Warden, was a former Marine, and remembered with touching and terrible closeness the cold, hard exhilaration of the drill. Before each rehearsal the company drilled half an hour, after the lunch break, another half hour. We cleared the lobby of The Living Theatre, and there on the tile floors we marched endless hours. Startled ticket buyers often entered in the middle of a drill master's angry scolding. It was not the polite tone of a theatrical director discussing the character with the actor, it was Ciccarelli screaming, "Get your head up, you lousy maggot!"
The drill however had an enlivening effect. The marching is a ritual of great beauty only grown hideous because it stands for the marches towards the fields of death in battle and because it has come to signify the loss of character that ensues when all of life becomes routed into this exactitude. And because you cannot stop, Meanwhile the rhythm of mutuality entices the kinetic senses. The sense of moving in a mutual rhythm with one's fellow man.
I had imagined marchers earlier, moving around the ritual circle in enormous savage costumes, when I saw the tribes of Dahomey dance their war dances on the stage of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris. There was a time when they left those circles to move toward their enemies on what they called in the olden times the War Path. These marches, and the rhythm of the feet stamping on the hard path that time has cut through the ancient forests, were learned in the squares at the center of the villages. They were practiced in the threshing places, they were danced there in the theatres, and they took men to war in high spirits. The marching, they say, is a rest in a difficult routine.
After establishing the drill session and reading twice through the play we began to study the physical traits we would need. ("To know in advance what points of the body to touch is the key to throwing the spectator into magical trances." A.A.) And so we sought in each action its counterpart, its double in the human spirit.
Let us take for example those blows to the stomach that are such crucial moments in the play. The performer is transformed by them into a new kind of device for communication. This is known in athletics and circuses. I am talking about the imitative reflex action.
When the first blow is delivered in the darkened Brig before dawn and the prisoner winces and topples from his superbly rigid attention position, the contraction of his body is repeated inside the body of the spectator. That is, if we succeed, there is an actual physical, measurable contraction inside the spectator's body. We can at best be only partially successful in this. We ask for no more.
This instant of physical trauma is the instant in which a man becomes vulnerable. The human mind, vainly stabbing with the rigid prods of its will, cannot inhibit the softness of the soul as it asks for mercy for the body. The gentler spirit emerges for a moment in the red flash of brightness that accompanies the pang of a blow and pleads with the man (the whole man) to do whatever it may be to spare the beloved body continued or protracted or repeated pain. The Marine calls it cowardice and straightens up to attention as soon as the pain ebbs enough for his conditioned will to regain total power over his physical being.
We discussed at length the various stages of the blow, each one with their counterpart for prisoner and for guard. They are four:

1. The Moment before Impact: The prisoner draws upon his will and musters it for use as before battle. That is, he hardens himself both muscularly and psychologically. The guard prepares to make the impact of his blow telling. That is, he is concerned with making it hurt, let us say of a certain blow, not maim. He must gauge the degree to which he will let loose and the degree to which he will restrain. Being imbued with the notion of the Tough Marine he prepares to let himself hurt the prisoner as much as he dares. He hardens himself in his mind in preparation for the blow (I believe, however, that the idea of mercy is at such a moment not as far from the surface as the Marine Corps would have us believe), just as he tightens the muscles of his fist, his arms, his back, his torso, and his legs in order to deliver the blow.

