LECTURE ON NOTHINGTheatre POST, St. Petersburg
Director: Dmitry Volkostrelov
Lecture on Nothing by John Cage is a manifesto for the conceptual minimalist Dmitry Volkostrelov and his theatre POST. The outcome of the “deliberate randomness” of this aesthetically poetic opus is the opportunity for a spectator to feel fully his/ her presence in the theatre hall and his/ her own freedom to watch and listen, or vice versa, neither watch nor listen. There are only twelve spectators sitting on the sides of the white cube and looking at nothing. What makes this action, this lecture built by musical laws a theatre? At least the fact that the performers in two voices reading the text of the lecture rubato (“the way we speak in everyday life”) are drama actors. What makes a spectator free? The repeated refrain: “If someone wants to sleep, let him/ her do that”.
John Cage is someone very important for Post Theatre. Like him, we try to bring light to the corners of contemporary art which were in the darkness before. So the fact that we directed our attention towards “Lecture on Nothing” can be considered logical and deeply symbolic. At some point of time Cage reminded us that music is the most universal of all arts, and the revolution that he made in his composing practice opened new ways to art in general. Having staged “Lecture on Nothing”, we try to bring this musical piece into the contemporary theatre context.
The ear without a musical education will rather guess at the complex musical structure of the “Lecture” than recognize it. But it will thankfully recognize something else, that is an attempt to explain that any act of creation is only endless striving to reach the unattainable result, just like the numbering of parts that we hear in the text gives not more than an illusion of rhythmical movement from the beginning to the final, and in reality gradually scorches the feeling of time and movement as such in the audience. Surely in every decade after “Lecture” was written, people found something for themselves in it: every epoch has a unique feeling of exhaustiveness, but it is only an illusion to think that it is universal for all times.
Looking at the white screen and listening to the dispassionately pronounced words and phrases repeated like mantras, phrases that do not expect us to totally concentrate on their meaning, because they are all only filling empty spaces of the well-thought-out structure invented by Cage, you start thinking about zeroing out of cultural codes, and that it is essential for survival. And also about the courage, not only effort, that this minimalist production, so happily demonstrating the qualities of emotional purification for the audience, has required of its creators – the test on “nothingness” is akin to some very important analysis.
The production of “Lecture on Nothing” is declarative not from the point of view of novation, but on the contrary – from the point of view of tradition (and dialogue with it: this explains why Cage’s text is decomposed into two voices). This gesture shows the seriousness and depth of the director’s relationship with the selected method (whatever you call it: “conceptualism”, “minimalism”, “non-theatre”. In our theatre today this kind of seriousness is unique. It is difficult to find a director who is able to come to Chekhov today following the same inexorable logic that brought Dmitry Volkostrelov to John Cage.