Cadavre Exquis

The premise of the Cadavre Exquis seems simple: four actors, four directors and four parts, but complications abound

uit: The Guardian 18/1/2014

The premise of Dutch company Kassys' Cadavre Exquis appears simple: four theatre companies contribute one performer and one director each to the creation of a new work of theatre, to be composed in four separate segments of 15 minutes each.

The complicating factors unfold from here. The performers are from four different countries and four entirely different working methodologies. While the performers are housed together over the 10 weeks of the work's development, the four directors are put up separately, and visit only to work for two weeks. More fiendishly, they never meet. Each director is allowed to see only the final minute of the preceding 15 minutes of stage performance, and the actors are sworn to secrecy as to what has been discussed or developed before.

Is it a worthwhile experiment, or an exercise in developmental madness? Both simultaneously, it seems. Based on my interview with Hannah Ringham and Bas van Rijnsoever, two of the performers.

"This was the most scary project to start doing," says van Rijnsoever, a Dutch performer with a physical theatre background who was recruited by German/Dutch director Nicole Beutler. "There was never so much to not expect, or who to not expect. We travelled together not knowing if we were going to like one another, let alone work together."

The four performers were bedded down in a share house in Buda, in West Flanders. Their only other housemate was Mette van der Rijs, the production manager from Kassys.

"We had a great moment in our first night in Belgium," says British actor Ringham, "where we all had a beer together and we agreed: let's do this."

"Let's just say yes to everything," van Rijnsoever interjects.

Enthusiastic agreement, however, did not make the ensuing development more easy. "We made one show, but every director had his own process," says van Rijnsoever. "So the kind of relationships you would usually build over six months, you just had to do in two weeks. Then we had two days of rest, and had to pretend we were refreshed and start everything everything over again."

For the actors, it played against almost all of their instincts and all of the their training – they found it hard on a Monday morning to be a clean sheet or blank canvas, and start a new project. They relied on each other for support through the challenge. You can see that when you talk to them: these two very different performers present the easy camaraderie of those who can finish one another's sentences. When I mention this, van Rijnsoever laughs. "We were in the deepest part of West Flanders, there was nothing else to do but work on the project," he says.

While the actors bonded, the directors struggled with the upended power structures of their temporary visitation. It was hard for the directors to let go,” says Ringham, but “you saw all their passions, desires, values, what they give a shit about, how they work – and you saw it stripped down to its base values in such a short period of time."

The non-traditional dynamics of rehearsal room relationships were one of the project's most interesting discoveries. Moving to a new director provoked unexpected responses. "We all felt like it was leaving a lover, in a way. You have this intimate thing for two weeks and it's very intense with a director.”

Was there a moment in which everyone thought "Shit, this is not going to work?"

"All the time," says Ringham – but that’s what they enjoyed about it. "All of us feel a love for the kind of madness it had."

© Van Badham

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