2. The Moment of Impact: (There is a moment before this but it is too swift and mysterious to discuss here. It has to do with movement.) This is the moment in which the prisoner has lost his total rigidity because now he can save himself only with resiliency. But resiliency is a feminine (ergo: cowardly) attribute. It must be used swiftly and superficially as always when we practice negative attributes for the sake of expedience. This moment is therefore brief. But this moment is the vulnerable moment at its climax. The hairs' breadth transition between the moment of impact and the moment of recovery centers first in the will as the mind flicks back from its instant of unconsciousness. Then, through the mustering of strength, it centers in the muscles in the man's body as it returns to the rigid position which the man's will proscribes for it. This moment is a physical moment and its attributes are physical. We had to be certain that this moment fulfilled its therapeutic function. At this crucial moment we must make this pain not the useless pain that sickness brings, or the inflicted pain that tempts us to vengeance and the perpetuation of the long line of hatred that had brought us here. This is the cathartic pain. We staked ourselves on catharsis.
The prisoner, hurt, is vulnerable and tender. His look betrays the baby's scream of agony at its first breath.
The guard, having hurt, untenses. But he knows the danger of slackening too long, lest the victim respond, not with defeat, but with anger. He is on guard. The guard waits for the prisoner now and reads him with the glance of a snake. (Spectator: Pity and Terror!)

3. The Moment of Recovery: The prisoner now enacts the will taking over. The rigid system at war with the animal need conquers all. Because he is a Marine.
The guard watches this process with a certain amount of satisfaction. If this part of the action is not executed properly, the guard will hit the prisoner again. This is the squared-away moment, when the hope that sprung out of the animal feelings during the blow itself lies unfulfilled. It is the point of return to that same hell out of which we emerged for a moment of suffering in the Theatre of Cruelty. There is no despair in this for the prisoner, but a sense of achievement. Having been laid low, he has recovered, and having recovered, he has regained his manhood. "You're making me sick with your little-girl tricks," says the guard to the prisoner who does not return quickly enough to the attention position. When we see him thus defeated in his victory it is for us, the audience, to respond to his helplessness. If the Moment of Impact has made us feel viscerally, then the Moment of Recovery should move us to revolutionary action for our fallen brother.

4. The First Moment of the New Status Quo; Each blow is a total demolition, each recovery a total restructure. After the blow the prisoner stands erect and proud, having, if not overcome, at least survived. Even if it hurts him. The guard, however, is still tensed for the untoward event; the guard always suspects that the prisoner may flip out and hit him, especially after the blow. The guard has to play it longer, because the blow has made him insecure. He is often cheerful afterward, but sometimes angry or glum.
The spectator returns to the world in which this blow, this visceral pain, exists. In prizefights both men fight, and sympathy gets lost in swiftly dealt vengeance. But this blow belongs to the martyrs, the soldiers, and the poor.
Each particular of the play was examined with care and we talked without limit until we were all agreed on the meanings of each element, as Kenneth described it, as I tried to balance it, as the actors began to absorb it.


Each actor brought back travelogues of a trip that he took out into the long silent stretches. Sometimes with his uniform soaking wet, or during and after a bout with the guards, or staring at the wire that hypnotized him with its glittering lines, he stood still inside that stillness within which the physical stillness lies hidden, and in that narrow space, being so strictly confined, took wing into what Artaud calls that "enormous spiral that reveals one perspective after another." The actor felt (some familiarly, some for the first time in their lives) the other self, the one that Artaud calls the Double, take flight and soar into that other space where time is not, nor relation, nor anything, but sheer existence, undefined and undefinable, seeming absolute.
The body of the prisoner is totally captive. The soul of the prisoner is potentially totally free. The trip between these two points is the crucial experience of the play.
From this time forward the actor moves inside the Brig with mysterious immunity. "And behind the Warrior, is The Double . . . who, roused by the repercussion of the turmoil, moves unaware in the midst of spells of which he has understood nothing."
At first embarrassed confessions passed among close friends. Then some came to me for consultation, worried about this "symptom," while some shouted joyfully, "I made it." Each actor in his own way confronted the moment when the body submits to the other part, so indistinguishable from the body that all the forms of holiness never cease telling us that they are one. And they are one. These two, felt by the ego as independent, suffer by their separation. Suffering melds a man and his soul.
The action of The Brig is real, physical, here-and-now. The spirit needs force to fuse again with the athletic body, thus its strictures become the means for this sense of unification.
I asked the actors about the Trip. They said:
1. "The space traversed is infinite."
2. "You can't think further than the next white line."


