The theater time, by Eve Mascarau
Theatre is a place full of conventions. The first of these is to pretend to believe that what is going on stage is « real ». However we know full well that actors are not the characters they play, the theatre decor goes no further than the wings and time, despite following its normal course during the show, is tweaked to accelerate, go backwards or stand still. An actor comes out on stage, slips on a jacket and scarf and returns – six months have gone by! He puts make-up on and whitens his hair and ten years have gone by!
Literature has not always been as flexible. The desire to keep the time frame of a play to a single day goes back to Aristotle and his Poetics. He was the one that authors in the classical age attributed with the notion of vraisemblance as a criterion of artistic validity, which in turn ignored the tacit lie underpinning all plays. We had to wait for Hugo and romantic drama to get rid of this constraint: for him, characters traverse different places and dramatic action stretches out over time.
In the XXth century things accelerated even more and avant-garde folk toyed with temporal density: could theatre not play around a little with time? In Waiting for Godot Beckett put characters on stage waiting for a person called Godot who never arrives. He plays with cyclical events, repeating the same events every day, with the same performances every evening… Does the same thing happen during every repetition? That’s the mystery of time and theatre on stage.
Ève Mascarau, Ph. D in performing arts, is a researcher and teacher at the École Normale Supérieure.