‘By Heart’ As I Saw It
Ram Hari Dhakal is impressed by the performance By Heart by Tiago Rodrigues but wonders if it did not contain a forced atmosphere.
The performance started with Tiago Rodrigues sharing the story of his grandmother. Rodrigues is an actor, writer, director and producer, and also artistic director at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, one of the oldest and most prestigious theaters in Portugal. He is also the writer and director of By Heart, which I saw when it was performed at Black Box teater in Oslo. Rodrigues’ grandmother used to learn texts and stories by heart and recite them to him when he was younger. Today he is still very fascinated by his grandmother and how she managed to learn all the stories in order to share them with him and others. Referring to the memory of his grandmother, Rodrigues went on to invite ten audience members up on the stage to teach them a text by heart.
I was impressed with the participating audience members and how they managed to learn the text by heart while being exposed on the stage. The different learning processes of the people were interesting to observe. I enjoyed seeing the natural and distinct humor that came from the ten people on stage. At the same time we can feel and see their difficulties, boundaries and achievements based on their facial expressions and body gestures including excitement and fear. This vulnerability was an important factor of the performance, engaging and exposing the audience.
The performance reveals itself as a knowledge-sharing process. By cultivating knowledge production and sharing through learning text, common stories will not go lost. Nobody can remove knowledge forcefully, not even war, political revolution, bureaucratic agencies or natural disaster. In this way knowledge is something we share and carry with us, and as long as we keep sharing our stories they will not be lost. In this context one can mention folk stories and fairytales. Folk stories and fairytales have no restrictions. In fact, many of them don’t have one specific author but endlessly many, which can make us question who wrote down the different stories within different countries and cultures? Who has the authorship? The answer is that they are shared, altered by every re-teller. Many of these stories have been part of our common memories for a very long time. Therefore, folk stories and fairytales excite us and can have unlimited influence on people of all ages. There is also the transferring of the stories from one generation to the next. In this perspective By Heart made visible how important it is to learn some texts by heart to share with friends, family and strangers.
However, as I experienced the performance, it contained a forced atmosphere, reminiscent of a military school. Because the performance focused on the learning process by heart including correct pronunciations it was kind of a forced task for the ten audience members who had come up on stage to participate. The performers did not seem to have fun completing the task of memorizing the text. This kind of memorizing is a traditional and outdated pedagogy that was previously practiced in military schools. If we want to have life and joy in our texts we should create the appropriate circumstances that can motivate people to learn the text by heart. We don’t need to force too much. If Rodrigues had given the audience members the choice themselves to choose which text they wanted to memorize, it could have created a real impact of text learn by heart.
Another thing I reflected upon is the emotional connection with his grandmother’s stories. For me achieving and sharing knowledge can be successfully done in any method but you have to have your heart in learning it. Therefore, his grandmother used to memorize the text easily while the performers showed their unwillingness in the forced nature of the task. I think Rodrigues failed to express his emotion and intimacy with his grandmother´s stories before giving the task to the performers. Hence, he failed to drive them to do the task happily. Therefore, I felt that he had less emotional presence, and emotional presence is an important part of retelling and teaching a text to others. To learn a text by heart and recite it is not a mechanical process, but an emotional and social act, while also being vulnerable. It is a special moment that comes from our soul, connecting the listener and the storyteller.
From my perspective the performance is structured on storytelling and the intimate atmosphere it creates. Rodrigues’ idea of involving the audience in his performance is itself a great experiment to establish an intimate relationship with his audience by blurring the boundary between performers and audience. But, in terms of the performance and the venue itself, it was proscenium theatre with less audience. For me, his intention of creating an intimate atmosphere with the audience did not succeed to excite me. Rodrigues had created a narrative plan, an idea, to ask ten audience members to enter the stage. This leaves me curious. If there had been less than ten audience members, how would he have managed to follow his core idea of having ten audience members all the time with him? Does he have an alternative idea to present his core thought if fewer people would have shown up for the performance?