These plain white markings on the deck of the Brig represent the simplicity with which the torture is inflicted. They are the points designated by authority beyond which we may not go, and in that capacity are related to an ancient taboo, and one not without psychological and mythological analogies. Where have we met the uncrossable line before? What echo does it stir?
It stirs the recollection of that other untraversable line: the Magic Circle. The Magic Circle is drawn by the sorcerer around the victim who stands helpless within it while the spell is woven around him. The ancient authority and the new do not differ in this: the belief of the victim in the power of the Authority makes what is unreal real. It is because he believes himself thus trapped that he is thus trapped, and as the guards say in The Brig, "You better believe it!"
They are easily justified by those who painted them there. Why, they are merely lines for the regulation of traffic through congested areas, a convenience to keep passageways clear and control movement around the Brig. The preoccupation with cleanliness which makes it dangerous to step on and dirty the white line, or the preoccupation with exactitude (squared-awayness) which makes it punishable to step on a white line are special pathologies always associated with the fear of mutiny. The implications of the word "shipshape" are the captain's preventative against mutiny. The White Line is this and more than this.
In a great and pertinent book, called Drawing the Line, Paul Goodman tells us:

In the mixed society of coercion and nature, our characteristic act is Drawing the Line beyond which we cannot co-operate. All the heart-searching and purgatorial anxiety concerns this question, Where to draw the line? I'll say it bluntly: The anxiety goes far beyond reason. . . .

Yet to each person it seems to make all the difference where lie i draws the line! This is because these details are the symbolic key? to his repressed powers.

The prisoners in The Brig draw the line at the line. Beyond that is pain. This line, "the Line beyond which we cannot co-cooperate," is drawn alike by prisoner and guard, and the suffering of the guard is our unremitting concern. Paul goes on:
A free man would have no such problems; he would not have finally to draw a line in their absurd conditions which he has disdained from the very beginning. . . .
No particular drawn line will ever be defensible logically. But the right way away from any line will prove itself more clearly step by step and blow by blow.
In every action where hate is the motive, we divulged the element which, however buried, twisted, racked, and punched it may be, is love, the saving grace in everything human. We called on pity last, on basic human kinship first.
Here are a dozen particulars, that marked our way:

l. How the relationship between the guard and the prisoner is the human cornerstone of the play. Where does the? I-and-Thou get lost? "Why do they call them maggots?" I asked a cocky young Marine. "Lowest form of animal life," he answered with a cocky smile.

2. How the relationship of the prisoners toward one another is the hope of the world. One actor says: "Just as we knew where our fellow prisoner was standing and what he was doing without looking at him, so we came to know how he was feeling, if he was in pain, or if he was happy because he was clicked in. It was like telepathy. But it wasn't that. It was community."

3. How the guards come to be there and how they survived the horror of their ordeal. Ken told me they were chosen at random. Aptitude graded to be brig guards. They two alternatives, but to fail to fulfill their assignment is to fail as a Marine. How They Learn to Love It is the name of their tragic play.

4. How the phrase "It's your night tonight" sets a man's head and body loose into a net of apprehension. The day-long fear is as bad as the beating. The theory of deterrence is the discipline of the Brig. (Ask: Where does it hurt?)

5. How the author, in the opening scene, enters the character of Prisoner Number Two whose "night it is," and how at first we see the Brig through his staunch, frightened eyes, but later in the day he is immersed in the fraternity of
not suffering alone; not knowing his fellow's name, he learns to live in silent empathy with him, till the author's ego and the actor's individuality and the audience's sense of personal uniqueness are swallowed up in the narrow strictures of the Brig's confining rules.

6. How Prisoner Number Three has learned to exist in the darkness as if he were living in the light. "Why doesn't he get hit?" they ask. Because he has been there so long!

