(September 2016) Performer, actor, director and teacher, Mitch Mitchelson speaks with NWTC members Alex McCafferty and Julie Fraser about his work and enjoyment of theatre.
How did you first get interested in theatre?
When I was an idealistic member of the community arts organisation The Bath Arts Workshop in the 1970s, a halcyon period for community theatre activism and theatrical experimentation. As well as being a community arts workers, we doubled up as The Natural Theatre Company and Exploded Eye Events, seminal companies in theatre as a catalyst for change and experimentation with theatre language.
You are an actor, teacher and director. What aspects of each do you enjoy?
Well, I have evolved for many reasons into directing and teaching. I enjoy directing as there is the challenge of bringing something alive for an audience, bringing a piece of theatre into being, which is wonderfully absorbing and rewarding as well as challenging and daunting. I enjoy teaching as I like to inspire groups. Performing and acting was more part of my background in the past, and my main income then, so I still enjoy doing the occasional role play and bit of fooling and clowning around at festivals.
What inspires you?
People’s passion for creating regardless of age.
There’s a quote from Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Black Book’ on your website: ‘My father always said we should pay close attention to the gestures that make us who we are.’ Did your father say that, too?
No. Dad was a generous, open, but occasionally volatile man whose favourite quote was
“The Moving Finger writes; and , having writ, Moves on:’ A quote from Omar Khayyam. So he gave me a philosophical tendency. The Orhan Pamuk quote is more about what Toby Jones the actor said about his Lecoq training in clowning in a recent interview –“ It;s not like children’s clowns. In Europe there’s more of a tradition of clowns doing theatre. The emphasis is more on physical language rather than verbal training-trying to understand characters as much by the way they move as by the way they speak.”
What gestures do you think the world is paying close attention to now, and what does that say about who we are?
I think there are still welcoming and generous gestures, but there is unfortunately less hospitable and aggressive gesturing still with us. In essence humanity rules but it is tested.
How do we do that, I mean, how do we pay close attention?
By valueing our humanity which is the subject of all theatre. Keep on playing both in the Shakespearean sense of the word and the ludic possibilities of the word.
What are the gestures that make you who you are?
Gestural language is an interesting challenge theatrically. Commedia and mask work can only come alive with physicality and gesture, for instance. Some period theatre has a social gestural language. Actors have sometimes the challenge of what do they do with their hands. Darian Lender in his book ‘Hands’ says “anyone curious about how human beings work, the answers are hidden in plain sight in our hands.” A subject of infinite study.
You say there’s a close relationship between comedy and tragedy, and I think most of us would actually recognise that, e.g. people who cry when they laugh, and people who cope with difficult situations through humour. What would be your metaphor for that relationship between comedy and tragedy? Something simple like ‘two sides of the same coin’, or is there a bit more to it?
I like what Gabriella Oldham says in her study of Buster Keaton: ‘ The life battered comic hero teeters on a precariously thin threshold between comedy and tragedy. But physics demands that no two objects can occupy the same place at the same time; thus , these neighbours knock each other about for the same footing. The narrow threshold is never more obvious when we realise the human paradox that tears accompany both sorrow and joy.” That says it for me.
Mitch brings three workshops to Luxembourg in October 2016:
Old wine in new skins - comedy and its historical and contempary roots (open to all)
Middle Earth! A physical and comic landscape (open to youth participants only)
Laughter our common home (open to shout out project participants only)