7. How Prisoner Number Five gives us hope that there is a way out. That it ends, somehow. And not always too late. But what does he go to when he gets out the Freedom Door?

8. How Prisoner Number Six gets back his name: he ob¬ serves the ceremonial leave-taking of Five with horror. Then, he disobeys the next command. He doesn't move on the line "Get back to your manuals." He just stands there. The audience notices it before the guards do, and if we are doing it right they anticipate the scream. Before he screams he has disobeyed the command. He screams because he has broken out of the system. Because he has isolated himself forever. Because he cannot go back. He is afraid. And he is not afraid because he has gone crazy, but because he has gone sane.
"My name is not Six," he cries out, "it's James Turner. Let me out of here." As he flails about to escape the entrapping jacket, the guard says "Just relax, James Turner, you are getting out of here." This is the only instance in which a prisoner is referred to by his name. For an instant the prisoner is deluded that the minion of law and order has restored him to the status of a man. He relaxes, and this is the fatal moment when they bind him and carry him out on a stretcher, as he says "Thank God."
But where are they taking him? He has a rendezvous out there with an unknown, impenetrable, giant Brig called the Looney-Bin where tomorrow's hospital-prisons are already a-building on the ruins of the ancient dungeons. When the prison reformers have torn clown the walls, the "sick criminal" will be incarcerated there among the antiseptic horrors of the shock-machines and the well-meaning psychiatric case-workers. What trap shall we be in then? Into what darkness shall we be swallowed?

9. How the tears of Prisoner Number Eight remind everyone of something that happened long ago when pride lost out to feeling.

10. How the roles of prisoners who have no special business are as total as the roles with speaking scenes because each actor played each prisoner with his own peculiar sensuality.

11. How the second Prisoner Five perpetuates the process so that the structure will have no end. There is by now something pathetically weary and comical about the prisoner. As if he had been going on forever. The last tragedy. (Laughter/resignation.)

12. How the field day becomes a bacchanal of terror and intoxication: beginning with the first requests to cross, the sound rises toward a "sonorous pulsation."

These overlapping sounds were of two kinds and their mystery of two kinds. This climax of the ritual of useless work and the wasting of manly strength, and the abuse of the beautiful by the strong, contains the two kinds of sounds which echo the diabolical resonances of life in and out of the Brig.

The sound of the work is clashing, disorganized, disordered, confused, tumultuous. It is irregular and violent. It differed in each performance. I urged the actors to listen to this sound, to strain to catch its modulations. They attended even in the midst of the physical exertion of the field day, their bodies sweating and breathless and tired. But their ears open. I asked them to hear it and respond to it. They built its roar each night differently, but always with an attentive ear to what was happening within all earshot. Their animal ears and instincts awake in the deafening dark. They built it to a steady crescendo, climaxing at the singing of the hymn when they softened it to let the poetry ring through the bellowing rhythms of their labors.
Then the marching in Post Two begins to dominate the scene. As each prisoner joins in the drill, the disordered sound abates. The reverberating rigid sound takes over. How pleasant the steady drone is after the wild clangor. The drill sounds are regular, organized, orderly, controlled, disciplined. They are regular and law abiding. The actors were troubled by how restful it was. They didn't want to be enfolded in its harmony, the reconciliation of its smooth, untroubled, monotonous comfort.
Every night that they made this music and did this dreadful pantomime they enacted what it came to:
The price of the chaos under which we suffer.
The price of the rigid law which gives us a slave's ease.
When the audience can know violence in the clear light of the kinship of our physical empathy, it will go out of the theatre and turn such evil into such good as transformed the Furies into the Kindly Ones.
If the audience sees violence only in the dark light of the TV horror Western it will go out of its house with its rifle under its arm.
Violence is the darkest place of all. Let us throw light on it. In that light we will confront the dimensions of the Structure, find its keystone, learn on what foundations it stands, and locate its doors. Then we will penetrate its locks and open the doors of all the jails.

New York City
July 1964

Web Counters